openUSA https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3885/0 cached version 18/04/2018 14:18:07 en The US media’s schizophrenic approach to mass shootings https://www.opendemocracy.net/audrey-ann-lavallee-belanger/us-media%E2%80%99s-schizophrenic-approach-to-mass-shootings <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Yet again, the Aurora shooting showed how far away we are from truly "color blind" media reporting on crime. It is time to reflect on how being a white, middle-class male may also be part of the equation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/1360574.jpeg" alt="A shooting memorial in Aurora. Demotix/Gene Tewksbury. All rights reserved." height="305" width="460" /><span class="image-caption">A shooting memorial in Aurora. Demotix/Gene Tewksbury. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>On July 20, 2012, twelve people died and many were injured when James Holmes attacked a crowd of moviegoers at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. The coverage of the event by the American media distracted the audience from a necessary conversation about race in the United States.&nbsp;It is time to reflect on how being a white middle-class male may also be part of the equation.</p> <h3>Distractions</h3> <p>The first distracting trajectory was the conversation about gun control. Only months ahead of the US presidential elections, politicians across the spectrum expressed their opinions on issues of gun ownership. Gun rights cheerleaders, quite unconvincingly, went so far as to argue that the Aurora shooting <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/online/rep-louie-gohmert-suggests-aurora-theater-shooting-result-of-ongoing-attacks-on-judeo-christan-beliefs/">could have been prevented had other people in the audience been armed</a>. Those statements by right-wing politicians fueled various debates, none of which addressed the real issue at hand: who is using those guns, how and why?&nbsp;</p> <p>The second, and more dangerous distracting trajectory lies in the portrayal of James Holmes himself. Many alternative outlets were quick to <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/07/20/call_it_terrorism/">suggest</a> that, had the shooter been a Muslim, the media would have hinted at his faith for somewhat ingraining in him a culture of violence and terrorism rather than casting him in a positive light.&nbsp;</p> <h3>Double standards</h3> <p>To be sure, the act perpetrated by James Holmes does not appear to be an act of terrorism, if terrorism implies the &ldquo;systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective&rdquo; (as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary). However, the 1995 Oklahoma city bombings, and more recently, the Norway killings by Anders Breivik, were terrorist acts committed by white people though they were rarely qualified as such.</p> <p>The conversation about terrorism, albeit misused in the case of James Holmes, raises interesting questions. Why do we hint at a person&rsquo;s culture as having triggered their violent behaviour while refusing to concede that white people could be socialized toward violence? The Aurora shooting reveals how the media, and by extension, the general public, make sense of events in highly racialized ways.</p> <p>Assessing the impact of the media and its representations on the general public is empirically challenging. However, one can be certain that, had a Bangladeshi man ordered a fraction of the phenomenal quantity of explosives Holmes purchased, the FBI would have been knocking at his door in no time. Holmes, however, was able to buy dangerous substances through regular mail and quietly booby trap his house with them without arousing suspicion. Neither the neighbors, nor the mailing personnel or the company sending the explosives to a residential home seemed alarmed by his purchases.</p> <h3>Unpacking white privilege</h3> <p>In a 1989 piece called <em>White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack</em>, Peggy McIntosh <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/28/greek-police-victims-neo-nazi">wrote</a>: "I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group." She provides a list of 50 advantages that white people have over people of other races in their everyday lives, advantages that seem equally ubiquitous today. Number 21 states: &ldquo;I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.&rdquo;</p> <p>After a Korean student shot dead 34 students on Virginia Tech campus in 2009, some in the Korean American community expressed their fear of a <a href="http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=2d3b885a913020630dd2537a0eeaf9ed">possible revenge</a> as a result of the act. Korean groups offered their sympathy to victims' families. The internalization of an individual act by an entire community is something unknown to white people. To put it more bluntly, we have yet to see white groups apologizing for Holmes&rsquo; actions. Why would they? Sadly, not everybody in this country has the luxury of finding the connections between an individual act and his larger community to be irrelevant.</p> <p>As <a href="http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-07-why-most-mass-murderers-are-privileged-white-men">underlined</a> by Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of history and gender studies at Pasedena City College, the media plays an important role in connecting an individual&rsquo;s behavior to a socio-cultural stereotype. In the case of Seung-Hei Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, &ldquo;media attention focused on the likelihood that a Korean culture unwilling to acknowledge mental illness helped drive the young man to commit the worst mass murder in U.S. history.&rdquo;</p> <p>Such negative socio-cultural stereotyping does not exist for whites. The description of Holmes in the news portrayed him at best as an outlier from his own racial group, and at worst as someone brilliant gone mad. Holmes, a former &ldquo;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/james-holmes-shooting_n_1690726.html">smart</a>&rdquo; neuroscience <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/aurora-colorado-gunman-neuroscience-phd-student-16826795">PhD student</a> was a &ldquo;<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/27/justice/colorado-theater-shooting/index.html">psychiatric patient</a>&rdquo;, described by friends as a &ldquo;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/james-holmes-shooting_n_1690726.html">loner</a>&rdquo;, and a recent college drop-out. Those attributes do not draw any negative connections between his culture and his act. Quite the contrary, the articles and headlines conveyed a sense of surprise at an unexpected act that could only be the result of mental illness. Portrayals of shooters who belong to minority communities are less apologetic, as if their crime was expected.</p> <h3><strong>A white pathology?</strong></h3> <p>Schwyzer goes further and suggests possible ways of using the racial lens to understand acts perpetrated by whites. Like others before him, he <a href="http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-07-why-most-mass-murderers-are-privileged-white-men">notes</a> that most mass murders in the United States have been committed by white middle-class males. By suggesting that &ldquo;every killer makes his pain another&rsquo;s problem. But only those who&rsquo;ve marinated in privilege can conclude that their private pain is the entire world&rsquo;s problem with which to deal&rdquo;, Schwyzer argues that being socialized as a white middle-class male cannot be separated from an individual&rsquo;s experience and thus can trigger violent behaviors, too.</p> <p>This argument, which needs to be appreciated for its attempt at breaking the so-called color blind policy which holds the white race as its default, is not without its flaws. For one thing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to treat white men as an insulated group. One cannot ignore the fact that women and other minorities have enjoyed, to some extent, more socio-economic opportunities in recent decades. Does that mean that white men are more prone to becoming violent, or that the notion of privilege will be a phenomenon across gender and racial lines?</p> <p>Also, many countries have historically favored some group over others, but mass shooting does not seem to be an outlet used to express anger over disenfranchisement. Michael Moore, in an incisive <a href="http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/its-guns-we-all-know-its-not-really-guns">blog entry</a> about the Aurora shooting (named <em>It's the Guns &ndash; But We All Know, It's Not Really the Guns</em>) explains how the US is &ldquo;responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries <em>combined".</em> So what is it about the US that allows for such public display of violence on the part of white men?</p> <p>Scholarly articles on the correlation between white privilege and mass shootings are slowly emerging (although it has to be noted that scholars such as Peggy McIntosh will argue that the use of the word &rdquo;privilege&rdquo; is problematic since whites did not earn their whiteness; they were born with it). In an <a href="http://logicalliving.blog.com/files/2011/04/Suicide-Ten.pdf">article</a> about the phenomenon of suicide by mass murder, Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel point out the fact that &ldquo;only when white boys began to open fire in their schools did psychologists and journalists rush to diagnosis of mental illness.&rdquo;</p> <p>In addition to presenting James Holmes as an outlier of his group who could <em>only</em> have been afflicted by mental illness, the media understood <em>how </em>he conducted the act in a racialized way. CNN reporters were quick to point at how &ldquo;cold&rdquo; and &ldquo;calculated&rdquo; his action had been. In <em>A Perverse Kind of Sense: Urban Spaces, Ghetto Places and the Discourse of School Shootings</em>, Abraham P. Deleon <a href="http://www.springerlink.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/content/t6t747767u8j2531/fulltext.pdf">addresses</a> those very biases that distinguish between white and black crime by noting that &ldquo;whereas the white school shooter is calculating, intelligent and conniving, urban crime is constructed as random, wild and tied to 'ghetto' issues such as gangs, reputation and revenge.&rdquo;</p> <p>In recent decades, some journalists have advocated for a &ldquo;color blind&rdquo; policy when it comes to reporting crimes, unless a suspect&rsquo;s description is essential for the investigation. This color blind policy is a mere fantasy. We might not be as bold about making black and white distinctions in articles, but the understanding of violence is mediated in various outlets based on racialized understandings and socio-cultural stereotypes which recognize white as the norm. How else can we explain that all communities, except whites, internalize the behaviors of individuals of their groups and reflect on the impact that such actions will have on them?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/mariano-aguirre/aurora-joker-won-game">Aurora, the Joker won the game</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/robert-matthews/country-armed-and-dangerous-but-no-end-to-mayhem">A country armed and dangerous, but no end to the mayhem</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/magnus-nome/why-let-facts-ruin-story-norwegian-comments-on-us-coverage-of-norway-terror">Why let facts ruin the story? Norwegian comments on US coverage of the Norway terror</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> United States Civil society Culture Equality Ideas openUSA Audrey Ann Lavallee-Belanger Wed, 10 Oct 2012 09:12:49 +0000 Audrey Ann Lavallee-Belanger 68703 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On bullshit and truthiness: Harry Frankfurt, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Ryan's Convention speech https://www.opendemocracy.net/openusa/thomas-rodham/on-bullshit-and-truthiness-harry-frankfurt-stephen-colbert-and-paul-ryans-conv <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How do we know when someone is speaking bullshit or talking with 'thruthiness'? In the latter case this is particularly important when it comes to politicians speaking in public, because we are all involved in the resulting compact. &nbsp;Could this be what radical democracy looks like?&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p><p>In 2005 Harry Frankfurt republished a wonderful philosophical essay, '<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Bullshit" target="_blank">On Bullshit</a>', which became a bestseller. In the same year Stephen Colbert introduced a new word to us, '<a href="http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/24039/october-17-2005/the-word---truthiness" target="_blank">Truthiness</a>', which Merriam Webster named 'word of the year' in 2006. Both terms evidently tap into the spirit of our times. Clearly their underlying concerns&nbsp;significantly overlapped regarding&nbsp;the decline of truth in public discourse. Yet, they also differ in the particular problem they focus on: bullshit is a form of artful deception of audiences by speakers; while truthiness is a collaborative exercise in self-deception in which the audience is a willing participant. Bullshit denotes an abuse of expert authority (such as by academics or politicians), while truthiness is a radically democratic view of truth as a matter of personal opinion: whatever one finds it agreeable to believe.</p><p>The specific kind of deception involved in bullshit, Frankfurt argued, is focused on the project the speaker is engaged in. The audience is given the impression that the speaker is a pursuer of the truth, that the correctness of his representations matter to him. In this he resembles the liar. Yet unlike the liar, the bullshitter has no particular interest in the truth status of his claims - he simply doesn't care whether what he is saying is true or false, so long as his argument as a whole has the effect on his audience that he wants. As Frankfurt puts it:</p><p>"It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describes reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose."</p><p>Examples of bullshit abound in places where people are highly motivated to win over an audience at all costs (like politicians); or where a self-professed expert is called upon to express his or her judgement on an area outside his or her real expertise, but does so any way; or even in ordinary life, where we think we are all supposed to be highly informed on the hot topics of the day (like the Eurozone crisis, or GM crops, or Syria) and will hold forth confidently about them despite our deep ignorance.<br /><br />Yet although politicians talk an awful lot of bullshit, and have always done so, diagnosing what is really wrong about contemporary politics requires the additional concept of 'truthiness'. If one looks at Paul Ryan's Republican Convention speech, it is not quite right to say that it is bullshit. Yes, on the surface there is the combination of a casual disdain for truth combined with specific factual claims that is so characteristic of bullshit. Yet the conditions for bullshit are not quite met.<br /><br />Recall that Frankfurt's definition of bullshit identifies it as a particular kind of deception about the enterprise the speaker is engaged in: of being concerned with truth while actually only being concerned with getting their claims accepted. Yet it seems clear in this case that the audience was not deceived, and that Ryan didn't suppose or intend that they would be. The convention audience didn't care about the accuracy of the factual claims that Ryan was making any more than he did. This was a collaborative and to some degree conscious act of self-persuasion by all concerned, in which they affirmed together a deeper truth. To paraphrase Colbert, Ryan didn't pretend to tell the truth to his audience. Instead he felt the truth at them.<br /><br />Truthiness is an important concept for understanding the breakdown of that fuddy duddy enlightenment concept of objectivity in contemporary society. While bullshit supposes an artful powerful manipulator of a rather passive and somewhat stupid audience (a classic US-liberal rationalisation of the success of conservative rhetoric), truthiness is radically egalitarian and democratic. 'The people' get to decide what's really true.<br /><br />US-liberals often say that Tea-partiers must be stupid or demented to believe that Obama is a Muslim and/or Communist who was born in Kenya, etc.&nbsp; It would be more accurate to say that they have a different understanding of truth, that comes from the heart (or the gut), not the head. (NB of course some Democrat supporters exhibit the same phenomenon.) This sort of Republican&nbsp;<em>believes in&nbsp;</em>Obama's fundamental unAmericanism and evilness. This is an older sense of the word 'belief', as faith or trust&nbsp;<em>in&nbsp;</em>something, not the enlightenment sense the word belief is generally understood as, as connected with a distinct and warranted claim&nbsp;<em>that&nbsp;</em>something is so.<br /><br />Thus, specific claims about Obama's birthplace or ObamaCare death panels are not supposed to be evidentiary, as the old-fashioned enlightenment tradition assumes. They are not factual claims that&nbsp;<em>warrant&nbsp;</em>the deeper claim that Obama is un American, etc. It is the other way around. Obama being born in Kenya or wanting to murder sick old people are being offered as&nbsp;<em>illustrative examples&nbsp;</em>of the kind of thing that Obama would do to all intents and purposes, given the underlying truth about him.<br /><br />Illustrative examples play a role in refining and vivifying the underlying beliefs that people hold. Yet because they do not play an evidentiary role they are peripheral to how people come to hold their views. These 'facts' (representations of the objective world) are&nbsp;<em>produced&nbsp;</em>by people's personal prior commitment to seeing the world one way, rather than&nbsp;<em>determining&nbsp;</em>how they should view the world. Disproving these facts therefore&nbsp;in an attempt to clean up partisan propaganda, as earnest fact-checkers are increasingly trying to do, is a doomed enterprise. The truth or falsity of their factual claims is irrelevant to the project this type of person is engaged in and will not dissuade them in the slightest.<br /><br />What makes all this democratic, and radically democratic at that, is the extension of democratic principles to the domain of truth. Not only do we get to decide for ourselves what is good and bad; whether we should go to war with Iran or not; whether God exists and what kind of God He is; and so on. In this post-enlightenment age we now also, apparently, get to decide what's true or not. As Stephen Colbert explains, "Reference books are elitist - constantly telling us what is or isn't true or what did or didn't happen". Much more democratic for the people to decide for themselves what truth they believe in.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> United States Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Internet openUSA Thomas Rodham Wed, 26 Sep 2012 18:31:25 +0000 Thomas Rodham 68281 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Uniting States of Americans: We are the 99%! https://www.opendemocracy.net/cynthia-weber/uniting-states-of-americans-we-are-99 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A year ago this month, 'the 99%' changed the discourse of US politics. But did this call to action for 'American Revolution’ issued by the Occupy Wall Street movement change politics itself? In this first of two multimedia articles, filmmaker and academic Cynthia Weber, introduces us to a range of impressions and reflections in the field.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>As one of the most divided electorates in US history is on the brink of selecting its president, it is surely worth pausing to reflect on how OWS and ‘the 99%’ relate more generally to the US political landscape.&nbsp;By introducing the language of ‘the 99%’, OWS made it possible for middle of the road US Americans to make four moves that many of them would have previously regarded as too radical: to name economic inequality and its resulting inequality of opportunity as a legitimate grievance; to name those burdened by this problem as common allies (the 99%); to declare those responsible for creating and continuing this problem the common enemy (the 1%); and to undertake to reconfigure their political, economic and social landscapes by revitalizing US democracy through direct action.</p> <p>By successfully linking the breakdown in meaningful ideals and practices of US democratic governance to how inequalities are created by institutionalized corruption and greed by corporations, financial institutions, and economic and political elites, OWS and the 99% movements challenge what has become politics as usual in the contemporary US.</p> <p>Yet while OWS and the 99% movements challenge ‘what democracy looks like’, their initial success was arguably down to the fact that these movements appeared to leave unchallenged the underlying ideology upon which US democratic practice is grounded - liberalism. Liberalism is a political ideology that champions the rights of individuals to organize governing arrangements that protect their freedoms in social conditions of their choosing.</p> <p>Whether 99%-ers believed they were exercising their collective freedom to assemble in public as publics, or protesting against government bailouts to banks paid for by economically struggling citizens, or demanding their rights to pursue their happiness by following a neoliberal version of The American Dream, the majority of these 99%ers based their claims on the liberal belief that equality and liberty are the highest ideals of the land.</p> <p>That’s partly why OWS seemed to be so patriotic. Various forms of libertarianism - some compatible with good old-fashioned US liberalism, some not - were misrecognized as good old-fashioned liberalism. And to be liberal in the US is to be patriotically American.</p><p>Promoting good old-fashioned liberalism - a capitalism-friendly liberalism - was not&nbsp;the intention of OWS organizers or of many of those who joined them. OWS was always global in its origins and ambitions - having its roots as much in the anti-capitalist globalization movement as it did in the Arab Spring - even if its firm ground was a small park in Manhattan’s financial district. And while the vision of some of its key organizers&nbsp;was to promote liberty, the promotion of liberty was not their ultimate goal. Rather, liberty was the vehicle through which compassionate collectivist forms of political, social and economic living could be contemplated and enabled not only nationally but locally and internationally.</p><p>Yet from the first moment, when it claimed that it was ‘for American Revolution’ rather than ‘for World Revolution’ (its later claim), OWS became appropriable as a populist vision for a US American 99% that was neither internationalist nor collectivist nor anti-capitalist in its outlook. What this populist 99% demanded was not a revolution for global economic justice but a reformist agenda that would retrieve individual US Americans’ access to the liberal capitalist American Dream - a dream that necessitates global economic injustice so that global wealth can continue to flow into the economically hegemonic US.</p><p>It is this populist appropriation of the 99% as liberal capitalist reformers rather than as peaceful warriors for anti-capitalist global economic justice that made (and to some extent still makes) OWS a force to be reckoned with, both for President Obama and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. For the global economic injustice that this populist 99% demands is only deliverable as long as US hegemony endures. And anyone with an international economic outlook can see that US economic hegemony is at best waning.</p><p>What this means is that OWS did change US politics by bringing to the fore a question that unites all of those who identify as the 99%. That question comes from the same person who is credited with coining the slogan ‘We are the 99%’ - the anarchist anthropologist and activist David Graeber. In his book, <em>Debt: The First 5000 Years</em>, Graeber’s urgent question is, ‘What do we really owe one another?’ That is a political and social question as much as it is a financial question. Its answers depend upon which political vision any particular 99%er brings to it. This is why it was not uncommon to hear a wide range of answers to this question in Zuccotti Park last year, from ‘I am owed The American Dream by a US state that failed me’ to, ‘Financial debts need to be forgiven so that what we really owe one another - social and human relationships though which we give as we can and take as we must - can flourish’.</p><p>Are we ‘all in this together’, as OWS activists chanted last year and consolidate in this year’s call for massive debt resistance? Or are we in this for ourselves, as neoliberal capitalists would have it? These questions mark the divisions at the heart of what the 99% means in the US - between collectivists and individualists and between anti-capitalists and capitalists.</p><p>These are some of the tensions apparent in my collection of films ‘OWS: “We are the 99%”’. The first three of these films, embedded in this article, explore how OWS and the 99% movements fought ‘for American Revolution’ by mobilizing some of the foundational language and ideas of The American Revolution. How ‘We the People’ became ‘We are the 99%’; how power and especially economic power corrupts democracy; and how church and state should be related to one another - all figure in OWS celebrations of ‘the 99%’. </p><p>The films record these celebrations, mindful of how OWS and the 99% movements often contain incompatible visions regarding the conduct of this new American Revolution and what its political, economic, and social outcomes should be.</p><h3>OWS: We the People</h3><p><iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/44721796" width="460" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe></p><p>OWS activists declared that ‘the 99%’ assembled in public spaces ‘to hold political and economic elites accountable’. This film documents how ‘We the people’ refigured as ‘We are the 99%’ became a call to action ‘for American Revolution’ through the exercise of direct democracy. As Kurt puts it in this film, ‘America, get off your couch and stop watching <em>American Idol </em>and <em>Dancing with the Stars</em> and do the footwork. That’s all we ask. Do the footwork’.</p><p>As the US Presidential campaign shows, though, US Americans have been dancing to starkly different tunes at the same time. This is as true within the OWS movement as it is outside of it. Was its genius, indeed, in its vagueness? Is it enough to celebrate such declarations as spaces in which US Americans are figuring out how they want to govern themselves (as Judith Butler in Arendtian mode at OWS seemed to suggest)? Or is ‘We the people‘ as ‘We are the 99%‘ as much an expression of the desire for meaningful publics as it is an expression of how nationalism limits that desire?</p><h3>OWS: Jesse LaGreca</h3> <p><iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/49382649" width="460" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe></p><p>Jesse LaGreca was among the best known faces of the OWS movement, thanks to his viral unaired <em>Fox News </em>interview in which he lambasted the network for being part of America’s problems. This film begins with that interview and then turns to Jesse’s further thoughts on how OWS ‘was not a <em>Fox News </em>protest. It was an anti-corruption protest’. In this film, Jesse goes on to explain what kind of US he wants and doesn’t want. As he puts it, ‘I don’t want to live in a country with no minimum wage, no social security, and a bunch of books printed by Glen Beck’. Jesse’s reflections put questions about the relationships between government, money, and media centre stage, which are as evident in OWS as they are in the 2012 Presidential campaign.</p><h3>OWS: Reverend Billy</h3><p><iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/43193649" width="460" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe></p><p>Reverend Billy Talen -- activist, performance artist, and founder of The Church of Stop Shopping (renamed The Church of Life After Shopping) -- preaches his message at OWS that fundamentalisms are not only religious. They are economic. Reverend Billy calls for US Americans to ‘occupy’ the American Dream. What would an Occupied American Dream look like? Reverend Billy’s answer is OWS itself. Gesturing to the occupied Zuccotti Park where he’s preaching, Reverend Billy declares, ‘This is my country. I’m gonna do all my business right here’. Yet he ends on an ironic note that we maybe should consider a warning. In over-the-top celebratory style, the Reverend declares, ‘The 99% - my new God!’ Could there be fundamentalisms in ‘the 99%’?&nbsp;</p><p><em>You can read the second part of this article, including more videos of the OWS movement, <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/cynthia-weber/uniting-states-of-americans-are-we-99">here</a>. </em></p><p><em>Cynthia Weber’s exhibition ‘Uniting States of Americans: From “I am an American” to “We are the 99%”’ at the <a href="http://usdan.bennington.edu/">Usdan Gallery</a> at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont opened on September 11, 2012 and runs until October 18, 2012. The exhibition is free and open to the public.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cynthia-weber/uniting-states-of-americans-are-we-99">Uniting States of Americans: Are we the 99%?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/shilpa-kameswaran/occupy-wall-street-where-are-migrants">Occupy Wall Street: where are the migrants?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/ruth-rosen/occupy-you-can%E2%80%99t-evict-idea">Occupy: you can’t evict an idea </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/occupy-wall-street-lessons-and-opportunities">Occupy Wall Street: lessons and opportunities </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rebecca-johnson/occupy-movement-and-women-of-greenham-common">The Occupy movement and the women of Greenham Common </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/alexandra-stein/occupy-and-common-good">Occupy, and the common good </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> New York </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> 50.50 New York United States Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas non-violent action north america openUSA Occupy! Cynthia Weber Meet the participants Mon, 17 Sep 2012 11:11:51 +0000 Cynthia Weber 68102 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Empty chairs and hope https://www.opendemocracy.net/node/68041 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Clint Eastwood's bizarre empty chair performance at the RNC in Tampa resonates with a couple's struggle for parenthood - and the very notion of hope that still echoes from the 2008 election.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>For years, my wife and I would sit around our kitchenette table, that sits four, having our meals, the weight of two empty chairs bearing down on both of us. </p><p>The empty chairs - a stark reminder of what was missing in our otherwise fulfilling lives. We had been trying, for the better part of a decade, to conceive using various forms of assisted reproductive technologies including in-vitro fertilization (IVF). It took us eight years to have our first, a son. Our daughter was created at the same time but then she, along with six other embryos, was frozen. She was successfully implanted a year and a half later, in a procedure known to have an extremely low success rate. The chairs are now happily filled - elevated with the raucity of two impressible children.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/ClintRNC.jpg" alt="Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Youtube/PBSNewsHour. All rights reserved." width="460" height="271" /><span class="image-caption">Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Youtube/PBSNewsHour. All rights reserved.</span></p> <p>The empty chair is a powerful symbol. At the recent Republican Party Convention, Clint Eastwood held a mock interview with an empty chair, seating an imaginary President Barack Obama. Eastwood&rsquo;s rambling conversation with an empty chair harshly admonished Obama for all his presidential shortcomings. Chris Rock, the American comedian, put it well when he said,&nbsp;<em>"The empty chair was a metaphor for the entire Republican platform. There's nothing there, but blind hatred for a man that doesn't exist."</em>&nbsp;This blind hatred is fuelled by a withering contempt for factual credibility and polarizes the electoral vote. To illustrate this, Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, gave a speech at the Convention that was shredded by journalists for its factual credibility. Even Fox News, the Republican media bastion, noted,&nbsp;<em>"Ryan's speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech."</em></p> <p>Speaking at the Democratic Party Convention a week later, Bill Clinton remarked how he often disagrees with his Republican peers but has&nbsp;<em>"never learned to hate them."&nbsp;</em>The Republican Party platform is based on a deep-rooted American conservatism. Their ideologies reject the liberal ideals of the Democratic Party. For instance, a majority of Republicans are pro-life and oppose elective abortion because of their religious and moral convictions, whereas Democrats believe women should have the ability to decide whether or not to abort. Democrats advocate that each and every woman has the right to choose for herself whether abortion is morally correct without any government interference. The liberalism that Democrats espouse is an attitude rather than an ideological opinion. It is, according to the American educator-philosopher Morris Cohen, an attitude,&nbsp;<em>&ldquo;that insists upon questioning everything, seeking not to reject them but to find out what evidence there is to support them rather than their possible alternatives." </em>Giving people the opportunity to question allows them to make choices. Choice is important because it offers hope.</p> <p>In the three decades since the first "test-tube baby", IVF has become a standard procedure &ndash; providing hope to many infertile couples. In the United States alone, IVF is responsible for 60,000 newborn babies every year. The&nbsp;<em>Sanctity of Human Life Act</em>, which Ryan co-sponsored, should it ever pass, would ensure that life begins at fertilization.&nbsp;&nbsp;This bill would dash the hopes of thousands by criminalizing the destruction of day-old embryos. Clinical IVF protocols would have to change &ndash; making the procedure more invasive and prohibitively more expensive. Currently, during IVF, doctors create multiple embryos and implant the healthiest ones in the woman. Embryos that are not implanted are either frozen for use later or destroyed. The&nbsp;<em>Sanctity of Human Life Act</em>&nbsp;would declare embryos legally "people" - so unused embryos that are destroyed or are strategically aborted after implantation would have doctors and parents charged with murder.</p> <p>A conservative rhetoric is about control, while a liberal attitude is about hope. There are many Democrats who are pushing to have infertility treatments included as a core benefit to many health insurance plans &ndash; providing hope to thousands. President Obama was elected on a wave of hope some four years ago. He defined hope as being understood,&nbsp;<em>&ldquo;by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled.&rdquo;</em>&nbsp;&nbsp;Humans, whether Republican or Democrat, can live weeks without food, days without water, minutes without air, but only seconds without hope. IVF does not promise children; much like hope cannot promise the fulfilment of dreams. But hope can cherish desire with anticipation, ensuring dreams are never abandoned.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/selina-ogrady/gun-and-cross-religion-of-america-in-john-ford-mitt-romney-and-clint-eastwood">The Gun and the Cross. The religion of America in John Ford, Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openusa/joseph-attwood/gop-vote-for-us-in-2012-or-dont-vote-at-all">GOP: Vote for us in 2012, or don&#039;t vote at all</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/america%E2%80%99s-new-revolutionaries">America’s new revolutionaries</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> United States Civil society Democracy and government Ideas openUSA American election 2012 Shahid Mahmood Thu, 13 Sep 2012 14:03:47 +0000 Shahid Mahmood 68041 at https://www.opendemocracy.net GOP: Vote for us in 2012, or don't vote at all https://www.opendemocracy.net/openusa/joseph-attwood/gop-vote-for-us-in-2012-or-dont-vote-at-all <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The conservative extravaganza in Tampa has been overshadowed by controversy over voter-identification measures taken in some GOP-controlled states.&nbsp;<span style="font-family: 'Helvetica Neue';">Texas, for example, now regards a concealed weapon license as a legitimate form of identification, but refuses student identification cards. S</span>eemingly limited reforms might radically change the outcome of the upcoming US election.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>A study published in 2011 by the Brennan Centre for Justice examined in great detail the extent and purpose of bills introduced and laws passed across the United States, purportedly designed to tackle rampant voter fraud through compelling voters to present government-issued identification at the polls before they can register or vote. Since the beginning of 2011 25 such laws and two executive actions have passed through the legislatures of nineteen US states that have been labelled by the Brennan Centre and left-leaning politicians as &lsquo;restrictive&rsquo;. Advocates of their introduction, who in large part are Republican, claim that the laws are necessary in order to ensure a fair and balanced presidential election in November 2012.</p><p class="MsoNormal"><span><span><span><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/983859.jpeg" alt="Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Demotix/Michael Seamans. All rights reserved." height="305" width="460" /></span></span><span class="image-caption">On his way to victory, but what will it take? Demotix/Michael Seamans. All rights reserved.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Whilst it is enticing (particularly during an election cycle that has been &nbsp;rather charged with a viciously partisan energy) to resist jumping to an extreme conclusion, it seems increasingly clear that what is truly motivating Republican-dominated legislatures across the US is a desire to suppress Democratic votes in order to lift Mitt Romney to victory. The forecast suggests that these changes could impede the ability of five million eligible American citizens to vote, most affecting those who do not possess, are unable to come by, or would find it difficult to acquire the requisite identification; but more than this, the changes are predicted to prevent five million American citizens who are constituents of minorities that register their votes traditionally in large numbers for Democratic candidates.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Recent increases in the quantity of restrictive bills making it through state legislatures and into state law correlates directly with a dramatic nationwide GOP electoral upswing. A rise in the number of seats creaking under Republican weight saw the party regain control of both legislative chambers in 26 states in 2011. Subsequently, bills restricting voter activity unprecedentedly became commonplace campaign issues in Republican-controlled states.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Voter registration procedures are amongst the hardest hit. Registration drives are community-based efforts to encourage citizens to register their intention to vote. In Florida, a state which has been leading the charge in restrictive legislation for many years, 62.7 percent of all new registered voters in the 2004 election had been registered through community drives. African-American citizens, Hispanic citizens, female voters, and voters within the 18-24 age bracket are the four groups most likely to register through drives; all voted by overwhelming majorities (95 percent of African-Americans; 67 percent of Hispanics) for Barack Obama in 2008. Bills attempting to limit registration drive activities through red tape congestion have so far been brought to the legislatures of seven states, including California, Illinois, and North Carolina.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Such bills have been passed into law in Florida and Texas already. In some states the new restrictions impose jail time on registration drive hosts for turning in their forms beyond the deadline, or if the forms are improperly completed. &nbsp;These measures have had the effect of reducing the number of registration drive organisers: the League of Women Voters, one of the largest national registering organisations, has opted out of registration activity in the state of Florida altogether.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Barriers have also been erected to make the physical act of registering a vote a much more awkward process. Early voting, the provision by states of opportunities for voting before Election Day, has been an invaluable electoral mainstay for many years. It is attractive for prospective voters because of its convenience; more simply put, voters can choose from a greater range of times and days on which to vote. In the 2008 election, more than one third of citizens registered their votes early, an increase of close to five times the rate recorded at the 2000 election. The casting of early votes, normally during the two weeks preceding the election, is primarily a popular activity amongst the African-American voting population, particularly during weekends when many voting communities visit the polls in large groups after church services.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The Ohio and Florida Republican legislatures have been regularly accused of purposefully targeting suppression of the African-American vote in their conduct of legislative onslaughts against early and weekend voting. The Palm Beach Post recently reported that although the Supreme Court has struck down Florida&rsquo;s decision to reduce the number of available early voting days by nearly half in five of its counties, in the remaining 62 the rules will still apply for the presidential election. African-American and Hispanic voters use early voting opportunities more frequently than any other group: in the 2008 general election, 33.2 percent of early Florida voters who cast ballots on the last Sunday before the election were African-American, whilst 23.6 percent were Hispanic.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>In Ohio meanwhile, early Sunday voting has been eliminated entirely, whilst in an ongoing legal dispute, the Democratic party is challenging Ohio&rsquo;s elimination of the last three days of its early voting period. In the 2008 election, they argue, 93,000 votes were cast during those three days; in 2004, Bush defeated Kerry in Ohio by just under 120,000 votes, meaning the elimination of this small period has the potential to significantly affect the election&rsquo;s outcome. Tellingly, neither Ohio nor Florida (nor any of the other nine states who debated similar bills) have provided any reasons why Sunday specifically has been targeted.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Students, another social group that traditionally favour Democrats (and who supported Obama by a large majority in 2008), have also been widely affected. Obama was carried to his first term thanks to the support of 50 percent of College graduates, 52 percent of High School graduates, and 58 percent of postgraduate students. The reality that Texas regards a concealed weapon license as a legitimate form of identification but refuses student identification cards has been touted as a deliberate move to exclude certain groups who are more likely to vote against the Republicans.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Perhaps the largest group to have been affected by restrictive legislation are those citizens who hold criminal convictions. Four of the 5.3 million American citizens ineligible to vote due to felonies have completed their sentences. The entrenched racism of the American prison system is well-documented, and it should therefore be no surprise that African-Americans (who as a community are almost entirely pro-Democratic) are again disproportionately affected: according to the Brennan Centre, 13 percent of African-American men cannot vote as a result of past felonies committed, a rate that is seven times the national average.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Although the data tends to support the conclusion that pro-Democratic voters are being targeted by non-Democratic lawmakers, advocates of restrictive legislation consistently deny the existence of a right-wing-sponsored, national conspiracy. There are, however, three main reasons why the apparent disadvantage at which Democratic voters are placed by much Republican-backed legislation should be regarded as more than just an unfortunate coincidence.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The first to consider is the conspicuous absence of a large or persistent American voter fraud problem that might justify such a deluge of legislation. The phrase &lsquo;voter fraud&rsquo; itself is regularly misappropriated to contort reality in order to serve the achievement of political ends. &lsquo;Voter fraud&rsquo; should only be used to reflect a conscious attempt to dishonestly participate in an election. Due to an increasing amount of semantic infidelity, the original meaning has been stretched to incorporate a number of electoral errors, including administrational error, technical faults, and typos; in other words, to incorporate innocent and inevitable clerical mistakes.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Even taking into account the new and improper meanings attached to the phrase, incidences of voter fraud are shockingly low. American elections simply do not seem to have a voter fraud problem of a size worth mentioning. According to a further Brennan Centre study, the Missouri polls in the 2000 and 2002 elections recorded a voter fraud rate of 0.0003 percent, a figure that amounts to four individual cases in the entire state. New Jersey&rsquo;s polls for the 2004 presidential election recorded a double voting rate of 0.0002 percent, whilst a voter fraud rate of 0.000009 percent was recorded in New York in 2002 and 2004.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Although the rates themselves are already vanishingly small, undoubtedly the only possible answer to the question &lsquo;how much voter fraud should we accept?&rsquo; (which legislation advocates often pose in their own defence) is none. But Republican lawmakers appear to have weighed their options and decided that the certain disenfranchisement of millions of Americans is an acceptable cost if by sustaining it, voter fraud rates can be reduced by perhaps a 100th or a 1000th of a percent; particularly if those Americans weren&rsquo;t going to vote Republican anyway. This conclusion is logically and ethically absurd.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Secondly, a large number of comments made by Republicans who support the legislation would strongly suggest that Democratic voters are being deliberately targeted. These include William O&rsquo;Brien, Republican Speaker of the House in New Hampshire, who told a group of Tea Partiers that he backed a law making it harder for students to register their votes because they didn&rsquo;t have the life experience to know not to vote Democrat. The Republican House majority leader in Pennsylvania (where a voter ID bill was signed into law in March 2011) exclaimed that the new law was &lsquo;going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania&rsquo;.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Thirdly and finally, there is the blatant truth that Republican ideology is fundamentally incompatible with this sort of unnecessary government regulation. It is platitudinous to highlight that the defining principle of 21st century Republicanism is a fear-tinged aversion to extensive or avoidable government interference in society. Conservative critics traditionally claim that the left is chipping away at the &lsquo;freedom&rsquo; (a phrase whose meaning has been diluted and cheapened by libertarians and the fringe Right in recent years) of ordinary Americans through, for example, improving national healthcare provisions. Notwithstanding the giant bureaucratic weight imposed on an electorate by a party defined by its dislike of large government, there is the extraordinary cost of the laws&rsquo; implementation and maintenance to consider; a cost that Republicans have uncharacteristically been asking their voters to shoulder in difficult fiscal times.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Could America truly be seeing Republican governors and congressmen across the nation supporting extremely costly, extensive government programmes of little value during the tenure of an administration they claim is wrecking their nation&rsquo;s economy? Or in the states that have extensive prior experience in throwing up barriers to minority voters, and as the evidence shows us, is widespread and deliberate voter suppression alive and kicking in the US? Although the election has yet to be decided, many Republicans seem keen to make sure that if their constituents aren&rsquo;t going to vote for their party, they aren&rsquo;t going to vote at all. &nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/ruth-rosen/voter-suppression-schurick-doctrine-and-unravelling-of-american-democracy">Voter suppression: the &quot;Schurick Doctrine&quot; and the unravelling of American democracy </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/magnus-nome/sports-for-people-who-dont-like-sports">Sports for people who don&#039;t like sports</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/seth-redniss/bain-co-solves-middle-east-crisis">Bain &amp; Co. solves Middle East crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/godfrey-hodgson/american-leadership-and-system-failure">American leadership, and a system failure</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> United States Democracy and government Equality International politics openUSA Republican Party Mitt Romney Joseph Attwood Sun, 02 Sep 2012 10:26:54 +0000 Joseph Attwood 67839 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Progressive Challenge: taking on robber baron politics https://www.opendemocracy.net/robert-borosage/progressive-challenge-taking-on-robber-baron-politics <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The following is taken from the opening speech at the Take Back the American Dream Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 18</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>We are at the beginning of the fierce struggle to define what comes after a thirty year failed conservative era, an era that has left us with extreme inequality, a declining middle class, rising poverty, the worst recession since the Great Depression, and an economy that does not work for working people even when it is growing.</p><p>Americans clearly are casting about for change. We saw the elections in 2006 and 2008. Frustration and reaction in 2010. The uprisings of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. The assault on worker and women’s rights and on the right to vote, and the mobilizations to counter them.</p> <p>And now the brazen billionaires – the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, the super PACs – looking to consolidate complete control of government at all levels.</p> <p>In this situation, we should be perfectly clear. We are not going to allow Mitt Romney, the modern day Robber Barons and their Tea Party allies to take over Washington.</p> <p>But we aren’t going to stop there. If we are going to build a new foundation for shared prosperity, we can’t accept mass unemployment as the new normal. Or declining wages and rising insecurity as inevitable. We are not signing onto a “grand bargain” – partisan or bipartisan – that uses the current crisis to savage the vulnerable and to shortchange our future.</p> <p>We are building a progressive movement that takes on big money politics, confronts the entrenched interests that now endanger our future, and rebuilds the American dream.</p> <p>Now let me say a few words about each of these.</p> <h3>1. Conservative ideas are the problem, not the solution<strong></strong></h3> <p>It has been four years since Wall Street’s excesses blew up the economy. The scope of that calamity was far greater than any expected. 9 million jobs lost. The typical family lost a staggering 40% of their wealth – mostly in the value of their homes. Any recovery from this would have been long and difficult. This one has been made worse by two factors.</p> <p>First there was no healthy economy to recover to. Working families have been losing ground for decades. Over the Bush years, most Americans suffered declining income and rising insecurity even when the economy was growing.
 We were haemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, running up unprecedented trade deficits. Finance was capturing 40% of corporate profits, while inflating the housing bubble. We waged two wars on the national credit card. We were in denial about global warming.</p> <p>Not only was there no place to recover to, but vital reforms faced fierce resistance.
 Republicans set out from day one to obstruct any reforms – pursuing in the midst of the crisis what their Senate leader Mitch McConnell called “the single most important thing we want to achieve” – insuring that Barack Obama remained a one-term president.</p> <p>When Obama pushed to make even modest reforms vital to our future - on the recovery, health care, financial reform, and new energy - Republican obstruction was relentless.</p> <p>But far more impressive was the power of the entrenched corporate interests that mobilized to protect their privileges and subsidies. Even when Democrats had majorities in both houses, corporate lobbies succeeded in delaying, diluting, and in some cases defeating reform.</p> <p>Now the economy is said to be in recovery, but most Americans haven’t felt it. Wages are still declining. Homes still under water. Jobs still scarce. And the worst of the old economy is back.
 Gilded age inequality. The top 1% captured fully 93% of the rewards of growth in 2010.
 Casino finance. Too big to fail banks are bigger and more concentrated than ever, and back to making big bets, as JPMorgan recently demonstrated losing $3 billion and counting in a reckless trading scheme.</p> <p>Trade deficits - back up over 1.5 billion a day.</p> <p>And now we face a struggle over what comes next.</p> <p>Americans are only learning about Mitt Romney but he is not a mystery. He is of, by and for the 1%. The big money decided to be safe they better pick one of their own. His agenda is a clear commitment to double down on the policies that put us in the hole we are in.</p> <p>He would give millionaires an average 25% tax cut – on top of the Bush tax cuts.</p> <p>He calls for eliminating taxes on corporate profits earned abroad, turning the entire world into an offshore tax haven.</p> <p>He wants to deregulate Wall Street – reopening the casino finance that blew up the economy.</p> <p>He’d repeal health care reform, end Medicare as we know it, and decimate Medicaid, eliminating health care protection for some 34 million Americans.</p> <p>He defends subsidies to big oil, while denying the threat posed by global warming.</p> <p>He wants more money for the military, and less for schools.</p> <p>He brags that he is the most anti-union candidate in memory</p> <p>This guy is building a summer home with an elevator for the cars, and says Obama is out of touch.</p> <p>He paid a tax rate of about 15% on income of some 20 million dollars – and that’s in the tax return he chose to show us. Imagine what he paid in the ones he keeps secret.</p> <p>No wonder, he says talking about inequality is the “politics of envy,” and should be done only in “quiet rooms.” He’s not worried about the poor because they have a safety net that he promises to shred. He says that America is “inches away from no longer being a free economy.” Say what? Are you kidding?</p> <p>We aren’t going to let the brazen billionaires elect this guy president. He isn’t offering a remedy. What he is peddling is pure poison for the middle class, for the vulnerable and for the American dream.</p> <p>So we are going to work to re-elect the president and focus on taking back the House.</p> <h3>2. We have to curb the entrenched corporate interests that are strangling our future</h3> <p>But that is not enough. We face a bigger battle for America’s future.</p> <p>Conservative columnist David Brooks argues that republicans are so extreme because they fear that America’s welfare state is no longer sustainable, and is now a threat to the country’s fiscal and economic future.</p> <p>Well. We agree that this country can’t continue on the old path. But Romney and the right, Brooks and the billionaires, have it wrong. It is not poor people who rig the rules and pocket millions in subsidies and privileges. It is not the elderly who have blown up the economy. It is not the young who pay for the revolving door of lobbyists and officials.</p> <p>If we are to build the basis for sustainable growth, it is not enough to put Obama back in the White House, and Nancy Pelosi back in the speaker’s chair. We must take on crony capitalism, the entrenched interests and big money that corrupt politicians in both parties, fleece taxpayers, rig the rules and rake off millions in subsidies, tax dodges, and insider deals.</p> <p>Look at the sources of our current deficits and debt. Half of our current deficit comes from the economic collapse caused when Wall Street blew up the economy. Then comes the Bush’s top end tax cuts and tax loopholes that have the wealthiest Americans paying lower taxes than their secretaries and some major corporations paying nothing at all. And then the continued costs of a bloated Pentagon and two wars.</p> <p>Turn to the scary long-term debt projections – and these are almost entirely a question of soaring and unaffordable costs of a broken health care system. This system is deformed by powerful health insurance, hospital and drug company complexes that hike costs so that Americans pay twice per capita what other industrial countries pay, with worse results in basic health measures</p> <p>To rebuild America, to revive the American dream, we have to take on the powerful who profit from these arrangements, not the vulnerable who suffer under them.</p> <h3>3. The first test: The Grand Bargain, aka The Big Heist<strong></strong></h3> <p>This is not a question for one president, one election, or one administration.
 But right after this election we will face an early test around what is called the grand bargain.
 In December, we face an utterly unnecessary fiscal train wreck. Automatic cuts in military and domestic spending from the last debt ceiling deal kick in. The payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits expire. Expiration of the bush tax cuts. If all this happens, it is a recipe for recession.</p> <p>This self-inflicted crisis is being used as an excuse for a turn to austerity. It’s time to get our books in order, we’re told. Shared sacrifice is needed. Everything on the table.</p> <p>Elite opinion is congealing around a grand bargain that features cuts in domestic programs. And offers a trade: cuts in Medicare and Social Security in exchange for tax reform that lowers the rates but closes loopholes to raise more revenue.</p> <p>Well, this grand bargain might better be known as the big heist</p> <p>This means:
 Accepting mass unemployment as a new normal. That we should stop worrying about generating jobs and focus instead on getting our books in order.</p> <p>It means that middle class Americans and the vulnerable will get stuck with much of the bill for the mess that Wall Street created.</p> <p>And finally, the deal largely ignores the sources of our current woes. The wealthy will still not pay their fair share of taxes. Wall Street will still be free to blow up the economy. The insurance and drug companies will still drive up health care costs. The military will still police the world, inevitably enmeshing us in more wars we cannot afford. And we will continue to starve the investments vital to our future.</p> <p>So we must organize now. To oppose the big heist and demand a real deal. What does that include?</p> <p>Good jobs first. The best deficit reduction measure is to put people to work. We must demand jobs before austerity.</p> <p>Second, we have to curb the predatory interests that prey on the public purse, and bust the American dream. To get our books in order, we have to get our politics in order.</p> <h3>4. It takes a movement.<strong></strong></h3> <p>This won’t be easy. We’ll have to build independent capacity to elect people’s champions – and to hold them accountable.</p> <p>We’ll need to make the big money toxic, even as we work to overturn Citizen’s United and get big money out of politics.</p> <p>We’ll need direct action to expose and challenge the interests that standing the way.</p> <p>It is a forbidding task, against great odds. It is the great challenge of democracy. Can the people curb the rapaciousness of big money?</p> <p>But we’ve been in this situation before. At the end of the nineteenth century, the robber barons built oligopolies in major industries. Politicians were routinely bribed, bought or rented. Labor unions were outlawed. The money power dominated our politics.</p> <p>But populist movements, left parties, progressive reformers, labor uprisings challenged that seemingly unassailable power. It took decades of struggle, but eventually that people’s movement won. The most brazen corruption curbed; inequality reduced. And a broad middle class was built.</p> <p>Now we are back to extreme inequality and Robber Baron money politics. Once more we face a fierce struggle if the many are to overcome the few.</p> <p>And over these last months we’ve begun. In Wisconsin. In Ohio. In Occupy – a movement that spread across the nation and the world. We’ve seen growing efforts to defend homeowners from foreclosure, and to hold banks accountable.. We’ve seen shareholders challenging obscene CEO pay.</p> <p>These are but the first stirrings. We’ll see setbacks like the recall in Wisconsin. We must continue to build. Serious about taking power. Serious about rebuilding America. Fierce in opposition to the return of robber baron politics. Not be satisfied with defense of what is.</p> <p>Yes. Defeat Romney and the right. Push to take back the house. But keep on building. Build a movement that can take back the American dream.</p> <p><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>The complete version is <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2012062521/progressive-challenge-taking-robber-baron-politics">here</a>.</em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> United States Civil society Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics openUSA Occupy! Robert Borosage Tue, 26 Jun 2012 16:56:29 +0000 Robert Borosage 66678 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A Personal Primer in Real-World Microeconomics https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/personal-primer-in-real-world-microeconomics <p>There once was a high-budget promotional concept ostentatiously labeled by real estate advertising gangsters as &ldquo;The American Dream&rdquo;: every family should own a home.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Of course this &ldquo;dream&rdquo; is not unique to the United States of America. Fifty years ago it seemed easy and natural for families in any modern society to be able to move into home ownership after a few income-stabilizing years in a steady job. But for the last decade of the 21<sup>st</sup> century, with the money crunch and a housing market flooded with bankruptcies and bad loans, the &ldquo;developed&rdquo; countries of the world seem less than hospitable to the idea. Indeed, they seem to take great pride in making the process as inhospitable as possible. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">It takes a great deal of trouble to own a home these days.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I have a personal story that I believe illustrates this conclusion.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">***</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I wanted to buy a house. A particular house. The property I had settled on was a fixer-upper, to be sure, in bad shape and needing much manual labor and cash-intensive restoration, but still I knew that the low-end purchase would save me from throwing further money down the black hole of rental payments and finally, finally put me in control of my own destiny. This was to be the home of my own human dreams. A nest, labelled &ldquo;historic&rdquo;, and yet I could own it. It had to be worth the trouble.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Hello, reality.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I was forced to immediately face the fact that, in spite of being well off in relation to my own past earnings, I had to get a loan. I had to take part in the time-honored ritual of begging rich people for cash so I could make them richer. I asked around, talked to friends who had gone through the process. I maintained a modest checking and savings balance, but I was told I needed more. Much more.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The process started. I endured six weeks of economic scrutiny by mortgage companies and banks, all of whom treated me like a street leper with a hand out for spare body parts. I was told face-to-face that just because a self&nbsp;employed person has <em>some</em> money doesn&rsquo;t mean that the same person will <em>continue</em> getting money. And therefore be able to maintain a house note.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">It was more than economic. Every mistake in my life was resurrected and examined by strangers.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I was forced to find a copy of a divorce decree from the pitiful two&nbsp;week marriage I had undertaken at age nineteen. The loan officer at the first mortgage company I approached was mortified by the fact that I could remember neither my ex-wife&rsquo;s maiden name nor the exact year in which the divorce was ratified. It did no good to explain to him that a long-vanished ex-spouse would not be living in my new house. I was made to travel to a distant Clerk of Court&rsquo;s archives, and literally search on my own through dusty pre-computer paper records until I found out who I had been married to, and when and why we had parted ways. We were incompatible, the document said. That part I remembered, thirty years later.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The financial operations involved in historic house purchase and renovation were rapidly getting too complex for my limited business skills. I was faced with the prospect of <em>two</em> closings, one for renovation, and the second for the long-term financing. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s simple,&rdquo; the mortgage company secretary said from her desk in the suburbs. She rhythmically jingled what sounded like a coin purse as she spoke. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;The final loan will be based on the higher appraisal of the renovated house. You buy it for x, make it habitable in eight weeks, and now it is worth x+y, y being the value of your improvements. That added worth, y, now equals your down payment. It&rsquo;s a great deal that the Preservation Resource Loan gives you first-time homebuyers going into historic homes. Keep costs down. Do as much of the work as you can yourself, and you&rsquo;ll probably have equity from the day you sign the papers. The bank will do the interim financing for the renovation, and we&rsquo;ll do the long-term. Thus, two closings.&rdquo; </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I still did not quite have a handle on how all this was to be accomplished. I read all the papers I had been asked to sign at the outset of the process. There were obligations and assumptions and details of truth-in-lending and numbers, numbers, numbers. I read them again, only to discover that multiple readings do not of themselves guarantee comprehension.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The next day my mounting confusion became a great deal more general when I was called by the interim bank. In their intensive research of my own Life in Money - the only portion of my existence they found worthwhile - the bank had discovered that I had missed a final interest payment on a Federally-guaranteed school loan some twenty-five years earlier. The missing interest, probably a late fee that had never been listed in my payment book, was $14.39. I had thought the loan paid out when I sent in the final coupon. I told them no sweat, I had the cash in my pocket and would send it right along. Not so simple. I was told to call the university where I had acquired the loan.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I remembered the place. I received the loan from a cashier at one window, then moved to the next line in the same office to endorse the check and hand it back to a second cashier to pay for tuition.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I called the school loan office to ask how I could pay my $14.39. On the seventh ring, I was rewarded with a nasal voice that identified itself immediately: &ldquo;This is Ms Sappho -- that&rsquo;s two ps and an h,&rdquo; she said without being asked, &ldquo;I am an undergraduate student worker working off my student loan by providing general information on inquiries to the Student Aid Division, and how may I help <em>you</em> today?&rdquo;</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I told my story to the youthful Ms Sappho. She paid attention to my name and social security number, then began using a vocalized &ldquo;Uh-huh&rdquo; every ten seconds to cover the fact that she was looking me up in her computer and not listening to a word I was saying. I could hear her quick fingers clacking on keys, then a few moments&rsquo; silence as she read information off her screen. She sized me up immediately - another loan dodger - and interrupted me in mid-sentence.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;Like, you should have been a responsible adult,&rdquo; she said without prelude.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">For me, this prefatory use of the word &ldquo;like&rdquo; has always been a statistically dependable sign that the speaker was not destined in his or her lifetime to win a Nobel Prize. &ldquo;Like, it&rsquo;s a quarter-century later,&rdquo; she explained righteously. I knew that. &ldquo;And so there are penalties, interest, and court costs attached to your case.&rdquo; I didn&rsquo;t know that, though I suspected.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I asked why the school hadn&rsquo;t notified me of my debt earlier.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;Like, we probably didn&rsquo;t know where you were. You most probably were hiding from your creditors, anyway,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;For godsake, Miss, I&rsquo;m in the phonebook. Don&rsquo;t you have phonebooks in your office?&rdquo; I asked.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;Like, ye-eeesss<em>-ssiirrr</em>, this university has phonebooks and, ye-eeesss<em>-ssiirrrr</em>, the records do show we never contacted you. And it <em>haaaass-sss</em> been twenty-five years,&rdquo; she droned at me. She was obviously irritated that she had to put up with such aberrant behavior, and was simultaneously yearning for a safe chance to escape into the wild abandon of sophomoric passion.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;"><em>Isn&rsquo;t that the way we all were?</em> I thought.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;"><em>She is waiting for the moment she can run into the willing arms of her nineteen-year-old satyr of a boyfriend and madly press her lips to his! They will neck without restraint! Dementia! Lust! The two sybarites slobbering and moaning and staining the seat of his dented blue Hyundai with a smiley-face on the rear bumper. They care nothing about my predicament! These people care nothing about injustice! The animals!</em></p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;"><em>What?</em> I shook my head. Perhaps my memories of university life were a bit skewed. I was being wildly overdramatic. Possibly I had contracted a fever from electronic proximity to higher education. <em>Where am I?</em> I wondered.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;But the responsibility of coming forward to pay the money was always yours and yours alone,&rdquo; a young voice was saying. <em>Oh.</em></p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;But I didn&rsquo;t know about owing any more money, Miss, and it was only <em>fourteen dollars</em>!&rdquo; I screamed. A loud <em>click</em> as I was put on hold. There to be entertained by muzak. &ldquo;Easy Street 102, the best in non-interruptive music,&rdquo; the announcer said, interrupting. Kenny G wailed his torrid way into a lite-jazz instrumental version of 'Sweet Bird of Youth'. I knew I should have never raised my voice.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Just as the G hit the last chorus, a supervisor with obvious experience in handling violent debtors abruptly came on the line, this time halting the musical interlude with an authoritative <em>ka-THUNK</em>. Before I could say a word, he told me to be quiet and listen. He would speak on behalf of my creditors, and if I wanted this just debt resolved I needed to hear what he had to say. He would only give his instructions once.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I was ordered to appear in person, to drive 168 miles round trip to Baton Rouge, the state capitol of Louisiana, and pay $1,234.78 to a Divisional Assistant Attorney General. $1,234.78. &ldquo;That includes the fee our office charges for handling the inquiry.&rdquo; I was being charged for this phone call. I opened my mouth to speak, but was stopped immediately. He knew what I was going to say. &ldquo;Pay up,&rdquo; the supervisor reminded me, or &ldquo;you will not be considered for any loan, and will not be considered positively as a potential house buyer, by either the federal or state government, in perpetuity.&rdquo;</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Nothing I could do.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I drove to Baton Rouge, another portion of my nest-egg in hand. Hard-earned money that would never be applied to renovating my house or reclaiming a neighborhood. I was to throw the cash down an administrative toilet, and not use it to buy one for my home.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Default Loan Reclamation Division was on the third floor of a state office building. Its main entry was directly across the hall from the Louisiana State Narcotic Bureau, Repeat Offenders Section. The Assistant Attorney General&rsquo;s secretary had bad teeth. She did not want to listen to a story about $14.39 and twenty-five years. No one did.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;I heard it all, honey,&rdquo; she said. The tip of a ragged toothpick moved in regular loops as she spoke, protruding from the corner of what seemed to be red wax lips. They did not smile. She seemed a cartoon person to me, but she was real enough to take my check and examine my driver&rsquo;s license, the latter action undertaken in case I might be a stranger trying to barge into her office and illegally force $1,234.78 into the hands of the morally-challenged political machine of the State of Louisiana.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">By no means was the Inquisition over. There was more soul-twisting torture to come, even over long-past matters where I had obviously been in the right. Seven years earlier I had canceled a credit card, closed an account with a company that had proved to be not as widely accepted as advertised, totally unreliable in customer service, and loaded with hidden charges. I had paid off the entire balance when I canceled, but was now told by a loan officer that I had to go back to the company, beg their forgiveness and get a letter &ldquo;from credit supervisor level or above&rdquo; saying that I had indeed left the credit card company on good terms.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I <em>was</em> in hell, with no way out. I was stuffed with asbestos, rolled in flammable building materials, and the devil&rsquo;s stoker was heavily into hazardous waste incineration.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Worse, I now realized that Beelzebub was a CPA with a law degree and a tenured civil service job with the state. Things were bad.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Then they were worse. I got what I asked for. In the second week of December the bank gave me the loan. I bought the house. The mortgage company gave me the eight weeks to complete initial renovation and move in. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;You just need to get your renovations approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission,&rdquo; said the mortgage clerk. &ldquo;Not a problem,&rdquo; said I. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Problem. The HDLC requires the posting of two stamped and certified sheets of paper in a prominent window for any new visible construction in an historic property. Even though my house&rsquo;s origins in 1890 place it as the newest house on the block, it is still considered &ldquo;historic&rdquo;. And even though I only wanted to remove a huge 1960&rsquo;s six-foot-by-eight-foot plate glass &ldquo;picture window&rdquo; from the front of my house, and replace it with an exact replica of the other existing original nineteenth&nbsp;century windows &ndash; something I thought the Commission would actually reward &ndash; I had to go through an arduous and lengthy paper-making process before I could begin construction.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I had filed the application on December 10, the afternoon of my preliminary closing on a loan which required me to be moved into the house in the week before Mardi Gras, only eight weeks away. It was now December 23. The arithmetic was simple, the panic real.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I was faced with another episode of battling the universal bureaucracy, and the permit they alone could issue.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">This was no small matter. </p><p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Commission is as dominant as any Court in the land, and have the power to ruin a human life or confiscate the object of that life&rsquo;s work. No construction is allowed in any of New Orleans&rsquo; fifteen federally&nbsp;designated historic districts without Commission approval. This was a group designed to prevent further deterioration of the character of the City&rsquo;s outward facade, and secondarily, of course, to allay the depletion of its taxable revenues. In the French Quarter &nbsp;- &nbsp;New Orleans&rsquo; undisputed tourist money magnet &nbsp;- &nbsp;even exterior paint color and inner patio changes have to be approved by a vote of the politically&nbsp;appointed group of society denizens, a body that as a whole are unencumbered by such time&nbsp;consuming and unseemly activities as the need to work.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Houses in other areas of town, like the Faubourg Marigny which held my new house, were only liable for construction or repair that is visible from the right&nbsp;of&nbsp;way. These changes require approval, a &ldquo;Certificate of Appropriateness&rdquo;, though the certificate thankfully carries no chromatic restrictions in the Marigny. The HDLC had my application, a simple one involving only restoration of the front window to its original matching form, and had held it for two weeks with no activity or apparent attempt at contact. On the third Monday, in a phone call with me, a secretary said that the application was approved and only needed typing and signing. On a follow&nbsp;up call Wednesday, I caught the Commission&rsquo;s Executive Director while the man was momentarily relieving his assistant at the phones. I asked for an update.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Director was nonplussed at being personally accosted about official business, and said that although the application was indeed approved, it would have to wait its turn to be typed and signed, a process that would possibly take as long as six weeks. I explained again that by the terms of my FHA loan, I had eight weeks total to complete the project, two of which had already been wasted in awaiting HDLC action. My margin for success with any further delay was slim, and asked politely that the Commission consider moving the application forward. The public servant said that he couldn&rsquo;t show favoritism, and that I would have to wait as everyone else did. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">That, as one might suspect, was not acceptable to the home owner. Me.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">So the next morning, Christmas Eve at 9am, The Applicant, manual typewriter and greasy toolbag in hand, waited glowering at the glass door pane of the Commission offices as the cloth shade went up. There stood a man immediately identifiable as The Executive Director. He warily opened the door, his tie still hanging loosely in two separate ribbons down either side of his shirt. The Executive Director had not expected an influx of early supplicants. He hurried to get his Windsor knotted so that he might more properly deal with the complexities of bedraggled architecture. I walked past him to sign the visitors&rsquo; log book, sat down in a chair, placed my typewriter on my lap and tools at my feet and announced loudly that I was there as a volunteer, ready to type all the certificates in front of mine. My logic was that since my application had already been reviewed and approved, and since the typing was supposedly the only holdup in allowing me to officially start work on the house, I would do the typing. I thought this reasonable enough. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Director, Executive, looked down his exquisite pale nose at the Applicant, opened his pursed lips, and delivered an abbreviated and oft&nbsp;rehearsed lecture. Quite breathily, for effect. The best I could hope for, he said with the authority of his position, was to receive my typed form three to four weeks down the line. I protested as civilly as I could. I tried to make it clear that by the terms of my bank loan I had to be moved into the house in 42 days, and that The Executive Director undoubtedly knew that I could get no other city construction permits without being awarded the HDLC&rsquo;s &ldquo;appropriateness&rdquo; certificate first.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;You should have it in the regular mail, sir, hopefully sometime before the end of January,&rdquo; The Executive Director said, holding his palm papally above my head as if to quell an outbreak of some deadly and unsightly urban fever. His tie was in place and his patience wearing thin. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Mine, too. The patience part. The Executive Director&rsquo;s manual blessing sent my formerly-mild manners looping over the edge of appropriate behavior. I told the Director outright that I wasn&rsquo;t leaving until I had my certificate. And, holding my typewriter up for viewing, confirmed that I had come prepared to type all the paperwork which stood in the way of my own being issued. That&rsquo;s what I would do. I too would work as a free volunteer, since the Executive Director had said the Commission was so woefully understaffed. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Director may have even briefly considered this proposal. However, as a volunteer I did not fit in with the decor. I was not attired as a member of The Historic Staff, in button&nbsp;down collars and school ties. I was dressed in work clothes, tar stains on knees from days of (illegal) roof work, scabs on elbows from the (also illegal) wrestling of rusting burglar bars in and out of windows. I had been forced into such unlawful action because as the house waited none&nbsp;too&nbsp;patiently for renovation, it was being invaded, vandalized, and with the winter season, water&nbsp;damaged. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Work clothes had been uniform of the day for my last fourteen. Standing in the spotless offices of the Commission, I had a laborer&rsquo;s weathered grimace on my face. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Executive Director was not happy with either my physical appearance or mental point of view. The Commission&rsquo;s wealthy blue&nbsp;haired volunteers, all &ldquo;retired housewives&rdquo; from Old Money New Orleans were due to arrive in the office at any minute to begin passing judgment on which timeworn stoops in the Faubourg Marigny and Lower Ninth Ward were of &ldquo;historical significance&rdquo;, and should be preserved with rare and expensive building materials by their working&nbsp;class owners. The fact that none of these householders maintained an economic status comparable with that of the volunteers was a compromising factor entirely lost on Commission members in their search for chronologically&nbsp;correct door jambs.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">There was to be an office Christmas party that afternoon, where all of this hubbub would be forgotten. I could see the Commission Christmas party invitation from where I stood. It was posted on the wall behind the counter, a large and glossy print of all the volunteers standing outside the building, each person&rsquo;s name under his or her photo. The words &ldquo;Thank You&rdquo; were printed in florid script across the top of the invitation, surrounded by a red and green Christmas wreath. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I made a loud and liquid hawking noise, clearing my throat of the thick phlegm of bureaucratic injustice. The Executive Director was now staring at me with even greater apparent worry. What if an Historic Volunteer saw the dirty homebuilder? I looked likely to spit on the floor, or even soil myself, at any moment. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I saw the bureaucrat&rsquo;s fear, raised my typewriter to a level with his eyes. Shook it slowly from side to side. I made a deep groaning noise. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">The Director could see that here was an unstable character, an unwashed and unwanted typist who was determined to type. He asked for five minutes grace while he consulted the Commission computer.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">In less time, he was back with completed and signed Certificate in hand. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;See, just a little patience will get you everything you need,&rdquo; he said without irony.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&ldquo;Merry Christmas,&rdquo; said I. It was 9:16am. The printing of my permit had taken fifteen minutes rather than six weeks.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">An hour later my general contractor listened as his new client related the story. He recognized in my actions a successful application of intimidation, and took the theme one step further. That same Christmas Eve afternoon, the Commission approval now in hand, Joseph sent his wife and screaming twin infants down to stand in the line for building permits. He instructed his wife that every time she hit a delay, she should gently pinch one of the three&nbsp;year&nbsp;old&rsquo;s behind and send him wailing into sonic overload. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">True to her husband&rsquo;s predictions, she got prompt governmental attention and expedited service with the boy&rsquo;s loud howls, and was quickly sent on her way. Mission accomplished, the mother was sure that putting food on the table and cash in the college fund would more than make up for her sons&rsquo; temporary buttock discomfort. Besides, if the young men followed in their father&rsquo;s profession, they might well expect the same sort of indignity. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">By that night the contractor had left a message on my phone saying that the project was back on schedule. His wife had acquired the required forms in record time. With &ldquo;just a little patience&rdquo;. </p> <p align="center"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/old%20house%20120.jpg" alt="The Sunday Comics" width="530" /></p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&nbsp;</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">I now live in that house, historically restored and mostly functional. But even that comes at a literal price, as the new, much higher, assessment on the worth of my renovated home has jumped my annual property tax from $78 a year to over $2300. And, since Katrina, home insurance has more than doubled, even with an $11,000 &ldquo;hurricane deductible&rdquo; first taken out. What this adds up to is the blatant economic fact that <em>monthly</em> I now am billed a total of $500 in tax and insurance on a house that I already own.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">This amount is exactly what I remember paying in rent every 30 days as a much younger man.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Plus here I am, all these years down the line, spending yet another complete weekend replacing bathroom faucet gaskets, repainting flaking porch decks, rewiring outdoor lighting and generally banging my knuckles against sharp hard objects. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Instead of finally exalting in the realization of the 'American Dream' of property ownership and maintenance, I find myself blissfully fantasizing about being able to call a landlord for assistance, and heading off to the communal pool to sunbathe while things are made right.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">But meanwhile this place, and all that comes with it, belongs to me. I bought it and rebuilt it and now Occupy it. </p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">Today the head of the Federal Reserve Bank has told Congress that the country&rsquo;s economy depends on just such actions as mine.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0cm; line-height: 100%;">&nbsp;</p> United States Culture openUSA Sunday Comics Jim Gabour Sun, 15 Apr 2012 09:00:00 +0000 Jim Gabour 65322 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fallout of News Corp. Scandal in the US? https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-hamilton/fallout-of-news-corp-scandal-in-us <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p> <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG ></o> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:TrackMoves>false</w:TrackMoves> <w:TrackFormatting ></w> <w:PunctuationKerning ></w> <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing> <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing> <w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery> <w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas ></w> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables ></w> <w:DontGrowAutofit ></w> <w:DontAutofitConstrainedTables ></w> <w:DontVertAlignInTxbx ></w> </w:Compatibility> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276"> </w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--> <!--[if gte mso 10]> <mce:style><! /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0cm; mso-para-margin-right:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0cm; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} --> <!--[endif] --> <!--StartFragment--> </p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>In the US, the deleterious effect of rampant commercialization is the real scandal.&nbsp;</span></p> <!--EndFragment--> </div> </div> </div> <p>Phone-hacking and payoff scandals by News Corp. tabloids continue to rock the UK, bringing down major media companies and fracturing public confidence in heretofore (largely) trusted institutions. What fallout -if any - might this have in the US? Might similar conduct by media companies in the US ever have similar consequences in the US? </p> <p>It’s a difficult question. Firstly, contrasting legal/regulatory and business environments make simple comparisons spurious. Libel laws in the US, for example, are more favourable toward the defendant than the plaintiff. </p> <p>The US lacks any truly national newspapers (the <em>New York Times</em> and the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> have something like a national circulation, but only among a very privileged upper crust of readers). And, of course, the BBC has no counterpart of equivalent stature in advertising-crazed American media industries.</p> <p>Traditions of tabloid publishing themselves are also quite different. British tabloids by comparison to those in the US circulate to a broad range of readers, and for which public crusades comprise a visible part (yes, only a part) of the editorial mix. But US tabloids are wholly crass, shrill and crude, without a whiff of public-minded conscience. They operate entirely in the realms of fanzine (first views of Justin Bieber’s new hair-do), melodrama (the latest dirty dealings of spurned celebrity lovers) and fantasy (two-headed alien babies born to the current TV-show starlet).</p> <p>As a result, and contrary to UK tabloid readers, US readers have as high an expectation of truth in US tabloids as one would have in late-night television advertising. US tabloids operate wholly on readers' willing suspension of disbelief, similar to what thrill-seekers do to ‘get into’ a horror movie in order to shiver to all the scripted chills.&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s more, tabloid writers in the US are not generally considered journalists in the highfalutin, professional, ethical sense of the term. They can’t offend by breaking the rules or not meeting readers’ expectations that they should mind an ethical standard below which they should not stoop.</p> <p>Because US tabloids make no pretense to champion high-minded public causes, US readers don’t expect them to. No one in the US is surprised when US tabloid writers are caught doing what they are supposed/expected to do: prying into private lives and poking their noses, camera lenses and recorders as far as possible into other people’s business just to sell stories. When you’re already sprawled on your back in the gutter, you don’t have to worry about falling down.</p> <p>This is not to discount some fallout from the UK tabloid scandal that has taken root in the States. Due to the <a href="http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/">long arm</a> of US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act , Mark Lewis who represents a number of plaintiffs has argued that US anti-bribery provisions apply to US-based companies whose employees engage in banned practices even outside the US. To connect the dots, the defunct <em>News of the World </em>was owned by News International, whose owner in turn is US-based and publicly owned and traded News Corp. </p> <p>But, this legal wrangling is hardly the stuff to pry the typical American up from his or her couch, run to the window, and yell like Peter Finch in the film, ‘Network’, ‘we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore!’</p> <p>Indeed, the only trans-Atlantic insight the UK tabloid debacle seems to offer regarding whether disgust with tabloids in the UK may be duplicated in the US has to do with how publications set reader expectations. Only when a news organization seeks by desire or design to trumpet itself as a ‘professional’ news organization is it bound by the ethics and the expectations that come with such a claimed status. When it stoops below them, watch out.</p> <p>US tabloids occasionally forget this lesson. While the US tabloid the <em>National Enquirer </em>has on occasion been recognized for scooping other publications regarding the <a href="http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4875">seamy behind-closed-doors actions</a> of public figures, the 2002 Elizabeth Smart kidnapping (in which a teen girl was kidnapped from her parents’ house and later found alive with her abductors after suffering nine months of sexual and mental abuse) is a very different case. </p> <p>This horrific situation was of course red meat in the maws of US tabloids. To get a jump on its competition for an insider story, the <em>National Enquirer</em> paid two local newspaper reporters $10,000 each for what the <a href="http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=3077">American Journalism Review</a> <a href="http://archive.wikiwix.com/opendemocracy/?url=http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=3077&amp;title=American%20Journalism%20Review">↑</a> calls a ‘salacious’ story about skeletons in the Smart family’s closet. It included such tidbits as police investigators believing one of the family members staged the kidnapping to cover up their own nefarious designs on the teen girl. The headline was pure tabloid: ‘Utah Cops: Secret Diary Exposes Family Sex Ring’. </p> <p>One wee problem - the story and its sources were fabricated. The reporters lost their day job at the local newspaper, and the editor of their day-job newspaper was fired. The<em> Enquirer</em>, which published the phony story, had some serious egg on its face and public apologies to make.</p> <p>One might argue that, despite being utterly despicable, this still doesn’t reach the severity of claiming that parents murdered their own daughter, and that this difference in severity explains why there was not the same backlash directed at journalism in the US over this story. But accusations of violating the sanctity of family, virginity, ethics, morality, and civilization would still seem to be plenty severe. </p> <p>Indeed, the reporters and the <em>Enquirer</em> were scorned. But the bulk of scorn was heaped upon the individual reporters, not the industry as a whole, largely because their ‘real’ job was working at a ‘real’ newspaper, and how could ‘real’ journalists stoop to such levels? John Hughes writing in the staid <em>Christian Science Monitor</em> (14 May 2003) harrumphed about professional journalism being ‘defiled’ by ‘such tawdry ethical lapses’. </p> <p>By contrast, if the same story had not been presented as legitimately reported and sourced, but had instead been hatched in the bowels of a tabloid’s editorial conference room and presented as fantasy conjecture, US readers certainly would be disgusted, but would simply shake their head and wearily repeat ‘what else would you expect?’.</p> <p>This is hardly the earthquake that’s occurred due to News Corp’s shenanigans. No national inquiries. No countless commentaries about the future of journalism. </p> <p>And, yet, US readers’ faith and trust in journalism—tabloid or otherwise—continues to skid. In a 2010 <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/142133/confidence-newspapers-news-remains-rarity.aspx">poll</a> <a href="http://archive.wikiwix.com/opendemocracy/?url=http://www.gallup.com/poll/142133/confidence-newspapers-news-remains-rarity.aspx&amp;title=poll">↑</a> by the Gallup organization, only about one-quarter of respondents expressed a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of faith in newspapers and television news. </p> <p>While this may have something to do with journalistic ethics, it has at least as much to do with the incessant and accelerating impact of commercialization. The commercial model of funding that was ironed out in the earliest days of mass publication continues today to hemorrhage due to economic challenges not so much from online content aggregators, but more so from the growth of online and mobile advertising at the expense of print. </p> <p>More steps need to be taken to insulate journalism (and all media production) from commercial pressures. One innovative approach is to fund a <a href="http://www.freepress.net/files/New_Public_Media.doc.pdf">public-media trust</a> through such means as spectrum-use fees, and diverting a percentage of advertising sales each year into a subsidy to be used to support noncommercial media. </p> <p>Without this freedom from commercial pressures, journalism and its claims to disinterested truth will always be suspected of pandering or shaping news to attract readers. Or bribing public officials to gather it illegally. Whether or not the earthquakes rattling the UK reach News Corp here in the US is still uncertain. But the deleterious effect of rampant commercialization is the real scandal.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> </div> </div> uk UK United States Culture Democracy and government Economics openUSA Power and the Media James Hamilton Sun, 11 Mar 2012 08:20:10 +0000 James Hamilton 64659 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Once again, the Tease https://www.opendemocracy.net/jim-gabour/once-again-tease <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> As Louisiana braces itself for Tropical Storm Bonnie, Jim Gabour reflects on the current mood in New Orleans. </div> </div> </div> <p>I am not sure why each tragedy walking into town these past months seems to come hand-in-hand with a celebration of some sort. Maybe a sentient ethereal balance is at work in the cosmos, knowing the long-suffering population of New Orleans might finally buckle if there wasn't some sort of good to balance out the bad. Maybe this is just the way we live. Whichever it is, we are in that situation yet again.</p><p>This weekend there are 15,000 people professionally partying in New Orleans as part of the five-day summer "Tales of the Cocktail" festival. Which continues, even as a tropical storm approaches. Most are visitors from all over the country in town for the lectures and demonstrations on everything remotely dealing with barrooms, thriving on the myriad tastings and food parings. And of course, there is the Serious Drinking.</p><p>Much entertainment is also being executed, including a famous stripper,<br />sponsored by Cointreau liqueur: Dita Von Teese. Ms Von Teese is scheduled to artistically remove her clothing in a special two-of-a-kind performance entitled "Be Cointreauversial", disassembling her couture piece by piece until finally spinning nude in a seven-foot-tall martini glass filled with her beverage of choice. Cointreau, of course. Neat. No olive. This is undoubtedly for the public good.</p><p>Though her appearance in New Orleans is being underwritten, Ms Von Teese has shown that she can be something of a philanthropist, having once performed at benefit for the New York Academy of Art wearing nothing but $5,000,000 worth of diamonds. Plus, the fact that she was married to Marilyn Manson for three years is bound to count as penance for any worldly wrongdoing. New Orleans was happy to welcome her as a distraction, especially in the face of the oncoming storm. She has, in fact, completed her admirably attended bookings and is at this moment high-tailing it for higher ground.</p><p>I, however, must remain in place. And deal with the ground-level effects of a combination of man-made and meteorological disasters. Basically, I get to test my century-old house's brand new louvered shutters this weekend. I had them made over the past month from scratch in durable red cedar, fabricated by an incredibly talented crew of young millworkers who live just one block away. I will probably start battening down the hatches later today, as the front of Tropical Storm Bonnie is due in tomorrow morn. With all the increased BP scare, I imagine I should have a flat shovel ready, in case tar balls are rolled with the wind into my own Marigny street via Lake Ponchartrain.</p><p>The morning news reports that local government officials on the east end of the lake have positioned large barges across the deepest of the passes, to try and keep the oil out. They have not been hugely successful at doing so these past weeks, but at least the structures look formidable. And the well is temporarily capped, so at least it is not new bad news, just a doubled recurrence of the old.</p><p>Appearance is once again much more important than substance in the face of a fear nurtured by media and government alike. Putting sand berms down offshore to keep the oil out of the wetlands was completely disowned by every scientist in the state as not only a non-solution, but also as more harmful to the environment than the initial oil threat. The scientists repeated this in every media outlet possible, even as the Louisiana Governor forced the Corps of Engineers to begin putting them in place.</p><p>His action should prove moot this weekend, as the shallow foreplay of the storm is already eroding the artificial islands into non-existence. They should be gone by Monday. But the oil? The oil is on its way. If Tropical Storm Bonnie hits just to the west of us as predicted, the wind and wave flow, the storm surge, will come from the southeast, bring the millions of gallons of petroleum right into our coast. Deeper than can be imagined.</p><p>This combination of menaces has all the politicians again fighting for network soundbites, standing in front of shallow shiny surf and proclaiming this their own private disaster du jour - a "must-watch" national news event, with them as the stars.</p><p>I have personal concerns closer to home. Actually at home. Of bigger import to me is this huge hackberry tree in my patio, which has been leaning more and more as it gets older and the roots rot. Hackberries are short-lived though tall swamp vegetation, and are generally considered trash trees that drop something in every season, leaves, berries, pollen. There were fifteen of them here when I bought the house, so I had no real choice about their presence, until thirteen were uprooted in Katrina and another fell over in Gustav. I have, however, been thinking about removing this final tree for the last five years. I didn't want to lose the yard's last real shade tree, but it is getting increasingly dangerous.</p><p>In any case I have finally been getting bids from arborists this last week to cut it down. It is a very expensive and dangerous process, and I wanted someone insured, bonded, and licensed. I had also promised to award the job by noon today, Friday. In retrospect, the timing seems all too coincidentally late, as the tree may come down of its own accord with Bonnie's high winds. Hopefully not crushing the backyard cottage, and my studio, in the process.</p><p>So the official storm season rears its ugly head and I must prepare, first getting into the garden shed to drag out the generator for its annual crank-over and tune-up. I need to see how much gas I have left, check the oil, remove dirt and dust. Then I need to check the kerosene hurricane lamps and their reserves. Maybe I will go buy a couple of gallons of back-up water, even though post-K I installed a built-in water filtration system in the kitchen for just such an occasion. The guarantee says it takes out 99.5% of all the bad stuff. It has made N.O. water palatable for these last five years, so I am depending on it. I just changed the filters a month ago, so it should be ready to deal with higher levels of pollutants, just in case. Though I doubt this storm is strong enough to cause worry about water supply.</p><p>Then I'll go get some flashlight batteries. And maybe a small supply of bourbon, in case of minor injuries to body or soul. And a bag of crisps.</p><p>Never can tell. Hate taking any storm too lightly.</p><p>I say that as I watch CNN: our brave Republican Governor "Bobby" Jindal is out there again today, milking any fear he can find for his personal PR scrapbook, talking the good fight and then moving on. He is running for national office at the expense of his more local constituents. A man I once believed had at least the possibility of a modicum of integrity has proven himself as concerned about real people as was W, flying over Katrina in Air Force One. Only this politician does it on the ground, via limo, with his shirt sleeves rolled up.</p><p>I would have felt safer, and vastly more content, if Miz Von Teese had remained in town, her sleeves undoubtedly much more artfully rolled up. And her significance on the site much more impressive.</p><p>The last tree-cutter just came by, and ended up offering the best bid and<br />earliest start-date. He will bring a crew over this coming Monday. But<br />that will be after Bonnie passes through town. I must call him back to<br />negotiate a cheaper price in the eventuality the tree is already horizontal<br />when he comes to remove it.</p><p>So, after the generator testing, and the supply shopping, and the shutter<br />closing, I intend to clean up and attend a Tales of the Cocktail sampling of twenty-five-year-old bourbons this evening. After all, the weekend's<br />unwanted windy guest will probably demand much more serious attention through the next two days, and one must keep disaster in perspective.</p><p>You may consider this my soundbite.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> New Orleans </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> New Orleans United States Democracy and government Culture openUSA Jim Gabour Thu, 29 Jul 2010 13:46:43 +0000 Jim Gabour 55368 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The United States: democracy, with interests https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-united-states-democracy-with-interests <p> The members of the United States Congress have gone home without approving Barack Obama&#39;s healthcare plan. The president has given the issue so much salience, and the case for reform is so urgent, that it is likely that some more or less satisfactory healthcare reforms will be passed between September 2009 (when Congress <a href="http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/08/03/Healthcare-debate-bites-dog-days-of-August/UPI-46611249300332/">reconvenes</a>) and the end of the year. But even if this happens, it is now plain that the result will fall far short of what Obama promised as a presidential candidate and what so many <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE5656BM20090706">hoped</a> for; it will be rather an <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/06/18/us/politics/061809-health-care-proposals.html">intricate complex</a> of compromises, cobbled together to meet the conflicting political and financial needs of  dozens of special interests. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Godfrey Hodgson was director of the Reuters&#39; Foundation Programme at Oxford University, and before that the <em>Observer&#39;s</em> correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the <em>Independent</em>.<br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s most recent book is <a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300125702"><em>The Myth of American Exceptiona</em><em>l</em><em>ism</em></a> (Yale University Press, 2009)<br /> <br /> His earlier books include <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=2330"><em>The World Turned Right Side Up: a history of the conservative ascendancy in America</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 1996); <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=681114"><em>The Gentl</em><em>e</em><em>man from New York: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 2000); <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7700.html"><em>More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century</em></a> (Princeton University Press, 2006), <a href="http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/publicaffairsbooks-cgi-bin/display?book=9781586483739&amp;view=quotes"><em>A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pi</em><em>l</em><em>grims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving</em></a> (PublicAffairs, 2007)<br /> <br /> Among Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s <strong>openDemocracy</strong> articles:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/a-game-of-two-halves">A game of two halves</a>&quot; (15 July 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/welcome-to-the-party-american-convention-follies">Welcome to the party: American convention follies</a>&quot; (18 August 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-foreign-policy-election">America&#39;s foreign-policy election</a>&quot; (28 August 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-economy-election">America&#39;s economy election</a>&quot; (17 October 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/yes-he-can">Yes he can!</a>&quot; (6 November 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/change-0">Change?</a>&quot; (2 December 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/an-end-and-a-beginning">An end and a beginning</a>&quot; (5 January 2009)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot; (6 February 2009)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obamas-reality-gap">Barack Obama&#39;s reality gap</a>&quot; (27 February 2009)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-end-of-the-beginning">Barack Obama: end of the beginning</a>&quot; (30 March 2009)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-hundred-days">Barack Obama&#39;s hundred days</a>&quot; (29 April 2009)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-a-six-month-assessment">Barack Obama: a six-month assessment</a>&quot; (10 July 2009)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-world">Barack Obama&#39;s world</a>&quot; (16 July 2009)</span> </p> <p> The exact lines of that package of reforms is not yet clear. But already it has offered a highly instructive look at three matters of great importance: </p> <p> * Obama&#39;s growing political difficulties </p> <p> * The current mood of American politics </p> <p> * How very different American politics are from the style and substance of politics in other developed democracies. </p> <p> <strong>The magnified madness</strong> </p> <p> The inherently ridiculous affair of the professor, the policeman and the president revealed that, contrary to the &quot;bliss-was-it-in-that-dawn&quot; mood at the time of President Obama&#39;s election in November 2008, the United States is still very <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/Our-National-Postracial/47462/">far</a> from being a &quot;post-racial&quot; nation. </p> <p> On 16 July 2009, A (white) neighbour observed what seemed to her to be two black men breaking into a house. The two turned out to be the best known African-American scholar in the country, the Harvard University professor <a href="http://aaas.fas.harvard.edu/faculty/henry_louis_gates_jr/index.html">Henry Louis Gates Jr</a>, and his driver; they had gone round the back of Gates&#39;s home because the front-door was jammed. </p> <p> Sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts police, was sent to investigate and <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090721/ap_on_re_us/us_harvard_scholar_disorderly">arrested</a> Gates, who - understandably, since he was in his own house - used some unprofessorial language. When asked about the episode at a press conference, President Obama, a personal friend of Gates, <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/07/22/harvard.gates.interview/index.html">said</a> that the local police had acted &quot;stupidly&quot;. This is a president who, like most non-white people in America, has personal experience of being &quot;racially profiled&quot;, the euphemism for discriminatory harassment by police (see Darryl Pinckney, &quot;<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/henry-louis-gates-jr-every-black-mans-nightmare-1766859.html">Henry Louis Gates Jr: Every black man&#39;s nightmare</a>&quot;, <em>Independent</em>, 4 August 2009). </p> <p> With some grace and political style, Obama <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/5951344/White-House-beer-summit-Henry-Gates-and-James-Crowley-agree-to-disagree.html">invited</a> both the tactless <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32122233/ns/today-today_people/">policeman</a> and the touchy <a href="http://www.theroot.com/views/skip-gates-speaks">professor</a> to the White House to have a beer with him in the rose garden. </p> <p> So much for a silly-season story. What is of lasting significance is the storm of blogs, tweets and other responses the affair provoked, and what they reveal about the political mood. The great majority were furious, not with the policeman, but with the president. The incident has even given new life to the truly mad minority who insist that Barack Obama, a devoted Christian, is a Muslim; or that he is disqualified by foreign birth from the presidency, though he was born in Hawaii; and even that he is a &quot;Manchurian candidate&quot;, sneaked into the United States by some Muslim conspiracy to undermine its constitutional-liberties system and Christian faith. </p> <p> <strong>The public illness </strong> </p> <p> What, it may be asked, does this have to do with healthcare reform? </p> <p> No one, I think, who has read both the bloggers&#39; response to the Gates affair and the chorus of incoherent rage about healthcare could fail to struck by the similarity of their stridency and irrationality. </p> <p> True, there is one significant difference. On Gates, the great majority were <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/08/04/obama.gates.poll/">hostile</a> to the president: it looked very much as though only African-Americans and a thin sprinkling of liberals spoke up for Obama. On healthcare, the spluttering rage and wild indifference to the facts have come from both the president&#39;s assailants and his defenders. </p> <p> There is now some evidence that support for both Obama&#39;s healthcare policy and his personal popularity are falling. Obama&#39;s own standing has (according to a <a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x271.xml">Quinnipiac University</a> poll) <a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1295.xml?ReleaseID=1361">fallen</a> from 66% to 50% between early July and early August 2009 (and by a similar margin, albeit to a higher total, in a <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/08/06/obama.poll/">CNN survey</a>. </p> <p> Obama&#39;s political circle fear that time is against him, and they may be right. They pushed to get Congress to pass a healthcare-reform proposal before Congress adjourned, and failed. The <a href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160104.php">health-insurance</a> industry and the Republicans will used the congressional vacation to bombard vulnerable politicians with even more fear-inducing material. Already the heaviest advertising spending has been in the districts of key members of relevant committees. The closer the 2010 mid-term elections approach, the more congressmen will be reluctant to expose themselves to this barrage. </p> <p> The political mood in the United States is nervous, edgy, uncertain. In foreign policy, a number of events - the re-election (albeit <a href="/article/iran-s-stolen-election-and-what-comes-next">dubious</a>) of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, the return to <a href="/article/binyamin-netanyahu-s-mirage">power</a> of Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel, the continued <a href="/article/barack-obama-and-afghanistan-a-closer-look">frustrations</a> in Afghanistan and Pakistan - have shown that Obama has less power to change the world than he, or at least those who voted for him, imagined. </p> <p> In the domestic arena, against the background of a deep economic recession there is a strange political situation as the president seeks to push healthcare policy forward. A substantial majority of Americans still say they want serious change in this area. But on this as on <a href="http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/08/07/dream_of_dc_bipartisanship_shrivels/">other</a> issues, Obama&#39;s wish to &quot;reach across the aisle&quot; and overcome the sharp political dichotomy (as well as to convince elements of his <a href="http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/07/23/obamas-healthcare-vote-delayed-the-reason-democrats/">own</a> side) has not worked; Republican politicians still caricature healthcare reform as &quot;socialised medicine&quot;, even if as yet they have derived little political benefit from this stance. </p> <p> The media story, however, is more sharply <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/">defined</a> than the political one. Conservative publicists and pundits, especially on radio and on <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/index.html">Fox TV</a>, have recovered their confidence. They shamelessly travesty Democratic policies, and a surprising number of their readers and listeners seem to agree. Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the finance committee and a relatively responsible <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec09/health_08-05.html">figure</a> in the healthcare debate, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/blogs/healthwellness/141803/chuck_grassley_uses_kennedy%2527s_brain_tumor_to_spread_anti-health_reform_propaganda/">asserted</a> that Senator Ted Kennedy - the veteran champion of healthcare reform, who has had surgery for a brain tumour - would have died by now if he had lived in Canada or Britain. </p> <p> <strong>The interest effect</strong> </p> <p> The United States is a democracy. Its citizens have the right if they wish to spend twice what any other countries spend on healthcare, and receive in return an overall inferior service. But it is worth asking why - since Lyndon B Johnson&#39;s <a href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/medicare-medicaid/whatismedicare.php">introduction</a> in 1965 of Medicaid (for the poor) and Medicare (for the elderly) - the clearer failures in the delivery of healthcare have been so hard to remedy. </p> <p> An important factor is undoubtedly the extraordinary influence of special interests at several points in the political system. &quot;Interests&quot; - in this case health insurance, <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106899074">pharmaceuticals</a> and private hospitals on one side, and trial lawyers and trade unions on the other  - are able to exert three kinds of pressure (see Joe Klein, &quot;<a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1913619,00.html">Will Special Interests Stymie Health-Care Reform?</a>&quot;, <em>Time</em>, 3 August 2009). </p> <p> First, they target politicians directly with massive campaigns of televised political advertising of a kind that would not be permitted by law (on account that it skews public debate) in most <a href="http://niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=background.view&amp;backgroundid=00377">other</a> developed countries.   </p> <p> Second, they lean on politicians by contributing large <a href="http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/20090731/dollars-chase-influence-ins-healthcare-debate.htm">sums</a> to their re-election campaigns, or to those of their opponents. The fact that elections for the House of Representatives are held every two years increases the temptation and vulnerability of congressmen. </p> <p> Third, the interests can support a vast network of <a href="http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/08/07/do-americans-agree-with-town-hall-protesters-on-healthcare/">advocacy-groups</a>, foundations, lobbies and  public-relations operations which all strive to frame the debate. This includes the often explicit aim of influencing media reporting. The success here is most blatant in the resulting <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/obama-turns-to-internet-in-bid-to-sell-his-health-care-reforms-1769957.html">distortion</a> of Americans&#39; perception of how healthcare works in other countries (for example, the canard that people in Britain or Canada are not allowed to choose their own doctor). </p> <p> <strong>The federal lesson</strong> </p> <p> Most Americans believe that their system is more &quot;democratic&quot; than others, especially than parliamentary systems. There is some truth in this. It is certainly true that &quot;interests&quot; in the United States - special or routine, benign or selfish - have greater opportunities to stall or avert change, even when there is evidence that large majorities desire such change. Many Americans (and others) also believe that the spread of new media in America has introduced an enviable online &quot;people&#39;s democracy&quot;. The quality of much online debate in the US makes this questionable. </p> <p> Because the United States has a federal system, there is a wider range of geographical variation. In other respects, too, the American constitutional system makes quick and effective action by central governments more difficult. The weakness of the two parties means that a new coalition has to be negotiated for each major legislation. </p> <p> The <a href="http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html">constitution</a> enshrined two principles: </p> <p> * the balance of powers between the three branches of government (the executive, the legislative and the judicial) </p> <p> * the distribution of &quot;checks and balances&quot; between them, and between the federal government and the states, in a manner that was intended to defend against a tyranny of the majority. This it has done effectively. </p> <p> The American constitution has worked well on the whole, and - even if <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/gladstone_william_ewart.shtml">William Ewart Gladstone</a>&#39;s description of it as the &quot;noblest work ever struck at one time from the mind of man&quot; may be hyberbolic - it is respected to the verge of veneration in its homeland. Like any human creation, however, it has imperfections. A serious failing is that the constitution makes it harder to reach consensus on the need for change, or on the precise form that change could take, than do the (equally imperfect) political institutions of other nations. When in addition the political atmosphere in the United States has become so febrile and partisan, the result is that the fate of Barack Obama&#39;s flagship policy is in the balance. </p> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama and the world: </p> <p> John C Hulsman, &quot;<a href="/article/memo-to-obama-the-middle-east-needs-you">Memo to Obama: the middle east needs you</a>&quot; (11 November 2008) </p> <p> Zaid Al-Ali, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-means-for-iraq">What Obama means for Iraq</a>&quot; (13 November 2008) </p> <p> Prince Hassan of Jordan, &quot;<a href="/article/the-failure-of-force-an-alternative-option">The failure of force: an alternative option</a>&quot; (16 January 2009) </p> <p> openDemocracy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice</a>&quot; (20 January 2009) </p> <p> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Barack Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot; (21 January 2009) </p> <p> Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009) </p> <p> Tarek Osman, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/the-islamic-world-the-united-states-democracy-response-to-shadi-hamid">The Islamic world, the United States, democracy</a>&quot; (15 May 2009) </p> <p> Akiva Eldar, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-israels-true-friend">Barack Obama: Israel&#39;s true friend</a>&quot; (25 May 2009) </p> <p> Robert G Rabil, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-and-the-middle-east-pragmatism-vs-hope">Barack Obama&#39;s middle east: pragmatism and hope</a>&quot; (1 June 2009) </p> <p> Nader Hashemi, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-must-say-and-do-in-egypt">What Obama must say (and do) in Egypt</a>&quot; (3 June 2009) </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> democracy & power american power & the world openUSA Godfrey Hodgson Creative Commons normal email Fri, 14 Aug 2009 22:09:40 +0000 Godfrey Hodgson 48462 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Letter from Motor City https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/letter-from-the-motor-city <p> The ruins of Detroit are no less spectacular, no less heartbreaking, than those of fallen ancient capitals. A <a href="http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/michigan-central-station-demolition.php">beaux-arts railway station</a>, its 18 stories vacant for the last two decades, crumbles under the tread of scavengers and vandals, its tracks pulled up, its windows punched out. A once-grand movie palace, on the site where Henry Ford built his first automobile, lives on as a derelict parking structure. Marvels of industrial architecture bleach in the sun, disappearing under urban prairies, green and garbage-strewn meadows that line the city's major avenues. </p> <p> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Perlin1.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p> The city's disappearing act is matched by its vanishing institutions. For Chrysler and General Motors, these are the days and nights of <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8075818.stm">Chapter 11</a> - the American bankruptcy code which allows reorganization and repudiation of contracts - while Ford attempts a desperate restructuring of its own. The ingenious legions of bankruptcy lawyers may labor in New York courtrooms (where the process is supposed to be faster, and relatively less painful), but Motor City is the site of the pileup. As bankruptcy loomed over Detroit, I went to take the city's pulse. </p> <p> Unemployment in the metro region pushes towards 14 percent, the highest in the country, and rising. Municipal bonds are at junk status. The city fathers - those not ousted in successive scandals over marital infidelity, perjury, the death of an exotic dancer, and improper text messaging - grapple with a $300 million budget shortfall. Infrastructure buckles and frays. The population declines: a city of nearly two million souls in 1950 musters fewer than a million in 2009. </p> <p> Yet in June the <a href="http://redwings.nhl.com/">Red Wings</a>, the city's beloved hockey heroes, made an electrifying bid for a second straight Stanley Cup. Faith in Obama still ran high among the city's overwhelmingly African-American population, despite the fallout from the administration's "managed" bankruptcies. And over the long Memorial Day weekend in May, more than 75,000 electronic music fans streamed into Hart Plaza on the renovated waterfront, dancing ecstatically in the shadows cast by empty skyscrapers. </p> <p> Young Detroiters prefer to boast that their city gave the world techno music, rather than harp on the invention of the modern assembly line or on the <a href="http://www.noi.org/">Nation of Islam</a> (which came into being in 1930, in the city's Linwood Avenue neighborhood). Every year, one of the world's largest electronic music <a href="http://www.demf.com/">festivals</a> pays homage to the small group of African-American producers and DJs who fused local traditions of funk and Motown with avant-garde European electronica in the early 1980s. Soon the sound had spread to cutting-edge clubs, underground raves, and plucky record labels around the world. </p> <p> One of the pioneer DJs, Derrick May, <a href="http://www.ele-mental.org/ele_ment/said&amp;did/techno_liner_notes.html">described</a> it as a "complete mistake... like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator, with only a sequencer to keep them company." Yet this unlikely fusion - ethereal and driving, futurist and vintage, high concept and for the masses - fits Detroit well. Recent standard bearers of the Detroit aesthetic include Carl Craig, who is equally at home <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Recomposed-Carl-Craig-Moritz-Oswald/dp/B001EGGBFM">remixing</a> Ravel and Mussorgsky or juicing up a dance floor, and Jay Dilla, a hip hop producer who achieved transcendence by discovering obscure soul records and sampling them flawlessly. </p> <p> <strong>Decline and collapse</strong> </p> <p> Like Venice, like the family farm, Detroit has been going under for as long as anyone can remember, making it more symbol than city to other Americans. The official motto is <em>Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus</em> (We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes) - an optimism already two centuries old, referring to a city-wide <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Detroit,_Michigan#1805_fire_and_city_incorporation">fire</a> in 1805. Likewise, GM's world headquarters are at the "Renaissance Center", a cluster of glowering glass towers, a familiar backdrop from baleful news reports on TV, which was recently redeveloped on the fleeting profits of the Hummer Boom. </p> <p> Talk of renaissance and rebirth is stale officialese to many Detroiters, but downtown does show signs of life - a renovated <a href="http://apps.detnews.com/apps/history/index.php?id=63">theater</a>, a fixed-up <a href="http://www.bookcadillacwestin.com/historical">hotel</a>, cleaner streets. Still, the city's thousands of homeless wander the few parks; thousands more squat in vacant buildings. A little farther out, the authorities have lavished less attention; whole districts of the city molder half-empty, and condemned towers of public housing await demolition. This may be the ultimate stage of inner city blight: grassy, silent lots and the peaceful ruins of stately homes. No gun-toting criminals, no noxious industry, no overcrowded housing projects--in fact, no one in sight at all. </p> <p> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Perlin2.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p> The pivotal moment, according to many white Detroiters, was the<em> </em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12th_Street_Riot">1967 riots</a>. In the most compelling Detroit novel of recent times, <em>Middlesex </em>by Jeffrey Eugenides, those terrifying race riots received extended fictional treatment for the first time. "Oh my god! Is like Smyrna! Like the Turks they are burning everything!" cries Desdemona Stephanides in the riot's early hours, evoking traumatic memories of the horrors that drove the novel's Greek immigrant family to America in the first place. Eugenides depicts the anguish of Detroit's white middle class, heavily ethnic, which fled <em>en masse</em> in the following years. Although polarized race relations had long haunted the city - ever since the influx of southern blacks to the auto factories brought competition for jobs - the fall-out of 1967 signaled a definitive pattern of "chocolate city, vanilla suburbs" and a new atmosphere of ineluctable mistrust. </p> <p> Keeping up with white flight and moving nimbly for tax breaks, the auto companies inhabit this whole gridded sprawl, first patterned by the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_Ordinance_of_1785">Land Ordinance of 1785</a>. Chrysler's headquarters are in the cozy suburb of Auburn Hills, Ford anchors the city of Dearborn, and GM threatened a move to nearby Warren until bankruptcy hit. It was in Highland Park, a now-impoverished black enclave within Detroit, that industrial architect Albert Kahn built the visionary <a href="http://www.detroityes.com/industry/02modelt.htm">factory</a> which famously churned out Model T's in under a minute; the structure now grows shabby as an unloved storage depot. </p> <p> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/perlin7.JPG" alt="" width="501" height="296" /></p> <p> In fact, the whole of the original Northwest Territory became a cradle of the American auto industry, with important early ventures by the Studebaker brothers in South Bend, Indiana, and Ransom Olds in Lansing, Michigan, among hundreds of others. The triumph of the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Three_automobile_manufacturers">Big Three</a>, clustered so close together, took decades - and was a testament as much to business acumen and an era of consolidation as to feats of engineering. </p> <p> Most haunting of all, in light of this year's bankruptcies, is the <em>memento mori</em> on East Grand Avenue, in Detroit itself: the former plant and headquarters of the Packard Motor Car Company. This massive <a href="http://www.detroityes.com/industry/22packard.htm">complex</a>, containing 47 buildings spread over 3.5 million square feet, has been crumbling since Packard's demise in 1956, when the luxury brand succumbed to competition from the Big Three. The site later became a hub of Detroit's illegal rave scene. Today, you find oceans of old shoes dumped across the old factory floor, or the charred remains of a boat, which pyromaniacs brought here for a lark. </p> <p> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Perlin4.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p> Detroit is probably America's best-known example of a <a href="http://www.shrinkingcities.com/">shrinking city</a>, and it's still in free fall. This is one reason why the city has little to show for its large-scale, officially-sanctioned renewal plans. The city's bright spots are small-scale, experimental efforts. Immigration - particularly from Africa and the middle east (the city of Dearborn is by now the acknowledged center of Arab America) - is one hope of the revivalists. Bringing back manufacturing - electric car startups, green job schemes, and high-speed rail plants have all been mentioned - is another. To boost local businesses, a new, homegrown currency, the <a href="http://www.detroitscrip.org/index.htm">Detroit Cheers</a>, was recently launched. </p> <p> Mostly in their 20s and 30s, Detroit's several hundred urban farmers, linked by the <a href="http://www.detroitagriculture.org/">Detroit Agriculture Network</a>, have their own answer to the shrinking city. Many sell their produce at <a href="http://www.detroiteasternmarket.com/">Eastern Market</a>, one of America's largest and oldest public markets, currently being restored to greatness shed by shed. Some farmers are growing vegetables along Woodward Avenue, the city's main drag, which runs from the riverfront to the suburbs. Others establish community gardens the size of postage stamps wherever they can. </p> <p> On the depressed east side, Tyree Guyton and other artists have transformed a section of derelict Heidelberg Street into an vast outdoor art <a href="http://www.heidelberg.org/">project</a>. Dozens of discarded stuffed animals hang from the sides of a boarded-up house. Regiments of defunct vacuum cleaners, waving gloves from their handles, mark out an overgrown garden. Shopping carts defy gravity on an exposed treetop. </p> <p> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Perlin5.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p> The result is more eerie than beautiful, a possible model for the endless foreclosed suburbs of southern California and Arizona. The <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Belt">Sun Belt</a> will soon follow Detroit's lead into decline, say the prophets of doom. And what artistic medium to better savage the American Dream than the single-family home (as artist Mike Bouchet recently <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9Cb9BzQxus">demonstrated</a> in Venice)? Yet the Heidelberg Project also points up the limits of Detroit's DIY urbanism, already appearing as neglected and ghastly as the surrounding desolation it critiques. The artists deliver a harangue to accompany the decay, a raging against the dying of the light, but no end to the decay itself. </p> openEconomy Economics north america economics openUSA Ross Perlin Creative Commons normal email Fri, 19 Jun 2009 11:21:55 +0000 Ross Perlin 48217 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Cairo speech: Arab Muslim voices https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-cairo-speech-arab-muslim-voices <p> A visit by an American president to the Arab world might not in normal circumstances be of great importance to the majority of people in the region. There is still much suspicion <a href="http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/05/19/arab_public_opinion_in_2009">towards</a> the United States in the middle east, and this tends to be reflected in indifference to the appearance of a head of state of the country in its midst. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Karim Kasim is a researcher in development and political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC). He has been working on ICT for development in Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east. He is involved in a number of local initiatives, including youth work, activism, volunteer work and intercultural learning <br /> <br /> Zaid Al-Ali is an attorney at the New York Bar and specialises in international commercial arbitration. He graduated from King&#39;s College London, the Sorbonne University in Paris and Harvard Law School <br /> <br /> Among Zaid Al-Ali&#39;s articles in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>: <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2143">Iraq: the lost generation</a>&quot; (7 November 2004) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3839">Iraq&#39;s war of elimination</a>&quot; (21 August 2006) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflict-iraq/withdrawal_4264.jsp">The United States in Iraq: the case for withdrawal</a>&quot; (19 January 2007) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflict-iraq/zaid_iraqis_4454.jsp">Iraqis in freefall</a>&quot; (21 March 2007) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflict-iraq/iraq_wall_4597.jsp">Iraq: a wall to conquer us</a>&quot; (8 May 2007) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflicts/middle_east/lebanon_palestine_shame">Lebanon&#39;s Palestinian shame</a>&quot; (19 June 2007) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-means-for-iraq">What Obama means for Iraq</a>&quot; (13 November 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/lebanon-chronicles-of-an-attempted-suicide">Lebanon: chronicles of an attempted suicide</a>&quot; (20 May 2009)</span>But these are not normal times. President Barack Obama&#39;s persona had already engaged great interest among Arabs, but his <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,628538,00.html">address</a> in Cairo on 4 June 2009 on the Muslim world and the &quot;new beginning&quot; he seeks to forge with it has captivated them. In more concrete terms, Obama&#39;s visit has reinforced what has been <a href="http://www.globalissues.org/news/2009/05/19/1548">evident</a> for some time: a feeling of hope that a president with his background will tilt American policy in favour of popular will and against oppression in Palestine, Iraq and the region as a whole.  </p> <p> There is widespread agreement that the <a href="http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/06/20096410251287187.html">speech</a> is unlikely to be followed by sudden changes; and indeed that no single individual - even the president - can decisively shift American policy. But a space has opened, and - as this brief article shows - Arab Muslims (as well those <a href="http://www.gulfnews.com/region/Egypt/10319686.html">elsewhere</a>) are filling it with their ideas. </p> <p> <strong>Anticipation</strong> </p> <p> In the days <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jHpNuQ4DalcfHt04eKtKDozjetXg">before</a> the speech, Cairo residents were more concerned by the draconian security measures they were sure would be imposed on 4 June. As a result, many opted to stay at home. Yet even then, Obama&#39;s message - its timing, substance and likely reception - were very much on people&#39;s minds.  </p> <p> &quot;Turkey did not work, so he is trying Egypt&quot;, said Ashraf Qadah, a philosophy graduate. &quot;I am afraid that it is going to be a speech that starts and ends in Cairo. Obama&#39;s address will be a public-relations matter that will go nowhere after Obama leaves the city&quot;, he added.  </p> <p> Aseel, a young Iraqi, expressed little hope that things would change as a result of the visit and speech. Her logic was in part that &quot;(Obama) chose to give his speech in Egypt, which is under the thumb of an aging autocrat who embodies the antithesis of hope and change&quot;. </p> <p> Many Egyptians posed a question that reflected Aseel&#39;s concerns: namely which Muslim world is Obama going to speak to - Arab Muslim regimes, Muslim societies at large, or opposition political parties (especially those with Islamic inclinations)? Others were unnerved by the fact that the impending message was directed specifically towards Muslims - which set the target audience apart from the many religious minorities that exist throughout the Islamic world, many of whom share Muslims&#39; animosity towards US policies.  This point is underlined by the event&#39;s location: Egypt is home to the largest Christian community in the Arab world. </p> <p> But Adel El Zaim, a Lebanese-Canadian living in Cairo, insisted that the visit itself was a source of hope. The president &quot;has not waited until the end of his mandate to launch a peace initiative, like George W Bush&quot;, he said. &quot;The visit is also a milestone in the relationship between the United States and the Arab Muslim world. It will help build the lost trust between the two sides - a first step that must be followed by several others.&quot; </p> <p> There is indeed some surprise at such an early move toward the Muslim world. &quot;I know Obama&#39;s attitude towards the region has been quite positive - more so than I expected&quot; said Maha Bali, a technologist at the American University in Cairo. Kismet El-Husseiny, an economics graduate, was more sceptical: for Obama it is an opportunity to make &quot;small promises that are not too hard to keep, but will be delivered in a way that makes them impressive.&quot; </p> <p> <strong>Reaction</strong> </p> <p> Barack Obama&#39;s speech was broadcast live on dozens of channels throughout the middle east (and was reprinted in full in many newspapers the day after). Life went on: streets across the region were as ever filled with people, and traffic doesn&#39;t stop in Arab capitals. But large numbers <a href="http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/06/04/74887.html">did</a> listen to or watch the broadcast, often grouped together in cafes or conference rooms. The event brought Arabs from Morocco to Iraq together and <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/06/04/notebook/main5064302.shtml">captured</a> their attention in a way that is usually reserved for major sporting events - or the start of a war. </p> <p> The <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/255/story/69460.html">reaction</a>, more uniform than the anticipation, was greatly positive - though with <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/01c15fa0-5134-11de-84c3-00144feabdc0.html">questions</a> about how much change Obama could really deliver. Abdullah, an academic in a Lebanese university, expressed the view that Obama&#39;s speech &quot;is a historical opportunity for the Arab region. I wish that Arabs would take an initiative of their own to seize the opportunities that Obama is presenting. What he said is in line with our way of thinking and the initiatives he announced were inspiring.&quot;  </p> <p> On the US president&#39;s efforts to build bridges between western and Islamic civilisations, Abdullah added that &quot;Obama gave more credit to Arab and Islamic contributions than Arabs themselves do. He also delivered an important blow to Islamic fundamentalists: whereas previously many Arabs and Muslims were convinced that the west was no ally to them, Obama showed them that in him they have a friend&quot;.  </p> <p> Yasmine, an employee of an international organisation in Beirut, was less impressed by the substance of the speech than by the fact that a president of the United States shared many of her own views and ideas. &quot;We&#39;ve heard all this before, but not from a president&quot;, she said. </p> <p> What little criticism there was <a href="http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&amp;section=0&amp;article=123247&amp;d=5&amp;m=6&amp;y=2009">focused</a> on the Israeli-Arab peace process. &quot;He didn&#39;t call for the settlements [in the Palestinian territories] to be dismantled. He merely said that construction must stop. How can a Palestinian state be established if the settlements that are already there remain?&quot; asked Hani, a Syrian economics graduate. &quot;Obama has no leeway with the Israelis. They will force him to backtrack&quot;, said Samir, a Lebanese resident of Saudi Arabia.  </p> <p> There is substantive <a href="http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-06-05-voa1.cfm?rss=topstories">agreement</a> between Barack Obama himself and most of the Arab public that the true <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jAM0IAMXGj3MT72RxJQhVkmyV81wD98M1N800">test</a> of the speech is whether specific changes in US policy with regard to Palestine and the rest of the Arab Muslim world follow - including the commitments over Iraq. Abbas, a public official in Iraq, sums up the <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/donald-macintyre/donald-macintyre-the-view-from-gaza--this-was-a-speech-we-are-not-used-to-hearing-1697326.html">mood</a> of the moment: &quot;Obama&#39;s achievement for now is to have opened the door for much-needed change, and to contribute to the efforts of many in the Arab and Islamic worlds to encourage tolerance and understanding&quot;.  </p> <p> What will these Arab voices think in six months&#39; time? We hope to ask them and report on our findings. </p> <br /> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama and the world: </p> <p> John C Hulsman, &quot;<a href="/article/memo-to-obama-the-middle-east-needs-you">Memo to Obama: the middle east needs you</a>&quot; (11 November 2008) </p> <p> Zaid Al-Ali, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-means-for-iraq">What Obama means for Iraq</a>&quot; (13 November 2008) </p> <p> Prince Hassan of Jordan, &quot;<a href="/article/the-failure-of-force-an-alternative-option">The failure of force: an alternative option</a>&quot; (16 January 2009) </p> <p> openDemocracy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice</a>&quot; (20 January 2009) </p> <p> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Barack Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot; (21 January 2009) </p> <p> Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009) </p> <p> Tarek Osman, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/the-islamic-world-the-united-states-democracy-response-to-shadi-hamid">The Islamic world, the United States, democracy</a>&quot; (15 May 2009) </p> <p> Robert G Rabil, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-and-the-middle-east-pragmatism-vs-hope">Barack Obama&#39;s middle east: pragmatism and hope</a>&quot; (1 June 2009) </p> <p> Nader Hashemi, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-must-say-and-do-in-egypt">What Obama must say (and do) in Egypt</a>&quot; (3 June 2009) </p> <p> Kanishk Tharoor, &quot;<a href="/blog/email/kanishk-tharoor/2009/06/04/obamas-speech-in-cairo-live-blog">Obama&#39;s speech in Cairo: live blog</a>&quot; (4 June 2009) </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <style></style> Conflict conflicts middle east openUSA Zaid Al-Ali Karim Kasim Creative Commons normal email Mon, 08 Jun 2009 15:18:57 +0000 Zaid Al-Ali and Karim Kasim 48137 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Cairo speech: letter to America https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-cairo-speech-letter-to-america <p> President Barack Obama&#39;s speech in Cairo on 4 June 2009 lived up to its billing as an attempt to allay the mutual suspicion between the United States and Islam and chart a fresh course. It went further than many expected in offering two audiences - Israelis and Arab Muslims (in particular Palestinians) a &quot;moral&quot; frame of reference for a hoped-for new <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/5456783/Barack-Obama-predicts-progress-but-gets-mixed-reactions-across-the-Middle-East.html">phase</a> of engagement. But the speech had a third (and less-noticed) audience: people in the United States itself, especially those who for whatever reason have <a href="http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/06/200963195321806625.html">negative</a> views of Muslims and their religion.  </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Godfrey Hodgson was director of the Reuters&#39; Foundation Programme at Oxford University, and before that the <em>Observer&#39;s</em> correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the <em>Independent</em>. <br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s most recent book is <a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300125702"><em>The Myth of American Exceptiona</em><em>l</em><em>ism</em></a> (Yale University Press, 2009) <br /> <br /> His earlier books include <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=2330"><em>The World Turned Right Side Up: a history of the conservative ascendancy in America</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 1996); <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=681114"><em>The Gentl</em><em>e</em><em>man from New York: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 2000); <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7700.html"><em>More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century</em></a> (Princeton University Press, 2006); <a href="http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/publicaffairsbooks-cgi-bin/display?book=9781586483739&amp;view=quotes"><em>A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pi</em><em>l</em><em>grims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving</em></a> (PublicAffairs, 2007) <br /> <br /> Among Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s <strong>openDemocracy</strong> articles: <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/a-game-of-two-halves">A game of two halves</a>&quot; (15 July 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/welcome-to-the-party-american-convention-follies">Welcome to the party: American convention follies</a>&quot; (18 August 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-foreign-policy-election">America&#39;s foreign-policy election</a>&quot; (28 August 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-economy-election">America&#39;s economy election</a>&quot; (17 October 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/yes-he-can">Yes he can!</a>&quot; (6 November 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/change-0">Change?</a>&quot; (2 December 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/an-end-and-a-beginning">An end and a beginning</a>&quot; (5 January 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot; (6 February 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obamas-reality-gap">Barack Obama&#39;s reality gap</a>&quot; (27 February 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-end-of-the-beginning">Barack Obama: end of the beginning</a>&quot; (30 March 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-hundred-days">Barack Obama&#39;s hundred days</a>&quot; (29 April 2009)</span> This gave the <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8082676.stm">speech</a> an injection of domestic political significance. The president will need the support or at least acquiescence of people at home if he is to make progress with his strategy for peace in the &quot;greater middle east&quot;. An attitudinal shift towards the Muslim world in the US may be essential to this effort. </p> <p> Obama&#39;s urge to distinguish his <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hchCoXGS1rWXMTITeFtzS_7hoeOA">approach</a> from that of his predecessor to an area of vital importance to American foreign policy was plain. Where the crude and polarising rhetoric of the George W Bush administration and many of its supporters served to fuel hostility to the Muslim world (often hardly distinguishing between Islam and the 9/11 bombers, for example), Obama made an enlightened effort to show sympathy and some understanding of Islam. </p> <p> He several times <a href="http://www.pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=18216">quoted</a> the Qur&#39;an, and was applauded when he did. He highlighted what a less sensitive and courageous man might have avoided, that his middle name is Hussein. &quot;I&#39;m a Christian&quot;, he said, &quot;but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the <em>azaan</em> at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago with communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.&quot; </p> <p> But perhaps just as important as his address to Muslims, his speech contained a challenge to prejudice - while conveying a <a href="http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/06/200964195726442565.html">message</a> to those Americans troubled by any impression that their president might seem &quot;too close&quot; to his Muslim hosts. So he attacked anti-semitism and repudiated holocaust-denial (knowing that Iran&#39;s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is far from the only influential Muslim to flirt with that ugly <a href="http://www.meforum.org/1704/deciphering-ahmadinejads-holocaust-revisionism">perversion</a> of history); and proclaimed his commitment to America&#39;s &quot;unbreakable bond&quot; with Israel. </p> <p> Moreover, Obama balanced his &quot;outreach&quot; to Muslims with strong words on what they must do if the chasm between Islam and the west is to be bridged. He evoked the &quot;humiliation&quot; and suffering of the Palestinians in explicit terms; but he denounced <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/weekinreview/07nordland.html?ref=world">violence</a>, and singled out the very kinds of violence with which the Palestinians have been especially associated. &quot;It is a sign neither of courage nor power&quot;, he said, &quot;to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That&#39;s not how moral authority is claimed; that&#39;s how it is surrendered&quot;. </p> <p> The speech was full of proud references to America&#39;s values and to his belief in their universal applicability. But where his predecessor and the neo-conservatives who <a href="/democracy-americanpower/article_1182.jsp">defined</a> the George W Bush administration&#39;s profile in the world projected the sense that they had a monopoly of belief in democracy, Obama presented America&#39;s values as universal in a different way. They were <a href="/article/idea/democracy-support-and-the-arab-world-after-the-fall">no longer</a> to be understood as instruments that the United States intended to disseminate everywhere (by force if necessary), but instincts that were already shared by people of goodwill, including (of course) Muslims; and which only needed the right conditions to be realised. </p> <p> <strong>The homeland campaign</strong> </p> <p> The way that this theme was elaborated in the second (and perhaps less reported) half of this truly remarkable speech really demonstrated both the breadth of Barack Obama&#39;s human insight and his political talent. </p> <p> Here his focus moved onto four issues so broad that they subsume even the conflicts of political and religious communities across the middle east: economic development, tolerance, democracy, and (with detail and depth) women&#39;s rights. </p> <p> Some of the president&#39;s <a href="http://www.juancole.com/2009/06/reactions-to-obamas-speech.html">listeners</a>, and not least hardened reporters - accustomed to tired rhetoric when politicians turn to the subject of their ideals - might have missed two important elements of what this second half of his speech was intended to achieve. </p> <p> First, he was making the point that these issues are of equal interest to the participants in the region&#39;s quarrels, as well as to others - that they are, indeed, universal concerns. Second, he was in a subtle way addressing the <a href="http://www.gallup.com/video/118994/Americans-Views-Towards-Muslim-Nations-Fairly-Stable.aspx">concerns</a> of Americans about Islam and about the effort he proposes to <a href="http://www.voanews.com/english/AmericanLife/2009-05-29-voa41.cfm">make</a> to improve America&#39;s relations with the religion&#39;s followers. </p> <p> The challenge for the president is that there are large numbers of people in the United States and elsewhere in the west who are (or have become in the course of the 2000s) generically <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/02/us.muslims.poll/">critical</a> of &quot;Islam&quot; or its adherents - and are sceptical about the possibility of improving relations with the imagined &quot;other&quot;. They are found, moreover, in all sections of society - and far beyond members of the unreconstructed right. Many American women, for example - perhaps liberal American women even more than conservative - see the Muslim Arab world as a place of irredeemable sexism. </p> <p> The president went some way to respond to this by connecting his belief in the equal value of daughters and sons, and the importance of women&#39;s <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2009/0605_obama_cairo_speech_winthrop.aspx">education</a>, to an unequivocal statement that Muslim countries need to improve the rights and opportunities of their female citizens. In this he was also seeking to offset any worries that, in his effort to reach out to Muslims, he might be tempted to abandon values that are implanted in American society. </p> <p> Obama&#39;s <a href="http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/06/04/Obama-Leaders-must-govern-with-respect/UPI-10101244131969/">references</a> to democracy and human rights were similarly motivated: both to signal a commitment to his Cairo audience (with an unmistakable if indirect judgment of the brutal <a href="/article/egypt-the-surreal-painting">regime</a> of his host, Hosni Mubarak) and to meet the concerns of (especially) liberal Americans about the lack of political freedoms in this part of the Muslim world. He was <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23338.html">applauded</a> by many of his Egyptian listeners when he pointed out that &quot;there are some who advocate democracy only when they&#39;re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.&quot; But the message was for the people at home also. </p> <p> Many <a href="http://www.eurotopics.net/en/presseschau/archiv/archiv_dossier/DOSSIER51753-Obama-seeks-a-fresh-start-with-the-Muslim-World">commentators</a> are right to point out that it will take more than even the most skilful of speeches to remove mutual suspicion between the west and Islam, let alone between Israel and the Arab-Muslim world. </p> <p> This proposal of &quot;a new beginning&quot; did, however, reinforce my conviction that Barack Obama is one of the most gifted and serious statesmen the world has seen in action for a very long time. In Cairo, he showed remarkable insight into the embittered politics of the middle east. Even more, he displayed once again his deep understanding of the many facets - the fears and the ideals, the prejudice and the pride, the caution and the generosity - of the American people. </p> <br /> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama and the world: </p> <p> John C Hulsman, &quot;<a href="/article/memo-to-obama-the-middle-east-needs-you">Memo to Obama: the middle east needs you</a>&quot; (11 November 2008) </p> <p> Zaid Al-Ali, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-means-for-iraq">What Obama means for Iraq</a>&quot; (13 November 2008) </p> <p> Prince Hassan of Jordan, &quot;<a href="/article/the-failure-of-force-an-alternative-option">The failure of force: an alternative option</a>&quot; (16 January 2009) </p> <p> openDemocracy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice</a>&quot; (20 January 2009) </p> <p> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Barack Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot; (21 January 2009) </p> <p> Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009) </p> <p> Tarek Osman, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/the-islamic-world-the-united-states-democracy-response-to-shadi-hamid">The Islamic world, the United States, democracy</a>&quot; (15 May 2009) </p> <p> Robert G Rabil, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-and-the-middle-east-pragmatism-vs-hope">Barack Obama&#39;s middle east: pragmatism and hope</a>&quot; (1 June 2009) </p> <p> Nader Hashemi, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-must-say-and-do-in-egypt">What Obama must say (and do) in Egypt</a>&quot; (3 June 2009) </p> <p> Kanishk Tharoor, &quot;<a href="/blog/email/kanishk-tharoor/2009/06/04/obamas-speech-in-cairo-live-blog">Obama&#39;s speech in Cairo: live blog</a>&quot; (4 June 2009) </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <style></style> democracy & power middle east american power & the world openUSA Godfrey Hodgson Creative Commons normal email Mon, 08 Jun 2009 15:02:30 +0000 Godfrey Hodgson 48136 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Obama's speech in Cairo: live blog https://www.opendemocracy.net/blog/email/kanishk-tharoor/2009/06/04/obamas-speech-in-cairo-live-blog <p> **<strong>UPDATE** In summary -- </strong>Obama began compellingly, but somewhere in the later half the speech began to drag, its thrust lost in rhetoric that was at best earnest, at worst hackneyed. There were other weaknesses: he asked Arabs and Muslims not to be imprisoned by history, but at the same time justified America&#39;s support for Israel with evocations of the excesses of the past. Critics will also have expected sterner stuff on women&#39;s issues and on democracy in the Arab world, both of which Obama treated swiftly. </p> <p> Nevertheless, after eight years of arrogance and error, the speech should go some way in convincing many people around the world that Obama&#39;s administration is serious about rehabilitating its role on the global stage. Melding ideas and detail with his typical fluency, Obama was the picture of a cool, informed leader. His systematic parsing of the issues also promised an energetic approach to policy-making. Of course, Obama will be judged by his accomplishments more than his words, but as he said early on, the goal of his speech was to shift perceptions. The audience of elite students in Cairo University gave him a resounding ovation; how his speech fared in dustier parts of the &quot;Arab and Muslim world&quot;<strong> </strong>will be the better measure of its success. </p> <p> <strong>1303 in Cairo </strong>Less than ten minutes to go ahead of one of the most anticipated speeches in recent memory (Read <a href="/article/what-obama-must-say-and-do-in-egypt" target="_blank">Nader Hashemi</a>&#39;s build-up on openDemocracy). President Barack Obama has braved criticism from many fronts in his bid to speak directly to the &quot;Muslim world&quot;. How will he spin US involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict? Will he make a dig at his host, Hosni Mubarak, and other American-backed dictators? Will he apologise for the gross blunders of invasion and torture? Stay tuned for live updates and commentary. </p> <p> <strong>1310 </strong>And we&#39;re off in Cairo University. Takes Obama a few seconds to speak in Arabic (&quot;shukraan&quot;). He now parses the history of relations between &quot;Islam&quot; and the &quot;west&quot;, and accounts for American Islamophobia.  </p> <p> <strong>1316 </strong>&quot;America and Islam are not exclusive... they share common principles.&quot; Nation-state is akin to transcendental global faith? Mohammad Iqbal must be rolling in his grave. </p> <p> <strong>1317 </strong>Shout out to the Koran! Took seven minutes. </p> <p> <strong>1320 </strong>The historian in me is pleased: Obama mentions that it was Morocco that first recognised the independent thirteen colonies. Good detail. Less impressed by paeans to Islamic learning fuelling the Renaissance. Neverthless, this is typical Obama on good form, moving smoothly from rich theme to illuminating fact.<strong> </strong> </p> <p> <strong>1323 </strong>Obama subtly distinguishes the US from the secularists of Europe; the US protects the veil and the hijab, maintains a mosque in every state, and punishes religious intolerance. </p> <p> <strong>1327 </strong>Human history, Obama says, is a record of self-interest, but not anymore. We are now in an era of interdependence, &quot;our progress must be shared&quot;. Yet there&#39;s steel here: &quot;we must face these tensions squarely&quot;. He&#39;s warmed up. </p> <p> <strong>1330 </strong>He now defends military engagement in Afghanistan, playing a bit to the home audience. Faint echoes of Bush in the evocation of a coalition of &quot;46 countries.&quot; </p> <p> Time for a lovely quote from the Koran: &quot;Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.&quot; </p> <p> <strong>1334 </strong>Describes the Iraq war as one of &quot;choice&quot;, not necessity. He doesn&#39;t apologise or strongly condemn the invasion, but reaffirms commitment to diplomacy and Iraqi sovereignty, and spells out a timeline of withdrawal. All troops out by 2012. </p> <p> <strong>1335 </strong>&quot;Unequivocal&quot; about stopping torture and closure of Guantanamo. He&#39;s covered most of the bases. Israel-Palestine up next. </p> <p> <strong>1336 </strong>&quot;America&#39;s bond with Israel is unbreakable.&quot; He firmly backs the need for the Israeli state, reminding viewers that he&#39;s going to visit Buchenwald after Cairo. A bit too baldly strategic for my liking. </p> <p> <strong>1340 </strong>Reaffirms commitment to two-state solution, and like the good doctor he is, lays out prescriptions. Compares the history of African American resistance to slavery and bigotry and nonviolent resistance to apartheid in South Africa to the struggle in Palestinian, arguing that violence is not the way. Many Israelis will bristle at that. Strong of Obama to make the parallel. He&#39;s now slamming settlements, and demanding that Israelis must make life more livable for Palestinians. He also demands more compromise from Arab states. </p> <p> <strong>1344 </strong> &quot;We will say in public what we say in private.&quot; Only Obama can sound credible saying that. </p> <p> <strong>1346 </strong>On to Iran. Recognises US involvement in the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953, and subsequent decades of mistrust. But now it is no time to be beholden to the past: &quot;we are ready to move ahead without any preconditions.&quot; Urges Tehran to come to the table. </p> <p> <strong>1350 </strong>To the meat of the matter: the issue of democracy (&quot;not an American idea, but a human right&quot;) in the Arab world. Are you watching, Hosni? </p> <p> <strong>1351 </strong>Takes a dig at both autocrats and neo-cons by affirming that elections alone don&#39;t a democracy make.  </p> <p> <strong>1353 </strong>He&#39;s advocating &quot;freedom of religion&quot;, and doing well to mention the religious diversity of the Arab world.  </p> <p> Delivers another rebuke to the likes of Turkey and France, that would prevent women from wearing Muslim garb. </p> <p> <strong>1355 </strong>Excellent move: he separates the issue of women&#39;s dress (above) from women&#39;s rights. Eat your heart out, Martin Amis, Jack Straw et al.  </p> <p> <strong>1358 </strong>&quot;There need not be contradictions between development and tradition.&quot; We&#39;ve returned to opening theme, of moving forward and closer together while remaining rooted (and respecting each other&#39;s roots).  </p> <p> <strong>1401 </strong>A litany of initiatives and partnerships that will tighten cooperation in a blizzard of areas (lost track) between the US and Muslim-majority countries. Obama does soft power. </p> <p> <strong>1403 </strong>We&#39;ve reached the denouement. Fluffy stuff that rises above the bile of &quot;clash of civilisations&quot;, but it&#39;s still fluffy.  </p> <p> <strong>1406 </strong>Ends with a comp lit lesson; Obama paraphrases the Koran, Torah and Bible, drawing out their common message of peace. He stumbles over his last line; saying &quot;May God be upon you&quot; instead of &quot;May peace be upon you&quot;. The audience doesn&#39;t care, as students raucously take up an Obama chant. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> openUSA Kanishk Tharoor openUSA terrorism Islam Obama USA egypt email Thu, 04 Jun 2009 09:45:45 +0000 Kanishk Tharoor 48121 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Journalism's many crises https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/a-surfeit-of-crises-circulation-revenue-attention-authority-and-deference <p> The word “crisis” is overused, as are the anodyne  “problem” or “issue.” (As in the highly flexible, “I have issues.”) Ordinary troubles become inflated into “crises” because crises sound somehow more dignified or electrifying. A problem sounds possibly serious, if hypothetically soluble, but a crisis sounds, as well, <a href="http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=crisis">critical</a>. </p> <p> Yet the overuse might lead us to bend over backwards and fall into euphemism - calling a grave matter “a little difficult,” for example, as is common, for some reason, in American discourse today. There are crises. History proceeds by convulsions, not only increments - or rather, increments build up into crises, and before one knows it, the landscape has changed, one is living in a different world, and the world before it changed is barely conceivable and certainly unrecoverable. It was a foreign country; they did things differently there. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Todd Gitlin is <a href="http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/cs/ContentServer/jrn/1165270051276/JRN_Profile_C/1165270081547/JRNFacultyDetail.htm">professor</a> of journalism and sociology and chair of the PhD programme in communications at Columbia University.<br /> <br /> He has written twelve books, among them <a href="http://www.toddgitlin.net/books/index.html"> <br /> <br /> The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals </a> (John Wiley, 2007), <a href="http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465027385"> <br /> <br /> Letters to a Young Activist </a> (Basic Books, 2003) and <a href="http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-12492-8/the-intellectuals-and-the-flag"> <br /> <br /> The Intellectuals and the Flag</a> (Columbia University Press, 2006). <br /> <br /> His website is <a href="http://www.toddgitlin.net/">here</a></span>In the case of the murky future of journalism, it is fair to speak of crisis - crises, actually. The landscape has changed, is changing, will change - radically. Just because the industry is crying wolf does not mean that the wolf is not nearby.  In the story, when the real wolf showed up, no one was ready.  </p> <p> Four wolves have arrived at the door of American journalism simultaneously while a fifth has already been lurking for some time. One is the precipitous decline in the <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-us-dailies-circulation-change-2009-4">circulation</a> of newspapers. The second is the decline in advertising <a href="http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4517">revenue</a>, which, combined with the first, has badly damaged the profitability of newspapers. The third, contributing to the first, is the diffusion of <a href="http://thenoisychannel.com/2008/12/16/the-macroeconomics-of-information-and-attention/">attention</a>. The fourth is the more elusive <a href="/article/making_up_minds">crisis of authority</a>. The fifth, a perennial - so much so as to be perhaps a condition more than a crisis - is journalism’s inability or unwillingness to penetrate the veil of obfuscation behind which power conducts its risky business. </p> <p> <strong>Circulation and revenue</strong> </p> <p> The surplus of crises has commentators scrambling for metaphors, even mixed ones. The <a href="http://www.journalism.org/">Project for Excellence in Journalism</a> put it this way in a recent report: “The newspaper industry exited a harrowing 2008 and entered 2009 in something perilously close to free fall. Perhaps some parachutes will deploy, and maybe some tree limbs will cushion the descent, but for a third consecutive year the bottom is not in sight.” The newspaper industry in the United States is afflicted with a grave and deepening sense that it is moribund, that the journalistic world they knew is vanishing; that it is melting away not just within their lifetimes but before their eyes. </p> <p> The <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/business/media/28paper.html">numbers</a> virtually shout out that this is not paranoia. Overall, newspaper circulation has dropped 13.5 percent for the dailies and 17.3 percent for the Sunday editions since 2001; almost 5 percent just in 2008. In what some are calling the Great Recession, advertising revenue is down - 23 percent over the last two years - even as paper costs are up. Nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone. Foreign bureaus have been shuttered - all those of the <em>Boston Globe</em>, for example, New England’s major paper. I recently met the <em>Chicago Tribune</em>’s South Asia correspondent, responsible for India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, with five years of experience there. Having been recalled to work on the Metro desk in Chicago, she resigned. </p> <p> There is, in particular, the advent of competition for classified advertising, long the newspapers’ financial mainstay, but now available free online. In the recession, display advertising is way down.  Newspapers overall lost 83 percent of their stock value last year. You can buy a share of stock in the McClatchy papers, which used to be one of the highest-quality chains, for less than the cost of a single copy of the paper. The Tribune Company, which owns the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> and several other major papers, has filed for bankruptcy. So have the papers in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. The afternoon papers in Denver and Seattle have closed, and in Detroit, weekday home delivery for both dailies takes place only Thursdays and Fridays only; Monday through Wednesday, only a smaller edition is sold at newsstands.  <span class="pullquote_new">This article is based on an address prepared for <a href="http://www.westminsternewsonline.com/wordpress/">“Journalism in Crisis”, University of Westminster, London</a></span> </p> <p> Overall, newspapers remain profitable, in the low to mid teens, but several corporate chains took on enormous piles of debt when they made acquisitions in recent years (The Tribune: $13 billion in acquiring the Times Mirror Corp).  Chain ownership of local newspapers by corporations that trade on the stock exchange undermined them. With expectations of declining profits in the future, investors pursued what is cynically called a “<a href="http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&amp;askthisid=00203">harvest strategy</a>” - bidding up their stock market value in expectation that profits would have to be harvested quickly, before the bottom fell out of their financial value. Profitability, they reasoned, would come from cost-cutting, which meant cutting back the practice of journalism. The chains cut back on coverage in order to try to compensate for the loss of advertising revenue. This has not won back readers. One prominent television commentator recently said: “The New York Times has 60 people in its Baghdad bureau. As far as I can tell, the Times doesn&#39;t have that many subscribers under the age of forty.” He was joking, of course. Of course. </p> <p> Here are <a href="http://pewresearch.org/pubs/904/changing-newsroom">some excerpts</a> from another study, from 2008, by the Project for Excellence in Journalism: </p> <blockquote> <p> Meet the American daily newspaper of 2008. </p> <p> It has fewer pages than three years ago, the paper stock is thinner, and the stories are shorter. There is less foreign and national news, less space devoted to science, the arts, features and a range of specialized subjects. Business coverage is either packaged in an increasingly thin stand-alone section or collapsed into another part of the paper. The crossword puzzle has shrunk, the TV listings and stock tables may have disappeared, but coverage of some local issues has strengthened and investigative reporting remains highly valued. </p> <p> The newsroom staff producing the paper is also smaller, younger, more tech-savvy, and more oriented to serving the demands of both print and the web. The staff also is under greater pressure, has less institutional memory, less knowledge of the community, of how to gather news and the history of individual beats. There are fewer editors to catch mistakes. </p> </blockquote> <p> And still revenue plunges, if not so much because circulation is shrinking than because business acumen did. Obviously newspaper companies have made many poor business decisions in recent years, from taking on mountainous debt to establishing a precedent of free internet access. When poor business decisions are chronic and widespread, you have to conclude that the companies have entered a twilight where anxiety has gotten the better of understanding. How stable even the <em>New York Times</em> can remain, given its own precipitous stock decline in the last five years, is unclear. Its two-tier stock arrangement, designed to preserve control within the Sulzberger family, may not insulate it enough if losses continue to mount. The Chandler family of Los Angeles, reduced to squabbling, ended its own reign there, and Dow-Jones’ Bancroft family sold out to Rupert Murdoch a year and a half ago.  The Washington Post Company seemed to have dodged the bullet by buying the testing company Kaplan, re-annointing itself an “education and media company”, and letting the tail wag the dog - Kaplan accounts for more than half of company revenue. But if that expedient has saved the paper, it is a more meager paper. A longtime foreign correspondent who took a buyout a few years ago told me that when he visited the newsroom recently, the old globe that pinpointed the Post’s foreign bureaus was gone - it would have looked too embarrassing. </p> <p> To limit the discussion to the last decade or so both overstates the precipitous danger and understates the magnitude of a secular crisis - which is probably a protracted crisis in the way in which people know - or believe they know - the world.  In the US, newspaper circulation has been <a href="http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2005/narrative_newspapers_audience.asp?cat=3&amp;media=2">declining</a>, per capita, at a constant rate since 1960. The young are not reading the papers. While they say they “look” at the papers online, it is not clear how much looking they do. We may well be living amidst a sea change in how we encounter the world, how we take in its traces and make sense of them, a change comparable to the shift from oral to written culture among the Greeks and the shift to printing with movable type in 15th and 16th century Europe.  </p> <p> This shift has been in play, accelerating, disrupting theories of linear progress, or progress through linearity, for almost two centuries - from photography through film and television to the Internet, in the rise of screens and the relative decline of sequential text. </p> <p> It isn’t my purpose here to try to sum up what might be gained and lost in such a transition—surely both sides of the ledger are active. Nor is it my purpose to lock onto some hard-and-fast black-and-white theory of utter, utter change in sensibility. The newspaper was always a tool for simultaneity (you don’t so much read a paper as swim around in it, McLuhan was fond of saying) at least as much as a tool for cognitive sequence. What if the sensibility that is now consolidating itself - with the Internet, mobile phones, GPS, Facebook and Twitter and so on - the media for the Daily Me, for point-to-point and many-to-many transmission - what if all this portends an irreversible sea-change in the very conditions of successful business? The question is not answerable. But that is exactly the point.  To navigate a business in such choppy seas is no task for the faint-hearted. </p> <p> <strong>The clamor for attention</strong> </p> <p> Attention has been migrating from slower access to faster; from concentration to multitasking; from the textual to the visual and the auditory, and toward multi-media combinations. Multitasking alters cognitive patterns. Attention attenuates. Advertisers have for decades talked about the need to “break through the clutter,” the clutter consisting, amusingly, of everyone else’s attempts to break through the clutter. </p> <p> Now, media and not just messages clutter. Measured by the criterion of how people spend their time, the central activity of our civilization is connection to media. At work, at home, on the street, in the car, in elevators and malls, commuting or waiting, we spend much of our day in a torrent of images and sounds, navigating through it, filtering it, desirous of it and through it - sometimes immersed, sometimes floating, sometimes wading, sometimes choosing, sometimes engulfed. Success goes to the media, portals, and sites that attract attention. </p> <p> Accordingly, not only has print circulation plunged, but the amount of time spent with newspapers is also declining. According to the <a href="http://people-press.org/report/282/online-papers-modestly-boost-newspaper-readership">Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 2006</a>, while “the total time that people spend with the news is largely unchanged from a decade ago,” still “the time people devote to reading newspapers is down from an average of 19 minutes to 15 minutes, partially because fewer are reading papers and partially because those who do spend a bit less time at it.” Just under one-fifth of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 claim to look at a daily newspaper - which is not to say how much of it they read. The average American newspaper reader is 55 years old. </p> <p> Of course significant numbers of readers are accessing - which is not to say reading - newspapers online, but the amount of time they seem to spend there is bifurcated. In roughly half of the top 30 newspaper sites, readership is steady or falling. Still, “of the top 5 online newspapers - ranked by unique users – [the] three [national papers] reported growth in the average time spent per person: NYTimes.com, USAToday.com, and the Wall Street Journal Online.” One thing is clear: whatever the readership online, it is not profitable.  </p> <p> As for national television news, the median age of evening news viewers is 61. The average age at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is over 65. The average age of all network TV viewers just crossed 50.  The median age in the United States is 38. Cable news audiences spiked up during the 2008 campaign, but then subsided. Even local news, the home of &quot;If it bleeds, it leads&quot;, has seen viewership decline. </p> <p> <strong>Media saturation</strong> </p> <p> The undermining of newspapers is the product of many converging factors, which I would summarize under the heading, &quot;media saturation&quot;. Media saturation is the product of compound, feverish competition for the attention of persons that is capable of being monetized - and it works. There is, of course, the rise of the Internet. There is the increased time Americans spend working and commuting, which is that much less time for newspapers. </p> <p> It is true that newspaper websites are gaining readers, or visitors. Unique viewers are estimated to “add 8.4 percent to the average newspaper’s readership, making up most, but not all, of the audience decline.” Still, even online ads fell last year, by 0.4 percent, and add up to less than 10 percent of newspaper revenue.  </p> <p> As for public television, the situation is equivalent. Public funding amounts to roughly half of the budget of the nightly News Hour; corporations donate the other half in exchange for vanity quasi-commercials.  But in the age of &quot;maximizing shareholder value&quot; over the past few decades, corporate support has declined. Foundations have taken up some of the slack, but their own endowments have taken a beating, and they’ve cut their grants too. Public radio is a bright spot, with 13 percent of Americans saying they regularly get most of their news from National Public Radio (NPR). These are disproportionately the college-educated and older. </p> <p> <strong>The&quot;opinion&quot; blog</strong> </p> <p> Now, the rise of opinion blogs and sites gives reason to think that political discourse is far from dead - even, perhaps, more absorbing, at least for the young, than the old regime of newspapers and television. The 2008 political campaign generated unusual interest from young people, who told pollsters they “get their news” from the internet (although it’s far from clear that their claims can be taken at face value). But it is worth considering that very little of the hard nuts-and-bolts work of reporting is done by internet sites. Almost all current-events blogs collect news from newspaper sites or the handful of internet sites that commission actual reporting (as opposed to commentary, informed or not). The blogs do amalgamate and “connect dots,” and the connecting of dots is a necessary function of a journalism that enables people to intervene in governance. </p> <p> An example from a website, <a href="http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/">Talking Points Memo (TPM)</a>, with which I’m associated. In 2006, seven United States attorneys were dismissed in midterm by George W Bush’s Department of Justice. These dismissals were made known locally. They were unusual. Local reports were amalgamated at the national level by a de facto collaboration of TPM readers who posted such stories, in effect improvising a national newsroom. TPM reporters conducted their own investigations. A pattern emerged: the US attorneys had been fired in order to prevent investigations of Republican politicians or because they refused to initiate investigations that would damage Democrats. Congressional hearings ensued. The upshot was that nine high-level officials resigned, including the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Eventually, the Justice Department Inspector General declared that the process used to fire the first seven attorneys and two others dismissed around the same time was &quot;arbitrary,&quot; &quot;fundamentally flawed,&quot; and &quot;raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecution decisions.&quot;  A necessary condition for this rectification was that an assortment of scattered facts was collected into a larger, more penetrating story. This is a prototype of the practice of journalism. </p> <p> Very few online sites practice the unearthing of facts. For the most part, they opinionate - which is a useful but parasitic activity. It may consolidate opinion among those who feel the need to have opinions; it may bolster feeling; it may mobilize people into political action. But the circulation of news bits originally gathered by newspapers and other dead-tree journalistic endeavors does not preserve reportorial jobs. It does nothing for the economic viability of the mainline press. It speaks to networks of readers who cluster around the opinion sites purposively. They do not stumble upon the big news having looked into the paper because of an interest in sports, comics, or crossword puzzles.  </p> <p> <strong>Journalistic careers?</strong> </p> <p> The revenue that sustains the online sites comes almost exclusively from advertising. Subscriptions, in general, do not work (The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> is the great exception in the US). Precious few full-time reporters make a living from the internet. Most blogs and other news sites are written by people who make their living in other ways, or are working for vanity owners willing to lose money (for a while), or are promoting their freelance careers. Increasingly, internet journalists will be forced to make their livings with “day-job” careers - like professors. </p> <p> What this means for journalists starting out is that expectations for journalistic careers are in the process of shifting. It is foolhardy to expect to make a career climbing a single ladder in a journalistic establishment now. Many of our own students at the Columbia Journalism School seem to understand that from the start. As a result, we may recruit more adventurous students - in my view, not a bad thing, though the danger is that adventurousness comes with a steep price of ill-preparation. </p> <p> <strong>What&#39;s the business model for serious reporting?</strong> </p> <p> The question that remains, the question that makes serious journalists tremble in the US, is: who is going to pay for serious reporting? For the sorts of investigations that went on last year, for example, into the background of the surprise Republican nominee for Vice President, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Planes to Alaska from the lower 48 states were suddenly choked with reporters from mainstream media. What with the cost of flying nowadays, how many online sites, even the handful of nonprofits supported by public interest foundations, could afford to send a reporter, even if they had the will, drawn in part by the scent of family scandal? A couple of new foundation-supported nonprofit news sites are just starting up to do original, especially investigative, reporting, a development greatly to be welcomed. <a href="http://Voiceofsandiego.org">Voiceofsandiego.org</a> has won attention, with a staff of 11 including 6 reporters and a photographer. Minnesota’s <a href="http://MinnPost.com">MinnPost.com</a> has a staff twice the size. In Paris, <a href="http://mediapart.fr">mediapart.fr</a> hopes to sustain itself with a few tens of thousands of paid subscribers. Such enterprises seem to be well launched. What they will amount to is anyone’s guess. </p> <p> <strong>Authority</strong> </p> <p> Arguably the erosion of trust is journalism’s deepest trouble as well as the one longest in the making.  Seen from the public’s vantage point, there is a <a href="/article/making_up_minds">crisis of authority</a>. Do we believe what we read? Should we? What does it mean if we don’t? Surveys establish that newspapers have been losing public confidence, as have television networks and local broadcasters as well. Overall, CNN is no more trusted than Fox News.The local paper is not viewed much differently than the New York Times. According to one recent study, fewer than one in five Americans say they can believe “all or most” media reporting, down from more than 27 percent - a rather low figure in itself - five years ago. From the news organization’s point of view, there is a crisis of credibility, and attendant anxiety. If the public doubts that objective journalism is possible, on what basis can journalists claim professional status?  On what does their standing rest? In what sense do they matter in the life of the society? Should they fasten themselves to the mast of objectivity or free themselves altogether from its strictures - and in the latter case, how should they proceed? </p> <p> Journalism’s legitimacy crisis has two overlapping sources: ideological disaffection from right and left, and generalized distrust. Between them, they register something of a cultural sea change. The authority of<a href="/article/media/blind_newsmaker"> American journalism</a> has, for a century or so, rested on its claim to objectivity and a popular belief that that claim is justified. These claims are weakening. Americans remain suspicious of political life in the first place. “The pursuit of happiness” is understood as first of all a private pursuit.  As Daniel Bell once wrote, America’s “sociological foundation was the denial of the primacy of politics for everyday life.” Private life deserved to be protected from the State - the American Constitution was founded on that promise. Perhaps the great genius of the newspaper was not simply in the invention of reporting but in the paper’s ability to serve as the great aggregator, so that something of a public sliver or even a polygon if not a sphere was created by the sum of all papers, as incidental readers accumulated into functional publics. </p> <p> Fragmentation has derailed that model. Insofar as newspapers and television news are forfeiting their authority now, and people who do want more than a smattering of news are increasingly congregating around talk radio, cable television, and online sites that <a href="http://www.bostonreview.net/BR26.3/sunstein.html">match</a> their ideological preconceptions, we are entering unknown cultural territory.  </p> <p> What happens when postmodern <a href="/article/email/the-liberty-of-the-networked-pt-2">suspicion becomes generalized</a>?  Pessimists think that the society’s ability to adapt to real-world change is impaired. Optimists, who tend to be younger, think that journalistic refashioning and collaboration can produce a model of “distributed knowledge” convertible into the foundation of a positive political transformation. Whether or not we are haltingly working our way toward a productive “revaluation of values” in journalism, I have no idea. </p> <p> <strong>Deference</strong> </p> <p> No survey of the journalistic landscape, even one this superficial, can omit the journalistic failings that are generated not by particularly poor business decisions, not by technologically-assisted fragmentation and media supersaturation, but by the abiding, classic and characteristic sin of journalism: deference to authorities.  </p> <p> We have seen in recent years two devastating failures to report the world - devastating not simply in their abject professional failures but in that they made for frictionless glides into catastrophe. The first was in the run-up to the Iraq war, when the major media tossed away skepticism in favor of cheerleading on the question of Bush’s commitment to the existence of a Qaida-Saddam alliance and on the question of WMD. <a href="http://www.newscorpse.com/ncWP/?p=1072">Official mea culpas</a> in the <em>New York Times</em> and <em>Washington Post</em> only acknowledged after the fact how the reporting was sexed up, how “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” because journalists did not hesitate to defer to government officials whose cornering of the national security market and mastery of the manipulation of the objectivity fetish went unchallenged. </p> <p> More recently, we have the run-up to the financial crisis, where (as a study in the current issue of the <em><a href="http://www.cjr.org/cover_story/power_problem.php">Columbia Journalism Review</a></em> establishes) the overwhelming majority of articles in the ostensibly critical-minded financial press looked upon the housing-credit bubble as a miraculous achievement of nature. In this case, the authorities deferred to were the bankers, deregulators, and financial analysts whose stake in the bubble was sizable and whose mastery of arcana, and/or ability to obscure the proliferation of nonsensical gambles in the name of unrestrained market rationality, was held to be definitive. </p> <p> Given these grave failures of journalism even when it was operating at greater strength not so long ago, one might say that rampant distrust is a reasonable and even a good thing. Walter Lippmann famously wrote in <em><a href="/article/democracy_power/america_inside/walter_lippman">Public Opinion</a></em> 85 years ago that journalism was an instrument of public purpose, an effort “to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.” The press’ failure to connect dots, to piece together the facts and meaning of developments in their profusion, broke the crucial link in the chain, the one that Lippmann summarized in the operative words: “on which men can act.” </p> <p> So even a forthright and broad-gauged address to the crises of circulation, revenue, attention and authority will not restart any Golden Age. It would be foolish to expect it. It is not as though journalism is the only rotten pillar of global society. Journalism cannot be relied on when breakdowns in public trust and intelligence are severe, as long as the political system benefits from institutional myopia, and great fortunes thrive on public ignorance.  </p> <p> <strong>Resolutions</strong> </p> <p> It always warms the heart and calms the mind to follow a discussion of crises with an unveiling of resolutions. The sequence has a pleasing cadence, even when it has to strain for justification. The present case is one of those occasions when talk of resolution is - to say the least - premature. </p> <p> One reason is circumstantial. The coincidence of crises makes an exit strategy scarcer. How much of the travail of 2008 can be ascribed to the Great Recession, and how much is structural, a function of Internet competition, declining attention, and declining authority all at once? The <a href="http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2009/narrative_newspapers_intro.php">Project on Excellence’s conclusion</a> is that “roughly half of the downturn in the last year was cyclical, that is, related to the economic downturn. But the cyclical problems are almost certain to worsen in 2009 and make managing the structural problems all the more difficult.” </p> <p> Notice the reference to “managing the structural problems.” They cannot be solved, they can only be managed. The unavoidable likelihood, pending a bolt from the blue, is that the demand for journalism will continue to decline and that no business model can compensate for its declining marketability. No meeting of newspaper people is complete these days without a call - some anguished, some confident - for a “new business model” that would apply to the online “paper.” The call has been issued over the course of years now. It might be premature to say so, but one might suspect that it has not been found because there is none to be found.  </p> <p> The repute of journalism as a force for Enlightenment rested heavily on the assembling of what was, in a sense, an <a href="/article/media/blind_newsmaker">accidental public</a>. Even in times of high circulation, the readership of newspapers came through two fairly distinct channels. There was an amalgamation of citizens charged, or charging themselves, with the task of knowing their world better in order to govern themselves. These readers were frequently partisan. In the 19th century, they had their own newspapers. Even in the 20th century, with the promotion of the ideal of objectivity, they were often interested parties. This amalgam was supplemented by a wide array of readers who were drawn to the newspapers to consult features, recipes, comics, sports reports, and movie schedules, and who, having been drawn there, grazed past news of the wider world and became passingly familiar with the actions of governments and other prime movers. </p> <p> The fact that large numbers, even majorities of the population, were drawn to the news became a resource for reformers of all stripes. Public opinion - which was a phantom, as Walter Lippmann argued - was there to be mobilized because the public assembled itself around the breakfast tables and on railroad cars, reading the papers. With the decline of the newspaper comes the decline of the unitary public as a force capable of being mobilized. </p> <p> This doesn’t mean that the new media dispensation is a bulldozer set against democracy. The success of the Obama campaign last year in turning the Internet into a force for mobilization makes that plain. Still, the new administration groans under the weight of its obligations, and whether it can sustain that mobilization remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the diminishment of news continues, and much as we are in the business of stripping away our illusions, there is no way this can be good. As the sociologist <a href="http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=a4e2aafc-cc92-4e79-90d1-db3946a6d119">Paul Starr</a> has recently argued, the coverage that suffers most as newspaper costs are cut is the local- and state-level coverage for which there is the least independent demand. In the chronically corrupt state of New Jersey, for example, there were 50 reporters assigned to cover the state capital twenty years ago; now, 15 remain. The major national newspapers will survive in some fashion, I don’t doubt (much). But the middle levels are crumbling. </p> <p> Proposals to shore up newspapers, to rescue them from the consequences of their horrendous business decisions, tend to point to to point to two possible sources. Both, in turn, rest on public policy. </p> <p> One way to go is financial support for nonprofit foundations, charities, the likes of which own newspapers in a few cities, and are, selectively, supporting reporting through nonprofit websites like <a href="http://ProPublica.org">ProPublica.org</a><a href="http://Voiceofsandiego.org"></a> and <a href="http://voiceofsandiego.org/">Voiceofsandiego.org</a>.  Of course, the very existence of nonprofit foundations rests on tax policies that advantage their creation. So in the end, it is public policy and only public policy that will determine what kind of journalism survives.   </p> <p> A few weeks ago, at Senate hearings, <a href="http://commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Testimony&amp;Hearing_ID=7f8df1a5-5504-4f4c-ba34-ba3dc3955c61&amp;Witness_ID=75bc8600-0a31-4b01-b9a3-354bc7a65994">Steve Coll</a>, a former managing editor of the Washington Post, proposed that Congress make it easier for news organizations to refound themselves on nonprofit bases and moreover to subsidize reporting now being shut down. Many proposals are circulating: tax subsidies for newspaper subscriptions; new advantages to nonprofit newspaper owners. If there were a national endowment that poured money into serious reporting via local boards dominated by professional (platform-neutral) journalists, it could do a great deal to wall off the journalists from the smothering embrace of the state.  </p> <p> Or the unregulated, laissez-nous-faire market. Even in the US, we&#39;re rapidly running out of alternatives to public finance. Perhaps it can still be said that the experience of the BBC demonstrates that financing can be heavily insulated from control. The US, lacking the license fee, has more trouble.  Still, even in the US, it’s time to move to the next level and entertain a grown-up debate among concrete ideas. </p> <p> Can a public board give representation to a range of voices, including nominees by Congress, thereby improving the odds that decent reporting survives the ineptitude of newspaper publishers? I don’t know. Are the BBC and Channel 4 models for hands-off subsidy? I don’t know that either.  </p> <p> What I do know is that journalism is too important to be left to business interests. If there were any doubt as to what newspapers at their best can accomplish for the public good, you need look no further than the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/">British parliamentary scandal</a>.  If there were any doubt that the best American newspaper is worried about the coverage that newsroom shrinkage is preventing, take this headline, from page 3 of the New <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/business/media/21innocent.html?_r=1&amp;scp=1&amp;sq=scheck&amp;st=cse">York Times of May 21st:</a> &quot;Death Row Foes See Newsroom Cuts as Blow&quot; </p> <p> Leaving journalism to the myopic, inept, greedy, unlucky, and floundering managers of the nation&#39;s newspapers to rescue journalism on their own would be like leaving it to the investment wizards at the American International Group (AIG), Citibank, and Goldman Sachs, to create a workable, just global credit system on the strength of their good will, their hard-earned knowledge, and their fidelity to the public good.  </p> <p> A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, as Rahm Emanuel said. I hope my next talk can be called &quot;Building New Foundations from Garbage&quot;.<a href="http://www.westminsternewsonline.com/wordpress/"></a> </p> media & the net openUSA Todd Gitlin Creative Commons normal email Mon, 25 May 2009 18:50:52 +0000 Todd Gitlin 48014 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Islamic world, the United States, democracy: response to Shadi Hamid https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/idea/the-islamic-world-the-united-states-democracy-response-to-shadi-hamid <p> President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech in Cairo in June 2009 in which he is expected to reach out to the Islamic world, part of the continuing work of repairing the ties between the United States and Muslims that were so damaged under the administration of his predecessor. The US&#39;s president&#39;s address will most likely extend and reinforce the themes outlined in his &quot;<a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-By-President-Obama-To-The-Turkish-Parliament/">remarks</a>&quot; to the parliament in Ankara during his visit to <a href="/article/turkey-in-transition-reality-and-image">Turkey</a> on 6-7 April:  </p> <p> &quot;America&#39;s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Also in the <a href="/idea/about">debate</a> on democracy support co-hosted by the <a href="/idea/about">Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance</a> (International IDEA) and <strong>openDemo</strong><strong>c</strong><strong>racy:</strong><br /> <br /> Vidar Helgesen, &quot;<a href="/article/opendemocracy-theme/democracy-support-a-time-to-debate">Democracy support: where now?</a>&quot; (17 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Rein Müllerson, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/democratisation-history-policy-destiny">Democracy: history, not destiny</a>&quot; (25 November 2008) <br /> <br /> Monika Ericson &amp; Mélida Jiménez, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/taking-stock-of-democracy">Taking stock of democracy</a>&quot; (17 December 2008) <br /> <br /> Kristen Sample, <em>&quot;</em><a href="/article/idea/no-hay-mujeres-latin-america-women-and-gender-equality"><em>No hay mujeres: </em>Latin America women and gender equality</a>&quot; (4 February 2009)<br /> <br /> Ingrid Wetterqvist, Raul Cordenillo, Halfdan L Ottosen, Susanne Lindahl &amp; Therese Arnewing, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/the-european-union-and-democracy-building">The European Union and democracy-building</a>&quot; (10 February 2009) <br /> <br /> Daniel Archibugi, &quot;<a href="/article/democracy-for-export-principles-practices-lessons">Democracy for export: principles, practices, lessons</a>&quot; (5 March 2009) <br /> <br /> Asef Bayat, &quot;<a href="/article/democratising-the-muslim-world">Democracy and the Muslim world: the post-Islamist turn</a>&quot; (6 March 2009) <strong><br /> <br /> openDemocracy</strong>, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/american-democracy-promotion-an-open-letter-to-barack-obama">American democracy promotion: an open letter to Barack Obama</a>&quot; (11 March 2009) - a document hosted by the <a href="http://www.islam-democracy.org/">Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy</a> (CSID) and the <a href="http://pomed.org/">Project on Middle East Democracy</a> (POMED)<br /> <br /> Rodrigo de Almeida &quot;<a href="/article/idea/the-inspectors-of-democracy-1">The inspectors of democracy</a>&quot; (13 March 2009)<br /> <br /> Tarek Osman, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/democracy-support-and-the-arab-world-after-the-fall">Democracy-support and the Arab world: after the fall</a>&quot; (17 March 2009)<br /> <br /> Christopher Hobson &amp; Milja Kurki, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/democracy-and-democracy-support-a-new-era">Democracy and democracy-support: a new era</a>&quot; (20 March 2009) <br /> <br /> Shadi Hamid, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/idea/democracys-time-a-reply-to-tarek-osman">Democracy&#39;s time: a reply to Tarek Osman</a></strong>&quot; (6 April 2009) <br /> <br /> Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/idea/the-gender-of-democracy-matters">The gender of democracy matters</a></strong>&quot; (7 April 2009)  <br /> <br /> Vessela Tcherneva, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/idea/moldova-time-to-take-sides">Moldova: time to choose</a></strong>&quot; (9 April 2009)<br /> <br /> Krzysztof Bobinski, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/idea/the-partnership-principle-europe-democracy-and-the-east">The partnership principle: Europe, democracy, and the east</a></strong>&quot; (22 April 2009)<br /> <br /> Winluck Wahiu &amp; Paulos Tesfagiorgis, &quot;Africa: constitution-building vs coup-making&quot; (28 April 2009)<br /> <br /> Achin Vanaik, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/idea/capitalism-and-democracy">Capitalism and democracy</a></strong>&quot; (29 April 2009)<br /> <br /> Anna Lekvall, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/idea/is-aid-good-for-democracy">Democracy and aid: the missing links</a></strong>&quot; (13 May 2009)</span>We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world - including in my own country.&quot; </p> <p> The overall message is somewhat in vogue these days. In March 2009, a group of international experts and scholars wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to put democratic reform at the heart of the US&#39;s engagement with the Arab World (see  &quot;<a href="/article/idea/american-democracy-promotion-an-open-letter-to-barack-obama">American democracy promotion: an open letter to Barack Obama</a>&quot; (11 March 2009). The core advice of the letter - jointly hosted by the <a href="http://www.islam-democracy.org/">Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy</a> (CSID) and the <a href="http://pomed.org/">Project on Middle East Democracy</a> (POMED) - was the need for Washington under its new leadership to engage with the political Islamic currents in (mainly) the Arab world, as well as to support Arab liberals. </p> <p> In reply, I suggested that the letter erred in respect of its scope and content. My central argument was that the United States, as a result of its strategic interests in the middle east, is on a clashing path with the Arab world&#39;s political Islamic current (see Tarek Osman, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/democracy-support-and-the-arab-world-after-the-fall">Democracy-support and the Arab world: after the fall</a>&quot; [17 March 2009]). </p> <p> Shadi Hamid, co-convenor and one of the lead drafters of the open letter, responded in turn to my article by arguing that leading representatives of political Islam in the Arab and Islamic worlds (such as key members of the Muslim Brotherhood) are showing signs of increasing liberalism; for example, by inherently accepting peace with Israel and writing in Jewish newspapers in the United States. Accordingly, America, should seek to find common ground with such currents of political Islam: </p> <p> &quot;There is an important change underway. In much of the middle east, Islamist groups are aware that gaining power within their countries will remain unlikely, if not impossible, without US encouragement or, at the very least, neutrality....It would be wise for the United States to carefully consider such overtures. After all, autocracy cannot be made permanent. Eventually, the authoritarian regimes of the region will cease to be. An uncertain ‘something else&#39; will replace them. Western nations would be wise to prepare themselves for the change to come. It is better to have leverage with Islamist parties before they come to power, not afterwards when it is too late&quot; (see Shadi Hamid, &quot;<a href="/article/idea/democracys-time-a-reply-to-tarek-osman">Democracy&#39;s time: a reply to Tarek Osman</a>&quot; [6 April 2009]).  </p> <p> Shadi Hamid&#39;s response is in my view based on a flawed and limited framing of the US&#39;s relationship with the Islamic world. This article continues the discussion, itself also part of the debate on the future of democracy-support jointly hosted by the <a href="/idea/about">Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance</a> (International IDEA) and <strong>openDemocracy</strong>). I develop here the case outlined in my original contribution: that the United States - and where appropriate the European Union and other interlocutors too - needs to frame its view of, and dialogue with, the Islamic world in a different and more creative way. Three dimensions of this proposed change are considered. </p> <p> <strong>Range and complexity</strong> </p> <p> The first dimension is to recognise nuance and complexity, in ways that move beyond the reductive view of reducing political Islam as (at heart) little more than hapless opposition movements in a number of Arab countries. </p> <p> The United States political outlook with regard to the Islamic world tends to centre around such groups as the <a href="http://www.ikhwanweb.com/">Muslim Brotherhood</a>, Hamas, Harakat al-Tahrir, <a href="/www.opendemocracy.net/article/hizbollah-and-lebanon-the-curse-of-a-state">Hizbollah</a>, and the multitude of other Islamist movements in the middle east. This reductive tendency to respond to the most ambitious and manipulative Islamist voices rather than the quieter and truer leads it to be drawn into petty, tactical and localised issues and problems (see Ali A Allawi, <a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300139310"><em>The Crisis of Islamic Civilization</em></a> [Yale University Press, 2009]. </p> <p> A more mature outlook would see Islam also as a sort of grand socio-political umbrella of values and guiding principles that can comprise and accommodate many different political currents. It is not the exclusive doctrine of any political movement; it vastly transcends them. </p> <p> This more nuanced view of political Islam would retrieve the ideas of Sheikh Ali Abdel Razek (1888-1966). In his <a href="http://www.wluml.org/english/pubsfulltxt.shtml?cmd[87]=i-87-2619"><em>Islam and the Principles of Government</em></a> (1925) He argued that the institution of the caliphate (or for that matter any concentration of political power in the name of Islam) is obsolete; that Muslims have graduated from their need for religious chaperoning; and that the separation of the state from the mosque had become effective since the politicisation of Islamic rule at the end of the &quot;rightly guided caliphs&quot; era, only a few decades after the death of the <a href="/www.opendemocracy.net/faith-europe_islam/mohammed_3866.jsp">Prophet Mohammed</a>. </p> <p> A perspective of this sort, intelligently undertaken, would seize the initiative and reclaim the agenda from the different political Islamic movements. It would help position the US as the mature, long-term, weighty, and strategic player that it is. Its engagement with the Islamic world could then become part of a serious dialogue between civilisations - shorn of the unfortunate and loaded atmospherics that have surrounded this term. The results might be surprising. In its spirit, for example, Sheikh Ali Abdel Razek&#39;s message resembles many of the principles of the US&#39;s own &quot;founding fathers&quot;. </p> <p> The adoption of a grander definition of political Islam by the United States would enable many of the reactionary forces in the Islamic world to be seen in terms of their actual and natural (rather than inflated) size. It would also the best way of supporting Arab liberals, and an important departure from the approach of outright backing which all but discredits them in front of Arab populations as a whole.  </p> <p> <strong>Confidence and flexibility</strong> </p> <p> The second framing dimension is to address explicitly and centrally the Islamic - rather than the Arab world and &quot;mind&quot;. I argued in my earlier article - &quot;<a href="/article/idea/democracy-support-and-the-arab-world-after-the-fall">Democracy-support and the Arab world: after the fall</a>&quot; (17 March 2009) - that the scope of the open letter to President Obama was misleading and over-general. <a href="http://cddrl.stanford.edu/people/shadihamid/">Shadi Hamid</a> retorted that the middle east, the Arab world, and the Muslim world &quot;are all relevant to our call&quot;. True, they are all relevant, but choosing which one to address is hardly a matter of semantics. </p> <p> There are two reasons why the US should formulate its democracy-support policy and its wider policy aspirations in relation to Islamic, rather than Arab, realities. First, <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7549.html">Arab nationalism</a> is far from the dominant identity in today&#39;s &quot;Arab world&quot;; it is a weak political force living only on the momentum of nostalgia. In no Arab country are Arab nationalists serious political contenders. Islamists have come to dominate the region&#39;s social life, and become the sole challengers to the region&#39;s ruling regimes. </p> <p> Second, Islamism is - unlike Arabism - a flexible notion. <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/HOUHIR.html">Arabism</a> is by definition a national and exclusive identity, whereas Islamism is a multinational and inclusive one. The Islamic identity encompasses rich, refined traditions that express the mixing and merging of different cultures that have come together under the banner of Islam. In its healthy and progressive manifestations, the Muslim &quot;mind&quot; draws upon a host of influences and traditions - Persian, Egyptian, Indian, Andalucian, even Hellenic. Such diversity and richness breads progressive, liberal and tolerant thinking. </p> <p> An important and relevant example is <a href="http://www.iep.utm.edu/i/ibnrushd.htm">Ibn Rushd</a>, the 12th-century Andalucian philosopher (also known as Averroes ). He was confident enough in the great flexibility and moral strength of Islam to shun the notion of <em>al-Jahiliyyah</em> (the era of ignorance eradicated by the advent of Islam - and the term frequently used by militant Islamists in describing the west), and to advocate borrowing from the thinking of <em>al ummam al salifa al saliha</em> (the pious ancient peoples) in a direct and reverent reference to the Greeks. Ibn Rushd also <a href="http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ir/index.html">sought</a> dialogue between the Muslim rulers of al-Andalus and their Christian neighbours in northern Spain and western France - as well as to their Jewish subjects in Andalucia itself. </p> <p> There are more contemporary examples. The United States&#39;s and Europe&#39;s thinkers should - instead of seeking common ground with the ideas of the <a href="http://www.pwhce.org/banna.html">Hassan al-Banna</a> (the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) or <a href="http://www.pwhce.org/qutb.html">Sayyid Qutb</a> (the leading theorist of rejectionist political Islam) - study the work of the al-Azhar scholar <a href="http://www.sis.gov.eg/VR/figures/english/html/taha1.htm">Taha Hussein</a>. In his book <em>Mustaqbal al-Thaqafa fi Misr</em><em> </em>(<em>The Future of Culture in Egypt</em>)<em> </em>(1936), Hussein scolded the religious establishment (then the main bearer of political Islam) for its reductive view of the religion and its role in society; and reminded his readers of the immense influence of the Greeks, Jews and Christians on the land of al-Azhar and the Islamic empire itself. </p> <p> The confidence and flexibility of such thinkers are vastly superior to the insecurity and rigidity of many players in today&#39;s political Islam. They are also (again) resonant of the best American and European traditions. </p> <p> <strong>Realism and discrimination</strong> </p> <p> The third dimension<strong> </strong>is to embrace realism and intelligent discrimination: to abandon the silly and condescending declaration (frequently voiced by George W Bush) that Islam is &quot;a religion of peace&quot;, and to engage with those currents of political Islam that have integrity. </p> <p> A careful study here could, for example, involve a recovery of elements  </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Tarek Osman is a writer and a merchant banker<br /> <br /> Among Tarek Osman&#39;s articles in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/egypt_massiah_3729.jsp%22">Egypt&#39;s phantom messiah</a>&quot; (12 July 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflict-middle_east_politics/egypt_mahfouz_4025.jsp">Mahfouz&#39;s grave, Arab liberalism&#39;s deathbed</a>&quot; (23 November 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/conflicts/middle_east/arab_christians">Arab Christians: a lost modernity</a>&quot; (31 August 2007) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/conflicts/middle_east/gamal_abdel_nasser">Nasser&#39;s complex legacy</a>&quot; (15 January 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/egypt-the-surreal-painting">Egypt: the surreal painting</a><u>&quot;</u> (14 May 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/art_culture/film/youssef-chahine-the-life-world-of-film">Youssef Chahine, the life-world of film</a> (29 July 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/china-and-the-olympics-a-view-from-egypt">China and the Olympics: a view from Egypt</a><strong><u>&quot;</u></strong>  (7 August 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/egypt-s-dilemma-gaza-and-beyond">Egypt&#39;s dilemma: Gaza and beyond</a>&quot; (12 January 2009) </p> <p> of the <em>Salafi</em> tradition as embodied in a number of late-19th and early-20th-century Muslim intellectuals. <a href="http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/759/cu3.htm">Sheikh Mohammed Abdou</a> (1849-1905) and <a href="http://www.arabphilosophers.com/English/philosophers/modern/modern-names/eAbbas_Mahmoud_Elakkad.htm">Abbas Mahmoud al-Akkad</a> (1889-1964) for example - the latter arguably the most compelling Islamic thinker in the 20th century - invoked a return to the purity of early Islamic thought to commend modernisation and rejuvenation of the religion&#39;s spirit. </p> <p> In his theology, Al-Akkad explored Jewish and Christian writings with open, confident faith; in his socio-political writings, he argued for free elections, a serious constitutional parliamentary system, free speech, and a system of checks and balances applicable to all powers. Abdou bluntly called for &quot;learning from the civilised societies of Europe&quot;, &quot;embracing modernity&quot;, and &quot;rediscovering in the core of our religion the elements of rationality that made its societies great and permitted modernity and innovation&quot;. Their tradition continues in the writings of <a href="http://www.yementimes.com/03/iss8/intrview.htm">Gamal al-Banna</a>, Mohamed Sayyed Ashmawi, and others (many of them inside al-Azhar itself). </p> <p> The <em>Salafists</em> are interesting because - unlike the organised political movements in the region - they have no specific political agendas; their lack of local political ambitions, their genuine piousness and sense of religious continuity, means that they more closely embody and represent the increasing religiosity of the &quot;Islamic street&quot;. In this context, the United States - as the most religious western society - would find greater common ground in forging a relationship with the <em>Salafists</em> than most European states. </p> <p> <strong>A new frame</strong> </p> <p> This is not to promote <em>Salafist</em> thinking or propose that the US embrace liberal schools within Islam. Rather it is to suggest that a sophisticated approach to the Muslim world and democracy-support there needs to discard formulaic frameworks and policies, and rise to the challenge of developing new ways of thinking about and engaging in dialogue with Islam. </p> <p> This would be a service both to the Islamic world and to the United States and the Europeans - for all &quot;sides&quot; need a more serious and rigorous discourse than is represented by (for example) the mediocre missionary-ism of <a href="http://www.amrkhaled.net/acategories/categories79.html">Amr Khaled</a>, the zealous and somewhat vengeful militancy of <a href="http://www.theahafoundation.org/biography.php">Ayaan Hirsi Ali</a>, those western leftists and others who indulge and even embrace ultra-reactionary Islamist currents, or those who seek to extend &quot;clash of civilisations&quot; rhetoric into the next decade.  </p> <p> The drafters of the <a href="https://www.csidonline.org/index.php">open letter</a> to Barack Obama are right to suggest that the coming to power of an intellectually curious president could open a new strategy. But that strategy should not involve engaging with mediocre political groups and ignorant, semi-literate reactionaries; nor a public-relations campaign in the face of nihilistic groups consumed with desperate resentment. </p> <p> Rather, the United States - and the west in general - should frame its dialogue with Islam by seeing both itself and the latter as a civilisation that was (and is) rich and confident enough to adapt, to borrow, to change, to dare and to confront its demons. That is the way to encourage, promote and support democracy, and much else besides. </p> democracy & power middle east openUSA IDEA Tarek Osman Creative Commons normal email Fri, 15 May 2009 06:41:00 +0000 Tarek Osman 47978 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Barack Obama’s hundred days https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/barack-obama-s-hundred-days <p> Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated on 4 March 1933. &quot;This nation asks for action&quot;, he said in his inaugural address, and he answered the call. By the time Congress adjourned on 15 June, he had sent it fifteen messages and persuaded it to pass fifteen major pieces of legislation. And they were major. They included the Banking Act and the <a href="http://www.investopedia.com/articles/03/071603.asp">Glass-Steagall Act</a>, separating commercial and investment banking; the Agricultural Adjustment Act to establish a policy to save American farming; and the National Industrial Recovery Act to do the same for industry. He set up the <a href="http://www.tva.gov/abouttva/history.htm">Tennessee Valley Authority</a> and sponsored an international financial conference, passed numerous reforms of the mortgage industry and took the United States off the gold standard.<span class="pullquote_new">Godfrey Hodgson was director of the Reuters&#39; Foundation Programme at Oxford University, and before that the <em>Observer&#39;s</em> correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the <em>Independent</em>. <br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s most recent book is <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0300125704?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=xm2&amp;creativeASIN=0300125704"><em>The Myth of American Exceptionalism</em></a> (Yale University Press, 2009) <br /> <br /> His earlier books include <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=2330"><em>The World Turned Right Side Up: a history of the conservative ascendancy in America</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 1996); <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0395860423?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=xm2&amp;creativeASIN=0395860423"><em>The Gentleman from New York: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 2000); <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7700.html"><em>More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century</em></a> (Princeton University Press, 2006), <a href="http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/publicaffairsbooks-cgi-bin/display?book=9781586483739&amp;view=quotes"><em>A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving</em></a> (PublicAffairs, 2007) <br /> <br /> Among Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s <strong>openDemocracy</strong> articles: <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008): &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-foreign-policy-election">America&#39;s foreign-policy election</a>&quot; (28 August 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-economy-election">America&#39;s economy election</a>&quot; (17 October 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/yes-he-can">Yes he can!</a>&quot; (6 November 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/change-0">Change?</a>&quot; (2 December 2008) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/an-end-and-a-beginning">An end and a beginning</a>&quot; (5 January 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot; (6 February 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obamas-reality-gap">Barack Obama&#39;s reality gap</a>&quot; (27 February 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-end-of-the-beginning">Barack Obama: end of the beginning&quot; (30 March 2009) <br /> <br /> &quot;</a><a href="/article/after-the-g20-america-obama-and-the-world">After the G20: America, Obama, the world</a>&quot; (6 April 2009)</span> </p> <p> These were the famous &quot;hundred days&quot;, in the course of which Roosevelt saved American capitalism and - some would say - saved American democracy as well. The period set a <a href="http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594201967,00.html">standard</a> by which the wisdom and effectiveness of future presidents was to be judged. </p> <p> In 1961, media judgment of the achievements of John F Kennedy&#39;s first hundred days in office was harsh (and the president was no less self-critical). He had been far from inactive. But his successes were seen as having been cancelled out by the catastrophic failure of his attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro&#39;s regime in <a href="/article/raul-castro-and-cuba-reading-the-changes">Cuba</a>. Kennedy, asked how he liked being president, answered wryly that he had liked it better before the <a href="http://www.bartleby.com/65/ba/BayPigsI.html">Bay of Pigs</a>. </p> <p> Even JFK&#39;s humiliation could not compare with the original hundred days, which measured the interval between Napoleon&#39;s escape from exile on the island of Elba and his decisive defeat at Waterloo. </p> <p> <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president_obama/">Barack Obama</a> approaches the end of his first hundred days in office with a record that lies somewhere between those of Roosevelt and Napoleon. He has been as active as FDR; avoided any disasters; and has certainly not met his Waterloo. This is, then, a good moment to assess how he has performed so far in terms of what he wants to achieve, and what his supporters expect from him. </p> <p> <strong>In the world&#39;s eye</strong> </p> <p> For President Obama to do better than his predecessor internationally was always going to be easy. For George W Bush was <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/id/180065">disliked</a> by huge numbers of the world&#39;s people, and an even larger proportion of their leaders; indeed, the degree of loathing exceeded that visited on almost any other American president. </p> <p> But Obama has not just basked in the widespread <a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">relief</a> at his arrival in the White House; he has also acted well. He said on his first day in office that he would close the Guantánamo prison camp, and is working on it; within a few more days he had struck the note the world wanted to hear on Iraq, on torture and on climate change. </p> <p> His meetings in Europe and Turkey for a series of summits on 2-7 April 2009, and in Trinidad &amp; Tobago for the <a href="/article/the-americas-and-washington-end-of-an-era">Summit of the Americas</a> on 17-19 April, were an almost unqualified success. People everywhere liked and trusted him. (The one partial exception was his urging the European Union to accept Turkey as a member: the reaction in Washington if France&#39;s Nicolas Sarkozy were to urge the United States to accept Mexico as the fifty-first state!) </p> <p> Only gradually has it emerged that while Obama may understand the world&#39;s anger at the Bush administration&#39;s hubris and rudeness, his own <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/vcCandidateFeed1/idUSN26497300">foreign policy</a> in many ways is set to continue the established themes of American policy. He might be ready to draw down US forces in Iraq; but only to send more to Afghanistan. He might have appointed excellent regional special <a href="http://itn.co.uk/news/8891eca8f10f16a2eb04c501ef12eefc.html">envoys</a> - Richard Holbrooke, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross; but with no expectation of dramatic progress in their areas of responsibility. </p> <p> Obama&#39;s public demeanour may be hugely <a href="http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1088/global-press-inauguration-reaction">welcomed</a> across the world. But the US under his leadership will still pursue many of America&#39;s great-power goals. The fist might open into a handshake, but his remains a project for a new - if less aggressive - American century. </p> <p> <strong>In the domestic arena</strong> </p> <p> At home, as the hundred days end on 29 April 2009, President Obama&#39;s <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/obamas-100-days-1672018.html">record</a> is even more ambiguous. No one doubts his determination to drag the American economy out of the quagmire. Many doubt whether his administration (studded as it is on the financial side with those most associated with the policies that caused the trouble in the first place) knows how to <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSN2547023320090427">do</a> the job. </p> <p> Equally, no one doubts the sincerity of his reform agenda. But many doubt whether, given the slowdown of the economy and the ballooning of the budget deficit, he will be able to advance his social and environmental goals: introducing universal healthcare insurance, investing on a significant scale in public education, and reducing America&#39;s dependence on imported energy. </p> <p> Only a fool, said <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pande10.html">JP Morgan</a>, would &quot;go a bear&quot; on the United States. But a very large number of fools did &quot;go a bull&quot; on a scale that has come close to ruining the world&#39;s strongest single economy (and thus, in a globalised economy, to ruining everyone else&#39;s).  </p> <p> Indeed, what President Obama&#39;s first hundred days illustrate is the limited ability of the American presidency to respond to the country&#39;s real needs. The glamour, the excitement and the appeal of the US presidency were graphically on view at the <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/inaugural-address/">inauguration</a> on 20 January - but almost immediately the limitations of presidential power were apparent. </p> <p> This is highlighted by the fact that key offices in the treasury remained unfilled for weeks at the height of the worst financial <a href="/article/america-s-financial-meltdown-lessons-and-prospects">crisis</a> since the early 1930s - because a <a href="http://www.law.emory.edu/index.php?id=3080">constitutional</a> provision requires high offices to be subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, ensuring a slow process at the best of times. </p> <p> It is also clear in the president&#39;s difficult relationship with Congress. The legislative process in the House of Representatives (which controls money bills) is encrusted with the new system of &quot;earmarks&quot; and other special interests that tread close to the borders of corruption. In the Senate, an administration&#39;s need (thanks to comparatively new conventions) to in effect win three-fifths of the votes to pass legislation makes the process lengthier. In both chambers, the committee system - cumbersome and exposed to special-interest lobbying - is now closer than ever to paralysis.  </p> <p> The problems are compounded by the fact that among the many high-minded people in Congress, there are few towering figures. In part, this is because the public sees the political system as dominated by presidential will and presidential action - an illusion that the media (and especially) television has reinforced. The president is portrayed as dynamic, the Congress and other institutional rivals as bumbling. The use of phrases such as &quot;commander-in-chief&quot; and &quot;leader of the free world&quot; for the president, contrasted with the supposed parochialism and self-interest of senators and congressmen, further exaggerates the contrast.   </p> <p> <strong>In the balance</strong> </p> <p> Already, as the hundred days come to an end, older political realities have reasserted itself. The forces of inertia look heavier than ever. The Obama administration acted with decisiveness and energy to recapitalise the banks. The bankers simply took this as an opportunity to strengthen their balance-sheets and keep <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/business/15AIG.html?_r=2">paying</a> themselves bonuses. The country&#39;s manufacturing industry is in such a poor shape that Fiat is seen as a potential <a href="http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13562305">saviour</a> for both Chrysler and General Motors. The faint signs of revival on Wall Street contrast with the bleak outlook on Main Street, where real-estate values continue to fall and unemployment continues to rise (see &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-end-of-the-beginning">Barack Obama: end of the beginning</a>&quot;, 30 March 2009).  </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama&#39;s presidency:<br /> <br /> Simon Maxwell, &quot;<a href="/article/global-development-barack-obama-s-agenda-0">Global development: Barack Obama&#39;s agenda</a>&quot; (20 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot; (21 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009)<br /> <br /> openDemocracy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice</a>&quot; (19-23 January 2009) - reflections from thirty-seven of our worldwide authors<br /> <br /> Simon Critchley, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-and-the-american-void">Barack Obama and the American void</a>&quot; (22 January 2009) <br /> <br /> Ruth Rosen, &quot;<a href="/article/american-womens-stimulus-voice-agency-change">American women&#39;s stimulus: voice, agency, change</a>&quot; (18 February 2009) <br /> <br /> Jim Gabour, &quot;<a href="/article/the-redemption-game">The redemption game</a>&quot; (20 February 2009) <br /> <br /> Plus - regular comment on <a href="/usa">openUSA</a></span> </p> <p> When I travelled across the United States at the time of the inauguration to discuss <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0300125704?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=xm2&amp;creativeASIN=0300125704"><em>The Myth of American Exceptionalism</em></a> [Yale University Press, 2009] - a book that is very critical of aspects of American democracy - I was constantly asked how I could say such things when America had just elected Barack Obama. My reply was two-fold: that the double task of reforming the inequalities and the inefficiencies of American society while rescuing an imploded financial system seemed almost beyond the strength even of the strongest president; and that in any case the presidency did not now have the <a href="http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring07/006488.htm">powers</a> or the influence it would need to complete this task. </p> <p> The presidency, after all, was far from all-powerful even in Franklin Roosevelt&#39;s day. FDR complained that getting the Washington government, and especially the US navy, to do what the president wanted was like punching a pillow. In <em><a href="http://search.barnesandnoble.com/All-Things-to-All-Men/Godfrey-Hodgson/e/9780671431655/?itm=3">All Things to All Men: The False Promise of the Modern America Presidency</a> </em>(1980), I showed in detail how Roosevelt had responded to challenges as frightening as those confronting Barack Obama by using a range of instruments - the Congress, the Democratic Party, the permanent government, and the press and radio - to lessen his isolation within the constitutional system. &quot;By the end of his twelve years in the White House&quot;, I wrote, &quot;the temporary shift in the balance of power between the President and the Congress resulting from then dramatic initiatives of the Hundred Days had become the way Washington worked.&quot; </p> <p> &quot;For all that&quot;, I went on, &quot;he had done nothing to change the rules of the game. He had simply shown how it was possible to win most of the time. In so doing, he had greatly heightened expectations - both in Congress and in the nation - of what his successors would be able to accomplish&quot;. FDR&#39;s presidential domination is not the way Washington works today. </p> <p> The fact that Roosevelt was president during a period of unprecedented crisis at home and abroad may have strengthened his authority as well as testing it, yet this still did not permit a permanent change. The six decades since Roosevelt&#39;s death have seen all of his successors, several of them men of great force of character and formidable political skill, fail to make the system work as well as he did. </p> <p> Harry Truman, working with the presidency as Roosevelt had left it to him, did as well as anyone. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/dwightdeisenhower/">Dwight D Eisenhower</a> did better, as <a href="http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/paceis.html">historians</a> now recognise, than his liberal critics thought at the time. Both John Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson, activist Democratic presidents, complained vociferously of their powerlessness and railed against the constraints of the system. </p> <p> After them, the president&#39;s situation became even harder. Richard M Nixon was driven from office amid scandal. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were derided, then defeated. <a href="http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060744809/The_Age_of_Reagan/index.aspx">Ronald Reagan</a> came to the White House announcing that government was the problem, not the solution, a belief that did nothing to make government more effective. George HW Bush was an excellent foreign-policy president, but unsuccessful at home and defeated in a re-election bid. Bill Clinton only narrowly <a href="http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/e-gov/e-politicalarchive-Clintonimpeach.htm">avoided</a> ejection and George W Bush became a model of unpopularity. </p> <p> If the American president has (as the textbooks say) to perform the roles both of an elected monarch and a consecrated prime minister, the record of the past two generations suggests that the monarchical attributes of the office have fared better than its administrative and political fortunes. </p> <p> Barack Obama has in his first three months confirmed his possession of formidable political skills. The question must be whether they will be enough to help him transcend the very real constraints and weaknesses of what is constantly, but inaccurately, described as the most powerful office in the world. </p> american power & the world openUSA Godfrey Hodgson Creative Commons normal email Wed, 29 Apr 2009 13:57:53 +0000 Godfrey Hodgson 47814 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Torture revelations provoke controversy in US https://www.opendemocracy.net/terrorism/article/security_briefings/210409 <p> Dick Cheney today entered the political fray over the US use of torture, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/21/cheney-obama-cia-torture-memos">demanding</a> the CIA release classified information proving the &quot;success&quot; of interrogation techniques, which, he claimed, yielded &quot;good&quot; intelligence. These demands follow President Barack Obama&#39;s declassification of memos proving Bush administration approval of several methods, including waterboarding, which it did not classify as illegal torture because it was not &quot;cruel, inhuman or degrading&quot;, a release Cheney has condemned as partial and &quot;disturbing&quot;. Recent revelations have unearthed that one suspect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/world/20detain.html">waterboarding</a> 183 times and another, Abu Zubayadah, 83 times. </p> <p> <strong><em>The toD verdict: </em></strong>Obama attempted to minimise controversy and put the American debate on the use of torture behind him, offering concessions such as granting amnesty to CIA operatives and refusing moves to prosecute members of the previous administration, but these efforts now seem certain to fail. Obama wanted to &quot;acknowledge&quot; mistakes and then &quot;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/us/politics/21ciaremarks.html?pagewanted=3">move forward</a>&quot;, he reassured the CIA during a visit yesterday. </p> <p> Republicans meanwhile seem likely to continue playing the patriot card. The claim that Democrats and other left-leaning Americans are unpatriotic and do not stand behind the country&#39;s armed forces and intelligence services is age-old. Cheney continued the tradition, calling on Obama &quot;to stand up and aggressively defend America&#39;s interests&quot;. They may find further ammunition should the release of information lead to foreign moves to prosecute US nationals or bring further intelligence to light on the issue, a development which would seemingly set in opposition US interests and outside pressure, which Obama may be accused of kick-starting.  </p> <p> The White House clearly foresaw the potential of a Republican backlash, but its measures to allay the fears of the American right, such as the call for &quot;<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8009418.stm">reflection, not retribution</a>&quot;, have provoked accusations of a whitewash from many of the president&#39;s supporters on the left. Thankfully, however, it seems that no matter what the future intensity of the debate in the US, the country will discontinue the abhorrent practice of torture. </p> <p> <strong>Dozens killed as vigilantes tackle Kenyan mafia </strong> </p> <p> Vigilante groups armed with machetes, stones, axes and clubs <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/21/kenya-vigilante-kill-mungiki">killed</a> over 24 people in pursuit of the Mungiki religious sect across central Kenya last night. The Mungiki, a religious turned criminal organisation, was banned in 2002 for extortion and its own brand of rough justice; a series of beheadings that prompted a police crackdown now taken into public hands. The night of violence follows days of vigilante action in the region during which one hundred alleged Mungiki members have been publically lynched. Three students and an 83-year-old man were among the victims of the <a href="http://allafrica.com/stories/200904210036.html">man-hunt</a> which vigilantes claim is endorsed by local police.    </p> <p> <strong>South and North unite for Korean talks</strong> </p> <p> South Korean envoys arrived in North Korea today for the first <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/world/asia/22korea.html?_r=1&amp;ref=global-home">formal talks</a> after President Lee Myung-bak took office over a year ago with the promise of a hard-line stance against North Korea. Since then, the situation in the region has deteriorated considerably, particularly with the internationally-condemned launch of a test missile by North Korea on 5 April. The two delegations were due to meet at Gaeseong industrial plant, a rare cooperative project between North and South and one threatened by worsening relations. The delegates, however, were forced to postpone negotiations following a dispute over where to convene the meeting, an indication of the far greater uneasiness these talks intend to allay. </p> <p> <strong>Victory for Turkish nationalists threatens Cypriot reunification</strong> </p> <p> The <a href="http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2009/04/2009419195129862568.html">victory</a> of the hard-line National Unity Party in Northern Cyprus polls on Sunday has upset recent progress towards the reunification of the divided island. The party&#39;s leader Dervis Eroglu, said that a unified Cyprus should not be the North&#39;s only goal. Turkey&#39;s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan today <a href="http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/domestic/11481352.asp?gid=244">warned</a> the new government against breaking off or changing the terms of the ongoing reunification talks, which were in turn precipitated by the victory of the Communist Greek Cypriot president Demetris Christofias last year. </p> <p> <strong>Russia threatens walkout of NATO talks</strong> </p> <p> Russia&#39;s relations with the west are again under strain over Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The Russian-backed South Ossetian authority today detained two of the twenty OSCE monitors patrolling the Georgian side of the border for a &quot;<a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i7OVZxlJywR41CJSrgIPZdqONXJQ">provocative</a>&quot; and illegal incursion into South Ossetian territory, it claimed. After several hours the pair were released. A similar incident occurred last February during which two monitors were also captured and later released. </p> <p> The tensions parallel developments on the international stage where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday condemned NATO&#39;s &quot;<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8004399.stm">dangerous decision</a>&quot; to hold military exercises in Georgia next month. Russia escalated their protests yesterday <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/europeCrisis/idUKLK168557">threatening</a> to call off a forthcoming summit of senior military figures if NATO did not adequately respond to Russia&#39;s objections. </p> <p> <strong>China revives gunboat diplomacy </strong> </p> <p> The Chinese Navy&#39;s deputy in command, Vice Adm. Ding Yiping, promised to reveal the nation&#39;s latest sea-borne military hardware on Thursday as part of the fleet&#39;s 60th anniversary celebrations. The <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h7i1so3EPxByMVNR-a9JPNeiB6vwD97MPB482">newly unveiled vessels</a> will include its latest generation of nuclear submarines, so far hidden from public view, and possibly newly acquired aircraft carriers, all of which are feared to be part of a Chinese bid for technical parity with the US and Russia. China disputes the control of several islands, not least Taiwan, in neighbouring waters and has clashed on the issue with the Philipinnes, Vietnam and Japan. The admiralty and Chinese state media have, however, stressed international <a href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/15/content_11191644.htm">cooperation</a> as China&#39;s goal, highlighting its recent contribution to policing the Somali coast. </p> <a href="http://www.feedblitz.com/f/?Sub=244504"><em>Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD&#39;s daily security briefings via email by clicking here</em></a> openSecurity openSecurity openUSA Daniel MacArthur-Seal Creative Commons normal security briefings Tue, 21 Apr 2009 14:13:57 +0000 Daniel MacArthur-Seal 47782 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Smoke over the Vatican https://www.opendemocracy.net/blog/openusa-theme/karl-smyth/2009/04/16/smoke-over-the-vatican <p> <em>update: the BBC&#39;s North American editor Justin Webb has since blogged about this subject <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/justinwebb/2009/04/obamas_catholic_difficulties.html" target="_blank">here</a></em>  </p> <p> Reports emanating from <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6094466.ece" target="_blank">Italian sources </a>earlier this week suggesting that the Vatican has effectively vetoed three of President Barack Obama&#39;s nominees to fill the vacant role of United States Ambassador to the Holy See--based on their liberal views on issues such as abortion and stem cell research--may signal the beginning of a cooling in US-Vatican relations under the Obama administration.<!--break--> </p> <p> In the George W. Bush administration, the Roman Catholic Church found a much-needed ally to help stem the spread of relativism that has continued to embed itself in many of the Holy See&#39;s neighbouring European states--dubbed &quot;the heartland of the God crisis&quot; by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/26/us/nationalspecial2/26beliefs.html?_r=1&amp;ref=nationalspecial2" target="_blank">one pundit</a>. A man whose outlook was fundamentally shaped by his faith, President Bush&#39;s staunchly conservative (or orthodox) policies towards a range of social issues proved so popular with the clergy in Rome that in April of last year Pope Benedict XVI embarked on his first trip of the US; the first papal visit by a pontiff in nearly a decade. </p> <p> The longevity of this theological transatlantic alliance, however, may well be put to the test in the months ahead. Though a devout Christian himself (despite some Republican claims to the otherwise), once in office Obama wasted no time in repealing the ban placed by his predecessor on embryonic testing. This was quickly followed by a decision to once again allow federal funding to foreign family plannign agencies that promote or give information about abortion. And while an opponent of same-sex marriage, Obama has strongly advocated a legislative strengthening of gay rights during his time in the Illinois State Senate. </p> <p> These views have invariably placed a wedge not just between the Obama administration and the Vatican but representatives from within the American Catholic Community as well. Upon hearing the news that Notre Dame University had invited the president to deliver the school&#39;s commencement address next month, and receive an honorary degree, the head of the US Conference of Catholic bishops Cardinal Francis George <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-cardinal-notre-dameapr03,0,5403041.story" target="_blank">said</a>: &quot;Notre Dame didn&#39;t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issues this invitation.&quot; </p> <p> While his tenure has already been dogged by selection debacles over key posts, it seems unlikely that someone as politically astute as Obama could not foresee the Vatican&#39;s response to his selection of three pro-choice ambassadorial candidates. Raymond Flynn, a life-long Democrat and post holder under President Bill Clinton, argued quite succinctly in a recent <a href="http://www.bostonherald.com/news/us_politics/view.bg?articleid=1164472" target="_blank">Boston Herald article </a>that, &quot;it&#39;s essential that the person who represents us to the Holy See be a person who has pro-life values.&quot; Moreover, as has been documented previously, Obama has shown a high regard for pragmatism in his early days in office, and there seems to be little political capital to gain from crossing an institution as powerful as the Catholic Church--let alone the growing number of Hispanic voters that are <a href="http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=20710" target="_blank">transforming Catholicism </a>at home. </p> <p> In any event, Obama will have some work to do to smooth over relations with Rome before the G8 summit schedule for Sardinia in early July, when he is set to meet with Pope Benedict for the first time. </p> <p> Finally, spare a thought for the biggest loser in this whole episode: Caroline Kennedy, whose endorsement of Obama along with her uncle Senator Ted Kennedy proved an important fillip for the Illinois senator during the Democratic primaries. </p> <p> Having shunned the limelight of politics for most of her life, Ms Kennedy has unwittingly found herself in the midst of an embarrassing political odyssey, unable to translate the political capital gained from backing Obama into a meaningful position of power. Her recent campaign to take Hillary Clinton&#39;s vacated seat as the Senator for New York was widely panned by both the media and local party activists, citing her lack of engagement with New York politics in the past, a lack of clarity in her interviews, and her reluctance to give the press adequate access. When it subsequently emerged she was unlikely to be selected for the seat, she <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/nyregion/22caroline.html?_r=2" target="_blank">withdrew</a> her candidacy, citing personal reasons. </p> <p> Once mooted as a potential ambassador the United Nations, after this latest setback the Obama administration must once again rethink how they can repay Kennedy for her loyalty to the campaign. It is not hard to understand why, despite her dynastic family roots, she eschewed the world of politics for as long as she did. </p> us & the world openUSA Karl Smyth openUSA religion USA america Rome barack obama caroline kennedy ambassador vatican holy see Thu, 16 Apr 2009 15:04:32 +0000 Karl Smyth 47752 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Barack Obama's drug policy: time for change https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/barack-obamas-drug-policy-time-for-change <p> The United States president has prepared for the fifth <a href="http://www.fifthsummitoftheamericas.org/default.aspx?id=46">Summit of the Americas</a> in Trinidad &amp; Tobago on 17-19 April 2009 by announcing a package of measures that will make easier the movement of people and remittances between the US and Cuba. This may help lift the atmosphere of his meeting with the thirty-three other leaders from across the region, among whom Cuba&#39;s is the only absentee. But if Barack Obama truly wanted to make a difference, there is one policy area that more urgently needs his focused attention and brave decision: drugs. <span class="pullquote_new">Juan Gabriel Tokatlian is at the <em>Universidad de San Andrés</em> in Argentina. He earned a doctorate in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University school of advanced international studies. He lived, researched and taught in Colombia from 1981-98<br /> <br /> Also by Juan Gabriel Tokatlian in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/contadora_3593.jsp" target="_blank">Colombia needs a Contadora: a democratic proposal</a>&quot; (30 May 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/partition_temptation_4140.jsp" target="_blank">The partition temptation: from Iraq to Latin America</a>&quot; (29 November 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/hopeful_triangle_4336.jsp" target="_blank">Latin America, China, and the United States: a hopeful triangle</a> &quot; (9 February 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/4420" target="_blank">A Latin American&#39;s memo to Bush</a>&quot; (9 March 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/tokatlian_longview_4429.jsp" target="_blank">After Bush: dealing with Hugo Chávez</a>&quot; (13 March 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/the_global_drug_war_beyond_prohibition" target="_blank">The global drug war: beyond prohibition</a>&quot; (4 December 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/washington-and-latin-america-farewell-monroe-doctrine" target="_blank">Washington and Latin America: farewell, Monroe</a>&quot; (7 October 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/cuba-colombia-venezuela-and-obama">Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela...and Obama</a>&quot; (24 November 2008)</span> </p> <p> The prospect at this stage is remote. It has not yet dawned on the Obama administration that its decision to wage a &quot;war on drugs&quot; in a new theatre (Mexico) is doomed to the same failure it has experienced everywhere else in the region (in particular, Colombia). It will be a melancholy end to a four-decade effort. </p> <p> In May 1971, the ill-fated Richard Nixon proclaimed the beginning of this &quot;war&quot;. Since then Washington - with wide support among the international community - has comprehensively lost the fight against narcotics inside the United States and worldwide. Between the last failure in Colombia and the <a href="http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/03/2009330192045168972.html">coming</a> one in Mexico, the picture is one of unrelieved retreat (see &quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/the_global_drug_war_beyond_prohibition">The global drug war: beyond prohibition</a>&quot;, 4 December 2007). </p> <p> The coercive confrontation against drugs in Colombia has, under any measurable standard - cocaine production, drug availability and purity, the level of drug-related violence, control of narcotics-linked money-laundering, new markets for consumption - been a wholesale disappointment. Plan Colombia, that heavily militarised eight-year <a href="/democracy-protest/isacson_nextplan_4425.jsp">effort</a> costing $6 billion, has proved incapable of curtailing the drug phenomenon in this part of the Americas - which extends worldwide. </p> <p> In the 2000s, Bogota has undertaken a range of actions: forcefully (using chemical agents) eradicating illicit crops over an area approximately two-and-a-half times the state of Delaware, extraditing more than 600 Colombians to the United States, dismantling the traditional big drug cartels (and some of the new, more sophisticated, cellular, less visible, and smaller &quot;boutique&quot; ones). In its own terms, the strategy hasn&#39;t worked: the drug problem hasn&#39;t been solved, either in the United States or in the immediate region. True, Plan Colombia can be regarded as modestly successful as a counterinsurgency initiative, but as a counter-drug stratagem it has been a complete fiasco. </p> <p> Yet the same rationale that underlies Plan Colombia is now present in Plan Merida, Washington&#39;s project for Mexico. The implementation of a new drug crusade in that country will almost certainly have the effect of making Mexico more of a failed state than it is already (see Sergio Aguayo Quezada, &quot;<a href="/article/mexico-a-state-of-failure">Mexico: a state of failure</a>&quot;, 17 February 2009). </p> <p> <strong>The next dialogue</strong> </p> <p> The logic of United States drug policy links domestic and international motives, which are both manifold and sometimes contradictory (see Cornelius Friesendorf, <a href="http://www.routledge.com/shopping_cart/products/product_detail.asp?sku=&amp;isbn=9780415413756&amp;pc"><em>US Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs</em></a> [Routledge, 2007]). The strategy, supply-driven and highly punitive, has invested immense efforts and <a href="/node/My%20Documents/leap.cc/dia/miron-economic-report.pdf">monies</a> to reduce the price at the stage of production; improve eradication in order to discourage peasants to cultivate illicit crops; strengthen interdiction in the processing and transit countries in order to decrease the availability and potency of drugs in the US homeland; and enhance seizures at entry-points so as to elevate the domestic price of narcotics and thus deter the entrance of additional potential consumers into the drug market, reducing crime levels as a result. </p> <p> The outcome has been the opposite of what the US expected and desired. There have been few winners and many losers in a campaign in which Washington now <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e673c44c-1180-11de-87b1-0000779fd2ac.html">spend</a>s $1,400 every second. US citizens have become less safe, with many more victims; while organised criminal organisations (both domestic and transnational) have become richer and more powerful. The Andean region and <a href="/node/My%20Documents/afraf.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/108/431/171">west Africa</a> are but two areas where the drug phenomenon has created enormous social, political, ecological and military difficulties (see Emmanuelle Bernard, &quot;<a href="/article/guinea-bissau-drug-boom-lost-hope">Guinea-Bissau: drug boom, lost hope</a>&quot;, 13 September 2008). The legacies of the ill-conceived &quot;war on drugs&quot;, here and elsewhere, include human-rights abuses, environmental catastrophes, imbalances in civil-military relations, institutional corruption, urban drug-lords&#39; and rural warlords&#39; accumulation of power, and law-enforcement agencies&#39; failures (see Ivan Briscoe, &quot;<a href="/article/lockdown-in-vienna-the-un-s-drug-summit">Lockdown in Vienna: the UN&#39;s drugs summit</a>&quot;, 23 March 2009). </p> <p> The Obama administration&#39;s extension of the &quot;war of drugs&quot; to Mexico will reinforce these <a href="http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4684">depredations</a> in a country closer to its borders than Colombia. If the United States - Democrats and Republicans alike - want to avoid this fate, it must participate in a new discussion about narcotics in the western hemisphere. The Summit of the Americas in <a href="http://www.trinidadandtobagonews.com/blog/?p=1067&amp;cpage=1">Trinidad &amp; Tobago</a> is an opportunity to initiate a thorough, serious dialogue on drugs and their links to organised crime and citizens&#39; insecurity in the continent. The social, economic and political realities in the Americas are already &quot;narcotised&quot;. It is time, after more than three decades of a failed &quot;war on drugs&quot;, to start a post-prohibitionist debate. It is not too late to rethink. </p> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> Among <strong>openDemocracy&#39;s</strong> recent articles on the Americas: </p> <p> Celia Szusterman, &quot;<a href="/article/argentina-celebrating-democracy">Argentina: celebrating democracy</a>&quot; (19 December 2008) </p> <p> John Crabtree, &quot;<a href="/article/bolivia-after-the-vote">Bolivia: after the vote</a>&quot; (2 February 2009) </p> <p> Sergio Aguayo Quezada, &quot;<a href="/article/mexico-a-state-of-failure">Mexico: a state of failure</a>&quot; (17 February 2009) </p> <p> George Philip, &quot;<a href="/article/hugo-chavez-oil-and-venezuela">Hugo Chávez, oil, and Venezuela</a>&quot; (20 February 2009) </p> <p> Julia Buxton, &quot;<a href="/article/hugo-chavez-tides-of-victory">Hugo Chávez: tides of victory</a>&quot; (20 February 2009) </p> <p> Adam Isacson, &quot;<a href="/article/colombias-imperilled-democracy">Colombia&#39;s imperilled democracy</a>&quot; (6 March 2009) </p> <p> Victor Valle, &quot;<a href="/article/el-salvador-s-long-march">El Salvador&#39;s long march</a>&quot; (20 March 2009) </p> <p> Kelly Phenicie &amp; Lisa J Laplante, &quot;<a href="/article/peru-the-struggle-for-memory">Peru: the struggle for memory</a>&quot; (8 April<strong> </strong>2009) </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> latin america openUSA Juan Gabriel Tokatlian Creative Commons normal email Wed, 15 Apr 2009 13:43:06 +0000 Juan Gabriel Tokatlian 47736 at https://www.opendemocracy.net After the G20: America, Obama, the world https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/after-the-g20-america-obama-and-the-world <p> It is too soon to say whether the Group of Twenty summit in London on 2 April 2009 has brought closer the world economic crisis closer to an end. The effect of the unimaginably vast sums of money (or at least figures) that were <a href="http://www.londonsummit.gov.uk/en/summit-aims/summit-communique/">declared</a> available to lubricate a blocked credit system will be an early sign. No one knows too whether the plan of United States treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, to clear up the vast toxic assets remaining in the system will work. The potential for further damage is ever-present. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Among <strong>openDemocracy</strong>&#39;s articles on the G20: <br /> <br /> Larry Elliott, &quot;<a href="/article/from-g8-to-g20-the-end-of-exclusion">From G8 to G20: the end of exclusion</a>&quot; (16 November 2008) <br /> <br /> Katinka Barysch, &quot;<a href="/article/the-real-g20-agenda-from-technics-to-politics">The real G20 agenda: from technics to politics</a>&quot; (16 March 2009) <br /> <br /> Sue Branford, &quot;<a href="/article/the-g20-s-missing-voice">The G20&#39;s missing voice</a>&quot; (26 March 2009) <br /> <br /> Will Hutton, &quot;<a href="/article/the-g20-deal-power-bends-to-protest-0">The G20 deal: power bends to protest</a>&quot; (29 March 2009) <br /> <br /> Daniele Archibugi, &quot;<a href="/article/email/the-g20-ought-to-be-increased-to-6-billion">The 20 ought to be increased to 6 billion</a>&quot; (31 March 2009) <br /> <br /> Stephen Browne, &quot;<a href="/article/the-g20-summit-a-transition-moment">The G20 summit: a transition moment</a>&quot; (1 April 2009) <br /> <br /> Saskia Sassen, &quot;<a href="/article/too-big-to-save-the-end-of-financial-capitalism-0">Too big to save: the end of financial capitalism</a>&quot; (1 April 2009) <br /> <br /> David Hayes, &quot;<a href="/article/the-g20-and-the-post-crisis-world">The G20 and the post crisis world</a>&quot; (3 April 2009) - with contributions by Paul Kingsnorth, Susan George, Duncan Green, David Mepham, and Ann Pettifor </span> </p> <p> There is more clarity about the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/g20-summit/5097195/G20-summit-Gordon-Brown-announces-new-world-order.html">statement</a> by Gordon Brown that the G20  meeting was the beginning of a &quot;<a href="/article/a-new-world-order">new world order</a>&quot; of progressive cooperation. The British prime minister is at least halfway right. This is indeed the start of a new world in international relations, and it is time to look closely at its architecture. </p> <p> <strong>The two-step illusion</strong> </p> <p> What happened in London was in one sense a great step towards a new realism: that is, replacing a G7/G8 that reflects the economic realities of at best the 1970s (if not of <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7725157.stm">Bretton Woods</a>) with a G20 that can claim to represent four-fifths of the world&#39;s gross global product and  well over half its population. Even more, this creates a process that almost inevitably entails further moves towards greater &quot;representativity&quot;. </p> <p> It is long overdue. The process of rethinking the distribution of power in leading international institutions is a belated acknowledgment of the changing global balance. China is at its heart. The Beijing leadership wants its country&#39;s &quot;peaceful rise&quot; - including a decade and more of 10% annual growth - to be recognised and rewarded. If the Chinese are to make a major contribution to the greatly <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/g20-a-citizenrsquos-guide-1662933.html">increased capita</a>l of the International Monetary Fund, for example, it will be hard to resist their claim for more than 4% of the IMF&#39;s voting rights. </p> <p> A key question is whether the process of change will be gradual or sudden. It has become modish in some diplomatic and journalistic circles to speak of a G2 - the United States and China - as a future steering-committee within the G20. This is unrealistic, as well as undesirable. After all, the American economy is now slightly smaller than that of the European Union, and it has long lost the dominance of the immediate post-1945 era. Moreover, China&#39;s own <a href="/article/china-local-china-global">economy</a> is now in aggregate roughly the size of Germany&#39;s - but the disparity in populations means that it delivers an average income per head around 10% of most western European countries. </p> <p> In any case, the relationship between China and the United States is very different from a traditional great-power competition, in a way that limits the potential to forge a &quot;duumvirate&quot;. It is neither a traditional commercial rivalry nor a military contest, but a novel and in some ways very strange relationship: China is creditor, investor, supplier of cheap consumer goods, ideological and diplomatic competitor. Chinese economic <a href="http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118001863/home?CRETRY=1&amp;SRETRY=0">growth</a> has been heavily dependent on exports to the United States (and even more to the European Union). </p> <p> In addition, neither power has any territorial claims or ambitions of a traditional kind on the other; though in Africa and perhaps elsewhere China aspires to a sphere of influence that challenges American hegemony. China cannot yet remotely threaten American military dominance, though there are signs that the Chinese government is intent on building up its military (including <a href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/03/content_11127758.htm">naval</a>) capacity. </p> <p> There may come a time when the world is divided between Chinese and American alliances, and strategic changes in world politics do tend to come faster than anyone expects. But for the foreseeable future, China will not be a superpower in the way that the United States has been since the implosion of the Soviet Union. </p> <p> <strong>An end to &quot;number one&quot;?</strong> </p> <p> But if the &quot;multipolar world&quot; - long discussed in academic seminars and journals of international relations - is now <a href="http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/the-multi-polar-moment/354105/">becoming</a> a reality, what will be the effect on the world&#39;s networks of influence? </p> <p> The United States is in a class of its own in military power. But other countries and groups of countries  - China, India, the European Union, Russia, perhaps some alignments of the Islamic world - are able to resist or divert American power in various ways, or are in a position to help Washington achieve some goals it cannot achieve alone. </p> <p> The United States now needs help in international affairs. It cannot save its own environment without cooperation. It cannot rescue its own economy without help from Europe and China. It is no longer self-sufficient in energy. Its irresistibly great military power is not in practice much use. </p> <p> The signs are that <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president_obama/">President Obama</a> understands this, at least on one level. He has sent clear signals that he wants to leave behind the unwise arrogance of the George W Bush administration and its more intransigent figures - Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton; and to seek more cooperative relationships. </p> <p> But there is a catch. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union the preferred model of the world in the United States - among conservatives and liberals, among politicians and military officers, journalists, policy-makers and a clear majority of citizens - has not been a G7/G8 one or a G20-type one; it is most unlikely to be a G2 one. It has been a G1 model. </p> <p> Most Americans in these two decades came proudly to embrace the image of their country as the lone superpower. Barack Obama speaks of a new, more tactful and more subtle style of leadership. But he is still an &quot;<a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300125702">American exceptionalist</a>&quot;. He still takes his country&#39;s leadership in the world for granted - even if his speeches during his European tour (in London, at the <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/nato-at-60-what-you-need-to-know-1662936.html">Nato summit</a>, in <a href="http://praguemonitor.com/2009/04/06/barack-obama-public-address">Prague</a>, and in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7984762.stm">Turkey</a>) have been artful in their restraint and appeals to cooperation. The American people too expect him to be what American journalists have long called the president of their country: the &quot;leader of the free world&quot;. </p> <p> This is not an elected title - or if it is, it is a title awarded by an electorate amounting to less than 5% of the world&#39;s population. Yet until recently it did represent a reality, one acknowledged by many and perhaps most of the world&#39;s other leaders. When <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/madamsecretary">Madeleine Albright</a> called her country the &quot;indispensable nation&quot;, she was not boasting. She was expressing a perception that was widely, indeed almost universally accepted. </p> <p> It was not just that no other nation had the strength to compete for leadership with the United States. No other nation then wanted the burdens of leadership. Now this too may - may - have begun to change. Perhaps Americans, while happy to be number one, are now longer willing (even if they are able, which is a big &quot;if&quot; in the middle of an economic recession) to carry the burden of leadership. </p> <p> <strong>A new narrative</strong> </p> <p> In 1999 I wrote an article in which I spoke of the &quot;grand narrative&quot; of what the historian <a href="http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=7315">Eric Hobsbawm</a> called the &quot;<a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl/9780679730057.html">short 20th century</a>&quot;. The breakdown of the uneasy diplomatic equilibrium of the 19th century in 1914 had led to world war and economic catastrophe. That in turn led to fascism, to another world war, to genocide and to the division of the world between an American and a communist power-bloc. That led to the cold war, and in the end to the collapse of European communism. </p> <p> I connected the end of that grand narrative to &quot;the death of news&quot;. Because the citizens of the United States and western Europe were no longer frightened of war, they had turned away from the affairs of the rest of the world and concerned themselves with their own preoccupations and fears: of poverty, failure, loneliness, ill health and death. War, they imagined, was something that happened in &quot;faraway places of which we know little&quot;. </p> <p> It is interesting to ask whether the attacks on Washington and New York in September 2001 would have happened if news organisations in America and western Europe had not sharply cut back their coverage of international affairs.  However that may be, the <a href="/article/a-war-on-three-fronts-iraq-afpak-washington">invasion</a> of Afghanistan and Iraq, the <a href="/article/pakistan-a-path-through-danger">crisis</a> in Pakistan and the stalemate in Palestine, and now the economic disaster resulting from the crimes and follies of &quot;Anglo-Saxon capitalism&quot;, have the public&#39;s full attention. </p> <p> They sound like the ominous overture to a new and potentially dangerous world in which the United States still sees itself as G1, but may be less able and less willing to carry the responsibilities of a world leadership that is more heavy and difficult than ever. </p> <p> Can Washington, given its apparently unshakable attachment to Israel&#39;s interests, solve the problem of Palestine? Can it repair (or &quot;reset&quot;) the breach with that testy and ambitious rival, Russia? Can it save <a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Pakistan</a> for democracy? Bring Iran into the comity of nations? Feed Africa? Halt climate change? Rebuild Wall Street or Detroit? </p> <p> No American president has started with more personal ability, or more sheer <a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">goodwill</a> from around the world, than Barack Obama. But a successful tour of Europe has if anything highlighted the scale of the tasks he faces, and the problems he may have in bringing the American people along with him in the effort. </p> <p> A new narrative is unfolding. A lot depends on whether the world is nearer the end (1991), middle (1945) or beginning (1914) of the &quot;short 20th century&quot;. The plot is still open. </p> <p> &#160; </p> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> Godfrey Hodgson was director of the Reuters&#39; Foundation Programme at Oxford University, and before that the <em>Observer&#39;s</em> correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the <em>Independent</em>. </p> <p> Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s most recent book is <a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300125702"><em>The Myth of American Exceptiona</em><em>l</em><em>ism</em></a> (Yale University Press, 2009) </p> <p> His earlier books include <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=2330"><em>The World Turned Right Side Up: a history of the conservative ascendancy in America</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 1996); <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=681114"><em>The Gentl</em><em>e</em><em>man from New York: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 2000); <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7700.html"><em>More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century</em></a> (Princeton University Press, 2006), <a href="http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/publicaffairsbooks-cgi-bin/display?book=9781586483739&amp;view=quotes"><em>A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pi</em><em>l</em><em>grims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving</em></a> (PublicAffairs, 2007) </p> <p> Among Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s <strong>openDemocracy</strong> articles: </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/a-game-of-two-halves">A game of two halves</a>&quot; (15 July 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/welcome-to-the-party-american-convention-follies">Welcome to the party: American convention follies</a>&quot; (18 August 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-foreign-policy-election">America&#39;s foreign-policy election</a>&quot; (28 August 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-economy-election">America&#39;s economy election</a>&quot; (17 October 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/yes-he-can">Yes he can!</a>&quot; (6 November 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/change-0">Change?</a>&quot; (2 December 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/an-end-and-a-beginning">An end and a beginning</a>&quot; (5 January 2009) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot; (6 February 2009) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obamas-reality-gap">Barack Obama&#39;s reality gap</a>&quot; (27 February 2009) </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <style></style> democracy & power american power & the world openUSA Godfrey Hodgson Creative Commons normal email Mon, 06 Apr 2009 05:13:22 +0000 Godfrey Hodgson 47678 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Barack Obama: end of the beginning https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/barack-obama-end-of-the-beginning <p> President Barack Obama joked in his <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/24/us/politics/24text-obama.html">press conference </a>on 24 March 2009 that the euphoria of his <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/inaugural-address/">inauguration</a> two months earlier had lasted only a single day. The hope he had the audacity to proclaim is not yet dead. But - even as he prepares to leave for a trip to Europe that will encompass the <a href="http://www.londonsummit.gov.uk/">G20 summit</a> in London (2 April), the Nato <a href="http://www.nato.int/60years/index.html">anniversary summit</a> jointly hosted by France and Germany (3-4 April), and visits to the <a href="http://www.hrad.cz/en/for-media/press-releases/6012.shtml">Czech Republic</a> (4-5 April) and <a href="http://www.metimes.com/Security/2009/03/19/obama_to_visit_turkey_april_6-7/7f05/">Turkey</a> (6-7 April) - the future prospects of his presidency are <a href="http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13362078&amp;source=hptextfeature">already</a> in the balance. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Among <strong>openDemocracy&#39;s </strong>articles on the economic crisis: <br /> <br /> Willem Buiter, &quot;<a href="/article/the-end-of-american-capitalism">The end of American capitalism (as we knew it)&quot;</a> (17 September 2008)<br /> <br /> Ann Pettifor, &quot;<a href="/article/the-week-that-changed-everything">The week that changed everything</a>&quot; (22 September 2008)<br /> <br /> Will Hutton, &quot;<a href="/article/wanted-a-fairer-capitalism">Wanted: a fairer capitalism</a>&quot; (6 October 2008)<br /> <br /> Avinash Persaud, &quot;<a href="/article/europe-s-financial-crisis-the-integration-lesson">Europe&#39;s financial crisis: the integration lesson</a>&quot; (7 October 2008) <br /> <br /> Paul Rogers, &quot;<a href="/article/the-opportunity-of-crisis">A world in flux: crisis to agency</a>&quot; (16 October 2008)<br /> <br /> Andre Wilkens, &quot;<a href="/article/the-global-financial-crisis-opportunities-for-change">The global financial crisis: opportunities for change</a>&quot; (10 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Simon Maxwell &amp; Dirk Messner, &quot;<a href="/article/a-new-global-order-from-bretton-woods-ii-to-san-francisco-ii">A new global order: Bretton Woods II...and San Francisco II</a>&quot; (11 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Larry Elliott, &quot;<a href="/article/from-g8-to-g20-the-end-of-exclusion">From G8 to G20: the end of exclusion</a>&quot; (16 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Krzysztof Rybinski, &quot;<a href="/article/a-new-world-order">A new world order</a>&quot; (4 December 2008)<br /> <br /> Paul Rogers, &quot;<a href="/article/a-world-in-revolt">A world in revolt</a>&quot; (12 February 2009)<br /> <br /> Katinka Barysch, &quot;<a href="/article/the-real-g20-agenda-from-technics-to-politics">The real G20 agenda: from technics to politics</a>&quot; (16 March 2009)<br /> <br /> Krzysztof Rybinski, &quot;<a href="/article/the-zombie-solution">There is no zombie free lunch</a>&quot; (18 March 2009)<br /> <br /> Sue Branford, &quot;<a href="/article/the-g20-s-missing-voice">The G20&#39;s missing voice</a>&quot; (26 March 2009)<br /> <br /> Will Hutton, &quot;<a href="/article/the-g20-deal-power-bends-to-protest-0">A G20 deal: power bends to protest</a>&quot; (29 March 2009)</span> </p> <p> With great courage, Obama has insisted that he would stick to his promises to tackle long-term failings in American society, even as he struggled to heal the economic crisis. He continues to press for these reforms - in climate-change policy, healthcare, public education, dependence on imported oil, and growing inequality - even as he grapples with the blocking of credit and the terrible unemployment that is one of its consequences. </p> <p> The week of 23-29 March saw a new twist: the emergence of a deadly dilemma that the president has to resolve. He has learned that he cannot unblock credit without going a long way to appease the interests of the bankers who caused the problem in the first place. At the same time he has become aware of the rising fury among everyday Americans triggered by the huge <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/business/15AIG.html">bonuses</a> paid to executives at AIG, the giant insurance company that in 2008 posted the biggest losses in American business history. </p> <p> Everyone agrees that the knot that has to be cut is the astronomical quantity of &quot;toxic assets&quot; poisoning the balance sheets of American banks - as well as those European banks (the Royal Bank of Scotland, Paribas, Deutsche Bank and UBS among them), which thought it was clever to copycat every Wall Street fashion. </p> <p> The plan unveiled by Obama&#39;s treasury secretary Timothy Geithner on 23 March hands to the banks the juiciest of &quot;sweetheart&quot; deals to <a href="http://www.france24.com/en/20090323-geithner-unveils-500-billion-dollar-plan-purge-bad-assets-USA">persuade</a> them to buy up what Geithner calls &quot;legacy assets&quot; (the financial crisis has given free rein to American public life&#39;s culture of euphemism). </p> <p> <strong>The president&#39;s vice</strong> </p> <p> Geithner&#39;s plan distinguishes between securities based on truly valueless loans and those whose value has simply been depressed by the economic downturn. It proposes that the treasury and &quot;private investors&quot; - which in practice can only mean the investment banks, commercial banks and hedge-funds which created and invested in the toxic assets in the first place - will <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_14/b4125024185951.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index+-+temp_news+%2B+analysis">buy</a> equal amounts of the unsaleable assets. But private investors will only be able to do so thanks to a far larger injection of money to be lent by a government agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (<a href="http://www.fdic.gov/">FDIC</a>). </p> <p> Altogether it is calculated that private investors will contribute 6% or 7% of the money to clean up the banks&#39; balance-sheets. The taxpayer, in the shape of the treasury and FDIC, will put up more than 90%. That, in the good old days before Wall Street <a href="/article/america-s-financial-meltdown-lessons-and-prospects">collapsed</a>, used to be called &quot;leverage&quot; of perhaps thirteen-to-one. With government standing behind them to that extent, why wouldn&#39;t the banks buy trash at prices kited with government money? </p> <p> <a href="http://www.ny.frb.org/aboutthefed/orgchart/geithner.html">Timothy Geithner</a> makes much of the importance of keeping the rescue in the private sector, which it patently is not. He also speaks warmly of the professional skills that will be devoted to the task by the very speculators who brought the economy to its knees. </p> <p> The liberal economic intelligentsia don&#39;t like it. <a href="http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/1804">Jeffrey Sachs </a>calls it a &quot;massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to bank shareholders&quot;. In a deadly back-of-the-envelope calculation he estimates that the plan will hand $276 billion - even today a not inconsiderable sum - directly from the taxpayers to bank shareholders (see Jeffrey Sachs, &quot;<a href="http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3339">Will Geithner and Summers Succeed in Raiding the FDIC and Fed?</a>&quot;, <em>VoxEU</em>, 25 March 2009). </p> <p> The Nobel laureate and <em>New York Times</em> columnist Paul Krugman <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/opinion/23krugman.html">dismisses</a> the plan as not much more than a revival of the George W Bush administration&#39;s plan to absorb the banks&#39; toxic assets: just <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/opinion/22krugman.html">more</a> &quot;cash for trash&quot;. The economist and former labour secretary, <a href="http://www.robertreich.org/reich/biography.asp">Robert Reich</a>, and the Columbia University scholar <a href="http://www.josephstiglitz.com/">Joseph Stiglitz</a> are equally acerbic (see Edward Luce, &quot;<a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/963b81bc-1b1d-11de-8aa3-0000779fd2ac.html">America&#39;s liberals lay into Obama</a>&quot;, <em>Financial Times</em>, 27 March 2009). </p> <p> The co-editor of <em><a href="http://www.prospect.org/">The American Prospect</a> </em>and respected commentator, <a href="http://www.demos.org/people.cfm?currentpersonnelid=31DB988C-3FF4-6C82-5A4AE3E3776D57BB">Robert Kuttner</a>, says the Obama administration has chosen &quot;the most expensive and risky way of trying to recapitalise the banks, and the least likely to succeed&quot;. Kuttner also identifies a point that is likely to be the target of much angry criticism, namely that the president has turned to &quot;the same Wall Street crew&quot; who failed to handle the situation under the Bush administration, and indeed who were largely responsible for what went wrong in the first place: Robert Rubin, Laurence Summers, and their protégés (see Robert Kuttner, &quot;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/geithners-last-stand_b_177850.html">Geithner&#39;s last stand</a>&quot;, <em>Huffington Post</em>, 22 March 2009). </p> <p> If anyone had any doubts about who would benefit from the Geithner &quot;public-private partnership&quot;, they had only to watch how the stock market responded. Bank shares overall rose by 10% in the aftermath, but the biggest banks that have survived did better than that. <a href="http://financial.washingtonpost.com/custom/wpost/html-qcn.asp?dispnav=business&amp;mwpage=qcn&amp;symb=C&amp;nav=el" target="_blank">Citigroup</a> was up 19%; <a href="http://financial.washingtonpost.com/custom/wpost/html-qcn.asp?dispnav=business&amp;mwpage=qcn&amp;symb=BAC&amp;nav=el" target="_blank">Bank of America</a> shot up 26% in heavy trading; Wells Fargo&#39;s shares rose by 24%, and <a href="http://financial.washingtonpost.com/custom/wpost/html-qcn.asp?dispnav=business&amp;mwpage=qcn&amp;symb=JPM&amp;nav=el" target="_blank">J.P. Morgan Chase</a>&#39;s by 25%.  A day later, however, the wave of market enthusiasm had subsided. </p> <p> The truth is that Obama now finds himself in a new vice. He feels he needs people from Wall Street to solve the street&#39;s problems. That is one reason why it has taken him so long to fill the key jobs at the treasury under Geithner. At the same time he clearly underestimated the rage Main Street citizens feel both at the AIG bonuses and the broader proposition: that while they face losing their jobs and their homes because of the folly and greed of the financial sector, the only people who walk away laughing are the folks who caused the disaster in the first place. </p> <p> No wonder that questions are being asked about the ubiquitous presence of present and former executives of Goldman Sachs in the Obama administration, just as in the ranks of its precedessor. </p> <p> <strong>A time to choose</strong> </p> <p> Barack Obama showed in his long campaign for the presidency that he is a very skilled politician. He is also by temperament cautious, even conservative. His instinct is to &quot;reach across the aisle&quot; in order to cure what he sees as the excessive partisanship of the years since the &quot;<a href="http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060744809/The_Age_of_Reagan/index.aspx">Reagan revolution</a>&quot;. He is too a patient man. But now he understands that he has got to move fast if he is to save the hopes of his presidency (see &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot;, 6 February 2009). </p> <p> In this the president is both beneficiary and victim of larger historic forces. The same event that cleared his way to the White House, the financial crisis symbolised by the fall of Lehman Brothers on 15 September 15 2008, may have made it impossible to govern; or at the least, may mean that he will have to sacrifice at least some of his hopes of long-term reform (see &quot;<a href="/article/the-week-that-democracy-won">The week that democracy won</a>&quot;, 29 September 2008). </p> <p> In the short term, in order to heal the financial crisis it looks as though he has had to put the <a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">fate</a> of his administration in the hands of the men from Wall Street. </p> <p> Amid the stock-market panic of 1907, the financier <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pande10.html">JP Morgan </a>was surprised that President <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/theodoreroosevelt/">Theodore Roosevelt</a> didn&#39;t &quot;send your man to fix things up with my man&quot;.  It couldn&#39;t be done like that then, and it can&#39;t be done now. But the young president and his even younger treasury secretary have nonetheless been taught a hard lesson in political economy. </p> <p> To govern is to choose, as <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/bevan_aneurin.shtml">Aneurin Bevan</a> - the Welsh architect of Britain&#39;s post-1945 national healthcare system - said. It is now clear that inviting the poachers to act as gamekeepers was a mistake. Many Americans long accepted the conservative contention that government was the problem, not the solution. That phase of history seems to have ended, and a progressive president finds himself coping with a new wave of <a href="http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13375986&amp;source=hptextfeature">populism</a> of a kind that seemed to have disappeared from America politics for generations. He means to govern, and he will have to choose. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"> <tbody> <tr> <td><br /> <p> Godfrey Hodgson was director of the Reuters&#39; Foundation Programme at Oxford University, and before that the <em>Observer&#39;s</em> correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the <em>Independent</em>. His books include <a href="http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=2330"><em>The World Turned Right Side Up: a history of the conservative ascendancy in America</em></a> (Houghton Mifflin, 1996); <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7700.html"><em>More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century</em></a> (Princeton University Press, 2006), and <a href="http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/publicaffairsbooks-cgi-bin/display?book=9781586483739&amp;view=quotes"><em>A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving</em></a> (PublicAffairs, 2007) </p> <p> Among Godfrey Hodgson&#39;s <strong>openDemocracy</strong> articles: </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/a-game-of-two-halves">A game of two halves</a>&quot; (15 July 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/welcome-to-the-party-american-convention-follies">Welcome to the party: American convention follies</a>&quot; (18 August 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-foreign-policy-election">America&#39;s foreign-policy election</a>&quot; (28 August 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/america-s-economy-election">America&#39;s economy election</a>&quot; (17 October 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/yes-he-can">Yes he can!</a>&quot; (6 November 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/change-0">Change?</a>&quot; (2 December 2008) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/an-end-and-a-beginning">An end and a beginning</a>&quot; (5 January 2009) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot; (6 February 2009) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obamas-reality-gap">Barack Obama&#39;s reality gap</a>&quot; (27 February 2009) </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <style></style> american power & the world openUSA Godfrey Hodgson Creative Commons normal email Tue, 31 Mar 2009 11:42:42 +0000 Godfrey Hodgson 47623 at https://www.opendemocracy.net France's Obama fixation https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/frances-obama-fixation <p> It is not surprising that Barack Obama&#39;s election has dramatically transformed the way French citizens think of the United States. <a href="/usa/blog/obama_race_france_laicite">That story</a> has been told many times before, if not about France than about other countries and their fascinations with the American president. Yet, in an unexpected mirror effect, it is France&#39;s vision of itself that is being altered by Obama&#39;s victory.   </p> <p> During the past eight years, the French thought of their homeland as far superior to what they saw as a death penalty-loving bastion of reactionary forces; now, they celebrate the United States for its new-found maturity, an elevated politics that many fear is unattainable in France. The comfort of knowing that a Frenchman with George W Bush&#39;s politics would find himself dismissed as a dangerous extremist has given way to an often-voiced anxiety: Could a &quot;<a href="/globalization-village/obama_4321.jsp">French Obama</a>&quot; win a presidential election? </p> <p> This is not just a rhetorical question; it has real significance in the French context. Obama&#39;s French enthusiasts inevitably distort his real profile and platform in their effort to frame his victory for their own purposes. The parts of Obama&#39;s story that his admirers invoke and the themes they emphasize provide a window into the glaring shortfalls of French society. Obama is a cipher for the Left&#39;s inability to sell its ideas; the rigid structure of political parties and stultifying hold of political elites; and the dreadful lack of minority figures in leadership positions. </p> <p> <strong>A socialist icon </strong> </p> <p> One group of Obama admirers can be found in the <a href="http://www.parti-socialiste.fr/">Socialist Party</a> (PS). The country&#39;s leading left-wing party has not won a presidential election since 1988 and a legislative election since 1997. Asphyxiated in recent years by the hyperactivity of right-wing <a href="/article/nicolas-sarkozy-the-frenetic-leader">President Nicolas Sarkozy</a> and unable to counter the spread of conservative ideas, the PS has been in survival mode for much of the past decade.  </p> <p> Socialist leaders are now hoping to take advantage of Obama&#39;s victory to bolster their own cause and get back into France&#39;s political game. To regain power, the PS must learn how to make its platform look more appealing to lower and middle class voters. And what better way to do that than to insist the party&#39;s proposals are similar to those of the popular and emblematically progressive American president? <span class="pullquote_new"><strong>Daniel Nichanian</strong> is a freelance writer and journalist. He blogs at <a href="http://campaigndiaries.com/" target="_blank">Campaign Diaries</a>. </span>  </p> <p> &quot;Restoration of the power of the public sector, intervention in the markets, efforts to restrict free trade for the benefit of employment,&quot; marveled party spokesperson <a href="http://benoithamon.fr/2008/03/">Benoît Hamon</a> in an interview with the French newspaper <em>La Croix </em>back in March 2008. &quot;Each of these actions is considered archaic in the European Union but Obama demonstrates that they are in fact suited to our times.&quot;  </p> <p> Of course, such an assertion requires the cherry-picking of a few of Obama&#39;s proposals that have a progressive cast, portraying them as far more left-of-centre than they actually are. This grey distortion was glaringly evident over the past few weeks, as the PS repeatedly invoked Obama&#39;s relatively centrist recovery plan to argue that the current economic crisis demanded a leftist response.   </p> <p> In touting the PS&#39;s counter-proposal to Sarkozy&#39;s stimulus, Hamon took pride in the fact that the Socialists&#39; proposal is &quot;in tune with that which Barack Obama is doing for his country;&quot; he also defended his call for the state to take a seat on banks&#39; board of directors by portraying Obama as a strong proponent of nationalization. Meanwhile, party head <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7740513.stm">Martine Aubry</a> called on Sarkozy to follow in Obama&#39;s footsteps. &quot;When the issue of capping CEO salaries comes up, Obama is on the move,&quot; she said in a recent interview with <em><a href="http://www.liberation.fr/politiques/0101319261-antilles-aubry-craint-la-propagation-en-metropole">Le Parisien</a></em>. &quot;I&#39;m waiting for Sarkozy to do the same.&quot;  </p> <p> Obama&#39;s actual policy statements might not be as leftist as Aubry and Hamon&#39;s characterizations, and his commitment to saving the capitalist system is probably closer to Sarkozy&#39;s vow to &quot;re-found&quot; it. But that doesn&#39;t stop PS officials from suggesting that the American rejection of conservative ideas heralds a left-ward shift in French politics.   </p> <p> <strong>The grassroots hero</strong> </p> <p> While Aubry and Hamon strive to depict Obama as a socialist in the hope of reviving France&#39;s left-wing discourse, others are more interested in drawing upon the narrative of Obama as an anti-establishment, grassroots candidate to denounce the rigidity of the French system. </p> <p> France&#39;s political life is dominated by a monolithic ruling class - overwhelmingly white, sharing similar resumes, of the same age; most have gone through the same top school, the <a href="http://www.ena.fr/accueil.php">National School of Administration</a> (ENA). Politicians hold on to power for decades, blocking the renewal of elites and preventing new generations from entering positions of responsibility.   </p> <p> How could reformers concerned with such stagnation <em>not</em> look towards Obama? Whatever the American president&#39;s actual commitment to broadening the democratic process, he inspired millions of first-time voters, defeated better-established candidates and bypassed traditional structures to engage directly with the body public - all feats many worry would not be feasible in France.  </p> <p> The dispute over which strand of reform to prioritize - policy or process - rocked the PS during its heated leadership fight last fall. One faction, led by Hamon, contended that the party should radicalize its economic platform; another camp, led by the party&#39;s 2007 presidential nominee <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/royal_4110.jsp">Ségolène Royal</a>, advocated for procedural changes like the expansion of the party&#39;s membership base and making primaries open to the public at large rather than only to dues-paying activists.   </p> <p> Royal&#39;s narrow <a href="/article/france-s-socialist-crack-up">loss</a> in the PS&#39;s leadership vote hardened her determination to portray herself as an opponent of the political establishment. Much of this is opportunistic, of course - Royal is a longtime politician who graduated from ENA and served in the governmental cabinet as early as 1992 - and she was mocked mercilessly recently for suggesting that Obama had <a href="http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/251494,obama-learned-from-me-segolene-royal-says.html">copied</a> her campaign. But there is indisputably shared parentage between Royal&#39;s objectives and some of Obama&#39;s rhetoric; she built her presidential campaign around participative and inclusive forums meant to draw voters in and allow them to shape her platform.   </p> <p> Her proposals found their echo in a 137-page report released earlier this year by <a href="http://www.france24.com/en/20090122-politics-barack-obama-france-1">Terra Nova</a>, a left-leaning think thank that sent a study group to the United States to observe the presidential election. In obvious awe of Obama, the group issued a series of recommendations aimed at revitalizing French democracy by loosening the organization of parties and improving political communication. For instance, the report called for the constitution of mass parties to replace France&#39;s relatively small political organizations, whose power is held by a core group of activists.   </p> <p> &quot;This would allow political leaders to emancipate themselves from the parties&#39; structures,&quot; touted <a href="http://www.ehess.fr/cena/membres/peretz.html">Pauline Peretz</a>, a professor at the Université de Nantes and a member of the study group. &quot;A more direct relationship can be built with party members and with the electorate,&quot; she added, alluding to a model of &quot;participative democracy.&quot;  </p> <p> Mass parties have pitfalls of their own, however. Critics worry that dramatically expanding the scope of parties would dilute their ideological substance and intellectual liveliness, risking their transformation into mere instruments of the ambitions of politicians. But toying with party structure is only one of many possible ways with which to reform the system. What no one disputes - and what Obama&#39;s victory makes all the clearer - is that citizens must be more directly involved in the political process.   </p> <p> <strong>France</strong><strong>&#39;s monochrome politics</strong> </p> <p> This is the compromise institutionalized political parties have to make to ensure that they are representative of the country&#39;s diversity - whether in terms of gender, class or race. Obama&#39;s election offers a unique opportunity to highlight French politics&#39;s striking monochromatism.   </p> <p> Asked whether France could conceivably elect a minority president, Patrice Schoendorff, who runs a pro-Obama organization in Lyon and who co-founded the website <em><a href="http://diversitenews.com/">Diversité News</a></em>, did not hesitate. &quot;It&#39;s impossible! We are at least 30 years behind,&quot; he said. &quot;We might not even have a minority with enough standing to jump in the field. We can&#39;t even imagine having a minority as big city mayor.&quot;   </p> <p> This judgment might sound harsh, but one statistic is enough to substantiate Schoendorff&#39;s analysis: In the most recent elections, only two minority politicians were elected in the 555 parliamentary districts that make up mainland France. (There are 22 seats reserved for France&#39;s overseas territories.)  </p> <p> The challenges minorities face extend well beyond the electoral sphere. Cavernous socio-economic inequality is combined with France&#39;s failure to adequately integrate millions of second and third-generation immigrants; the situation revealed its explosive potential during <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/intifada_3037.jsp">the 2005 riots</a> in the <em>banlieues</em>, the predominantly lower-class suburbs that house a significant minority population.  </p> <p> With Obama&#39;s victory, French activists believe they have been provided an opening to broach sensible subjects and empower minority groups in France. <a href="http://www.argenteuil.fr/article.php3?id_article=2487">Alfa&#39;Dev</a>, a neighborhood association based in Argenteuil, a Paris suburb, was anxious to seize the opportunity and installed a giant screen in city hall on the day of Obama&#39;s Inauguration.  </p> <p> The viewing party made for a powerful event. Back in 2005, Argenteuil was the stage of a tense confrontation between Sarkozy<em> </em>and the <em>banlieusards</em>. Sarkozy, who was then Interior Minister, has been reluctant to visits the <em>banlieues </em>since then, aggravating their divorce from mainstream French society and politics. Now, Argenteuil&#39;s youth have turned towards a foreign president for the inspiration they cannot find in the French one.  </p> <p> Michel Sabaly, who runs Alfa&#39;Dev, underlined Obama&#39;s appeal in the impoverished suburb. &quot;We want to adapt America&#39;s &#39;yes we can&#39; to say that if Obama could work to become who he is, we should be able to do the same in France,&quot; he said. &quot;People from the <em>banlieues </em>who have similar stories can believe that work, perseverance, and seriousness are assets that can lead someone who started out with very little to someplace successful.&quot;   </p> <p> What makes it particularly difficult to translate social empowerment into political change in France is that the condition of minorities is shaped by the country&#39;s colonial past and by recent migratory waves. Unlike African-Americans in the United States, French minorities are still often perceived as foreigners. According to <a href="http://www.estherbenbassa.net/">Esther Benbassa</a>, a professor at Sorbonne&#39;s Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, this limits the possibility of a mass movement like America&#39;s campaign for civil rights or of an organization working on behalf of an entire community. &quot;Here, we are stuck in an individualist understanding of power,&quot; she said. &quot;Those who come from immigrant families and want to reach influence are fighting for themselves.&quot;  </p> <p> With advocacy groups weaker than they often are in the United States, it is no surprise that political parties have failed to step up. But with the election of Obama, the political class is being forced to recognize how far behind France finds itself. Obama&#39;s victory is generating enough pressure to force onto the table thorny issues like affirmation action or the need to overturn a ban on collecting ethnic and racial statistics.   </p> <p> Neither of these two proposals enjoys the unanimous support of minority rights groups, but they should at least be debated. France&#39;s commitment to <em><a href="http://www.vqronline.org/articles/1990/summer/macridis-other-side-jacobinism/">jacobin values</a></em> has long prevented ethnicity from being acknowledged as a relevant category of public life and as a potential source of inequality, and the ban on ethnic statistics denies us even a basic knowledge of the socio-economic condition of minority groups.   </p> <p> When imported into the French context, Obama might only be a symbol - what Benbassa deplores as a &quot;gadget&quot; politicians use to show their commitment to reform - but he is undoubtedly a useful one. He has got the reticent, recalcitrant French finally talking about their own problems. </p> democracy & power american power & the world france openUSA Daniel Nichanian Creative Commons normal email Mon, 09 Mar 2009 17:01:30 +0000 Daniel Nichanian 47482 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Jindal only offers more of the same https://www.opendemocracy.net/blog/openusa-theme/karl-smyth/2009/02/27/jindal-only-offers-more-of-the-same <p> On paper, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal would appear to be the perfect candidate to help shepherd the Republican Party out of its post-election mire. A Rhodes scholar of Indian descent, who became the youngest governor in the country upon assuming office in 2007 at the age of 36, Jindal possesses the intellect, youth, and philosophical outlook to both satisfy the whims of the party&#39;s base and court the interest of young and non-white voters--demographic groups which the GOP has been haemorrhaging to the Democrats in recent election cycles. </p> <p> As such, it should come as no real surprise that the Republican leadership saw it fit to hand Jindal the fillip of presenting the party&#39;s official televised rebuttal to President Barack Obama&#39;s first speech to Congress: a perfect opportunity to introduce himself to a national audience, articulate a distinct vision for America&#39;s present and future, and lay the foundations for an already-mooted presidential run in less than four years&#39; time. </p> <p> However, if <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFK8aTpYAmg" target="_blank">Tuesday&#39;s address </a>truly was the first litmus test of a potential Jindal candidacy, then perhaps he would be better off sticking to his pledge (made on <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzlUKlVL2Uo" target="_blank">last week&#39;s edition</a> of &#39;Meet the Press&#39;) to focus solely on getting re-elected as governor in 2011. </p> <p> Jindal&#39;s <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFK8aTpYAmg" target="_blank">performance</a> has drawn widespread criticism from <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/25/bobby-jindal-response-pan_n_169710.html" target="_blank">Democrats</a> and <a href="http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2009/02/63335639/1" target="_blank">Republicans</a> alike, and rightly so. With the country in the midst of a historically unprecedented economic implosion, and its citizens eagerly looking towards their democracy&#39;s political elders for both leadership and solace, the Louisiana governor comprehensively failed to substantively address the Presidential speech that preceded him, or perhaps more importantly discuss the topic of the economic crisis itself in a meaningful or engaging way. </p> <p> Instead, the GOP&#39;s spokesman chose to deliver an oft-heard and well-trodden diatribe on why Republicans favoured a diminutive role for the state in government, punctuated with a catchphrase--&quot;Americans can do anything&quot;--which undoubtedly appeared rousing on paper but was sapped of any inspirational potency by Jindal&#39;s awkward, uneven and surprisingly unpolished delivery. </p> <p> At a time when the vast majority of Americans now face uncertainty and trepidation on a daily basis due to the current economic crisis, those looking towards the Republican Party for leadership or solace on Tuesday night must have been sorely disappointed. The entire country has just experienced a two-year presidential race that was publicized and scrutinized to its last breath by the media--does the GOP really believe that there&#39;s anyone in the country in doubt as to what each party stands for? Do they think that voter confusion was the root of John McCain&#39;s defeat in the fall? Bipartisan governance is strongly desired by the electorate now more than ever--why shun the possibility of co-operation and return instead to the tired talking points of the last eight years at the very first opportunity? </p> <p> While Jindal&#39;s performance was poor, the content of his message also deserves much criticism. Yes, there is need for stringent oversight on such a large and contrived spending package as the one in question to avoid a return to the pork-barrel politics that has become synonymous with Washington, unquestionably. However, if the Republican Party want to follow Barack Obama&#39;s lead and turn this theme into a communications strategy that really resonates with the American people, they first need to dilute down their obvious distaste for large, centralized government. There is an appetite across the developed world for an expanded fiscal role for government that only the most serious of crises can create: however inconvenient it may be, Republicans ignore this sentiment at their peril. </p> Governor Jindal&#39;s speech on Tuesday night did nothing to dispel the perception among liberals and conservatives alike that the Republican Party has become a party lacking in ideas. If anything, it should have sent alarm bells ringing within the party, and forced many who watched it to reconsider whether the comparisons frequently made between Jindal and President Obama are rooted more in superficiality than substance. openUSA Karl Smyth openUSA democracy Obama USA election jindal republicans congress open democracy stimulus speech Fri, 27 Feb 2009 17:15:05 +0000 Karl Smyth 47412 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The peril of parodying Obama https://www.opendemocracy.net/blog/openusa-theme/karl-smyth/2009/02/22/the-peril-of-parodying-obama <p> Last week, <a href="http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/people,1984,no-golliwog-apology-from-carol-thatcher,74311" target="_blank">Carol Thatcher</a> unwittingly illustrated how an archaic word from a different generation retains much of its racially-charged potency to this day - and rightly drew condemnation for it. This week, it was the turn of imagery to dredge up the unseemly spectre of the past. </p> <p> A storm of publicity has gathered around the offices of the <em>New York Post</em>, after <a href="http://gawker.com/5155636/the-dumb-monkey-who-wrote-the-stimulus-bill-is-finally-dead-ha" target="_blank">a cartoon</a> published in Wednesday&#39;s edition of the newspaper - depicting the author of the recently-approved economic stimulus as a dead, crazed chimpanzee - was accused of being a not so subtle exercise in jingoism by both commentators in the media and civil rights activists. </p> <p> Speaking to the media, Reverend Al Sharpton declared that &quot;the cartoon in today&#39;s <em>New York Post</em> is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.&quot; </p> <p> &quot;One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that ‘Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill,&#39;&quot; he added. </p> <p> A press release was quickly issued by the newspaper, defending its cartoon as &quot;a clear parody of a current news event&quot; - the shooting dead by police of a chimpanzee in Connecticut on Monday after the creature mauled its owner&#39;s friend - and denouncing Rev. Sharpton for being &quot;nothing more than a publicity opportunist.&quot; </p> <p> However, with the furore over the cartoon refusing to abate, and a group of protestors converging on the newspaper&#39;s headquarters, the <em>Post</em> softened its stance in a Friday editorial, saying that &quot;to those who were offended by the image, we apologise.&quot; </p> <p> Whether simply a poorly executed sketch that was misconstrued - as the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/deadlineusa/2009/feb/18/obama-administration-usa" target="_blank">Guardian&#39;s USA blog</a> rightly points out, the author of the stimulus package referenced in the cartoon would be the Democratic congressional leadership, not President Obama himself - or something more sinister, the controversy surrounding <a href="http://gawker.com/5155855/ten-masterpieces-from-sean-delonas" target="_blank">Sean Delonas&#39;s work</a> highlights an interesting dilemma: the challenge now facing the professional satirists whose job it is to subvert the image of the first African-American president of the United States. </p> <p> Distorting facial features as a means of highlighting the excesses and frailties of our public figures has been a staple of political satirists&#39; trade in the western press since <a href="http://cartoons.osu.edu/nast/" target="_blank">Thomas Nast&#39;s pioneering work</a> during the Tammany Hall era, providing some iconic and enduring images: from the defiance of Winston Churchill&#39;s bulldoggish scowl to, more recently, Tony Blair&#39;s unnervingly large and perfectly-formed dentures and the increasingly simian features of George W Bush. </p> <p> However, as highlighted recently in an article on the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/20/cartoonists-bending-over_n_168660.html" target="_blank">Huffington Post</a>, cartoonists in the American press now find themselves in unchartered waters, as they try to tread an increasingly thin line between caricature and stereotype when penning their work: draw President Obama&#39;s lips too large, or his ears too big, and an artist may inadvertently face the same charges of racism and xenophobia levelled at the <em>New York Post</em> this week. </p> <p> As CNN columnist Roland S. Martin succinctly <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/18/martin.cartoon/" target="_blank">put it</a>: &quot;What could be seen as silly humour if President George W Bush were in the White House has to be seen through the lens of America&#39;s racist past.&quot; </p> <p> Tell Rall, president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, summed up the difficulty this paradigmatic moment in American history has invariably posed for his organisations&#39; members, noting that, &quot;without a doubt, people are stepping more gingerly. People are tiptoeing their way through this.&quot; </p> <p> The alarm bells should have sounded for many during the general election. Seeking to poke fun at the right-wing media&#39;s continued chatter over Obama&#39;s &quot;true&quot; religious beliefs and purported affiliation with terrorist organisations, <em>The New Yorker </em>magazine placed on its front cover a <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200807/r271372_1141542.jpg" target="_blank">depiction of Obama and his wife</a> standing in the Oval Office: replete with turban, salwar kameez, camouflage pants and an AK-47 rifle. The cartoon, while playing on the issue of religion rather than race, was quickly rounded upon by critics who believed it reinforced popular misconceptions about the Democratic candidate - including his own campaign, which denounced it as &quot;tasteless and offensive.&quot; </p> <p> With more than 45 months left in President Obama&#39;s tenure, it seems inevitable this issue will arise again; particularly given that interest groups such as the NAACP are set to become even more vigilant in their monitoring of the media&#39;s output after this week&#39;s incident. </p> <p> Consequently, political cartoonists now face the unenviable challenge of marrying outrageous and provocative iconography with political correctness: a damning restriction of free speech, which may, ironically, provoke a self-fulfilling creative backlash that results in the production of more vitriolic and jingoistic works. </p> <p> As decorated American cartoonist Jules Feiffer noted, &quot;outside of basic intelligence, there is nothing more important to a good political cartoonist than ill will.&quot; American political cartoonists are starting to get tetchy. </p> openUSA Karl Smyth openUSA politics democracy opendemocracy Obama USA racism monkey cartoon new york post sharpton Sun, 22 Feb 2009 12:29:15 +0000 Karl Smyth 47374 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The redemption game https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-redemption-game <p> Ahn &quot;Joseph&quot; Cao, a Republican who represents the state of Louisiana, is the first <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/08/AR2008120803746.html">elected</a> politician of Vietnamese origin in the United States&#39;s House of Representatives. He had declared on 12 February 2009 that he would cast the only Republican vote for Barack Obama&#39;s economic-stimulus package in the House; while Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, and the first US governor of Indian origin, was chosen by the party to make the only nationally-televised <a href="http://www.nola.com/timespic/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1235370107176510.xml&amp;coll=1">rebuttal</a> of Obama&#39;s proposal, after the new president outlines his plan to the first joint session of Congress of his tenure.    </p> <p> &#160; </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer, writer and director, whose work focuses primarily on music and the diversity of cultures. He lives in New Orleans, where he is artist-in-residence and professor of video technology at Loyola University. His website is <a href="http://www.jimgabour.com/">here</a><br /> <br /> Many of Jim Gabour&#39;s articles for <strong>openDemocracy</strong> are collected in an edition of the <a href="/quarterly"><strong><em>openDemocracy Quarterly</em></strong></a><br /> <br /> For details of <em>Undercurrent: Life after Katrina</em>, click <a href="http://www.lulu.com/content/2216220">here</a>  </p> <p> Obama and Jindal&#39;s speeches are scheduled for <a href="http://www.mardigrasday.com/mardigras/mgfaq.php">Mardi Gras Day</a>, 24 February 2009. This virtually ensures that no one in Jindal&#39;s constituency will see either.  </p> <p> No matter. This overt &quot;product placement&quot; is determined by the Republican Party&#39;s need to redeem itself in the eyes of the American people. The &quot;grand old party&quot; has already put on a new public face by hiring <a href="http://steeleforchairman.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=62&amp;Itemid=127">Michael Steele</a> to be the chair of the Republican National Committee (a competent and experienced gentleman, and the first African-American to hold that post). Now they place governor Jindal - also quite intelligent, sincere and untainted by scandal - in direct opposition to President Obama. </p> <p> Both Cao and Jindal have in recent months been described as the &quot;future of the Republican Party&quot; (see &quot;<a href="/article/three-regular-guys">Three regular guys</a>&quot;, 8 January 2009). But Cao believes the future of Republicans may lie in not acting like Republicans. He knows his New Orleans district is among the poorest in America, totally lacks infrastructure since <a href="/globalization-climate_change_debate/katrina_2799.jsp">hurricane Katrina</a>, and is in dire need of just the sort of restorative influx that will come with Obama&#39;s plan.  </p> <p> He has been meeting face to face with many of his constituents on a regular basis, and had said re the stimulus package: &quot;I am voting along with what my conscience dictates and the needs of the 2d Congressional District dictates&quot;. Cao&#39;s constituency is, unlike him, overwhelmingly African-American and Democratic. Yet he seemed determined to represent them - until the evening of 12 February 2009, when at the last minute he succumbed to partisan politics and <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2009/02/12/cao-stimulus/">reversed</a> himself. Thus the Republicans were able to make their statement: none would <a href="http://www.bayoubuzz.com/News/Louisiana/Politics/Louisiana_Politics_Stimulus_Parties_Jindal_and_Cao__8394.asp">bend</a> to support the Democratic president. </p> <p> <a href="http://www.bobbyjindal.com/bobby/index.aspx">Bobby Jindal</a>, meanwhile, has spent a lot of time criticising the proposed economic measures at gatherings all over the south, while simultaneously using those speeches as campaign-contribution magnets for his next step into the national spotlight. This will be advanced greatly with his carnival-day speech. </p> <p> &#160; </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> A selection of Jim Gabour&#39;s articles in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/4549">This is personal</a>&quot; (23 April 2007)&quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/politics_climate_change/lessons_classics"><br /> <br /> Lessons in the classics</a>&quot; <br /> (6 August 2007)&quot;<br /> <br /> <a href="/article/globalisation/politics_climate_change/crazy_charlie">Native to America</a>&quot; (26 September 2007)&quot;<br /> <br /> <a href="/node/35037">The upper crust</a>&quot; <br /> (8 November 2007)&quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/windfall"><br /> <br /> Windfall</a>&quot; (17 December 2007)&quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/politics_climate_change/ruling-louisiana"><br /> <br /> Ruling Louisiana</a>&quot; (25 July 2008)&quot;<br /> <br /> <a href="/article/hardware-madness">Hardware madness: Katrina&#39;s three years</a>&quot; <br /> (24 August 2008)&quot;<br /> <br /> <a href="/article/waiting-for-gustav">Living with Gustav</a>&quot; (1 September 2008)&quot;<br /> <br /> <a href="/article/loot">Loot</a>&quot; <br /> (8 October 2008)&quot;<br /> <a href="/article/nine-inch-nails-in-the-white-house"><br /> Nine-inch nails in the White House</a>&quot; <br /> (31 October 2008)&quot;<a href="/article/living-the-american-movie"><br /> <br /> Living the American movie</a>&quot; <br /> (5 November 2008)&quot;<a href="/article/three-regular-guys"><br /> <br /> Three regular guys</a>&quot; (8 January 2009) </p> <p> <strong>The Louisiana swamp</strong> </p> <p> Politics in the United States can be less than forgiving. The stories of careers made and broken, leaders exalted and spurned, predate even the foundation of the republic. But the stories of survival and return are also legion; there are second and even third acts in American lives. This is exactly what the Republicans are banking on: redemption in the eyes of the voting public.   </p> <p> So who gets redemption? </p> <p> The first month of the new era has seen quite a few ups and downs, ins and outs in Barack Obama&#39;s proposed cabinet (see Godfrey Hodgson, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot;, 6 February 2009). But to get a better idea of what is and is not forgiven in politics, the more overtly tawdry portions of recent history offer a guide. </p> <p> The case of the semi-penitent Bill Clinton is classic. For even after dissembling over the embarrassing behaviour that consumed his last year in office (and royally infuriated a future secretary of state), he has remained a huge favourite of many American people. His charisma may have dimmed during his efforts in 2008 to help get his wife a better-paying federal job, but he retains the support even of individuals who are otherwise straight-laced. This is the man referred to positively by my own mother, who after only two years of George W Bush, called me to admit that she had also recently sinned: &quot;I have been praying that God would somehow bring back the adulterer&quot; (see &quot;<a href="/globalization-climate_change_debate/frozen_assets_3613.jsp">Frozen assets: letter from New Orleans</a>&quot;, 5 June 2006). </p> <p> The result: redeemed. </p> <p> The case of Newt Gingrich, ex-speaker of the House and Bill Clinton&#39;s one-time great rival, is a prime example of unrepentant redemption. In over-the-top rhetoric reminiscent of Richard Nixon&#39;s logorrhea-inflicted vice-president Spiro Agnew, Gingrich assailed the president and led the battle for impeachment. After the political fortunes were <a href="http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&amp;Params=M1ARTM0011796">reversed</a>, he himself was revealed to have been conducting his own <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/gingrich-admits-to-affair-during-lewinsky-scandal-439574.html">double</a> life. He said &quot;never mind&quot;, shut his mouth, hid in north Georgia for the better part of a decade - and in 2009 is back, supposedly (at least in his own mind) cleansed of sin. Gingrich, touting himself as &quot;the leader of the Republican revolution that swept Congress in 1994&quot;, has even initiated his own website-newsletter, &quot;<a href="http://www.winningthefuture.net/?offer=NEWT111">winning the future</a>&quot;. His honesty-and-logic-challenged motto &quot;real change requires real change&quot;, oddly enough, runs in a banner on the site advertising his book <em>Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less</em>. </p> <p> The result: limited redemption. </p> <p> The case of Bob Livingston, another Republican who represents the state of Louisiana in the House of Representatives - a fellow Clinton-flayer, who was chosen to succeed Gingrich as House speaker (a post he did not <a href="http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/12/bob_livingston_has_no_regrets.html">take up</a>) - also became known for his the excesses of his private life. He retired from the spotlight, except when daily re-entering every office on Capitol Hill as the highly-compensated lobbyist for the <a href="http://www.livingstongroupdc.com/inthenews/independent.html">Livingston Group</a>. An early client was Turkey, whose interests over &quot;international and historical issues&quot; (such as denying the genocide of Armenians in 1915 and after) he defended. Bob Livingston is growing much wealthier now than during his days in public service. </p> <p> The result: redemption declined. </p> <p> The trail of salvation now gets more twisted. The elected Louisiana replacement for Bob Livingston in 1999 was family-values super-straight-moral-arrow David Vitter, who went on in 1992 to run for the governorship of Louisiana. He survived reports of extra-marital relations then and rumours of the same when running for the Senate in 2004, before succumbing in 2007 when substantive proof was finally offered that Vitter was partaking in numerous liaisons. In Vitter&#39;s case the acts were illegal as well as morally questionable, as he was <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/09/AR2007070902030.html">listed</a> as a frequent patron of call-girls, prostitutes and escort-services on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. </p> <p> The head of the escort-service used by Vitter in Washington DC subpoenaed him in late 2007, though his appearance was later cancelled. Sarah Jane Palfrey committed suicide in 2008, which brought Vitter&#39;s transgressions back into the public eye. The Senator refused to resign, but - following the Gingrich model - retreated from the media glare before re-emerging in early 2009 with a vengeance: aggressively pro-military, guns, and religious involvement in government, anti-women&#39;s choice, gay rights, and immigration-amnesty. He grandstanded at Hillary Clinton&#39;s confirmation hearings and was the <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2009/01/15/clinton-vitter/">sole</a> vote against her, delaying the final verdict just to draw attention to himself.   </p> <p> Stormy Daniels, a Louisiana-born star of pornographic films, <a href="http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/porn_star_stormy_daniels_consi.html">announced</a> on 13 February 2009 that she is seriously considering a run against Vitter. Despite all this, Vitter is supposedly still polling well with his constituents. </p> <p> The result: redemption pending. </p> <p> <strong>The Washington pit</strong> </p> <p> A release from these relentless tales of sexual transgressions can be found in one quick incidence of forgiveness from violence. Dick Cheney, vice-president under George W Bush, clearly illustrated the effects of executive power on redemption. The hardline, tooth-grinding veteran shot a hunting partner in the face and body with a large-gauge shotgun, wounding the man severely (see Sidney Blumenthal, &quot;<a href="/democracy/rules_3277.jsp">The rules of the game</a>&quot;, 17 February 2006). There were odd, never-explained circumstances involved, but before any serious investigation could be made Cheney was cleansed of his transgression... when the gent he shot took the blame. </p> <p> The result: redeemed. And don&#39;t you forget it. </p> <p> The relief from blame was not the case for the police officer who received Larry Craig&#39;s wanton overtures. The Republican representative from Idaho was arrested in a Minneapolis-St Paul airport men&#39;s room for &quot;homosexual lewd conduct&quot;, taken to police headquarters and immediately pleaded guilty to a lesser plea of &quot;disorderly conduct&quot;. He subsequently <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/08/28/craig.arrest/">recanted</a>, but did not retract his guilty plea, and was never forgiven by his constituency. Even his fellow Republicans asked him to step aside, but he stubbornly held on until his very last federal pay-cheque. His term officially ended in January 2009, eighteen months after his &quot;sin&quot;.  </p> <p> The result: unredeemable. </p> <p> The Lousiana and Washington litany ends on a Democratic (if less prurient) note, with the unrepentant Louisiana ex-representative William &quot;Dollar Bill&quot; Jefferson. He was the receiver of $90,000 in frozen kickbacks, a &quot;public servant&quot; whose extended family contains people who have plundered New Orleans for decades and are, almost to a person, now under <a href="http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/01/conspiracy_figure_in_rep_willi.html">indictment</a>. It seems probable from federal evidence that Bill, of all the politicians above, is the sole offender going to jail. He will go soon, as he no longer has the shelter of political office. </p> <p> <strong>The day arrives  </strong>  </p> <p> I admit that I both laugh over and am simultaneously horrified by these events. But the &quot;sins&quot; of George W Bush and his party, a group that every moment abused what little public mandate it had over these last eight years, are much more serious than victimless philandering. I would, as my mother said, pray for the return of an &quot;adulterer&quot; of any political affiliation, rather than endure the wide varieties of personal power-mongering which America and her one-time partners in the world have had to face in the period of Bushite rule.  </p> <p> The Republicans know this. They are attempting to reinvent themselves and project new faces into the limelight. But will it be the likes of Anh &quot;Joseph&quot; Cao or of Bobby Jindal who will be their salvation? It is almost frightening that the first choices are being made now, as I write these words. </p> <p> The result: redemption awaits. Possibly on Mardi Gras Day. </p> american power & the world openUSA Jim Gabour Creative Commons normal email Fri, 20 Feb 2009 11:08:14 +0000 Jim Gabour 47380 at https://www.opendemocracy.net American women's stimulus: voice, agency, change https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/american-womens-stimulus-voice-agency-change <p> Ever since Barack Obama won the presidency, American women - battered by the George W Bush administration&#39;s assaults on their rights - have sensed the possibility of change and mobilised to make sure that the new president hear their voices and recognise their needs. Their input into debates on his plan to revivify and transform the United States economy is a key focus of this effort. </p> <p> No surprise here. During any great political transformation, women have almost always demanded greater equality. In the midst of the American revolution, <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first_ladies/abigailadams/">Abigail Adams</a> famously warned her husband that the new republic must not ignore the needs and rights of half the population. &quot;Remember the Ladies,&quot; she <a href="http://www.thelizlibrary.org/suffrage/abigail.htm">wrote</a> to him. &quot;Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.&quot; </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Ruth Rosen is a journalist and historian, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, She is a regular contributor to <a href="http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/">Talking Points Memo</a>. Her most recent book is <em><a href="http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780140097191,00.html">The World Split Open: How the Modern Women&#39;s Movement Changed America</a></em> (Penguin, 2007)<br /> <br /> Also by Ruth Rosen in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<strong><a href="/democracy-americanpower/dakota_abortion_4035.jsp">South Dakota, sexual politics, and the American elections</a>&quot; </strong>(26 October 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<strong><a href="/democracy-americanpower/america_election_4094.jsp">America&#39;s election: Daddy&#39;s swagger vs Mommy&#39;s care</a></strong> (14 November 2006)</span>Adams understood that women become very angry when liberal change is in the air, but realise they will not be among its beneficiaries. It happened during the French revolution and during the 1960s, for example. It&#39;s happening again. </p> <p> That&#39;s why advocates of women&#39;s equality quickly mobilised to press the Obama administration to reverse Bush&#39;s policies and to make sure he included women in whatever &quot;new&quot; New Deal might be necessary to keep the United States from sliding into the Second Great Depression. </p> <p> For his part, President Barack Obama has proved that he &quot;gets it&quot;, that he understands women&#39;s lives and seeks to improve their economic prospects, domestic dilemmas, and reproductive rights. Within the first month of his presidency, for example, he reversed Bush&#39;s &quot;global gag rule&quot; on funding contraceptive and reproductive-health services to women across the planet. This will result in many fewer abortions and deaths, and give women much greater control over their lives. </p> <p> He also signed the <a href="http://www.nwlc.org/fairpay/">Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act</a>, which reversed a Supreme Court decision that prevented women from suing for equal pay after six months; and he <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog_post/chip/">expanded</a> the Children&#39;s Health Insurance Programme (which Bush had refused to do), thus setting an important precedent for universal healthcare, at least for children. </p> <p> But advocates for women workers have felt great anxiety about whether the Obama administration would make sure that women - along with men - would be included in the $787-billion stimulus package that on 17 February 2009 completed its passage through both houses of Congress. It&#39;s not that they don&#39;t care about male workers; on the contrary, they know that men have been hit harder and more quickly because they work in manufacturing and construction. That leaves many women as breadwinners who cannot support their families on the salaries they earn in the economic sectors they traditionally inhabit. </p> <p> As early as April 2008, the Senate committee on health, education, labour and pensions (chaired by the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy) issued a <a href="http://kennedy.senate.gov/newsroom/press_release.cfm?id=09ce9e66-4178-429d-92d0-a5134ee9c7ff">report</a> entitled &quot;Taking a Toll: The Effects of Recession on Women&quot;; this argued for a safety-net for women, who usually have fewer assets, earn less than men, work in more part-time jobs, and increasing cannot provide for their families. </p> <p> In the summer, <a href="http://www.house.gov/gwenmoore/">Gwen Moore</a> - the Democratic congresswoman from Wisconsin, who once received welfare as a single mother - teamed up with other like-minded women to reframe the stimulus package by trying to persuade the Democratic National Convention that poverty is a women&#39;s issue and that a forthcoming Obama administration must expand the safety-net that vanished when former President Clinton eliminated &quot;welfare as we know it&quot; in 1996. </p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold" class="Apple-style-span">A raised voice </span> </p> <p> Alongside these initiatives, concerns about whether the recovery plan would help single women workers and working mothers surfaced repeatedly during the last few months. Feminist economists voiced public concerns that the new administration’s “shovel ready” recovery plan focused too exclusively on male jobs. In a widely quoted op-ed, author and former philosophy professor Linda Hirshman asked: “Where are the jobs for women in the stimulus planning?” (see “Where Are the New Jobs for Women?”, New York Times, 9 December 2008). </p> <div> <p> There is no doubt that women could be quickly trained for such construction projects, as occurred during the second world war. But would Congress fund this? </p> <p> Remembering the gender and racial discrimination that characterised the New Deal, 1,200 women historians and economists (including myself) urged President Obama not to repeat FDR&#39;s mistakes of directing most jobs to white men. Their <a href="http://www.femst.ucsb.edu/projects/crwsj/">petition</a> asked the president to require affirmative action for all federal contractors, and to set aside apprenticeship and training programmes in infrastructure projects for women and people of colour. They also argued that more money should be spent on projects for health, childcare, education and the social services, the economic sectors where women traditionally work. </p> <p> The voices of women insisting upon such equality in the recovery plan have been loud and insistent, even though the establishment media have tended to ignore them. Leaders of national women&#39;s groups were quick in grabbing a seat at the table of Obama&#39;s transition team and lobbied hard for the stimulus legislation to include women workers as part of the recovery plan. Blogs and essays written by women have ricocheted through cyberspace, urging Congress to include women and minority workers, along with white men, in the stimulus package. </p> <p> And what was the result? It depends on how you view the entire stimulus plan. Many well known economists have argued that the recovery plan needed to be much larger. More than one-third of the funds, moreover, went to tax cuts, which will provide less of a stimulus than spending. As a result, women and other low-wage earners didn&#39;t get nearly enough jobs. </p> <p> The back-story is that President Obama has been held hostage by troglodyte Republicans who still believe that a dismantled federal government, a free and unregulated market, and tax cuts for the wealthy are the solution to America&#39;s economic collapse. Using the tactic and rhetoric of &quot;bipartisanship&quot;, the new president chose to make serious compromises in order to secure sufficient votes from these Senate Republicans. For all his efforts, he <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/14/us/politics/14stimintro.ready.html?_r=1">received</a> almost no Republican votes.<br /> <br /> When Republicans fumed about money to fund comprehensive contraception, for example, Obama and other Democrats decided to strip it from the bill to secure necessary Republican support. (Conservative Republicans not only oppose abortion; their war against contraception has been vehement and persistent.) Most reproductive-rights activists, however, are confident that Obama will quickly insert it in another piece of legislation. </p> <p> Republicans also cut programmes that disproportionately target women and children, including Head Start for low-income children, Violence Against Women, school improvement and food stamps and aid to states, all of which stimulate the economy by supporting the &quot;social&quot; infrastructure, not only the physical infrastructure. The irony is, as Mimi Abramovitz <a href="http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3906">writes</a>: &quot;Contrary to popular wisdom, spending on services like health care and education produces a bigger bang for the economic-stimulus buck than billions of dollars devoted to roads and bridges. Japan&#39;s Institute for Local Government, a nonprofit research group, says that Japan learned this truth the hard way.&quot; </p> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold" class="Apple-style-span">A new momentum<br /> </span><span class="pullquote_new">Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama&#39;s presidency:<br /> <br /> Simon Maxwell, &quot;<a href="/article/global-development-barack-obama-s-agenda-0">Global development: Barack Obama&#39;s agenda</a>&quot; (20 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot; (21 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009)<strong><br /> <br /> openDemocracy</strong>, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice</a>&quot; (19-23 January 2009) - reflections from thirty-seven of our worldwide authors<br /> <br /> Simon Critchley, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-and-the-american-void">Barack Obama and the American void</a>&quot; (22 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-don-t-waste-the-crisis">Barack Obama: don&#39;t waste the crisis</a>&quot; (6 February 2009)</span><br /> Still, women&#39;s persistent lobbying and advocacy produced some very positive results The <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-09bud.html">Center for Budget and Policy Priorities</a>, a non-partisan research group, <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-09bud.html">concluded</a>: &quot;The provisions providing relief to low- and moderate-income families and to states facing serious budget shortfalls are among the most effective economic stimulus in the package. Low-income and unemployed families will spend benefits or tax refunds quickly to meet household expenses.&quot; </p> <p> In their report &quot;*How the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Addresses Women&#39;s Needs,&quot; The <a href="http://www.nwlc.org/details.cfm?id=3431&amp;section=child%20and%20family%20support">National Women&#39;s Law Center</a> (NWLC) offered a similarly positive <a href="http://www.nwlc.org/details.cfm?id=3431&amp;section=child%20and%20family%20support">assessment</a>: &quot;The Obama Administration and House and Senate leaders have developed a strong plan for economic recovery to preserve and create jobs, help people through tough times, protect vital public services, and invest in our nation&#39;s future.&quot; </p> <p> The NWLC cited a host of measures - funds for childcare and early education, expanded unemployment insurance for low-income workers, child support, healthcare, direct assistance for low-income households, education and job training, job opportunities for women, tax benefits for those who really need such relief - to argue that &quot;the Conference Agreement on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes a number of measures that are especially important for women and their families.&quot; </p> <p> All true. But let&#39;s get some perspective. The legislation only funded $2 billion for childcare, even as the United States <a href="http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2009/01/nuclear_spending.html">spent</a> $52 billion on nuclear weapons and weapons-related research in 2008 alone. Mass transit and major infrastructure projects, moreover, were shelved to increase tax cuts, in a nearly futile effort to appease Republicans. </p> <p> It&#39;s quite clear that Republicans would rather let the ship go down than help Obama succeed, even though the stakes are so very high for all workers. The Nobel-prize winning economist <a href="http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring09/007101.htm">Paul Krugman</a> warns: &quot;Let&#39;s not mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression&quot; (see &quot;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/05/opinion/05krugman.html">Fighting Off Depression</a>&quot;, <em>New York Times</em>, 4 January 2009). So far, his (cautious) predictions about the American economy, since at least 2004, have turned into the very reality he hoped might be averted. </p> <p> In this political climate, women remain pawns in the struggle between the two parties. Nevertheless, hope remains alive because advocates for gender equality know they have a president on their side. Asked whether the Obama administration was friendlier to women&#39;s advocacy groups than the last administration, Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (<a href="http://www.now.org/">NOW</a>), laughed and <a href="http://www.alternet.org/blogs/reproductivejustice/123885/good_news_about_women_and_the_stimulus_package/">replied</a>: &quot;Are you kidding? The difference is like night and day.&quot; </p> <p> Women leaders, scholars and activists are not going away. Once mobilised, they intend to remain visible and vociferous, reminding legislators that they are not &quot;a special interest-group&quot;, as both parties tend to view them, but half of the nation&#39;s citizens. </p> </div> 50.50 50.50 american power & the world openUSA Ruth Rosen Creative Commons normal email Wed, 18 Feb 2009 07:27:44 +0000 Ruth Rosen 47348 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Obama's Bush-like foreign policy https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/obamas-bush-like-foreign-policy <p> While the <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20090205_geopolitical_diary_hard_choices_obama_team/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Munich Security Conference</a> brought together senior leaders from most major countries and many minor ones last weekend, none was more significant than US Vice President Joe Biden. This is because Biden provided the first glimpse of US foreign policy under President Barack Obama. Most conference attendees were looking forward to a <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20080923_obamas_foreign_policy_stance_open_access/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">dramatic shift in US foreign policy under the Obama administration</a>. What was interesting about Biden&#39;s speech was how little change there has been in the US position and how much the attendees and the media were cheered by it. </p> <p> After Biden&#39;s speech, there was much talk about a change in the tone of US policy. But it is not clear to us whether this was because the tone has changed, or because the attendees&#39; hearing has. They seemed delighted to be addressed by Biden rather than by former Vice President Dick Cheney - delighted to the extent that this itself represented a change in policy. Thus, in everything Biden said, the conference attendees saw rays of a new policy. </p> <p> <strong>Policy continuity: Iran and Russia</strong> </p> <p> Consider <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20090208_geopolitical_diary_continuing_u_s_iranian_stall/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Iran</a>. The Obama administration&#39;s position, as staked out by Biden, is that the United States is prepared to speak directly to Iran provided that the Iranians do two things. First, <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20080915_iran_tehran_weighs_its_options/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Tehran must end its nuclear weapons program</a>. Second, Tehran must stop supporting terrorists, by which Biden meant Hamas and Hezbollah. Once the Iranians do that, the Americans will talk to them. The Bush administration was equally prepared to talk to Iran given those preconditions. The Iranians make the point that such concessions come after talks, not before, and that the United States must change its attitude toward Iran before there can be talks, something Iranian <em>majlis</em> Speaker Ali Larijani emphasized after the meeting. Apart from the emphasis on a willingness to talk, the terms Biden laid out for such negotiations are identical to the terms under the Bush administration. </p> <p> Now consider Russia. Officially, the Russians were delighted to hear that the United States was prepared to <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20090128_new_phase_russia_u_s_relations/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">hit the &quot;reset button&quot; on US-Russian relations</a>. But Moscow cannot have been pleased when it turned out that hitting the reset button did not involve ruling out NATO expansion, ending American missile defense system efforts in central Europe or publicly acknowledging the existence of a Russian sphere of influence. Biden said, &quot;It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.&quot; In translation, this means the United States has the right to enter any relationship it wants with independent states, and that independent states have the right to enter any relationship they want. In other words, the Bush administration&#39;s commitment to the principle of NATO expansion has not changed. </p> <p> Nor could the Russians have been pleased with the announcement just prior to the conference that the United States would continue developing a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The BMD program has been an issue of tremendous importance for Russians, and it is something Obama indicated he would end, or change in some way that might please the Russians. But not only was there no commitment to ending the program, there also was no backing away from long-standing US interest in it, or even any indication of the terms under which it might end. </p> <p> Given that the <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090122_former_soviet_union_next_round_great_game/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">United States has asked Russia for a supply route through the former Soviet Union to Afghanistan</a>, and that the Russians have agreed to this in principle, it would seem that that there might be an opening for a deal with the Russians. But just before the Munich conference opened, Kyrgyzstan announced that <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090204_kyrgyzstan_bargains_u_s_russia/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Manas Air Base, the last air base open to the United States in central Asia, would no longer be available to American aircraft</a>. This was a tidy little victory for the Russians, who had used political and financial levers to pressure Kyrgyzstan to eject the Americans. The Russians, of course, deny that any such pressure was ever brought to bear, and that the closure of the base one day before Munich could have been anything more than coincidence. </p> <p> But the message to the United States was clear: while Russia agrees in principle to the US supply line, the Americans will have to pay a price for it. In case Washington was under the impression it could get other countries in the former Soviet Union to provide passage, the Russians let the Americans know how much leverage Moscow has in these situations. The US assertion of a right to bilateral relations won&#39;t happen in Russia&#39;s near abroad without Russian help, and that help won&#39;t come without strategic concessions from the United States. In short, the American position on Russia hasn&#39;t changed, and neither has the Russian position. </p> <p> <strong>The Europeans</strong> </p> <p> The most interesting - and for us, the most anticipated - part of Biden&#39;s speech had to do with the Europeans, of whom the French and Germans were the most enthusiastic about Bush&#39;s departure and Obama&#39;s arrival. Biden&#39;s speech addressed the core question of the <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090203_part_2_obama_administration_and_europe/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">US-European relationship</a>. </p> <p> If the Europeans were not prepared to increase their participation in American foreign policy initiatives during the Bush administration, it was assumed that they would be during the Obama administration. The first issue on the table under the new U.S. administration is the <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20081221_geopolitical_diary_announcement_surge_afghanistan/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">plan to increase forces in Afghanistan</a>. Biden called for more NATO involvement in that conflict, which would mean an increase in European forces deployed to Afghanistan. Some countries, along with the head of NATO, support this. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that Germany is not prepared to send more troops. </p> <p> Over the past year or so, <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20081006_german_question/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Germany has become somewhat estranged from the United States</a>. Dependent on Russian energy, Germany has been unwilling to confront Russia on issues of concern to Washington. Merkel has made it particularly clear that while she does not oppose NATO expansion in principle, she certainly opposes expansion to states that Russian considers deeply within its sphere of influence (primarily Georgia and Ukraine). The Germans have made it abundantly clear that they do not want to see European-Russian relations deteriorate under US prodding. Moreover, Germany has no appetite for continuing its presence in Afghanistan, let alone increasing it. </p> <p> <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/geopolitical_diary_nato_membership_dilemma/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">NATO faces a substantial split</a>, conditioned partly by Germany&#39;s dependence on Russian energy, but also by deep German unease about any possible resumption of a Cold War with Russia, however mild. The foundation of NATO during the Cold War was the US-German-British relationship. With the Germans unwilling to align with the United States and other NATO members over Russia or Afghanistan, it is unclear whether NATO can continue to function. (Certainly, Merkel cannot be pleased that the United States has not laid the BMD issue in Poland and the Czech Republic to rest.) </p> <p> <strong>The more things change...</strong> </p> <p> Most interesting here is the <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090119_obama_enters_great_game/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations in regards to foreign policy</a>. It is certainly reasonable to argue that after only three weeks in office, no major initiatives should be expected of the new president. But major initiatives were implied - such as ending the BMD deployment to Poland and the Czech Republic - and declaring the intention to withdraw BMD would not have required much preparation. But Biden offered no new initiatives beyond expressing a willingness to talk, without indicating any policy shifts regarding the things that have blocked talks. Willingness to talk with the Iranians, the Russians, the Europeans and others shifts the atmospherics - allowing the listener to think things have changed - but does not address the question of what is to be discussed and what is to be offered and accepted. </p> <p> Ultimately, the issues dividing the world are not, in our view, subject to personalities, nor does goodwill (or bad will, for that matter) address the fundamental questions. <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/geopolitics_iran_holding_center_mountain_fortress/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Iran has strategic and ideological reasons</a> for behaving the way it does. So does <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20081014_geopolitics_russia_permanent_struggle/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Russia</a>. So does Germany, and so on. The tensions that exist between those countries and the United States might be mildly exacerbated by personalities, but nations are driven by interest, not personality. </p> <p> Biden&#39;s position did not materially shift the Obama administration away from Bush&#39;s foreign policy, because Bush was the prisoner of that policy, not its creator. The Iranians will not make concessions on nuclear weapons prior to holding talks, and they do not regard their support for Hamas or Hezbollah as aiding terrorism. Being willing to talk to the Iranians provided they abandon these things is the same as being unwilling to talk to them. </p> <p> There has been no misunderstanding between the United States and Russia that more open dialogue will cure. The Russians see no reason for NATO expansion unless <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090205_part_i_geopolitics_and_russian_military/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">NATO is planning to encircle Russia</a>. It is possible for the west to have relations with Ukraine and Georgia without expanding NATO; Moscow sees the insistence on expansion as implying sinister motives. For its part, the United States refuses to concede that Russia has any interest in the decisions of the former Soviet Union states, something Biden reiterated. Therefore, either the Russians must accept NATO expansion, or the Americans must accept that Russia has an overriding interest in limiting American relations in the former Soviet Union. This is a fundamental issue that any US administration would have to deal with - particularly an administration seeking Russian cooperation in Afghanistan. </p> <p> As for Germany, NATO was an instrument of rehabilitation and stability after World War II. But Germany now has a complex relationship with Russia, as well as internal issues. It does not want NATO drawing it into adventures that are not in Germany&#39;s primary interest, much less into a confrontation with Russia. No amount of charm, openness or dialogue is going to change this fundamental reality. </p> <p> Dialogue does offer certain possibilities. The United States could choose to talk to Iran without preconditions. It could abandon NATO expansion and quietly reduce its influence in the former Soviet Union, or perhaps convince the Russians that they could benefit from this influence. The United States could abandon the BMD system (though this has been complicated by <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090203_iran_successful_satellite_launch/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">Iran&#39;s recent successful satellite launch</a>), or perhaps get the Russians to participate in the program. The United States could certainly get the Germans to send a small force to Afghanistan above and beyond the present German contingent. All of this is possible. </p> <p> What can&#39;t be achieved is a fundamental transformation of the geopolitical realities of the world. No matter how Obama campaigned, it is clear he knows that. Apart from his preoccupation with economic matters, Obama understands that foreign policy is governed by impersonal forces and is not amenable to rhetoric, although rhetoric might make things somewhat easier. No nation gives up its fundamental interests because someone is willing to talk. </p> <p> Willingness to talk is important, but what is said is much more important. Obama&#39;s first foray into foreign policy via Biden indicates that, generally speaking, he understands the <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20080922_new_president_and_global_landscape/?utm_source=GWeekly&amp;utm_campaign=none&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">constraints and pressures that drive American foreign policy</a>, and he understands the limits of presidential power. Atmospherics aside, Biden&#39;s positions - as opposed to his rhetoric - were strikingly similar to Cheney&#39;s foreign policy positions. </p> <p> We argued long ago that presidents don&#39;t make history, but that history makes presidents. We see Biden&#39;s speech as a classic example of this principle. </p> <p> <strong><em>George Friedman</em></strong><em> is an American political scientist and author. He is the founder and CEO of the private intelligence corporation <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/" target="_blank">Stratfor</a>. </em> </p> <p> <em>This report has been republished from <a href="http://www.stratfor.com/" target="_blank">www.stratfor.com</a></em> </p> Conflict conflicts russia & eurasia north america us & the world openUSA George Friedman Creative Commons normal email Thu, 12 Feb 2009 16:45:03 +0000 George Friedman 47321 at https://www.opendemocracy.net US neo-cons jump the conservative ship https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/us-neo-cons-jump-the-conservative-ship <p> The high-end blogosphere has been aflutter over &quot;<a href="http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=9dfd540a-3d44-4684-a333-415ef34efa5b" target="_blank">Conservatism is Dead</a>,&quot; the latest of Sam Tanenhaus&#39; many long elegies in <em>The New Republic</em> for conservatism as a movement and an ideology. But no one has recalled, much less revisited, his dirge in a lecture at the heavily neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute in <a href="http://www.aei.org/events/type.past,filter.all,eventID.1550/event_detail.asp#" target="_blank">November 2007</a>. Perhaps inadvertently, he put his finger then on American conservatism&#39;s original sin. </p> <p> Tanenhaus, who edits <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/review/index.html" target="_blank"><em>The New York Times Book Review</em></a> and the &quot;Week in Review&quot; section of that paper, began by noting that while American conservatives had once chafed under the New Deal&#39;s soulless managerialism, they&#39;d allowed ex-leftist conservatives such as James Burnham and Irving Kristol to lead them on a long march through institutions that they despised, in an effort to build a managerial class of their own. </p> <p> In Tanenhaus&#39; telling, Kristol showed conservative business and political leaders that New Deal managerialism had bred a liberal &quot;new class&quot; of academic, think-tank, and media experts who trafficked in policy intellection more than in policymaking, but with significant consequences for the latter. He counseled conservatives to outdo liberals at this game in order to rescue liberal education and liberal democracy for the kind of capitalism and politics conservatives could profit from and enjoy. They might even restore virtue to Progressive reforms and secure the enlightened &quot;national greatness&quot; conservatism of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whose American admirers would soon include Kristol&#39;s son Bill and Tanenhaus himself. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new"><strong>Jim Sleeper</strong> is a writer and teacher on American civic culture and politics and a lecturer in political science at Yale. <br /> <br /> He is the author of <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Closest-Strangers-Sleeper-Jim/dp/0393307999" target="_blank">The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York</a> </em>(W.W. Norton, 1990) and <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Liberal-Racism-Jim-Sleeper/dp/0670873918" target="_blank">Liberal Racism</a> </em>(Viking, 1997, Rowman &amp; Littlefield, 2002).</span> Kristol&#39;s auditors took his advice seriously enough to compound American conservatism&#39;s original sin - its incapacity to reconcile its yearning for ordered, sacred liberty with its obeisance to every riptide of the global capitalism that&#39;s destroying the nation, the republic, the values, and the customs that conservatives claim to cherish. </p> <p> Through lavishly-funded initiatives such as New York City&#39;s <a href="http://www.manhattan-institute.org/" target="_blank">Manhattan Institute</a>, campus organizations, and private ventures such as Rupert Murdoch&#39;s journalism, conservatives generated a parody of the liberal &quot;new class&quot; - an on-message machine of talkers, squawkers, apparatchiks, and greedheads that <em>Slate&#39;s </em>Jacob Weisberg dubbed &quot;<a href="http://www.slate.com/id/2280/">the Con-intern</a>.&quot; </p> <p> The Con-intern&#39;s social ideas resembled Margaret Thatcher&#39;s more than Disraeli&#39;s. They were driven by a capitalist materialism that was as soulless as the Marxist dialectical materialism of their nightmares. That gave a false ring to conservative rhapsodies about civic-republican virtue. It glossed the displacement of the liberal counterculture with a degrading over-the-counter culture. It ignored conservatism&#39;s displacement of the New Deal&#39;s supposed &quot;make-work&quot; programs with the non-response to Katrina. It countered the &quot;Vietnam syndrome&quot; with the worst foreign-policy blunder in American history. Beneath the Con-intern&#39;s civic chimes and patriotic bombast, the civic republican spirit writhed in silent agony, forsaken by conservatism itself. </p> <p> Tanenhaus knows all this, and at AEI he hinted that Irving Kristol knows it, too, but has become cynical and followed the money: &quot;One could look over the trajectory of Mr. Kristol&#39;s brilliant career and see that he&#39;s in a different place in the 1990s than he was in the 1970s,&quot; Tanenhaus said, recalling that Kristol used to cite Matthew Arnold&#39;s cultural visions against Milton Friedman&#39;s vindications of greed. </p> <p> Tanenhaus&#39; wistful pleas for a politics of decency made me wonder then what conservatism could do besides push profits and spew guns, racism, sexism, and war to distract us all from the heartbreaking dissolution of the civic-republican ethos of getting along in the pursuit of a common good, of handling our losses without developing longstanding grudges. </p> <p> Without question, the Con-intern has destroyed a lot of trust. While Tanenhaus stopped short of saying so in 2007, many conservatives of reputed discernment and high purpose had been sucked into the maelstrom, including the Kristols, the Podhoretzes (Norman and Norman&#39;s son John), the humiliatingly honor-obsessed Kagans (Thucydides scholar Donald and his sons Robert, the grasping power historian, and Frederick [the Great], an AEI military strategist), and the sophistical <em>New York Times </em>columnist<em> </em>David Brooks. </p> <p> Tanenhaus did plead for a conservatism of virtue and moral poise. He credited &quot;my hero Bill Buckley&quot; for pushing anti-Semitic and other extremists out of the movement. He cautioned against trying to destroy liberalism with &quot;a language of accusations, ... of treason at home and of leftists who have the same values as Osama Bin Laden.&quot; He called for a culturally textured, sophisticated conservative critique and assailed &quot;magazines I used to write for, such as <em>Commentary</em>, which accused the <em>New York Times</em> magazine, my newspaper, of violating the Espionage Act because it published an article exposing a surveillance program. That&#39;s revenge,&quot; he said. </p> <p> But there was no such moral poise or textured critique in the preponderance of <a href="http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071112/sleeper" target="_blank">liberal-bashing book reviews</a> that Tanenhaus was running in the Times. And the person in his AEI audience with whom he seemed most engaged - referring to him respectfully at least four times - was David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who has sought to roll back the welfare state and a conservatism like Disraeli&#39;s that would have some care for the poor, but apparently is now reconsidering. </p> <p> Tanenhaus invoked Lionel Trilling&#39;s distinction between an honorable sincerity that&#39;s anchored in faithfulness to a culture and a phony, individualist &quot;authenticity&quot; that reflects the narcissism in modern liberalism. He didn&#39;t mention Trilling&#39;s observation that, against even the vapid liberalism of his time, American conservatism had become a set of &quot;irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.&quot; In response to a question from AEI vice president Henry Olsen, Tanenhaus mentioned <a href="http://astore.amazon.co.uk/opendemocra0e-21/detail/0375751459" target="_blank">Whittaker Chambers</a>&#39; observation to Buckley that, as Tanenhaus paraphrased it, &quot;You can&#39;t build a clear conservatism out of capitalism because capitalism disrupts culture.&quot; </p> <p> Well, what about that? Surely markets should be honored only in their place, and there are occasions when the polity must be sovereign over the economy. New Deal &quot;liberal&quot; managers knew that that requires a republican vigilance that profit-maximizing corporations, as much as big government, inevitably try to subvert. Asked by historian Michael Kazin to explain the prospects for a small-government conservatism that&#39;s still tied to big government, including a military operation that&#39;s a virtual welfare state for its participants, Tanenhaus responded, &quot;I&#39;d be interested to hear what David Frum has to say on that,&quot; confessing himself a &quot;total ignoramus about globalization issues.&quot; </p> <p> The poignancy of Tanenhaus&#39; predicament reminds us that conservatism&#39;s original sin lies not in its bombastic and noxious neo-conservative interlopers, accelerants of republican decay though they may be, but in the tragic nature of American conservatism itself. </p> <p> When conservatives vow to rescue liberal education and democracy from liberals, they mean sincerely to defend a classical, 18th-century liberalism that balances individuals&#39; <em>rights</em> to life, liberty, and property with individuals&#39; <em>responsibilities</em> as republican citizens to rise sometimes above narrow self-interest, to act on shared moral commitments and sentiments. </p> <p> Conservatives know that a balanced society, like a whole person, strides forward on both a left foot of social education and security - without which conservatives&#39; cherished individuality couldn&#39;t flourish - and a right foot of irreducibly individual<em> </em>freedom and responsibility - without which even the best social engineering will turn persons in to clients, cogs, or worse. Society protects and nourishes the individual flame, but it cannot light it and should not try to extinguish it. </p> <p> One&#39;s readiness or failure to light that flame originates in faith or natural law, which even a covenanted society may honor but cannot itself create or, ultimately, control. Conservatives charge, rightly, that many liberals have lost sight of this sublime truth and have over-emphasized public provision, swelling the left foot and hobbling everyone&#39;s stride. </p> <p> Few elite liberals have a credible answer to this. Too many of them have done too well by the corporate capitalist system to attack its growing inequities with more than symbolic, moralistic gestures. Yet they can&#39;t bring themselves to defend it wholeheartedly, either. Sensitive to individual rights and sufferings, they try to strengthen the left foot of social provision without strengthening personal responsibility. For that they rely on outside incubators of the virtues and beliefs which the liberal state and free markets need but by themselves cannot nourish or enforce. </p> <p> But most of the social mayhem rising around us is driven by the seductions and stresses of corporate consumer marketing and employment and of a capitalism that only opportunistically invokes John Locke&#39;s Christian strictures, Adam Smith&#39;s theory of the moral sentiments, or a civic-republican nationalism that might reasonably be elevated by serious &quot;liberal education.&quot; </p> <p> Instead of taking these things as seriously as they claim to, conservatives careen back and forth between conflicting loyalties to a national-security state and to a post-nationalist global capitalism that dissolves republican virtue far more than terrorism has done: There <em>is </em>such a thing as &quot;economic violence.&quot; It <em>does </em>eviscerate the villages that raise the children. Wall Street <em>does</em> subvert Main Street and morals. </p> <p> The follies of Marxist ideologues have left a taboo against criticizing capitalism, whose twilight they&#39;d announced a few times too often. But aren&#39;t we now in a relationship to capitalism analogous to that of American colonials to the British monarchy <a href="http://tapdev.browsermedia.com/cs/articles?article=by_gradual_paces" target="_blank">early in the 1760s? </a>Colonials then still ardently professed affection for and dependence on the crown, even as they began to sense that their own sovereignty and dignity couldn&#39;t be reconciled with the empire&#39;s. They wound up risking their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to rearrange that. </p> <p> Similarly, something basic will have to change relatively soon in how we configure and charter the vast profit-making combines that are degrading social equality and the rhythms and security of our daily lives and incapacitating many Americans as cultural actors and, hence, as free citizens. </p> <p> Tanenhaus tried fruitlessly in his lecture to square the circle of deceit that has drawn around us by the yawping brigades of conservative opportunists and partisans spawned by Irving Kristol and others. At AEI he presented himself - a bit disingenuously, I think, considering his accomplishments at the Times - as a learned, unassuming fellow who would lead no one anywhere. No wonder that other conservatives think that ex-liberals like Tanenhaus and, for that matter, Irving Kristol, who came to conservatism offering strategic savvy and rhetorical cover for excellent adventures, have only worsened its plight. </p> <p> Conservatives and liberals alike need to rediscover the American civic-republican tradition and to sacrifice some comforts to revive it. A few years ago I sketched that challenge in an essay about a long-forgotten uncle of the Connecticut anti-war Senate candidate <a href="http://www.jimsleeper.com/articles/signature-pieces/Duty%20Bound.pdf" target="_blank">Ned Lamont</a> who had a &quot;conservative&quot; sensibility that many liberals are the poorer for missing. And I waited for Tanenhaus to admit that conservatives can&#39;t reconcile their keening for an ordered, sacred liberty with their obeisance to every riptide of a capitalism that&#39;s dissolving the republic, values, and customs they claim to cherish. </p> <p> Now, in The New Republic, he has admitted it. And he has resisted commendably his old temptation to blame liberals. Conservatives who dine out too often on liberals&#39; follies forget how to cook for themselves and the whole society, and Tanenhaus has been a poor chef at the <em>Times</em>, as I showed in <a href="http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071112/sleeper" target="_blank"><em>The Nation.</em></a> But I hope that his coming biography of William F. Buckley, Jr. will equal his delicious one of <a href="http://astore.amazon.co.uk/opendemocra0e-21/detail/0375751459" target="_blank" title="oD Bookstore">Whittaker Chambers</a>. And I hope that he, Frum, Brooks, and other erstwhile neo-cons who are now very busy trying to re-position themselves  will take time to re-<em>ground </em>themselves in presumptions less damaging to the American civil-society and republic. </p> democratic society north america us & the world openUSA Jim Sleeper Original Copyright email Tue, 10 Feb 2009 15:55:45 +0000 Jim Sleeper 47307 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afghanistan and Pakistan: recommendations for Obama https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/india-theme/afghanistan-and-pakistan-recommendations-for-obama <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Imageme08 11.9999 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if !mso]> <object classid="clsid:38481807-CA0E-42D2-BF39-B33AF135CC4D" id=ieooui> </object> <style> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } </style> <![endif]--><style> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]--> <p> America may not be losing the war in Afghanistan, but it is also not winning. Neither is the US approach in neighbouring Pakistan making friends or preventing new recruits from crossing the border to kill US and other NATO troops. What then is the best way to promote peace and security in the greater south Asia region, home to nearly half the world&#39;s population and several nuclear-armed states? The challenges involved in confronting this threat - which means fighting extremism in both countries, rebuilding governance in Afghanistan, and supporting a weak democratic government in Pakistan - dwarf the past two decades of global state-building activities combined and are too big to be done alone. </p> <p> For the past few months, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and US CENTCOM commander General David Petreaus have been leading US government-wide efforts to develop a &quot;comprehensive strategy&quot; to deal with this pressing issue, while Obama has appointed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to address the multiple challenges of the region.<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> </xml><![endif]--><style> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]--> </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Karin von Hippel and Frederick Barton are co-directors of the <a href="http://www.csis.org/isp/pcr/" target="_blank">CSIS Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project</a></span>To succeed, a strategy must have four elements: <strong>(1)</strong> the innovative use of all the tools of US foreign policy, including development, diplomatic, and military activities; <strong>(2)</strong> the genuine inclusion of America&#39;s key allies; <strong>(3) </strong>the coherent engagement of regional powers, including India, Iran, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia; and most importantly, <strong>(4)</strong> ownership of the new approach by the people and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. </p> <p> First, the US government needs to get its own house in order. It needs a unifying and integrated strategy, what the British government calls a &quot;whole-of-government&quot; approach. We have found in dozens of interviews with senior US officials in Washington, Afghanistan, and Pakistan that there has been no clarity as to how much US assistance has been directed at each country, what the overall strategy for each country is, nor what it is for the region as a whole. A counterinsurgency campaign should incorporate development, security, and governance activities, yet here too the US government lacks a truly integrated plan, one that is understood by civilians and soldiers alike (beyond the mantra, &quot;shape, clear, hold, build&quot;). </p> <p> In our own outreach activities, we also discovered that US personnel are not familiar enough with the other offices and officials working on the same issues within government, thus inhibiting coordination and the development of an integrated approach. Diplomatic personnel are rotated frequently, with deployments usually lasting only a year, if that, while four US combatant commands have responsibility for US military operations and activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The &quot;interagency&quot; rarely includes the wider US government community that should be involved in policy and implementation, particularly the Congress. A unified approach requires a common understanding across the entire US team. </p> <p> Second, the United States needs to reengage with its allies - bilateral and multilateral (notably NATO member states as well as NATO and the United Nations). All need to be involved in the development and implementation of a new regional approach, one that will also include the wider neighborhood (see number three). Gone are the days when US officials can send other countries marching orders and expect them to sacrifice warriors and treasure without significant input. The US government needs to return to a policy of working with, listening to, and even learning from allies, as transpired in Kosovo, despite all the kicking and screaming that often accompanies group decision-making. Maybe then America will get the much-needed military and financial support in the crucial fight against the Taliban. </p> <p> Third, the US administration and the aforementioned allies together should develop a coherent strategy for engaging and working with the regional players in an expanded contact group. This would include China, India, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Such a group could play a fundamental role in &quot;draining the swamp&quot; of extremist militants from the region and help prevent further horrific terrorist attacks, as recently occurred in Mumbai. The contact group could also promote regional trade agreements and encourage cross-border commerce, critical for stability and development in this impoverished region. Even Iran has played a fairly positive role in Afghanistan, not only during the Bonn process, but also in terms of reconstruction activities. Yet there is no agreed-on framework for involving these actors in a constructive manner, while there are ample opportunities for any of them to become spoilers. </p> <p> Finally, and critically, the people and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan need to become full partners in this policy and approach. Too many decisions are being made on their behalf, without their involvement. The ultimate goal is to empower national governments to strengthen governance and fight extremism and corruption on their own terms. Both countries are too big and too complex to allow their development and security to be &quot;off-shored.&quot; Pakistanis and Afghanis need to be fully in the lead, with international partners in an integrated, supporting role. Only then will joint efforts translate into peace and security. </p> openIndia openIndia openSecurity Conflict conflicts middle east india/pakistan us & the world openUSA Karin von Hippel Rick Barton Creative Commons normal Pakistan in chaos Tue, 03 Feb 2009 14:22:06 +0000 Karin von Hippel and Rick Barton 47266 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Barack Obama and the American void https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/barack-obama-and-the-american-void <p> There is something desperately lonely about Barack Obama&#39;s universe. One gets the overwhelming sense of someone yearning for connection, for something that binds human beings together, for community and commonality, for what he repeatedly calls &quot;the common good&quot;. This is hardly news. We&#39;ve known since his <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/vote2004/demconvention/speeches/obama.html">keynote speech</a> at the 2004 Democratic national convention that &quot;there&#39;s not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there&#39;s the United States of America.&quot; </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Simon Critchley is the chair of philosophy at the New School, New York. Among his books is <a href="http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307472632"><em>The Book of Dead Philosophers</em></a><em> </em>(Granta/Vintage, 2008)<br /> <br /> This article is adapted from remarks delivered at the <a href="http://www.apsanet.org/content_56449.cfm">American Political Science Association</a> in Boston on 30 August 2008 and at the New School in New York City on 18 September 2008. An extract from these was also published in <a href="http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/11/0082235"><em>Harper&#39;s Magazine</em></a> (November 2008) </p> <p> Obama&#39;s remedy to the widespread disillusion with politics in the United States is a reaffirmation of the act of union. This is possible only insofar as it is possible to restore a sense of community to the nation. That, in turn, requires a belief in the common good. In the face of grotesque inequality, governmental sleaze, and generalised anomie, we need &quot;to affirm our bonds with one another&quot;. Belief in the common good is the sole basis for hope. Without belief, there is nothing to be done. Such is the avowedly improbable basis for Obama&#39;s entire push for the <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president_obama/">presidency</a>. </p> <p> <strong>A subjectivity of vision</strong> </p> <p> The obvious criticism one could make is that Obama&#39;s politics is governed by an anti-political fantasy. It lies behind the appeal to the common good, that &quot;no one is exempt from the call to find common ground&quot;; or &quot;not so far beneath the surface, I think, we are becoming more, not less, alike&quot;. This, one might claim, is the familiar delusion of an end to politics, the postulation of a state where we can put aside our differences, overcome partisanship, and come together in order to heal the nation. </p> <p> The same longing for unity governs Obama&#39;s discourse on race, with his call for a black-brown alliance and his appeasing <a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl/9780307237699.html">remark</a> that &quot;rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself&quot;. Obama dreams of a society without power relations, without the agonism that constitutes political life. Against such a position one might assert that justice is always an <em>agon</em>, a conflict, and to refuse this assertion is to consign human beings to wallow in some emotional, fusional balm. </p> <p> One might add that the source of this longing for union is its absence. We anxiously want to believe, because we don&#39;t and we can&#39;t. The yearning for the common good comes from the refusal to accept that perhaps Americans have very little in common apart from the elements of a sometimes successful civil religion based around a sentimental, indeed sometimes teary-eyed, attachment to the constitution and a belief in the quasi-divine wisdom of the founding fathers. </p> <p> In the face of George W Bush&#39;s ultra-political presidency - his massive <a href="/node/4452">extension</a> of executive power and his prosecution of a politics of fear based on the identification of an enemy as morally evil - it is not difficult to understand the popularity of Obama&#39;s <a href="http://fora.tv/2008/09/18/Simon_Critchley_Contrasts_Barack_Obama_to_George_W_Bush">anti-political vision</a>. Against the <a href="/democracy-americanpower/article_2348.jsp">messianic</a> certainties of Bush, Obama promises a return to a beatific liberalism whereby everything is seen <em>sub specie</em> consensus. This is a world where good old democratic deliberation replaces decisionism and where the to and fro of civil conversation replaces religious absolutism. Democracy is not a house to be built but &quot;a conversation to be had&quot;. After eight disastrous years of gross mismanagement, secrecy, and lies, it sounds like an absolutely blissful prospect. </p> <p> True, one might wonder how Obama&#39;s evacuation of power relations in the political realm goes together with his faith in the <em>agon</em> of capitalism, competition, and the salutary effects of free markets. One might also wonder how such a political position might genuinely begin to deal with poverty. But I don&#39;t want to go down the route of the classic critique of liberalism, according to which politics is evacuated in favor of the bifurcation of ethics, on the one hand, and economics, on the other, and the former is the veil of hypocrisy used to conceal the violence of the latter. I do not even want to propose a critique of Obama. Rather, I&#39;d like to describe a puzzlement that I don&#39;t think I am the only one to experience. What fascinates me is what we might call Obama&#39;s subjectivity and how it forms his political vision and how this might begin to explain his extraordinary popular appeal. </p> <p> <strong>An opacity of genius</strong> </p> <p> After watching countless speeches and carefully reading his words, I have absolutely no sense of who Barack Obama is. It&#39;s very odd. The more one listens and reads, the greater the sense of opacity. Take <a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl/9780307237705.html"><em>The Audacity of Hope</em></a>: there is an easy, informal, and relaxed style to Obama&#39;s prose. He talks about going to the gym, ordering a cheeseburger, planning his daughter&#39;s birthday party, and all the rest. He mixes position statements and general policy outlines with autobiographical narrative in a compelling and fluent way. Yet I found myself repeatedly asking: who is this man? I don&#39;t mean anything sinister by this. It is just that I was overcome by a sense of distance in reading Obama, and the more sincere the prose, the greater distance I felt. He confesses early on that he is not someone who easily gets worked up about things. But sometimes I rather wish he would. Anger is the emotion that produces motion, the mood that moves the subject to act. Perhaps it is the first political emotion. </p> <p> At the core of <em>The Audacity of Hope</em> is someone who lives at a distance, someone distanced from himself and from others and craving a bond, a commitment to bind him together with other Americans and to bind Americans together. There is a true <em>horror vacui</em> in Obama, a terror of loneliness and nothingness. He yearns for an unconditional commitment that will shape his subjectivity and fill the vacuum. He desires contact with some plenitude, an experience of fullness that might still his sense of loneliness, fill his isolation, silence his endless doubt, and assuage his feelings of abandonment. He seems to find this in Christianity, to which I will turn shortly. </p> <p> But perhaps this opacity is Obama&#39;s political genius: that it is precisely the enigmatic, inert character of Obama that seems to generate the desire to identify with him, indeed to love him. Perhaps it is that sense of internal distance that people see in him and in themselves. Obama recognises this capacity in an intriguing and profound remark when he writes: &quot;I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.&quot; He is a mirror that reflects back whatever the viewer wants to see. Somehow our loneliness and doubt become focused and fused with his. Obama&#39;s desire for union with a common good becomes unified with ours. For that moment, and maybe only for that moment, we believe, we hope. It is a strangely restrained ecstasy, but an ecstasy nonetheless. </p> <p> The occasional lyricism of Obama&#39;s prose is possessed of a great beauty. His doubts about being a father and a husband in the final chapter of <em>The Audacity of Hope</em> are touching and honest. And when he finishes the book, like a young Rousseau, by saying that &quot;my heart is filled with love for this country&quot;, I don&#39;t detect any cynicism. Yet Obama writes and speaks with an anthropologist&#39;s eye, with the sense that he is not a participant in the world with which he so wants to commune. Experience is always had and held at a distance. </p> <p> The passage in <em>The Audacity of Hope</em> that both focuses this sense of distance and complicates the problem I want to address is the death of his mother from cancer at the age of 52, when Obama was 34. He writes, for once, in a flare of directly felt intensity: </p> <p> &quot;More than once I saw fear flash across her eyes. More than fear of pain or fear of the unknown, it was the sheer loneliness of death that frightened her, I think-the notion that on this final journey, on this last adventure, she would have no one to fully share her experiences with, no one who could marvel with her at the body&#39;s capacity to inflict pain on itself, or laugh at the stark absurdity of life once one&#39;s hair starts falling out and one&#39;s salivary glands shut down.&quot; </p> <p> His mother was an <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1729524-5,00.html">anthropologist</a>. She died as an anthropologist, with a feeling of distance from others and an inability to commune with them and to communicate her pain. Perhaps this is the root of Obama&#39;s <em>horror vacui</em>. But to understand this, we have to turn to his discussion of religion. </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama and the United States:<br /> <br /> <a href="/usa">openUSA</a>&#39;s daily commentary and analysis of the 2008 election and after                                          <br /> Anthony Barnett, &quot;<a href="/article/taking_obama_seriously">Taking Obama seriously</a>&quot; (6 February 2008)<br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson, &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008)<br /> <br /> Sidney Blumenthal, &quot;<a href="/article/the-strange-death-of-republican-america">The strange death of Republican America</a>&quot; (4 November 2008)<br /> <br /> John C Hulsman, &quot;<a href="/article/memo-to-obama-the-middle-east-needs-you">Memo to Obama: the middle east needs you</a>&quot; (11 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Zaid Al-Ali, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-means-for-iraq">What Obama means for Iraq</a>&quot; (13 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson, &quot;<a href="/article/let-obama-be-obama">Let Obama be Obama</a>&quot; (17 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Simon Maxwell, &quot;<a href="/article/global-development-barack-obama-s-agenda-0">Global development: Barack Obama&#39;s agenda</a>&quot; (20 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot;  (21 January 2009)                                       Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009)                                        openDemocracy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear...advice</a>&quot;  19 January 2009) - reflections from our authors around the world </p> <p> <strong>A question of belief </strong> </p> <p> Why do we need religion? Obama recognises that people turn to religion because they want &quot;a narrative arc to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift them above the exhausting, relentless toil of daily life.&quot; The alternative is clear: nihilism. The latter means &quot;to travel down a long highway toward nothingness.&quot; Religion satisfies the need for a fullness to experience, a transcendence that fills the void. Obama&#39;s <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/id/145971">path</a> to Christianity plays out against the background of his anthropologist mother&#39;s respectful distance from religion. </p> <p> Like many of us, Obama initially looks to what he calls &quot;political philosophy&quot; for help. He wants confirmation of the values he inherited from his <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/14/MNCVVJJRK.DTL">mother</a> (honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work) and a way to transform them into systems of action that &quot;could help build community and make justice real.&quot; Unsurprisingly, perhaps, also like many of us, he doesn&#39;t find the answer in political philosophy but only by confronting a dilemma that his mother never resolved. He writes: </p> <p> &quot;The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that part of me remained removed, detached, an observer among them. I came to realize that without a vessel for my beliefs, without an unequivocal commitment to a particular community of faith, I would be consigned at some level to remain apart, free in the way that my mother was free, but also alone in the same ways that she was ultimately alone.&quot; </p> <p> Freedom, for Obama, is the negative freedom from commitment that left his mother feeling detached and alone, a solitude that culminated in her death. Such is the freedom of the void. Being anthropologically respectful of all faiths means being committed to none, and being left to drift without an anchor for one&#39;s most deeply held beliefs. To have such an anchor means being committed to a specific community. The only way Obama can overcome his sense of detachment and resolve his mother&#39;s dilemma is through a <a href="http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/januaryweb-only/104-32.0.html">commitment</a> to Christianity. </p> <p> More specifically, it is only through a commitment to the historically black church that Obama can find that sense of grounding and fullness. It culminates in his joining Trinity United Church of Christ under Pastor Jeremiah Wright on Chicago&#39;s south side. Whatever one makes of it, the absolute centrality of black American Christianity in the arc of Obama&#39;s narrative is what makes his fractious <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/03/18/obama.transcript/index.html">relationship</a> with Pastor Wright so important and intriguing. Ultimately, everything turns here on the relation between the prophetic word (<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blotter/story?id=4443788">Wright&#39;s </a>&quot;God damn America&quot;) and the activity of government (&quot;My heart is filled with love for this country&quot;). </p> <p> What is certain about Obama&#39;s commitment to Christianity is that it is a choice, a clear-minded rational choice, and not a conversion experience based on any personal revelation. He insists that &quot;religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking. . . . It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear.&quot; Although he goes on to add that &quot;I felt God&#39;s spirit beckoning me&quot;, it is the coolest, most detached experience of religious commitment, without any trace of epiphanic transport and rapture. I can&#39;t help but feel that Obama&#39;s faith craves an experience of communion that is contradicted by the detachment and distance he is seeking to overcome. For example, when he is unsure what to tell his daughter about the question of death, he says: &quot;I wondered whether I should have told her the truth, that I wasn&#39;t sure what happens when we die, any more than I was sure where the soul resides or what existed before the Big Bang.&quot; </p> <p> Such scepticism about matters metaphysical is understandable enough and has a fine philosophical ancestry. But where does it leave us and where does it leave the question of belief, the cornerstone of Obama&#39;s entire presidential campaign? We come back to where we started, with the common good. Obama wants to believe in the common good as a way of providing a fullness to experience that avoids the slide into nihilism. But sometimes I don&#39;t know if he knows what belief is and what it would be to hold such a belief. It all seems so distant and opaque. The persistent presence of the mother&#39;s dilemma - the sense of loneliness, doubt, and abandonment - seems palpable and ineliminable. We must believe, but we can&#39;t believe. Perhaps this is the tragedy that some of us see in Obama: a change we can believe in and the crushing realisation that nothing will change. </p> Ideas faith & ideas american power & the world democracy & power openUSA Simon Critchley Creative Commons normal email Sat, 24 Jan 2009 17:20:16 +0000 Simon Critchley 47179 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice <p> We asked some of our authors around the world to respond to the following: </p> <p> &quot;About the Barack Obama administration, please tell us: </p> <p> 1 one thing you hope for </p> <p> 2 one thing you fear </p> <p> 3 one piece of advice you would give&quot; </p> <p> <a name="top" title="top"></a><a name="top" title="top"></a> </p> <table border="0" width="555"> <tbody> <tr> <td><a href="#1">Paul Rogers</a> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#13">Conor Gearty</a></span><br /> </span></td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#22">Antara Dev Sen</a></span><br /> </span><a href="#22"></a></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#2">Ehsan Masood</a><a href="#21"> </a></td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#14">Mariano Aguirre</a></span><br /> </span></td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#23">Ivan Briscoe</a></span><br /> </span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#3">Paul Gilroy</a><a href="#22"> </a></td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#15">Peter Kimani</a></span><br /> </span></td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#24">Dejan Djokic</a></span><br /> </span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#4">Emily Lau</a><a href="#23"> </a></td> <td><a href="#16"></a><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#16">Andrew Stroehlein</a><br /> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#25">Michele Wucker</a></span><br /> </span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#5">John Hulsman</a><br /> </td> <td><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#17">Patrice de Beer</a> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><a href="#26">Ramin Jahanbegloo</a></span> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#6">Onyekachi Wambu</a><a href="#25"><br /> </a></td> <td><a href="#16"></a><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#18">Tanya Lokshina</a><br /> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><a href="#27">Camille Toulmin</a></span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#7">Volker Perthes</a><br /> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#37">Steven Lukes</a></span><br /> </span></td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><a href="#28">James Crabtree</a><br /> </span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#8">Mustafa Akyol</a><br /> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#38">Susan George</a></span><br /> </span></td> <td><font color="#33cccc"><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><a href="#30">Todd Gitlin </a></span></font></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#9">Jim Gabour</a><br /> </td> <td><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#19">Arthur Ituassu</a><br /> </td> <td><font color="#33cccc"><a href="#31"><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span">Sergio Aguayo </span></a></font></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#11">Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao</a><br /> </td> <td><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span"><span style="color: #000000" class="Apple-style-span"><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#20">Noriko Hama</a></span><br /> </span></td> <td><font color="#33cccc"><a href="#32"><span style="color: #329bc7" class="Apple-style-span">Carne Ross </span></a></font></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#12"></a><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#12">Ann Pettifor</a><br /> </td> <td><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#21">Michael Edwards</a><br /> </td> <td><a href="#33">Bissane El-Cheikh</a></td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#10"></a><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#10">Roger Scruton </a><br /> </td> <td><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#36">Tarek Osman </a><br /> </td> <td><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#34">Solana Larsen</a><br /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><a href="#35"></a><a style="color: #329bc7; text-decoration: none" href="#35">Beatrix Allah-Mensah </a><br /> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p> &#160; </p> <br /> <p align="left"> <strong>Paul Rogers</strong><a name="1" title="1"></a><strong>, professor, Bradford University</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That the Barack Obama administration takes immediate and sustained action on climate change </p> <p align="left"> 2 That it is unable to break free of past policy on Israel and Afghanistan </p> <p align="left"> 3 Play it long, but don&#39;t forget you have a much more substantial honeymoon period than is usual - use it. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="2" title="2"></a><strong>Ehsan Masood, journalist with <em>Nature</em>, London</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 Visionary leadership, and some fresh thinking - ok, so that&#39;s two things </p> <p align="left"> 2 A younger man full of idealism, overwhelmed by voices of caution and the scourge of special interests </p> <p align="left"> 3 Remember that what is good for the planet <em>as a whole</em> is also good for America. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="3" title="3"></a><strong>Paul Gilroy, professor, LSE</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That Obama will tell the Israeli government to release Marwan Barghouti </p> <p align="left"> 2 That the Israeli government will not listen </p> <p align="left"> 3 Read up on the history of the British empire&#39;s overthrow and collapse so that he can understand why releasing Barghouti might be helpful. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="4" title="4"></a><strong>Emily Lau, Hong Kong legislator</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That President Obama can bring peace to the middle east and the rest of the troubled world by healing the wounds caused by misguided policies. That his administration can introduce policies which will seek to eradicate the deep-seated hatred which has built up over the years, hatred which makes people willing to sacrifice their lives in order to get even. I hope the president can show a more humane and humanitarian face of America, win more friends and make fewer enemies </p> <p align="left"> 2 That some people in the United States may not like the new president and do nasty things to him </p> <p align="left"> 3. Lead the American people towards adopting a new lifestyle that is more frugal and less wasteful. It is time for Americans to learn the meaning of sustainable development, to stop exploiting limited resources, to remember that tens of millions of people live in abject poverty - and be thankful for what they have got. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="5" title="5"></a><strong>John Hulsman, scholar-in-residence, German Council on Foreign Relations</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 Barack Obama&#39;s seeming genius in using symbolism suggests that he comprehends his (and his compatriots&#39;) place in the overall story of the American experience. Through his using the Lincoln bible for the inauguration, to tracing the great emancipator&#39;s steps on his rail journey to Washington, to his trip to Philadelphia to pay his respects to John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, Obama truly seems to know and feel that we Americans are part of this larger, more glorious narrative, and that we must try (and surely we will fall short) to live up to it. This is precisely what President Bush had no feel for, making his descent into constitutional shredding far easier. If one doesn&#39;t value America&#39;s great example, why should it matter? Obama seems to truly value the American past as a guide for America&#39;s future; that is what I hope for </p> <p align="left"> 2 Democrats in the United States, and the left in general, are wonderful at grasping the many facets of problems. They have proven less able to separate those policy goals that are essential to grapple with and solve from those that it would merely be nice to deal with; by being fixated on the complexity of things, the left tends to lack judgment about their relative importance. The results are policy laundry-lists that take the place of making genuine choices. Amid the multiple crises confronting the United States, I fear for Obama that his immediate advisors may revert to this dangerous habit </p> <p align="left"> 3 Instead of a laundry-list that squanders both your great promise and your current popularity, focus on a very few things. The first (and second, and third) should be the economic crisis - this is why you were elected, and the best immediate way you can help the country and the world. However, you also have a chance to set the parameters for a new era; the time you live in may not be of your choosing, but how it evolves can, to some extent, be determined by your administration. Whatever the foreign- policy issue, whatever the immediate, keep this larger strategic point in mind: you will be the first president to lead America in this new age of multipolarity. Enticing the rising powers to be part of the new order, making them status-quo powers defending efforts at global governance - and not revolutionary powers out to destroy it - is the task history has set you. This broader imperative should always guide you, as you make your way through the day-to-day crises you will have to confront. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="6" title="6"></a><strong>Onyekachi Wambu, African Foundation for Development </strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 At last, a formal apology for slavery and dispossession of the native Americans - the two original sins of the republic </p> <p align="left"> 2 Business as usual </p> <p align="left"> 3 Trust your instincts. People like you and believe in your appeal for change. They are also patient - but you should begin to define this change more clearly and deliver on it. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="7" title="7"></a><strong>Volker Perthes, director, German Institute for International and Security Affairs</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That the United States actively and consistently engages in conflict-resolution, starting in the middle east. This would be the real practical translation of Joseph Nye&#39;s concept of &quot;smart power&quot;, which the new secretary of state has already introduced to the official lexicon of American foreign policy during her testimony in the Senate hearing. If America were to engage in seeking a fair solution for the conflicts between Israel and its neighbours that basically accepts the legitimate interests of all regional parties, this would restore US credibility in the wider Muslim and much of the rest of the world, and make it much more difficult for the ideologues of <em>jihadism</em> to gain support and adherents in the region. Perhaps even more important, such an engagement may offer the last hope to actually implement a two-state solution that would allow Israel and Palestine to live peacefully with - or at least alongside - one another. The blueprints for a peaceful settlement are all there. It needs international - i.e., American-led - even-handedness and firmness to translate them into reality </p> <p align="left"> 2 That a Barack Obama administration could be distracted from pursuing its foreign-policy agenda through a combination of factors that already are known and present. Among them are a deepening economic crisis that may spur protectionist tendencies; special domestic interest-groups that would try to subvert a more inclusive and fair US policy in the middle east; and short-sited actions by other international players (Russia, Iran, North Korea or certain non-state actors) that would try to test the strength of the new administration at an early stage, either to embarrass the new administration or to prove to their own and other societies that the US is still the enemy. </p> <p align="left"> 3 In order both to achieve the goals set out under the &quot;hope&quot; category and to avoid the risks under the &quot;fear&quot; one, the main advice is from the beginning to seek solutions and pursue global policies in the most inclusive way. That means getting the emerging powers (China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, and - prospectively - even Iran) to address issues of real globality (i.e. issues that do not just affect the entire world but that also cannot be solved without global cooperation) and to rebuild the structures of global governance. Everyone knows that the present composition of global-governance institutions and clubs (the United Nations Security Council, the G8, IMF, World Bank and others) no longer reflects the distribution of real (both hard and soft) power in the world; nor do these institutions and clubs invite those who have gained in the relative power-shifts to take real responsibility. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="8" title="8"></a><strong>Mustafa Akyol, journalist, Turkey</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That President Obama can pave the way for peace in the middle east. It will be a very tough road, especially after Israel&#39;s brutal onslaught in Gaza which killed hundreds of children and carved hatred into millions of hearts. To achieve peace, he will need both to find a way - directly or indirectly - to talk to Hamas and convince of the need for a two-state solution; and to impose some sanity and restraint on Israel, whose brutality is seen as &quot;state terrorism&quot; by millions of Muslims in the region. </p> <p align="left"> 2 That he will be tamed and co-opted by the Washington establishment. That . &quot;experts&quot; will convince him that &quot;this is the way we do things here, sir.&quot; That he will be forced to retreat from some of the revolutionary and much-needed steps he promised or hinted he would take, such as talking to Iran, the Taliban and Hamas. And that, as a result, the world will start to see him only as a lighter version of the George W Bush administration - a new Bush with a smiling face. </p> <p align="left"> 3 Mr President, please, please, do not give up your promise for change. You have vowed to follow a policy based on pragmatism, not ideology. Be very much aware that some people will sell their ideology to you in the cloak of pragmatism. Do not forget the suggestions and sentiments of the good people who supported you in your earliest days. Moreover, I know you are a modest and humble man, but let me still remind you of a piece of advice which every Ottoman sultan was publicly given during his inauguration ceremony: &quot;Don&#39;t be arrogant, my sultan, God is greater than you.&quot; </p> <p align="left"> <a name="9" title="9"></a><strong>Jim Gabour, writer, New Orleans</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 I can only hope for intelligence. Plain, down-to-earth intelligence. And not the waterboarding / spy-satellite sort, but rather an ongoing ability to think through ideas and then speak words that are attached to reality and signify deeper understanding. Subject-verb-object is an overt sign, something missing the last eight years, that we are being led by significant thought rather than rampant cowboy hormones </p> <p align="left"> 2 I fear the inevitable corruption of a Pure Concept. I can only worship at the altar of what has been accomplished. But I fear what I have seen all too many times: the reality of making things work always sullies that gleaming ideal. It is necessary. It is inevitable. But, while dealing with it, I can only wish it would not happen </p> <p align="left"> 3 Truth is not a variable concept. It is a hard-edged, scarred and pitted, bitterly rusty blade that slices in one direction only. Accept that, and live with it. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="10" title="10"></a><strong>Roger Scruton, research professor, Institute for the Psychological Sciences</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That this presidency will lay to rest the myth of America as a &quot;divided&quot; society, in the grip of &quot;white racism&quot; </p> <p align="left"> 2 The great increase in presidential power that could result from the society-wide belief that presidents can change things in fundamental ways </p> <p align="left"> 3 Futile as the advice may be - don&#39;t go the way of Roosevelt and the New Deal; don&#39;t bail out failing financial institutions; don&#39;t subsidise failing industries. </p> <p> <a name="34" title="34"></a><strong>Solana Larsen, Global Voices</strong> </p> <p> 1 That the positive, transformative spirit of this election will carry on long enough to make real changes in the way Americans perceive themselves as be-ing responsible for and equal to one another </p> <p> 2 That Barack Obama will change throughout his presidency, and his sup-porters will fail to give him the push-back he needs to stay true to his current ideals </p> <p> 3 You should give the world less opportunity to point out hypocrisies in American foreign policy by pursuing an open, honest, and respectful path to-wards peace and development everywhere. </p> <p> <a name="35" title="35"></a><strong>Beatrix Allah-Mensah, social-development professional, Ghana</strong> </p> <p> 1 That America will work on its relationship with and image in the world for the better, as Barack Obama is seen as a unifying force </p> <p> 2 For Obama&#39;s life (including his family&#39;s) </p> <p> 3 Africans, especially Kenyans, should not expect any drastic changes to American foreign policy in Africa; improvements, if at all, will be considered within a global economic and security context. But give Africa its due. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="11" title="11"></a><strong>Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, director, Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies, Taiwan</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That President Obama can arrange his policy priorities so that he can act both as the national leader of the United States and a global leader. In domestic terms, that he can stabilise the American economy and reform its problematic financial order, so that the US&#39;s economic crisis will be addressed and a world recession averted </p> <p align="left"> 2 That President Obama may be too ambitious in attempting to deal with too many demands from all fronts - liberal and conservative, domestic and international; and thus ends up in a situation of too many words of promise and too few actually achievements. In specific terms, that he might be too compromising in dealing with authoritarian regimes in order to remedy the US&#39;s past unilateral diplomacy - and that as a result, democracy as a universal value could be sacrificed </p> <p align="left"> 3 Uphold and advocate freedom, human rights, justice, and democracy for the global community. One way to do so is for him to formulate a workable, consistent and sensible &quot;democracy-promotion action-plan&quot; in which the US would firmly and consistently support, protect and strengthen all new democracies in the world. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="12" title="12"></a><strong>Ann Pettifor, Advocacy International</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That the United States rejoins the community of nations as a respected peer; no longer acts as a militaristic and intolerant empire; and helps bring peace and stability to the middle east, and justice to the Palestinian people </p> <p align="left"> 2 That powerful commercial forces will prevent his administration from providing the American people with a free and universal healthcare system </p> <p align="left"> 3 Break with the economics profession&#39;s orthodoxies; wipe the slate clean, and then implement Keynesian monetary policies to help the US create debt-free money, or low-interest credit for investment in a localised steady-state economy based on clean technology and millions of green-collar jobs. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="13" title="13"></a><strong>Conor Gearty, professor, LSE</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That the United States returns to the community of states that share the values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law - not as camouflages for selfish state action but rather as part of a genuine commitment to civilised cooperation </p> <p align="left"> 2 That President Obama will not dare to be different, will not seize the moment - and instead retreats into a bland centrism, thus failing to serve the interests of the American people and the people of the world </p> <p align="left"> 3 Use the monstrosity of Israel&#39;s Gaza war to challenge the Israeli government. For President Obama to say nothing about Gaza will be to give the Israelis a blank cheque - and Obama&#39;s cosmopolitanism will lie in shreds. If he is unable to confront Israel directly, a serious commitment by Obama to international law and the United Nations will transform the US&#39;s relationship with Israel in the medium-to-long term - for Israel needs to reject international law and the UN in order to act as it currently does. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="14" title="14"></a><strong>Mariano Aguirre, director, Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 See 2 </p> <p align="left"> 2 See 3 </p> <p align="left"> 3 Pay attention to the poorest of the world. In 2009, the United States&#39;s real global role will be acknowledged for the first time. George W Bush&#39;s government was a desperate coercive attempt to limit social change and freedoms in the US itself while seeking to torpedo the multilateral system. It was leadership through force. Barack Obama, despite his rhetoric of positive leadership after the disastrous Bush era, is aware of the limitations of a country in such deep crisis and even long-term decline that it can no longer be regarded as the sole global superpower. </p> <p align="left"> China, the European Union, India, Brazil and Russia are already regional powers and some of them are becoming global in scope. Washington, its military might notwithstanding, will find that without close cooperation with others it is increasingly difficult to tackle situations such as insurgency in Afghanistan, violent crisis in Pakistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - or international-trade disputes. </p> <p align="left"> President Obama should pay attention to the different forms of violence directly related to poverty and inequality, and to the lack of state institutions. Climate change reduces natural resources needed for survival and intensifies competition. High food prices will create more poverty, and the financial crisis will increase inequality. The interplay of all these factor portends more social and armed conflict. </p> <p align="left"> Barack Obama&#39;s administration should remember that greater poverty and inequality - even out of the rich world&#39;s sight - is a global problem for everyone. The need for solutions to are urgent. These should start by bringing new and old actors in the multipolar world together to draw up a common plan to protect the poorest against the impact of the crisis, and reformulate the dominant - and failing - models of growth and trade. </p> <p align="left"> <em>(Translated from Spanish by Fionnuala Ni Eigeartaigh)</em> </p> <p align="left"> <a name="15" title="15"></a><strong>Peter Kimani, journalist, Kenya</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 There are many in our midst who think that Barack Obama invented the word &quot;hope&quot;. And perhaps he did - by demonstrating to millions of Americans that they could dream again - and that everything is possible. </p> <p align="left"> Still, hope is a big word for the millions who have lost, or are about to lose their jobs, and have vested their hopes in <em>him</em> to secure their futures. </p> <p align="left"> Some cynics say the only reason Obama was overwhelmingly elected by whites was to bequeath him the shell that&#39;s the American economy. </p> <p align="left"> But that&#39;s to miss the point. For him to have won the nomination of a Democratic Party that once supported slavery, and then the endorsement of the whole nation, is a powerful testament to the nation&#39;s political evolution. </p> <p align="left"> It is also in its way a tribute to globalisation - and an experiment that should be tried elsewhere, in Europe. </p> <p align="left"> I hope too that Obama&#39;s governance will sustain international interest in Kenya, and help bring to book those responsible for organising and funding the mayhem in December 2007, in which 1,300 people were killed. </p> <p align="left"> 2 Barack Obama has raised people&#39;s expectations to the stratosphere, but has to come down to earth and offer realistic solutions to his country&#39;s many challenges </p> <p align="left"> He has also promised to rout out the old Washington ways and set in place more pragmatic, people-sensitive structures to uplift the poor by making the rich pay a little more for their comforts. </p> <p align="left"> But Obama has made a few faltering steps by returning to power several old Washington hands, who might tie his own if not arm-twist him to abandon his reformist agenda. </p> <p align="left"> I fear Obama will soon realise the limitations of his power by reconciling the America that he hopes to create, and the one that has been running since 1776. </p> <p align="left"> Overall, I fear Obama&#39;s or Americans&#39; reality-check, when it finally dawns, will break their hearts - even if he doesn&#39;t break his promise. </p> <p align="left"> 3 That Obama strives to be true to yourself. In election campaigns, politicians say what the electorate want to hear. But in running the affairs of the state, a leader has to be fair to all citizen, especially those that did not vote for him as they&#39;re likely to be more critical. </p> <p align="left"> The clearest advice is to avoid senseless wars. Obama also has to be more decisive than his predecessors on Palestine, and recognise that its unresolved crisis has offered militants a useful reference-point to justify their carnage on hapless citizens of the world, wherever they are to be found. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="16" title="16"></a><strong>Andrew Stroehlein, International Crisis Group</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That Barack Obama signs up the United States to the International Criminal Court. It would be one of the best ways to signal a clean break </p> <p align="left"> 2 That the US fails to act in the event of renewed mass ethnic or sectarian cleansing in Iraq - as both Obama and Hillary Clinton&#39;s deeply worrying comments during the campaign suggested might happen. The idea that American forces would stay on base and/or continue their withdrawal in such circumstances would be a horrific abdication of responsibility </p> <p align="left"> 3 Don&#39;t wait seven years to start working all-out on a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. A split Palestine, an Israeli election and the fresh wounds of the Gaza conflict make it seem like the worst possible time to push a peace process. But it&#39;s never an ideal time - and the longer the delay, the harder it becomes. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="17" title="17"></a><strong>Patrice de Beer, journalist, France</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That Barack Obama proves able to sustain the very hope he aroused in the United States and in the world - because hope itself (as he seems to understand) can make marvels, win support for controversial measures, and become a driving force for change </p> <p align="left"> 2. That this very hope will be exceeded by the expectation he has aroused, including in Europe - for America&#39;s interests will remain paramount </p> <p align="left"> 3 Remain your own man, follow your own path, stay committed to your goals - even as you (as you must) listen to others and remain open to ideas, including the bold or unconventional. Don&#39;t be diverted by day-to-day politics, opinion-polls, electioneering. Never forget, after all, that FD Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 more because he kept to his strategy despite its slow impact than because he sought public favour. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="18" title="18"></a><strong>Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher, Human Rights Watch</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1. That the Barack Obama administration improves the United States&#39;s human-rights record, thus enabling the country to regain leverage in international affairs </p> <p align="left"> 2. That the the strains in the US-Russia relationship will continue, making it more difficult to constructively raise human rights at a bilateral level </p> <p align="left"> 3. Develop with the European Union a common approach on human rights in Russia - and ensure that it is a robust approach. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="37" title="37"></a><strong>Steven Lukes, professor, New York University</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1. The current financial crisis and economic recession and forthcoming depression are just the latest manifestations of Barack Obama&#39;s luck, for they afford him, at least initially, extraordinary latitude to pursue a transformative political agenda. Part of that agenda is already declared to be green and part is egalitarian, notably with respect to healthcare and educational provision. My hope is that he will push further in a social-democratic direction (to which the United States has hitherto been so inhospitable), extending public provision of public goods and changing the American meaning of &quot;welfare&quot; from negative to positive </p> <p align="left"> 2. On the campaign trail, Obama became ever more committed to sending large numbers of troops into Afghanistan. The question is whether this was shrewd campaign rhetoric or a sincere declaration of future strategy. My biggest fear is that it might be the latter. This bodes major disaster, in the light of all we know about Afghan politics and the history of interventions in that country. What I fear is that Obama and his secretary of state may see Afghanistan as the next arena within which to continue pursuing the war against terror </p> <p align="left"> 3. My advice - unnecessary, it seems - is not to ignore but to discount the political advice of intellectuals, certainly to treat their political judgments with appropriate scepticism. He shows every sign of taking advice from many quarters, including community organisers, and indeed encouraging conflicting viewpoints, while taking expert advice (e.g. on climate change and on scientific questions), on the basis of data and professional competence. My advice is: encourage intellectuals in their various pursuits but treat their political opinions as having no special weight. </p> <p> <a name="36" title="36"></a><strong>Tarek Osman, writer, Egypt</strong> </p> <p> 1 That in an era of great changes and pressures in the world, Barack Obama will have the right combination of good judgment and steadfastness to steer a course for the United States that is energetic and ambitious but not aggressive or antagonistic </p> <p align="left"> 2 That despite his calm demeanour, wise performance, and conspicuous intelligence, Obama could yield to the increasingly apparent &quot;wounded lion&quot; impulse in US politics </p> <p align="left"> 3 Be yourself. Remember that the millions of Americans who voted for you, and the hundreds of millions all over the world who cheer your arrival in the White House, look to <em>you</em> with admiration and high expectations - not to the machinations of Washington. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="38" title="38"></a><strong>Susan George, writer, France</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 For us all, an end to military adventurism; for Americans, to join the civilised world by ensuring universal healthcare </p> <p align="left"> 2 Larry Summers and all his works; in general the Clinton retreads in positions of influence </p> <p align="left"> 3 Put all your chips on massive conversion to an ecological economy: quality jobs and infrastructure will be the by-products. </p> <p> <a name="19" title="19"></a><strong>Arthur Ituassu, <em>Pontifícia Universidade Católica</em>, Rio de Janeiro</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 Barack Obama&#39;s arrival in the White House reflects the exhaustion and failure of a long conservative-nationalist current in the United States, and the emergence of a potential political realignment which could shape a new, liberal political framework of national and international harmony. I hope for the success of this project </p> <p align="left"> 2 The project&#39;s failure could create great dangers, such as a vacuum of power and ideas in the United States that could be filled by extremism and violence. In that event, the scenario might resemble Paul Kennedy&#39;s vision of a great power struggling hard against its own decline. The US is a political machine of ideas; without them the country perishes </p> <p align="left"> 3 The project I have outlined will require strong doses of political creativity and open-mindedness. History offers only some hints here: the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead make necessary - most of all, it might be said - a new political language. In the face of international terrorism, globalisation, disease, inequality, environmental problems and economic crisis - how can politics be an instrument for a political community to live in peace, freedom, and solidarity? </p> <p align="left"> <a name="20" title="20"></a><strong>Noriko Hama, Doshisha Business School, Japan</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That with the coming of Barack Obama, America will finally enter the 21st century and begin to realise that - despite what Thomas Friedman says - the world is in fact round. There are actually people living out there beyond America&#39;s immediate horizons </p> <p> 2 That the coming of Obama makes America regain confidence in the wrong way. People suffering from self-disillusionment can be quite perceptive </p> <div align="left"> <p> 3 That Obama remains true to his acceptance-speech declaration that he would be &quot;always honest with you&quot;. Honesty is always the best policy. </p> <p> <a name="21" title="21"></a><strong>Michael Edwards, Demos, New York</strong><br /> <br /> 1 Clean, open, positive and powerful government in the public interest </p> <p align="left"> 2 Too much calculation of the potential damage that might be done to cross-party cooperation by strong action on key but contested issues like Israel-Palestine, gay rights and corporate regulation </p> <p align="left"> 3 Remember the real meaning of Martin Luther King&#39;s &quot;beloved community&quot; - the complete transformation of society and its structures - not the anaemic version of &quot;more volunteering and community service&quot;. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="22" title="22"></a><strong>Antara Dev Sen, <em>The Little Magazine</em>, Delhi</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That ethics would play as great a role as self-interest in Barack Obama&#39;s foreign policy, and that he would focus on ushering in peace in the middle east and south Asia </p> <p align="left"> 2 That in troubled south Asia he would make matters worse for India by trying to &quot;solve&quot; the Kashmir problem while indulging Pakistan to wean it away from the partnership of terror it has with Afghanistan </p> <p align="left"> 3 For global security the United States would need to address deeper issues than just the frontline of terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A real - even if gradual - change in foreign policy is necessary. Also, do recognise that &quot;solving&quot; the Kashmir dispute will not end Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It would be great to see from the Yes We Can Man a genuine, principled attempt to normalise relations with Iran, be constructively even-handed in the middle east and help make Pakistan and Afghanistan accountable, responsible democracies. </p> </div> <p align="left"> <a name="23" title="23"></a><strong>Ivan Briscoe, <em>Fundacion para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior</em>, Madrid</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That a full and free public-health system is created that will include all 50 million uninsured Americans, and illegal immigrants too. Treating all citizens as equal bearers of the right to exist is a more potent and deeper reform to foreign policy than any shuffle in the state department </p> <p align="left"> 2 That a Blackberry-crazed president, in the middle of an unceasing flow of business-closures and bank-collapses, with 100,000 troops camped around the Khyber pass and a Mexican narco strike-force in charge of Arizona, decides that it is time to keep everyone happy by printing lots of dollars </p> <p> 3 Every shift in paradigm (from the war on terror, &quot;read my lips&quot; tax policy, the war on drugs, or carefree support for Israel), before it is greeted as inevitable, will be treated as despicable. In short: the best speech to a lobby banquet is the one followed by a long silence. </p> <p align="left"> <a name="24" title="24"></a><strong>Dejan Djokic, Goldsmiths College, London</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That, following years of disastrous attempts to dominate the world, the US under President Obama does not head towards a &quot;splendid isolation&quot; </p> <p align="left"> 2 That it does. But, in today&#39;s world of climate change, credit-crunch, the middle-east conflict, the gas crisis, and political tensions throughout the world - I fear more than one thing </p> <p align="left"> 3 Throw away your Democratic predecessor&#39;s reading-list on the Balkans (and your immediate predecessor&#39;s, presuming he had one). I&#39;d be happy to supply a new one! </p> <p align="left"> <a name="25" title="25"></a><strong>Michele Wucker, World Policy Institute</strong> </p> <p align="left"> 1 That President Obama will usher in a new era of United States leadership that recognises and empowers other nations as stakeholders in the common pursuit of solutions to shared global challenges </p> <p align="left"> 2 That high expectations will overwhelm the need for patience, persistence and forbearance </p> <p align="left"> 3 Keep long-term goals in sight, while finding approaches to immediate and urgent problems that can strengthen the likelihood of successful global collaboration being able to surmount future challenges in our interdependent world. </p> <a name="26" title="26"></a> <p> <strong>Ramin Jahanbegloo, University of Toronto</strong> </p> <p> 1 Perhaps never in the past thirty years have the hopes of so many people for positive change in international relations rested on one administration or even one person as they do on Barack Obama. My hopes are for a kind of political leadership that would overcome intolerances, prejudices and inequalities around the world, and help all nations to struggle and to preserve ideals of democracy and peace. The results will include peace in the middle east; the effective closedown of the Guantánamo detention facility; an overall economic recovery; and a new image of America in the world </p> <p> 2 That the huge expectations invested in Obama by African-Americans and many marginalised members of American society, who see him as a new Martin Luther King Jr, will lead to bitter disappointment. But my greatest fear is that he might lack that historical feel which world leadership, to be persuasive and bring non-violent reforms, absolutely requires </p> <p> 3 If the Obama administration wants to address concretely the problems of the middle east, it has no other choice but to engage adequately and non-violently in a constructive dialogue with Iran, Syria and the Palestinians; remove troops from Iraq and Afghanistan; and try to overcome the real obstacles in the path toward peace, stability and prosperity in the region. Thus if I were an advisor to President Obama, I would suggest to him to be and to act as a man of dialogue with an open mind and a spirit of tolerance. </p> <a name="27" title="27"></a> <p> <strong>Camilla Toulmin, International Institute for Environment &amp; Development</strong> </p> <p> 1 See 2 </p> <p> 2 See 3 </p> <p> 3 Be clear. Please use your powerful skills to communicate ideas, values, and beliefs to help people understand that we <em>can</em> change ourselves and the world. </p> <p> Be bold. Deeds speak louder than words. Europe&#39;s current leaders are strong on declamatory power but weak on action. But they&#39;ll follow a strong lead from you - so show them what can be done. </p> <p> Be a listener. Most of all to James Hansen, the Nasa scientist and climate expert who understands that climate change is <em>the</em> big one. An agreement on an ambitious, robust and fair global deal in 2009 has to be the top priority. This is not just an &quot;environmental&quot; priority - it is vital to our very survival. We must have a sustainable, healthy ecosystem if we are to support the banks and businesses that help produce our daily bread. There is no bailout for the planet! </p> <a name="28" title="28"></a> <p> <strong>James Crabtree, <em>Prospect</em></strong> </p> <p> 1  That his eight years in office are competent, sometimes inspiring, uncorrupted, and brave; that in this case, all political careers don&#39;t end in failure </p> <p> 2 The arc of most progressive leaders is a lesson in how quickly these moments of hope can be lost. To expect Barack Obama to continue the pattern is simply reasonable - either because he himself fails, or because he is torn down. The number-one job of the political right now is to make Obama a &quot;normal&quot; politician - in the pit, as grubby as the rest. They will surely succeed, though what is key is the extent to which Obama can in the process preserve what is original about him </p> <p> 3 Get some rest. </p> <p> <a name="30" title="30"></a><strong>Todd Gitlin, Columbia University</strong> </p> <p> 1 That there is tough-minded intervention in the middle east, heading toward a regional deal (not a West Bank one strictly) policed by many countries and/or agencies, including two states in Israel/Palestine and the shut-down of the West Bank colonisation. (You didn&#39;t ask what I expect, only what I hope) </p> <p> 2 That Obama&#39;s caution instinct will outrun his transformative instinct </p> <p> 3 Use your vast mobilisation network, the millions who worked for you in the campaign, to lean on waffling Democrats and would-be centrist Republicans (those that remain). </p> <p> <a name="31" title="31"></a><strong>Sergio Aguayo, <em>Colegio de Mexico</em></strong> </p> <p> 1 That one of the sources of Barack Obama&#39;s appeal becomes a norm: that a man of his background has been able to symbolise the spirit of rationalism, which since the French revolution is the main legitimator of public life. He is so well regarded in Mexico in part because he reminds people of Benito Juárez, the (Zapotec) Indian president who resisted the French invasion of Mexico in the 19th century </p> <p> 2 What is at stake is the impact that individuals can have in history. Will Obama tame the powers that be, or will he be defeated like so many others? That is the question that is haunting the world </p> <p> 3 Never forget the slums of Chicago. </p> <p> <a name="32" title="32"></a><strong>Carne Ross, Independent Diplomat</strong> </p> <p> 1  That the United States pays more heed to local realities, and less to abstractions whether neo-conservative or liberal </p> <p> 2 That neocon blinkers will be replaced by liberal ones </p> <p> 3 Do the right thing in Western Sahara, forgotten till today and where only the US can make a difference: by at last pressuring Morocco to allow self-determination and free the Saharawi people. </p> <p> &#160; </p> <a name="33" title="33"></a> <p> <span style="font-weight: bold" class="Apple-style-span">Bissane El-Cheikh, journalist, Lebanon</span> </p> <p align="left"> 1 I hope that President Obama would implement in acts and deeds his promise of change. I hope that he and his administration would show enough wisdom to admit that this dream/promise means, in my part of the world, investing more in peace rather than war; and that it can only be achieved through a fair and viable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict </p> <p align="left"> 2 I fear the new young and dynamic president might drift apart from his dream, and become another &quot;Washingtonian&quot; carried away by the rules of the establishment </p> <p align="left"> 3 My advice for you, Mr President, is: do not make Israel your exclusive friend in the region. You can win hearts and minds by showing more pragmatism, fairness and equality in your foreign policy. You can be Israel&#39;s ally, but don&#39;t be its advocate. The rest of us have dreams too... </p> visions & reflections Globalisation american power & the world democracy & power openUSA David Hayes Creative Commons normal email Wed, 21 Jan 2009 11:31:58 +0000 David Hayes 47172 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Barack Obama’s triple test https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test <p> The new United States president faces challenges in almost every area of the world. The most urgent and unavoidable are Palestine-Israel, Iran, and Pakistan-Afghanistan. </p> <p> First, a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel must become Barack Obama&#39;s top foreign-policy priority. The longer the Palestinians remain a displaced people, the more dangerous the world becomes. Over time, Palestine has acquired the status of a <em>cause celebre</em> for political Islam and a <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/4239178/Osama-bin-Laden-tape-calls-for-jihad-against-Israel.html">symbol</a> of America siding with the powerful against the weak. Unless the Palestinians are seen to get a modicum of justice, the entire middle east is doomed to eternal cycles of violence and destruction. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new"> Pervez Hoodbhoy is <strong><a href="http://www.sasnet.lu.se/islamabad2.html">professor</a></strong> of nuclear and high-energy physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan<br /> <br /> Also by Pervez Hoodbhoy on <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<strong><a href="/conflict-globaljustice/article_81.jsp">Bizarre new world</a></strong>&quot; (17 September 2001)<br /> <br /> &quot;<strong><a href="/conflict-911/article_243.jsp">Were we hijacked on 9/11?</a></strong>&quot; (10 September 2002)<br /> <br /> &quot;<strong><a href="/conflict-iraqwarafter/article_1767.jsp">Pakistan: inside the nuclear closet</a></strong>&quot; (3 March 2004)<br /> <br /> &quot;<strong><a href="/globalization-institutions_government/nuclear_complex_3276.jsp">The nuclear complex: America, the bomb, and Osama bin Laden</a></strong>&quot; (16 February 2006) - with Zia Mian</span>The fact that there is bitter rivalry between the two main Palestinian movements, Hamas and Fatah, makes the problem ever harder to solve. But as long as the issue of <a href="http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?SKU=0308">statehood</a> is unresolved and conflict continues, the more Muslim anger over Palestine will mutate into new and still less predictable forms. I estimate that the crushed body of every dead Palestinian <a href="http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=82250">child</a> in Gaza, flashed on TV screens across the world, costs the United States about $100 million in terms of the protection it must buy to defend itself against retributive Islamist terrorism. </p> <p> Second, the US must talk to Iran. As Iran gets closer to making a <a href="http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/index.shtml">nuclear</a> weapon, there is a danger that a war of words between Washington and Tehran could trigger a real war is real. The choice as US secretary of state of Hillary Clinton, who made <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/wtMostRead/idUSN2224332720080422">hawkish</a> statements about Iran during the election campaign (<a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91150432">echoed</a> in part by Obama himself) on balance increases the danger. </p> <p> Iran&#39;s quest for nukes is dangerous and condemnable, and sanctions are quite justifiable in my opinion. But the United States lacks a moral argument for war, because of its own nuclear stance and in light of the fact that it <a href="/democracy-irandemocracy/nuclear_research_3911.jsp">provided</a> Iran with the country&#39;s initial nuclear capability during the Shah&#39;s rule. Moreover, the US has to various degrees rewarded several countries that have made nukes surreptiously: Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Before and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/us/politics/12iran.html">after</a> more hardline statements on the campaign trail, Obama has offered to negotiate with Iran: a good proposal that he should carry through. </p> <p> After all, nothing has been gained by rejecting Iran&#39;s numerous overtures, from the comprehensive approach <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/17/AR2006061700727.html">suggested</a> by Tehran in 2003 to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad&#39;s letter to President George W Bush in 2006. North Korea&#39;s <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/pyongyang_3981.jsp">nuclear test</a> in October 2006 also showed that US refusals to hold one-on-one talks only reinforced the problem. By contrast, nuclear negotiations in exchange for oil have partially succeeded in halting the North Korean nuclear developments. </p> <p> Third, the US must take seriously the impact of &quot;collateral damage&quot; on civilian populations as it pursues the war against Islamists. </p> <p> Since I am deeply fearful of Taliban <a href="/article/the-neo-taliban-a-year-on">successes</a> in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I have mixed feelings about Obama&#39;s planned &quot;surge&quot; in Afghanistan. But heavy use of airpower has led to large numbers of non-combatant <a href="http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/09/07/afghanistan-civilian-deaths-airstrikes">casualties</a>. Often the coalition forces refuse to acknowledge such deaths; when confronted with incontrovertible evidence, they apologise and issue miserably small compensation. This <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hvWEqwq3CrRvaQCmt21MfoYhjZJQD95REMRG0">approach</a> swells the Taliban&#39;s ranks. If there is to be any chance of containing the Taliban <a href="http://www.chowk.com/articles/14308">menace</a>, the coalition forces must set zero innocent civilian casualties as their goal. </p> <p> In relation to the larger global environment, America needs an attitudinal change. It must repudiate grand imperial designs as well as its exceptionalism. The notion of total planetary control through &quot;full-spectrum dominance&quot; guided the previous Republican administration well <a href="http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=45289">before</a> 9/11. The Democrats, many of whom later turned against the Iraq war, limit their criticisms to the strategy and conduct of the war, the lies and disinformation dispensed by the White House, suspicious deals with defence contractors - rather than its very conception and underlying attitudes (see Paul Rogers, &quot;<a href="/conflict/battlefield_3251.jsp">The world as a battlefield</a>&quot;, 9 February 2006). </p> <p> Barack Obama must convince Americans of the need to obey international laws and etiquette, that they do not have some divine <a href="/node/2081">mission</a> to fulfil and that its sinking economy cannot afford such fantasies now or in the future. </p> <p> The lengthy political transition in the United States is over. The perils facing the new president are clear. He will <a href="http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/SE%2BAsia/Story/STIStory_329008.html">need</a> much more than rhetoric to meet them. </p> Conflict conflicts middle east india/pakistan american power & the world openUSA Pervez Hoodbhoy Creative Commons normal email Wed, 21 Jan 2009 10:40:35 +0000 Pervez Hoodbhoy 47184 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Paine's crisis and Obama's https://www.opendemocracy.net/blog/ourkingdom-theme/tom-griffin/2009/01/20/paines-crisis-and-obamas <p> <strong>Tom Griffin (London, <a href="/ourkingdom">OK</a>):</strong> In his <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/obama_inauguration/7840646.stm">inaugural address</a>, America&#39;s new president turns to England&#39;s greatest republican: </p> <blockquote> <p> So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. In the year of America&#39;s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: </p> <p> &quot;Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].&quot; </p> </blockquote> <p> The reference is to <a href="http://www.ushistory.org/Paine/crisis/c-01.htm">Tom Paine&#39;s Crisis No 1</a>, which George Washington ordered read to his men in December 1776 before crossing the Delaware to attack George III&#39;s Hessian mercenaries, in a crucial turning point in the American revolutionary war.<!--break--> </p> <p> <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/399465/a_historic_turning_point">The Nation</a>&#39;s John Nichols notes that Obama frequently invokes Paine, and suggests he is a singularly appropriate choice: </p> <blockquote> <p> When the Pennsylvania Assembly considered the formal abolition of slavery in 1779, it was Paine who authored the preamble to the proposal. </p> <p> Paine&#39;s fervent objections to slavery led to his exclusion from the inner circles of American power in the first years of the republic. He died a pauper. Only history restored the man--and his vision. </p> <p> And on this day, this remarkable day, Thomas Paine is fully redeemed. </p> <p> Paine, to a greater extent than any of his peers, was the founder who imagined a truly United States that might offer a son of Africa and of America not merely citizenship but its presidency. </p> </blockquote> <p> Nichols concludes: </p> <blockquote> <p> When our new president says that his election proves &quot;the dream of our founders is alive in our time,&quot; it is Paine&#39;s dream of which he speaks. </p> <p> That dream may not be fully realized. But it is alive--more, indeed, today than at any time in the history of a land that might yet begin our world over again. </p> </blockquote> <p> One can only hope that <a href="http://www.ushistory.org/paine/rights/index.htm">Paine&#39;s vision for England</a> is also alive, and that he will not remain forever a prophet without honour in his own country. </p> uk uk openUSA USA Tom Griffin OurKingdom email Tue, 20 Jan 2009 19:04:51 +0000 Tom Griffin 47181 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What will Obama do with Churchill's bust? https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/what-will-obama-do-with-churchills-bust <p> <em>The task of redecorating the Oval Office includes remembering and re-imagining trans-Atlantic relations</em> </p> <p> One of the first jobs of an American president is to redecorate the Oval Office. Each new president is expected to update the furniture, replace the carpet, repaint the walls and woodwork as well as add some new paintings. There are also the sculptures, usually three or four. So when he moves in today, President Barack Obama will have to decide what to do with a bronze bust of Winston Churchill. </p> <p> The bust is on loan from the British government and was installed by his predecessor, President George W Bush in 2001. Bush explains it in an official White House tour <u><a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/flv.v.html">video</a></u> [my transcript]: &quot;my friend the prime minister of Great Britain heard me say that I greatly admired Winston Churchill and so he saw to it that the government loaned me this and I am most honored to have this Jacob Epstein bust of Winston Churchill. I like Churchill because he was a great war leader. He was resolute, he was tough, he knew what he believed, and he had a fabulous sense of humor. And in this job, believe me, you&#39;ve gotta have a sense of humor. Otherwise it makes for the days awfully long and for the nights awfully short.&quot; (Predictably, the video inspired a <u><a href="http://aol.com/">spoof.</a></u>) </p> <p> Officially, Her Majesty&#39;s government loaned the bust to Bush for the duration of his term. At the end of this month, the bust can therefore go back to the Government Art Collection on Cockspur Street. But there is little to prevent Obama from retaining the sculpture, just like there was little that prevented him from retaining Bush&#39;s Defense Secretary and several other &quot;holdover&quot; officials. </p> <p> Downing Street, always ready to cultivate Britain&#39;s &quot;special relationship&quot; with America, would probably happily extend the loan to another four to eight years. After all, no figure in the world better symbolizes the &quot;special relationship&quot; than Churchill. In his last Lord Mayor&#39;s Banquet Speech, Prime Minister Gordon Brown explained it yet <u><a href="http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page17419">again:</a></u> &quot;Winston Churchill described the joint inheritance of Britain and America as not just a shared history but a shared belief in the great principles of freedom, and the rights of man - of what Barack Obama described in his election night speech as the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.&quot; </p> <p> Will Obama keep his Churchill? Obama&#39;s speech writers would certainly appreciate it. In the United States, the signifier &quot;Churchill&quot; is as positively evaluated as &quot;Obama&quot; in the United Kingdom right now. As <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE2D6163AF937A15755C0A966958260&amp;sec=&amp;spon=&amp;pagewanted=2">Christopher Hitchens</a> observes, in America, Churchill &quot;occupies an unrivaled place in the common stock of reference, ranging from the mock-heroic to the downright kitsch.&quot; The man voted the Greatest Briton in a 2002, argues Hitchens, &quot;can be quoted even more safely than Lincoln in that he was never a member of any American faction.&quot; </p> <p> Good politics is not the only reason for Obama to retain the bust. Last year, the New England Historic Genealogical Society discovered that Obama is in fact related to Churchill. (The researchers also found that Obama is a ninth cousin of Brad Pitt and a distant relative to five former U.S. presidents, including George W Bush.) So why not keep a bust of a distant family member which happens to be a great war leader that most Americans love? </p> <p> As it is often the case, family history cuts both ways. In Kenya, the land of Obama&#39;s father, the signifier &quot;Churchill&quot; carries nothing but negative connotations. Several times in his long political career, Churchill was responsible for Britain&#39;s empire, which until 1963 included Kenya. It was his government which in 1952 declared the so-called Kenya Emergency - an attempt to quash a rebellion against colonial rule known as Mau Mau. For the next eight years, suspected rebels were routinely detained, tortured, hanged and shot. According to <a href="http://www.metacritic.com/books/authors/elkinscaroline/imperialreckoning">Caroline Elkins</a>, the colonial soldiers killed between fifteen and twenty thousand Kenyans in combat, while up to one hundred thousand perished in the detention camps. One of those who endured torture in a British prison was Hussein Onyango Obama, US president&#39;s Kenyan grandfather. Traces of this story can be found in Obama&#39;s memoir <em>Dreams from my Father</em> as well as in a few interviews; much more is sure to come. For now, it behooves us to remember it when Obama sends his Churchill packing. The time for the Anglo-American &quot;special relationship&quot; to move beyond Churchill is long overdue. </p> <p> <em>Srdjan Vucetic is Dillard Fellow in International Studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge</em>  </p> american power & the world north america openUSA Srdjan Vucetic Creative Commons normal email Tue, 20 Jan 2009 16:36:22 +0000 Srdjan Vucetic 47178 at https://www.opendemocracy.net