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Education Yes, but Young Workers Need Jobs Now

Left Margin

Education Yes, but Young Workers Need Jobs Now

By Carl Bloice – BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
April 25, 2013

http://www.blackcommentator.com/514/514_lm_young_workers_need_jobs.php

I was a wee lad when I first was told that figures can lie and liars can figure. It was a caution to be careful when looking at numbers. What brought that to mind the other day was a commentary “Why the US is Looking to Germany for Answers,” by Financial Times U.S. Correspondent, Edward Luce. Not that Luce is in any way untruthful; he’s one of the most insightful and clear-headed major media observers of the political economy of the United States today. But it was the blown up quote on the piece that caught my attention: “Siemens recently had 2,000 applications for 50 vacancies in North Carolina. Only 10 per cent passed the aptitude test.” That means that 200 qualified workers showed up to try out for 50 jobs. Luce didn’t speculate on how many unqualified applicants would have turned out if the Siemens opening had been in Stuttgart but that 1,800 people without the stipulated qualifications thought they might land work at the plant is an illustration of how desperate workers are in North Carolina where over 400,000 people are out of work and the February jobless rate was 9.4 percent. The same figure goes for the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metro area where Siemens has a plant and is looking for engineers. At the beginning of the year, the jobless rate for African American in the state stood at 17.3 percent.

“Not only did the state produce insufficient new jobs to bring down the overall unemployment rate, but the industries experiencing the best growth in an otherwise stagnant labor market are those industries that pay lower than average wages,” said Allan Freyer, public policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

In February, the North Carolina state legislature reduced the maximum weekly jobless relief check from $530 to $350 and set the duration of benefits from 73 weeks to between 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate. As a result of the action, an estimated 170,000 workers in the state will be denied Federal emergency unemployment compensation, which is intended to aid the jobless when their state benefits have been exhausted. “Hundreds of thousands of jobless workers thrown out of work through no fault of their own will face deepening poverty as a result of this decision,” said the Justice Center.

The situation in North Carolina is replicated in various parts of the country – particularly in the South – and Luce’s observation about it illustrates the seriously inadequate response to the unemployment crisis and confusion about what has caused it.

Luce maintains that, “the US is underskilled” and “US employers insist the shortage of skilled labor is a growing problem” and “with the US participation rate continuing to plummet – last month another 496,000 Americans gave up looking for work – many US politicians are scouring Germany for answers.”

Luce noted that, “Germany channels roughly half of all high-school students into the vocational education stream from the age of 16. In the US that would be seen as too divisive, even un-American. More than 40 per cent of Germans become apprentices. Only 0.3 per cent of the US labor force does so.” What he doesn’t say is that apprenticeships are not unknown in the U.S. but their availability has greatly declined over the years. Apprenticeship job training has largely been replaced with limited on-the-job training, vocational classes, or community college courses based on paid tuition.

And, one has only to look at joblessness in the construction trades, where such programs do exist, to see that lacking skills is not the primary reason why so many men and women are out of work.

New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, weighed in on the issue last Sunday also citing the described dearth of skilled workers in North Carolina and noted that “Today states are slashing budgets for community colleges, just when every good job requires more skill.”

Luce reports that in North Carolina, Siemens is training six high school dropouts to be “robot supervisors” at a cost of $165,000 each. He is perhaps correct that the idea of channeling 40 percent of young people into apprenticeships wouldn’t go over that well here. I’m not so sure. But I can say with certainty that there are a lot of jobless kids in my neighborhood who would welcome the opportunity to learn “mechatronics,” a mixture of mechanical engineering and computer science. Especially if there are jobs waiting for them when they finish the course.

Of course nobody in a position to do so is proposing spending money on an apprenticeship program that would engage jobless youth in Cleveland, Detroit or Los Angeles; not the White House, not anyone in Congress.

But we are confronted with a much bigger problem than a lack of skills. Right now there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.

The Great Recession, and what has followed, “decimated job prospects and earnings for young workers,” a new Economic Policy Institute (EPI) briefing paper shows. In “The Class of 2013 young graduates still face dim job prospects,” found researchers Heidi Shierholz, Natalie Sabadish and Nicholas Finio. “For the fifth consecutive year, new graduates will enter a profoundly weak labor market and will face high unemployment and underemployment rates and depressed wages.”

“Because young workers always experience disproportionate increases in unemployment during downturns, young workers have confronted particularly high unemployment rates since the end of the Great Recession,” reads the paper released April 10. “For young high school graduates, the unemployment rate is 29.9 percent, compared with 17.5 percent in 2007, and the underemployment rate is 51.5 percent, compared with 29.4 percent in 2007. For college graduates, the unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, compared with 5.7 percent in 2007, and the underemployment rate is 18.3 percent, compared with 9.9 percent in 2007.”

“Young workers have also seen their wages decline,” says the EPI. “Between 2007 and 2012, the wages of young high school graduates dropped 11.7 percent, and the wages of young college graduates dropped 7.6 percent. However, the wages of young graduates fared poorly even before the Great Recession began, as most groups of young workers also saw wage declines between 2000 and 2007. In all, between 2000 and 2012, the wages of young high school graduates declined 12.7 percent, and the wages of young college graduates decreased 8.5 percent. For full-time, full-year workers, this represents a roughly $2,900 decline in annual earnings for young high school graduates and a roughly $3,200 decline for young college graduates.”

“While attaining additional educational is often identified as a possible option for young people during periods of high unemployment, there is no evidence of young workers ‘sheltering in school’,” the EPI report says. “Since the start of the Great Recession, college and university enrollment rates have not meaningfully departed from their long-term trend for either men or women. In fact, though some students have had the financial resources to take shelter in school, the lack of substantial increase in enrollment suggests this group has been offset by students who have been forced to drop out of school, or never enter, because a lack of work meant they could not afford to attend.”

“Through no fault of their own, these young graduates are likely to fare poorly for at least the next decade through reduced earnings, greater earnings instability and more spells of unemployment,” said Shierholz. “Instead of focusing on deficit reduction, policymakers should be passing policies that will generate demand for U.S. goods and services, and therefore demand for workers who provide them. This is the key to giving young graduates entering today’s labor market a fighting chance.”

A succinct and clarifying look at the relationship between unemployment was proven last week by Sherry Linkon, co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University. In “Is Education the Answer to Economic Inequality?” she wrote:
“One of the most common solutions offered to reverse America’s growing economic inequality is increased access to education. President Obama may have started the trend with his call for universal, high-quality preschool, but others have joined the fray. In March, Ronald Brownstein argued in National Journal that ‘Education remains critical to reversing the erosion in upward mobility that has made it harder for kids born near the bottom to reach the top in the United States than in many European nations’.”

Linkon went on to cite commentary on how “colleges and universities are failing to make those opportunities available, because higher education has become too expensive and doesn’t do enough to help lower-income students succeed.”

“On the basis of justice, we should be outraged,” wrote Linkon April 15, adding that, “We should join the thousands of college students who have organized protests against cuts to public education. And those of us who are educators should heed Mike Rose’s prescription for addressing the needs of working-class students: ‘If we want more students to succeed in college, then colleges have to turn full attention to teaching’.”

“Still, the idea that more or better college education will ‘solve’ the problem of economic inequality is just silly,” wrote Linkon. “While a college education still provides economic advantages, increasing lifetime income, achieving that benefit is harder than it used to be. These days, getting a college degree doesn’t guarantee better middle-class job prospects, but it does often bring a lifetime of debt. Unemployment rates for recent graduates remain high – 53 percent according to The Atlantic a year ago, and many have taken low-wage, hourly jobs that don’t require a college degree. Meanwhile, student loan debt has increased to an average of $26,600. For too many, higher education has become a trap door rather than an elevator.”

“I’m not suggesting that education isn’t worthwhile,” wrote Linkon. “Far from it. A good education brings many advantages, only some of which have to do with employment or income. Martha Nussbaum is just one of many scholars arguing that education has value for society. But education simply won’t address the root causes of today’s economic inequality.

“First, while state legislatures and business organizations pressure public universities to focus on preparing students for jobs in specific fields, like health care or fracking, the widely-touted ‘skills gap’ turns out to be a myth. The American economy is not being stymied by a lack of appropriately trained workers. Wharton School management professor, Peter Cappelli, suggests that we should ‘Blame It on the Employer.’ He suggests that employers ask themselves a few key questions starting with this zinger: ‘Have you tried raising wages? If you could get what you want by paying more, the problem is just that you are cheap’.”

Linkon concludes that “even when we talk about increasing access or establishing ‘universal’ programs, education addresses the individual, not the system.”

“Even at its best, education helps some working-class young people prepare to move into the middle class, an outcome that might improve the economic opportunities of those individuals but doesn’t address the broader economic structure,” wrote Linkon. “A thousand well-trained nurses might earn a decent living, but they will work alongside aides, janitors, and clerical workers who don’t. Simply put, moving some people into better paying jobs doesn’t eliminate the low-wage jobs they left behind.”

“Moreover, we should expect to see more low-wage jobs over time, not fewer, and education won’t change that.”

“If we want to improve the lives of low-wage workers and their families, we need public policies that will create more jobs, increase wages … and protect people from the financial ravages that often accompany illness, natural disasters, and other devastating and expensive events,” continued Linkon. “But how likely do you think it is that our state or federal legislators will create such policies?”

In a new report for Demos, “Stuck: Young America’s Persistent Jobs Crisis,” authors Catherine Ruetschlin and Tamara Draut examine the state of the youth employment today and find that while the overall economy is showing signs of improvement, young workers are still in a state of crisis. In an article described and made available on AFL-CIO Now April 15, they warn that if policy isn’t changed to address the challenges young people face, “we risk a generation marked by the insecurities of the Great Recession for the rest of their working lives.”

“The only possibilities for change lie in activism and organizing,” wrote Linkon. “And what does it take to foster resistance and build solidarity? As our labor studies colleagues might remind us, learning about economic, political, and social processes as well as the history of activism, theories of class, and narratives of oppression and resistance can prepare people to articulate and advocate for their own interests and for the common good.”
____________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.


Double Whammy – A Grim Jobs Picture & a Horrible “Grand Bargain” Move

By Carl Bloice – BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
April 11, 2013

http://www.blackcommentator.com/512/512_lm_double_whammy.php

What unfolded in the corridors of power in the
nation’s capital last week portends a serious blow to
the interest of country’s working people and it came
hard from two directions.

“First, a terrible jobs report, then a Democratic
President offers a budget that proposes cuts to
Social Security and Medicare,” wrote Dave Johnson
of the Campaign for America’s Future. “The only
thing on the public’s mind is that we need jobs –
and the President comes out with a plan to cut
Social Security and Medicare. Is he telling the public
that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are
necessary to restore the economy and fix the jobs
crisis? Because whatever the administration thinks
it is doing, that is what the public will hear.”

What they actually heard was Austerity 2013 – U.S.
style. President Obama’s offering up a cut in Social
Security (make no mistake, that’s what it is)
contravenes promises he has previously made about
not undermining the program and a recent flat out
pledge by Vice-President Joe Biden that it would not
happen.

One unnamed “senior administration official” told a
briefing last week, “The president has made clear
that he is willing to compromise and do tough
things to reduce the deficit, but only in the context
of a package like this one that has balance and
includes revenues from the wealthiest Americans
and that is designed to promote economic growth.
That means that the things like CPI that Republican
leaders have pushed hard for will only be accepted if
congressional Republicans are willing to do more on
revenues. This isn’t about political horse-trading;
it’s about reducing the deficit in a balanced way that
economists say is best for the economy and job
creation. That’s why the president’s offer – which
will be reflected in his budget – isn’t a menu of
options for them to choose from; it’s a cohesive
package that reflects the kind of compromise we
should be able to reach.”

Not “political horse-trading”? You could have fooled
me. No one even maintains that the “chained CPI,”
is going to reduce the federal budget deficit. It’s a
chit the President has put on the negotiating table.

It’s irritating when political pundits come up, as
Josh Voorhees did the other day at Slatest.com, with
various versions of: “Most notably, that means
significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and
fewer tax hikes than he’d like – neither of which will
please the left.” Why? Because the “grand bargain”
being concocted in Washington is not between the
right and the left, or between the Republicans and
the Democrats. It’s between big business (capital)
and labor. The losers in this case will be the elderly,
orphans, veterans and people with disabilities.
Slightly higher taxes on the well-to-do will send not
one of them to their local food bank.

“Look, this is compromise,” White House senior
adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, said last Sunday. “And
compromise means there are going to be some folks
on both sides who are not happy.” “Yes, legislative
deals require compromise,” economist Robert Reich
wrote on his blog last month. “But why is it that
deals over economic policy almost always
compromise away what a majority of Americans
want?”

This is not “everybody doing his part,” as Gene
Sperling, assistant to the President for economic
policy told the nation the other day. It’s political
horse-trading with the welfare of the elderly,
orphans, veterans and people with disabilities on
the table.

“While cutting Social Security makes no sense at all
in terms of economics or public policy, it makes
excellent sense in terms of the selfish class interests
of the super-rich,” wrote Michael Lind in Salon.com
April 5. “They have extracted about half the gains
from economic growth in the U.S. in the last half-
century and recycle some of their profits to fund
politicians, and lobbyists, as well as mercenary
propagandists who pose as neutral think tank
experts.”

“This morning’s jobs report was a big negative
surprise and underscored the fact that a robust jobs
recovery, even now, has not yet solidified,” observed
Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz
April 5. “The job growth of 88,000 in March was far
lower than the 2012 average increase of 183,000. It
is important to keep in mind that the month-to-
month numbers can be volatile, however; in this
case the first quarter average growth rate is likely a
better measure of the underlying trend. But at
168,000 per month, the average growth rate of the
first quarter is not even close to what we need – at
that rate we would not get back to the pre-recession
unemployment rate until late 2019.”

“The unemployment rate ticked down to 7.6 percent
in March, but not for good reasons,” continued
Shierholz. “The decline is due to people dropping
out of the labor force, not an increase in the share of
the working-age population with jobs. In fact, the
labor force participation dropped to its lowest point
of the downturn, 63.3 percent. What’s more, the
weak labor force participation is not due to
demographic factors like retiring baby boomers; the
labor force participation rate of the `prime-age’
population, people age 25-54, is also at its lowest
point of the downturn, 81.1 percent. It’s the lack of
job opportunities – the lack of demand for workers –
that is keeping these workers from working or
seeking work, not other factors.”

African-American unemployment slipped from 13.8
to 13.3 percent in March and black teen joblessness
fell from 43.1 to 33.8 percent. How much of that is
the result of black people finding sought after jobs
was not immediately clear. However, the labor
participation rate for African Americans as a whole
remained about the same over the month.

“What’s most concerning about these trends is the
prolonged double-digit rates of unemployment for
African American, Latino and less-educated
workers,” Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy
and Research at Demos and author of Strapped:
Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get
Ahead , recently observed. “While much attention
has been paid to the challenges facing indebted
college graduates who are now much more likely to
be working in jobs that don’t require a college
degree, the deep and persistent high levels of
joblessness and under-employment among young
people without four-year degrees (the majority of the
generation) is a silent crisis facing our nation. And it
demands a robust and national response.”

Regarding the March jobs numbers, Congressional
Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge said, “The African
American unemployment rate fell .5 percent to 13.3
percent, the most it has fallen in six months.
However, that number remains at nearly double the
national rate with 2.4 million African Americans still
out of work.”

“While the private sector has steadily added jobs for
37 months, the public sector, where many African
Americans are employed, continued to lose them.
Last month, 385,000 more requests for
unemployment benefits were made and by year’s
end, sequestration threatens to put an additional
750,000 people with full time jobs out of work,”
Fudge added.

Daniel Gross, global business editor at Newsweek’s
Daily Beast, wrote that he had found a “small
potentially optimistic note” in the latest government
employment report. A major problem, he wrote is
that while the private sector has been recently
adding jobs to the economy cutbacks in the public
sector have been “holding back the recovery in
overall employment,” having eliminated millions of
jobs “in part by firing police officers and teachers.”
Gross noted the situation with regards to public
sector jobs at the state and local levels, last month:
“The federal government cut about 14,000 positions,
with most of those coming from the postal service.”
“The non-Washington austerity hit to payrolls may
finally be coming to an end,” he continued. “That’s
the good news. The bad news? The Washington
austerity looks like it is just beginning.”

If and when the “grand bargain” being pushed by
the White House goes into effect it will make matters
even worse.

“The optimist in me sees that yet again we had
upward revisions and simply wants to believe that
these March numbers are wrong and will be revised
upward,” wrote columnist Matthew Yglesias at Slate
Moneybox. “But hope is not a plan.”

Nor does anyone seem to have one.

No, that’s not true. There’s the Congressional
Progressive Caucus budget that is far more sensible
and humane than anything the White House is
proposing. But since the “serious” people in
Washington don’t cotton to it, the serious
mainstream media won’t give it the time of day. Oh,
yes, and there’s the President’s Jobs plan, which
seems have to have evaporated into thin air.

As Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America,
said, Obama’s move is a “profoundly disturbing shot
across the bow for the progressives who called their
neighbors, spent weekends knocking doors and
donated millions to reelect [President Obama].”

“With this move, Obama gives progressives one less
reason to work for Democrats – and every American
citizen one less reason to vote for them,” Progressive
magazine editor, Matthew Rothschild, wrote last
week.

According to the AARP, its polling says 70 percent of
voters age 50-plus are opposed to the chained CPI
gambit and two-thirds of them – including 60
percent of Republicans – say they would be
“considerably less likely” to support a congressional
candidate if he or she supported it. As Solon’s Joan
Walsh reported, “On every single question,

Republicans lag only a point or two behind
Democrats in their opposition to Social Security
cuts.”

And, just in case, the Washington plotters are
banking on the “grand bargain” being upsetting only
to the elderly and people with disabilities, Derek
Pugh of Campaign for America’s Future, has an
important observation and reminder.

“Remember the catastrophe of 2010, when
millennials stayed home in large numbers,” Pugh
writes. “Polling data shows that a solid majority of
young adults (53 percent) wanted a Democrat-
controlled Congress. However, only 20.9 percent of
all eligible young people voted in the 2010
midterms. More than half of the people who voted in
2008 (51 percent) shied away from the polls. In the
months leading up to November 2014, Democrats
will have to try even harder to win the millennial
vote. Republicans are already poised to make some
headway: note the thousands of young people at the
Conservative Political Action Conference a few
weeks ago.”

“As the most diverse generation (39 percent are
people of color), millennials are more civically
engaged, progressive, open to change and tolerant
non-meddlers on social issues. Overwhelming, they
support same-sex marriage (78 percent), abortion
rights (68 percent), and immigration reform (78
percent). Democrats’ stance on social issues are the
main draw for young voters.”

“But demography isn’t destiny. It would be suicidal
for Democrats to take for granted a group that will
comprise almost a quarter of the electorate in 2014.
Progressive views on social issues are appreciated,
but are not sufficient. The number one priority of
millennials and the rising American electorate is
still economic recovery – and millennials need to see
Democrats being the champions of a recovery that
will allow them to rise.”

Last week, the very perceptive Grio managing editor
and MSBC commentator Joy-Ann Reid said the
President is probably confident that if he cuts the
proposed deal “Nancy Pelosi can deliver the votes in
the House and Harry Reid can do so in the Senate.”
Precious few of the people the two of them are
supposed to represent favor the Social Security
Medicare concessions, and they and their colleagues
ought to be reminded of that fact.

____________________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union. Other Carl Bloice writing can be
found at leftmargin.wordpress.com


Obama in Israel: A Fine Speech, an Unfortunate Change & Not Much Hope

Left Margin

Obama in Israel: A Fine Speech, an Unfortunate Change & Not Much Hope

By Carl Bloice – BC Editorial Board
Black Commentator
March 28, 2013

http://www.blackcommentator.com/510/510_lm_israel.php

Philip Stephens, the chief political commentator for the Financial Times, summed it up pretty well I think: “Barack Obama gives a fine speech,” he wrote. “He did it again in Jerusalem. Few can match the US president in wrapping intelligent understanding in the pentameters of poetry. That’s why the vaulting rhetoric so often begets disappointment. The words become a substitute for, instead of a prelude to, action.”

I don’t watch, or listen to, the President talk these days. I’ve been taken in – even moved – by his oratorical skills one too many times. I read the text the next day and try to figure out what is really being said.

“Leaders divide between those who respect the established parameters of power and politics and those who break out of them,” wrote Stephens March 24. “Mr. Obama has so far fitted the first category. For all his eloquence, this week’s trip has shown the limits of US ambition. The Middle East is burning. The president has concluded there is nothing much to be done.”

“His officials say this is unfair. The effort to repair relations with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and to reassure Israelis of America’s unbending commitment to their security was vital groundwork in the effort to restore peace talks with the Palestinians,” continued Stephens. “The task will now be picked up by John Kerry, a secretary of state, eager to navigate the minefield of Middle East diplomacy. That’s all very well, but Mr. Kerry’s good intentions are worthless if the president is not ready to take risks.”

“This was a memorable speech: Obama said things that Israelis need to hear from a US president,” Michael Cohen wrote in British daily Guardian last week. “But nothing that happened on Thursday in Jerusalem will do much to make a two-state solution more likely to be realized. More than ever, both Israelis and Palestinians need not words, but actions from a US president. It remains to be seen whether those will be forthcoming.”

“Obama posed the kinds of questions that are hardly asked aloud any more in the Israeli mainstream, swamped as it is in a steady stream of jingoistic, rightwing rhetoric, associated as it has become with people who are portrayed as loony liberals and self-hating leftists,” commented Chemi Shalev, a US correspondent for Haaretz and former Jerusalem correspondent for the New York-based Jewish weekly, The Forward. “He confronted the conventional wisdom that time is on our side and the status quo is working in our favor. He asked, blasphemy indeed, that Israelis try and look at the world through Palestinian eyes. He conducted, how ironic, the kind of values-based peace campaign which so-called centre-left parties were so afraid of in the recent election campaign, because they thought it was toxic.”

President Obama said a lot of the things that need to be said in his address to Israeli students last week. For that he is due credit. His description of the cause and aspirations of the Palestinian people was on target. The problem is that the overall effect of his latest trip to the Middle East represented a step backwards.

“Obama returns to the US today and to its problems, domestic and external,’ wrote Nahum Barnea in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “He leaves us with a wonderful speech and with the same impasse that existed before his arrival.”

Contrary to the impression carried by most of the major media of this country, the Israelis were hardly unanimous in their appreciation of the U.S. President’s remarks, certainly not the members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government.

While, Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, of the Hatnua party called Obama’s remarks “important and inspiring,” Knesset member, Miri Regev, of Netanyahu’s Likud party called Obama’s speech “offensive to Netanyahu.” “I thought Obama arrived with a greater understanding of the diplomatic process between us and the Palestinians, but I see that he hasn’t changed his stances, not about settlement construction and not about two states for two nations, and decided that the young people must influence their leaders to put public pressure on the government so it will implement [Obama’s] agenda,” she said.

Another Likud representative in the parliament, Moshe Feiglin, said Obama’ speech contained “a lot of filth.”

Economy and Trade Minister, Naftali Bennett, objected to Obama’s criticizing the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and his advocating for Palestinian statehood. “A Palestinian state is not the right way,” he said. “The time has come for new ideas and creativity to solve the Middle East conflict.”

“Anyway, a nation does not occupy its own land,” Bennett added.

Bennett will be in the New York next month at the rightwing Jerusalem Post’s annual conference, sharing billing with another occupation denier, Caroline Glick, the paper’s deputy managing editor and former assistant foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu, and U.S. hawk of hawks, former UN Ambassador John Bolton, where they will discuss “Two states for two people?”)

Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party commented: “At the end of the day we would have to absorb the tragic and destructive results of the formation of a Palestinian state. That is why the nation chose a government that does not include support for a two-state solution in its guidelines, and the U.S. president, for whom democracy in a guiding principle, must respect that.”

Settlement building “will continue in accordance with what the government’s policy has been thus far,” Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a settler and member of the Home Party, told a television audience on the eve of Obama’s arrival. He said construction would continue in the occupied West Bank “more or less as it has done previously. I see no reason to change it.”

As those statements make abundantly clear, there is anything but a consensus for a “two-state solution” in Israeli ruling circles. Stephens observed that Netanyahu “scarcely disguises his disdain for a two-state agreement” and Israeli illegal settlement expansion “is designed to create facts on the ground that forestall the Palestinian state that Mr. Obama deems essential to an enduring peace.”

As envisioned by supporters of the “two state solution” – with the backing of most of the government of the world – a new Palestinian state would come into being in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967. Today that area has been colonized by over half a million Israelis, 60,000 of them since Obama inauguration.

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank remains the crux of the problem in historic Palestine and a U.S. policy of denying its centrality only contributes to the maintenance of the status quo.

Obama “appeared to move closer to the Israeli position on Thursday regarding resumption of long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, stopping short of insisting on a halt to Israel’s settlement expansion as he had done early in his first term,” Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times March 21 “Mr. Netanyahu could take solace that Mr. Obama drew closer to his position that the Palestinians should negotiate without first extracting a halt to all settlement activity,” Landler wrote from Amman two days later.

“The promise that his secretary of state will expend time and energy to help Israelis and Palestinians to come closer together is the minimum, practically a mere courtesy,” said the German the Center-right German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Otherwise, apart from a few unresolved doubts, Obama has completely adopted Netanyahu’s course.”

As Jonathan Tobin put it in the neo-conservative U.S. journal Commentary, Obama “said that settlements were not the core issue at the heart of the conflict and that if all the other factors dividing the two sides were resolved settlements would not prevent peace. Even more importantly, he emphasized that there ought to be no preconditions placed by either side before peace negotiations could be resumed.”

Having apparently seen the light and concluded that a continuation of the status quo can lead to nothing good, New York Times columnist, Thomas Freidman, wrote last Sunday that the Palestinians “need to drop all their preconditions and enter negotiations” and Israel needs to “halt settlements.” That’s just plain silly. If the Palestinians drop their insistence that settlement expansion stop there will be no need for it to happen. If the Israelis halt the land grabbing there’s no more precondition. As long as the Israeli colonial juggernaut rolls on there is no likelihood of a settlement, and a continuation of a “peace process,” as it has been, will only allow Tel Aviv more time to create more “facts on the ground,” which is just what the Israeli expansionists want.

“It isn’t just our perception that settlements are illegal,” said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “It is a global perspective. Everybody views settlements not only as a hurdle, but more than a hurdle to a two-state solution,” he said. “We are asking for nothing outside the international legitimacy. It is the responsibility of the Israeli government to halt settlement activities so we can at least speak. “We hope that the Israeli government understands this, he said. “We hope they listen to the many opinions inside Israel itself speaking of the illegality of settlements.”

“We should note that rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday – a reckless and provocative act – while the Israelis showed good faith by avoiding the sorts of defiant acts, like announcing new settlements, that have marred American visits in the past,” the New York Times Editorial Board said March 21.

Well, not exactly.

While Obama was still in the region and citing the rocket attack – carried out by a obscure an al-Qaida-linked group at odds with the Hamas government in Gaza – as a justification, the Israeli government cut in half the portion of the sea where it will allow Palestinians in Gaza to fish, threatening the livelihood of some 3,000 Palestinians who depend on the sea. “There is nothing to catch within three miles from shore,” 62-year-old fisherman, Talal Shweikh, told the newspaper Ahram, “All the fish that you see in the market today came from Egypt.”

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords of 1993, Palestinians were permitted to fish for up to 20 miles off the coast. However, in 2006 this limit was dropped to three. According to one report the restrictions, enforced by the Israeli navy, have resulted in the number of active fishermen shrinking from approximately 10,000 in the year 2000 to around 3,500 today.

Israeli authorities also closed Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza.

“If there is quiet, the processes easing the lives of Gaza residents will continue. And if there is Katyusha (rocket) fire, then these moves will be slowed and even stopped and, if necessary, even reversed,” an official Army Radio broadcast said. “We do not intend to give up on our right to respond to what happens in Gaza because of the agreement with the Turks.”

There is a legal term for what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians in Gaza. It’s called collective punishment and it is against international law.

On March 22, the day President Obama left Israel, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed five resolutions slamming Israel for settlement construction and abuses perpetrated against Palestinian civilians. The U.S. was the only member of the 47-nation council to vote against the measures. Of course, most of the U.S. mass media didn’t bother to report the UN action.

“Will Mr. Obama also take the risks that will be needed to be a credible mediator and nudge the parties forward?” the New York Times said last week. “His new secretary of state, John Kerry, is eager to begin and will be in Israel this weekend, but will he have the space to conduct real diplomacy? And is there a sense of urgency on anyone’s part? In recent years, Israel has built so many settlements that the options for finding a two-state solution are dwindling.”

“Mr. Obama spent four years tweaking his relationship with Israel. On Thursday, he said ‘peace is possible.’ The question is: How much will he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority invest to make it happen?”

“Gone were Obama’s demands,” Washington Post columnist, Dana Milbank, wrote as Obama was winging it back to Washington. “Suppressed were his lofty ambitions. And absent were expectations, in his audience and among the American public, that he would achieve a peace breakthrough. It was a tacit admission of failure, yet everybody seemed happier with the scaled-back aspirations.” On Sunday, the online Middle East commentary page, Mondoweiss, responded. “Does Dana seriously believe Palestinians were happier with ‘scaled-back aspirations’ that leave occupation in place?”

The Israeli daily Haaretz put the question this way March 21: “Here lies the central danger of the visit. The Israeli government and public could conclude, based on the polite tone of the president and the lack of a threat or demonstrative pressure, that Israel is now exempt from having to initiate steps toward resuming the peace process.”

“This would be a horrible conclusion,” continued Haaretz. “Obama and the United States are not a party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president of the United States is not the one who must live in a society that is being transformed as a result of the occupation and pushed to the margins of the international community. Netanyahu is correct in saying, as Washington has made clear many times, that the United States cannot want peace more than the parties themselves. But the weakness the Americans have demonstrated until now in every way over the peace process actually proves that it is Israel that must offer new plans and proposals and advance the implementation of the agreed two-state formula.

“Obama can and must make clear to Israel how the continuation of the occupation could affect bilateral relations, harm the U.S. position in the region and erode the American public’s support for Israel. He owes this to Israel and to the citizens of his country. Netanyahu, on his part, cannot settle for “surviving” the visit or for mutual pats on the back. He is responsible for renewing negotiations with the Palestinians.”

“The US president, of course, has it in his power to confound the skeptics.” Stephens wrote in the Financial Times. “He reminded the Iranian regime that he is ready to deploy America’s military might to prevent Tehran building a nuclear bomb. Every conversation I have had with those close to him tells me that he is not bluffing. But there’s the puzzle. How could a president with sufficient resolve, if needed, to start a war against Iran fail to invest the power and prestige of his office in the cause of a Middle East peace?”
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BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.


Hugo Chavez, Brazil and the History of Social Exclusion

“We want to guarantee the access of all families to the benefits of social programs from the federal executive.”
Carl Bloice
Black Commentator
March 14, 2013
Dilma Rousseff
revistaferroviaria.com.br

Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff raised the monthly stipend of 2.5 million people in the country currently living below the poverty line and, according to Reuters, she did it “to make good on her promise to eradicate extreme poverty in Brazil, a nation with enormous income gaps between rich and poor.” Starting this week, she said, 2.5 million poor people would see their monthly income rise through the Bolsa Familia, or Family Grant program to the equivalent of $35. In making the announcement she said an interesting thing:”We are turning the page on our long history of social exclusion that had perverse roots in slavery.”

That statement is important for two reasons.

First, it indicates that it is quite possible to “lift all boats” and at the same time acknowledge that in doing so that communities still experiencing the effects of centuries of discrimination will particularly benefit. That’s an idea that is considered heresy in some circles of our country, including in the Obama Administration. It is important to keep in mind when one reflects on the fact that last month unemployment edged slightly downward for every demographic group except African Americans.

Secondly, Rousseff’s action and her words boldly refute the misinformation that the major mass media – as if by script –has been spreading in the wake of the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. To wit, that while poverty has been dramatically reduced in Brazil and Venezuela, Rousseff and her predecessor haven’t attacked inequality the same way the Venezuelan leader did. The Christian Science Monitor even described the Brazilian presidents as “fiscally conservative.” “In Brazil, Lula and Rousseff brought about their changes without the same type of economic shocks,” the paper alleged. “They reduced poverty faster than ever before but also guaranteed big companies a safe environment in which to invest – and huge profits.”

These people don’t even seem to be able to report the statistics right. The Monitor reported that, “In Venezuela, Chavez funneled much of the country’s oil wealth into social programs and subsidies. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty fell from 23 percent in 1999 to just 9 percent today, and both unemployment and infant mortality were almost halved.” But the Financial Times says, that Venezuela has “slashed poverty, to 32 per cent in 2010 from 52 per cent in 2000.”

The Financial Times titled its editorial on the death of the Venezuelan leader “After Chavez, a chance for progress. Clearly “progress” is in the eye of the beholder – or the beneficiary.

President Rousseff didn’t stop at direct aid to the poor. In another measure of direct government action to alleviate poverty and combat inequality she has announced plans to speed up the agrarian reform in the country with the delivery of lands to agricultores (workers in agriculture) and continued support for social programs targeted at the rural poor. Addressing the 11th National Congress of Rural Workers, she said, “I never promise anything I cannot fulfill and I am committing myself to speed up the delivering of lands. We want to guarantee the access of all families to the benefits of social programs from the federal executive.”

Rousseff is very popular (70 percent approval rating) because in her two years in office, her government has helped lift 22 millions Brazilians out of extreme poverty, which she has predicated will disappear by 2014.

According to Reuters, “Despite an economic slowdown that has dogged her administration, Rousseff extended Lula’s poverty reduction program when she took office in 2011 to add stipends for children and adolescents living in extreme poverty, farmers who engage in conservation and people who start technical training.”

While the mainstream media in the U.S. has had little positive to say about Brazilian government in the recent past, coverage of Chavez’s death has emphasized the supposedly conflicting policies between Brazil and Venezuela. The media has incessantly hyped the candidacy of Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and leader of the center-right Justice First Party, who will face Socialist Party candidate Nicolas Maduro in a presidential election April 14. Reuters keeps describing Capriles is a “centrist” who “says he would copy Brazil’s ‘modern left’ model of economic and social policies.” However, he says he favors policies that would “permit the poorest to find jobs and stop depending on state resources.” Actually, that sounds a lot more like Mitt Romney than Lula or Rousseff.

Meanwhile, here at home joblessness remains stubbornly high, poverty grows and inequality of incomes continues to widen.

Over 46 million people in the U.S. – over 15 percent – live below the official poverty line, including 16 million children; nearly a quarter of those adults are employed. Eight million children are growing up poor. According to the group Bread for the World, 27.6 percent of African-Americans live in poverty. The poverty rate for black children stands at 38.8 percent for children under age 18 and 42.7 percent of children under age.

Meanwhile, in February, the U.S. jobless rate was 7.7 percent, down from 7.9 percent but for African Americans it remained at 13.8. According to University of California Labor Center Black Employment Project, for black teens (16-19), unemployment was 43.1 percent (an increase from 37.8 percent In January). For black female teens, the jobless rate stood at 38.1 percent (an increase from 33.2 percent in January). For black male teens, unemployment was 48.7 percent (an increase from 43.3 percent in January).

While the major media has gone to great lengths to picture Hugo Chavez, the Socialist Party of Venezuela, and, by extension, most of the Latin American left, as out of steps with the times, the embarrassing truth is that with the notable exception of the U.S. and Canada, and a couple of other oligarchic regimes, current governments in the Western Hemisphere are making concerted popular efforts to combat poverty, reduce inequality and reverse historical neglect of indigenous communities and those of African descent.

History will unfortunately record that on occasion of ceremonies laying Chavez to rest, attended by 22 heads of state and prominent personalities from across the planet, the President of the United States issued an undiplomatic, insensitive and stupid statement that didn’t even offer condolences. As Sara Kozameh of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has observed, “This will almost certainly not go unnoticed in Venezuela or Latin America, more widely.”

Right now it behooves the people in charge in Washington to recognize just who is out of step in the Americas. Instead of cooking up new measures of unnecessary austerity and threatening the welfare of seniors, children and the poor they should be heeding the examples of those in the region trying really hard – and for the most part successfully – to do some good. And they should recognize that there is nothing wrong with stressing measures that overcome “our long history of social exclusion that had perverse roots in slavery” and long standing patterns of discrimination.
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BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.


The Republican Party Devouring Itself – Good

Left Margin

The Republican Party Devouring Itself – Good

By Carl Bloice

Black Commentator

March 6, 2013

http://www.blackcommentator.com/507/507_lm_republican_devouring.php

Like revenge, schadenfreude is something to be enjoyed in private. One does want to be careful about gloating out loud over someone else’s misfortune, except when it comes to the crisis in the Republican Party.

What’s not to be happy about the travails of an organization that for decades has had a “southern strategy” of taking advantage of racial intolerance? Of seeking political advantage by demagogically targeting women and men who have crossed the southern border seeking work? Of stirring homophobia in an effort to divide and conquer? Yeah, I know, not all Republicans are like that, but it’s a fair description of the party’s recent history, of the attitudes of its “base,” and its current leadership’s strategies. Every time I hear a GOPer talk about being in the “party of Lincoln,” I want to gag.

Just how bad has it become for the party of Bush, Chaney, McCain and Palin where, according to Politico “There is breathless talk of civil war”? “A fight has broken out within the Republican Party,” says a recent edition of the Economist. “On the face of it, rival camps – broadly, the establishment versus the insurgent right – are arguing about why they lost the last election, and how to stop losing. The loudest name-calling involves a new political fund backed by Karl Rove, election guru to the Bush dynasty and a man with access to deep-pocketed donors. It is one of several establishment wheezes aimed at asserting more control over party primaries that pick candidates for big races.”

That doesn’t mean merely moving resources in the direction of those candidates the Rove crew supports. According to the Economist’s Lexington column, a spokesperson for the Roveites says they are poised to “blast unelectable primary contenders with TV attack ads, if need be.”

As if that bit of inner-party fratricide weren’t enough, the Club for Growth has gotten into the battle on the other side. PrimaryMyCongressman.com, the website of the group, announced last week that “moderate” Republican politicians who don’t meet the group’s muster are going to face well-financed primary challenges in upcoming elections. The group spent over $17 million during last year’s election cycle. Which, and how many, GOP politicians are going to feel the wrath of the big business club is unclear but six incumbent members of the House of Representatives have already been cited.

“Big government liberals inhabit the Democratic Party, but they are far too common within the Republican Party as well,” read a statement announcing the plan. “The Republicans helped pass billions of dollars in tax increases and they have repeatedly voted against efforts by fiscal conservatives to limit government. PrimaryMyCongressman.com will serve as a tool to hold opponents of economic freedom and limited government accountable for their actions.”

It’s not easy to pin proper labels on the contending parties in the GOP inner war. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews says it’s the “center-right” versus the “hard right.” Sasha Chavkin in the Colombia Journalism Review describes the battle as a “confrontation between mainstream and far right groups.” Steve LaTourette, former Ohio congressman from Ohio, says the moderately inclined Republican Main Street Partnership that he heads represents “the governing wing of the Republican Party.”

But these tags often don’t mean much, or obscure what the war is all about. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl), the prospective Republican Presidential candidate posited by Time magazine as the possible “savior” of the party, is anything but a moderate. He is a climate change skeptic opposed to government action to deal with the problem, wants creationism to have equal standing with evolution in education, and says homosexuality is a sin because “that’s what the Bible teaches and that’s what faith teaches.” The rightwing Americans for Prosperity (AFP) recently released its scorecard for the 112th Congress, ranking members of the House and Senate according to their votes on issues over the past legislative session. Only one senator garnered an A+, a perfect 100 percent rating: Rubio. AFP has been called “one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics.”

All of the warring factions in the Republican camp (there are more than two) appear to have given up hope of making inroads into the African American community. Lest anyone think Rove is the “moderate” under this canopy writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, he referred to President Obama as “a once in a generation demagogue.”

The more astute observers among the contending Republican factions have come to recognize that while African American voters continue to overwhelmingly support the President, it’s not just because he’s black. It’s also the issues. Obviously, past efforts to split African Americans on the basis of various social issues have come to naught. But that hasn’t dissuaded some black conservatives and rightwingers from continuing to try; witness the unseeming recent efforts by some to convince black people that they should oppose sensible gun control measures. Last week, rightwing internet operative Star Parker, who claims to have a posse of black preachers behind her, held a press conference to proclaim that “Blacks, especially, have a stake in protecting ourselves from the government – a lesson we must share to protect every American.”

One of Parker’s chief ministerial supporters, Dr. Ben Carson, has been added to the featured speakers lineup for the Conservative Political Action convention March 14-16, news that the far right Human Events website called “exciting.”

Some of the Republicans are aware that immigration is not the only issue driving politics in the Latino community. “It’s not irrelevant that Obamacare is most popular with African Americans,” Stuart Stevens, lead strategist of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign wrote in the Washington Post February 25. “And what demographic group is the second-most favorable to Obamacare? Hispanics.”

David Brooks, the New York Times’ resident conservative egghead says, “Voters disdain the G.O.P. because they think Republicans are mindless anti-government fanatics who can’t distinguish good government programs from bad ones.”

Who says voters aren’t hip?

“In retrospect, last year’s Republican primary process was entirely disconnected from the actual needs of the party,” party loyalist Michael Gerson wrote recently, “One candidate pledged to build a 20-foot-high electrical fence at the border crowned with the sign, in English and Spanish, ‘It will kill you – Warning.’ Another promised, as president, to speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception. Another warned that vaccinations may cause ‘mental retardation.’ In the course of 20 debates and in tens of millions of dollars of ads, issues such as upward mobility, education, poverty, safer communities and the environment were rarely mentioned.”

In a recent article in conservative Commentary magazine, Gerson and co-author Peter Wehner identified the one that called for the electrified fence: Herman “999” Cain. Their essay, Gerson said, was an attempt to “raise ideas such as ending corporate welfare, breaking up the mega-banks, improving the treatment of families in the tax code, and encouraging economic mobility through education reform and improved job training. Whatever form Republican proposals eventually take, they must move beyond Reagan-era nostalgia.” There’s little chance of any of that happening.

One of the favorite theories of the so-called Republican reformers is that what their party needs is what they allege “saved’ the Democratic Party and the British Labor Party in the early 1990s.

The key to the Gerson-Wehner thesis is: “Republican primary voters, party activists and party leaders have a choice to make, ruthlessly clarified by recent events. They can take the path of Democrats in 1988, doubling down on a faltering ideology. Or they can follow the model of Democrats in 1992 and their own party in 2000, giving their nominee the leeway needed to oppose outworn or extreme ideas and to produce an agenda relevant to our time.”

Bill Clinton “broke a long Democratic presidential losing streak by emphasizing middle-class values, advocating the end of ‘welfare as we know it’ and standing up to extreme elements within his coalition (thereby creating the ‘Sister Souljah moment’). In Britain, says Gerson, former Prime Minister Tony Blair “went after the ‘moral chaos’ that led to youth crime, abandoned his party’s official commitment to public ownership of the means of production and launched New Labor.”

I recall the “Sister Souljah moment.” I was in the Washington ballroom when it happened. Far from courage in the face of extremism it was one of the most cynical moments of political demagoguery I ever witnessed. The dog whistle sounded there was the same as Blair’s anti-crime declarations – maneuvers for which neither of them should be proud.

Writer Michael Tomasky has a slightly different and interesting take on all of this. Calling the Republican reformers “deluded”, he wrote last week in the Daily Beast, “The party they purport to support and care about has been engaged in burning down the house of American politics for three or four years now, and they are saying nothing about it; and until they say something a about it, everything else they say is close to meaningless.”

Tomasky went on, “God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical – a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country.”

“Republican elites are rightfully concerned with figuring out how to reform the party’s message and appeal to new demographics – hence the growing support for immigration reform, and the rapid elevation of Florida Senator Marco Rubio,” wrote Tomasky. “Success for this strategy depends on buy-in from the Republican base. But the ongoing push for right-wing initiatives at the state-level – where ordinary voters have the most influence – is a sign that little has changed for the rank-and-file.”

“Every smart Republican in town is saying the same thing: If they don’t expand their party’s ranks, they don’t have a future,” wrote Hilary Rosen in the Washington Post last week. “Republican efforts at suppressing minority voters through a myriad of state laws last year, however, have made that mission tougher. The consequences of those desperate maneuvers, along with the accompanying vitriolic rhetoric, are weighing on the GOP now as its leaders make another run at rebranding a party that needs new ideas more than it needs a new message.”

Jamelle Bouie, a perceptive staff writer at The American Prospect magazine, has written, “In other words, for the Republican base, it seems, 2012 was just a temporary setback. At this point, base voters don’t seem to want the party to change its policies or do anything meaningful to reach out to minorities. But there are still the realities of demographic change, which favors the Democratic Party, and the unpopularity of GOP ideas with growing segments of the electorate. And so the only path left is to change the rules of the game.”

Keep in mind that this is a party that is unceasing in its efforts to dissuade or prevent some people from going to the polls – particularly African Americans, Latinos and students, or, if they get there, reducing the power of their vote through various undemocratic vote counting schemes. Right now they are praying their allies on the Supreme Court will help them out by eviscerating Federal voting rights protection. This is more than a political maneuver; any action to undermine the principle of “one person, one vote” is seditious.

None of the above is meant as a brief for the opposition Democrats. From drone warfare abroad, to cruel mass deportations of undocumented workers, to unjustified handouts to greedy bankers, to threats to senior retirement security, many of their policies deserve nothing but resolute rejection and resistance. However, these days the major mass media is filled with commentaries about how bad the Republican Party’s divisions are for the country, how we somehow need a healthy GOP. Actually, the country doesn’t need the Republican Party at all. Its demise would be a blessing. What we need most is for the “centrist” Democrats to have an arena of their own where they can decide how much they want to deal with a rising formation of the progressive Left. That’s the reform we need right now.

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BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.


Exactly Why Is President Obama Going to Israel?

Exactly Why Is President Obama Going to Israel?

By Carl Bloice
Foreign Policy in Focus
February 15, 2013

http://www.fpif.org/blog/exactly_why_is_president_obama_going_to_israel

Both Israel and the United States seek to quash expectations that the visit will jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he and U.S. President Barak Obama have agreed that when the U.S. President visits Israel they would discuss “three main issues … Iran’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons, the unstable situation in Syria … and the efforts to advance the diplomatic process of peace between the Palestinians and us,” that’s not exactly what others are saying in either Washington or Tel Aviv.

As soon was announced that the President would be visiting the Middle East, supporters of the policies of the Netanyahu government went into overdrive in an effort to throw cold water on any idea that the diplomatic mission could achieve any breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.”

“While the US ambassador to Israel said today that Mr. Obama would visit the country with an `urgent’ mission to revive peace negotiations, Israeli diplomats said talks with Benjamin Netanyahu would focus on Iran,” reported the British daily Telegraph. “The peace process may be the subject that is initially emphasized in public but there are other issues on the table that must be addressed before the summer,” one diplomat told the paper, alluding to Israel’s spring deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium. “The deal they will have done may be on the subject of war, not of peace.”

“There are currently bigger and much more urgent issues to address than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” one Israeli official told the Telegraph.

To say the U.S. moved quickly to squash any expectation that the President’s visit to the Middle East might move toward resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be an understatement. At a press briefing February 6, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that “this is a trip the President looks forward to making that is timed in part because we have here obviously a second term for the President, a new administration, and a new government in Israel, and that’s an opportune time for a visit like this that is not focused on specific Middle East peace process proposals. I’m sure that any time the President and Prime Minister have a discussion, certainly any time the President has a discussion with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, that those issues are raised. But that is not the purpose of this visit.”

Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, national security and foreign policy commentator Josh Rogin quoted former Congressman Robert Wexler, the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, as saying, “I don’t think it would be prudent to raise expectations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The trip is about Israeli security in the face of Iran’s nuclear program and in the context of the violence and conflict in Syria. Certainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important part of that, but I don’t think it would be accurate to highlight the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over other aspects of the relationship.”

All of this would seem to raise the question: why is he going?

In response to the demands of the Republicans and rightwing supporters of the Netanyahu government that he make such a pilgrimage? Not likely.

To bolster the standing of Netanyahu following the shellacking he and his Likud party suffered in the recent Israeli parliamentary elections? That has been suggested by Israeli critics of government policy.

To engage the embattled regime of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, with whom Obama will also meet after the visit to Israel, as some have suggested? That last suggestion is not farfetched. One element largely overlooked so far in the discussion about Obama’s visit next month is that he will also visit Amman.

“With the region already in flames – Egypt no longer a reliable US partner, and Syria in utter chaos – stability in the Hashemite Kingdom and the survivability of King Abdullah II is a crucial interest not only to Israel, but to the US,” wrote Keinon in the Jerusalem Post,” adding that Obama’s visit to Amman “and the signal that sends of US support for Abdullah – is not insignificant.” Evidence that Washington is concerned about the stability of the Jordanian regime has been around for some time.

Last October, the U.S. rushed troops to the Jordan-Syria border to bolster that country’s military capabilities. One hundred military planners and others are already on the scene, operating from a joint U.S.-Jordanian military center, and the U.S. forces are said to be building another base for themselves. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the move was prompted by developments in adjacent Syria.

On January 28, Abdullah II met with Khaled Mashaal, leader of the Palestinian political movement Hamas for the third time in one year. Abdullah is said to have told Mashaal that direct negotiations with Israel and the creation of a timetable for the two-state solution are “the only way to achieve security and stability in the Middle East.” Mashaal was reported to have said later that he and the king had discussed the inner-Palestinian reconciliation and examined the Palestinian issue and its future in light of the then upcoming U.S. and Israeli elections.

Mashaal, a Jordanian citizen, was exiled from the country in 1999, accused of being a risk to Jordan’s security.

During the meeting the king expressed his support of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation attempt, saying it forms the basis to bolster the Palestinian people’s unity and that only through unity could they achieve their legitimate rights, including a Palestinian state’s establishment.

Last year, Abdullah II met twice with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

On the other hand, there has been some speculation that there is, indeed, agreement between Washington and Tel Aviv on an approach to the Palestinian question. It’s called “get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.” That’s the way U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro put it last week.

Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, wrote February 8 that the U.S. “is looking for something from Jerusalem to dangle in front of the Palestinians and thereby bring the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table.”

It didn’t dangle long.

A headline two days later said it all: “Israel approves new settler homes ahead of Obama visit.”

It’s hard to get more provocative than that.

In defiance of international law that bars an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory – and overwhelming world public opinion – the Netanyahu regime has decided to build additional 90 units – the first of a planned 300 unites – in the Bet El illegal settlement, just east of the central West Bank city of Ramallah, the majority Christian capital of the Palestinian Authority.

“The advancement of this program could overshadow Obama’s visit,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes settlement construction to the media. “This is a misguided and ill-timed decision.”

Misguided it was but there is little reason to think the timing was unintentional.

One idea being floated in the Israeli media (but so far disavowed by the government) is that Netanyahu has offered to suspend settlement activity in the West Bank, except in Jerusalem and around existing colonial blocks.

“While there are no guarantees, it is hard to believe that if Netanyahu made such an offer, and Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry pushed hard on Ramallah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas would reject it,” Keinon wrote February 8. “And one of the arguments likely to be used in prodding the Palestinians is that a failure to accept the offer, a continued refusal to reenter talks, could have negative repercussions on an already precarious Jordan.”

“The Palestinian position is clear,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in response to the new Beit El construction. “There can be no negotiation while settlement continues.”

The Secretary-General of Palestinian People’s Party Bassam al-Salhi told the news agency Ma’an that Obama’s visit may create the “illusion” of returning to negotiations, but would have no impact on the peace process. Jamal Muhaisen, a member of the Central Committee of the Palestinian political party Fatah, said negotiations can resume only when Israel fulfills its previous commitments under international law and stops settlement construction on occupied land.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organization and member of the Palestinian National Council, said she and other Palestinians would welcome Obama’s visit “if it signals an American promise to become an honest and impartial peace broker.which requires decisive curbs on Israeli violations and unilateral measures, particularly settlement activity and the annexation of Jerusalem, as well as its siege and fragmentation policies.”

“Negotiating in good faith means you don’t place preconditions,” Netanyahu recently told a group of settlers. “In the last four years, the Palestinians have regrettably placed preconditions time after time, precondition after precondition. My hope is that they leave these preconditions aside and get to the negotiating table so we don’t waste another four years.” Well, not exactly. The chief impediment to achieving a solution to the conflict has been and remains the Israeli governments continued colonial expansion. While Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party didn’t do as well as it had expected to in the last election, gains were made by coalition partners even further to the right who oppose a Palestinian state and advocate outright annexation of major parts of the West Bank.

“Should we be happy or not?” Israeli writer Uri Avnery asked last week, concerning the upcoming visit of the U.S President. Writing from Tel Aviv in Counterpunch, he answered: “Depends. If it is a consolation prize for Netanyahu after his election setback, it is a bad sign. The first visit of a US President since George Bush Jr. is bound to strengthen Netanyahu and reinforce his image as the only Israeli leader with international stature.

“But if Obama is coming with the intention of exerting serious pressure on Netanyahu to start a meaningful peace initiative, welcome.

“Netanyahu will try to satisfy Obama with ‘opening peace talks.’ Which means nothing plus nothing.

“Yes. Let’s talk. ‘Without preconditions.’ Which means: without stopping settlement expansion. Talk and go on talking, until everyone is blue in the face and both Obama’s and Netanyahu’s terms are over.

“But if Obama is serious this time, it could be different,” wrote Avnery, a founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, who has been advocating a two-state solution for decades. “An American or international blueprint for the realization of the two-state solution, with a strict timetable. Perhaps an international conference, for starters. A UN resolution without an American veto.”
__________________

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator, where he serves on its editorial board. His writing can also be found at Left Margin.


A Bit of Optimism in the Alps, A Lot of Pain in the Everyday World

Left Margin

A Bit of Optimism in the Alps, A Lot of Pain in the
Everyday World

By Carl Bloice

Black Commentator

February 7, 2013

http://blackcommentator.com/503/503_lm_optimism_alps.html

One thing can be said for certain: 99.9 percent of
those who gathered recently week for an Alpine
sleepover either have a job or don’t need one. The
same cannot be said of the billions who were not
there.

While some of the world’s economic and political
elite gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the annual
World Economic Forum, a United Nations agency
reported that there has been an increase in
unemployment planet-wide of 28 million since the
onset of the current economic crisis five years ago.
One million jobs were lost in western capitalist
economies last year alone and three million in the
rest of the world. And it’s getting worse. A total of
202 million people could be unemployed across the
globe sometime this year, the International Labour
Organization (ILO) said January 29.

Dominic Rushe of the British newspaper Guardian
described the findings in the annual ILO Global
Employment Trends thusly:

“. 6 percent of the world’s workforce were without a
job in 2012. The number of jobless people around
the world rose by 4 million in 2012 to 197million.
Young people were the worst affected: nearly 13
percent of those under 24 were unemployed. Some
35 percent of all young unemployed people have
been out of work for six months or longer in
advanced economies, up from 28.5 percent in
2007.”

The situation in some major European countries is
particularly dire.

Take Spain for instance. That country’s
unemployment rate reached 26.02 percent in the
fourth quarter of 2012, leaving almost six million
people out of work – 60 percent of young people
between 18 and 25 years old. The government says
nearly 700,000 more people lost their jobs last year
and there are now 1.8 million households in which
no one is working.

In the 27-member European Union as a whole, the
jobless rate stands at 10.7 percent, with 26 million
people unable to find a job.

Since Davos, there has been running commentary
assessing whether attendees from 100 countries and
up to 50 heads of state and corporate executives
attending the Forum came away optimistic or
pessimistic about the economic state of the world.
“As more than 2,500 global movers and shakers
headed home Sunday, there was broad agreement
that things are beginning to look up on the
economic front – at least in China, Africa, and
emerging markets, but not in Japan, Europe, and
the United States,” observed the Associated Press.

“The balance between optimism and pessimism is
also always affected by personal circumstances, as
much as rational analysis,” wrote Gideon Rachman
in the Financial Times January 22. “So the mood f
Davos man will be lifted by the fact that the last year
has seen a bull run for stocks. This month the S&P
500 hit a five-year high, and the FTSE All-World
index is at its highest level for 18 months. Even the
bankers are liable to arrive in Davos with some of
their old swagger restored. After all, there have been
no major scandals, collapses or arrests for months.”

In other words, how you see the economic situation
depends a lot on whether you are a CEO, banker or
well-paid government official on one hand or a
jobless worker or someone who could easily become
unable to earn a living on the other.

And that’s as true in the U.S. as anywhere else in
the world.

AP said there was “broad agreement” at Davos “that
things are beginning to look up on the economic
front – at least in China, Africa, and emerging
markets, but not in Japan, Europe, and the United
States.”

Although economy the U.S. economy added 157,000
new jobs last month, the unemployment rate rose
from 7.8 in December to a staggering 7.9 percent in
January. That number is less than the 196,000 jobs
added in December. Over the month, the ranks of
the unemployed rose from 12.2 million in December
to 12.3 million in January. African American
joblessness slipped from 14 percent to 13.8 percent
over the month and the rate for Latinos rose from
9.6 percent to 9.7 percent. About to 20 million
people are said to be unemployed or underemployed
in the country at the moment.

While the Associated Press headlined, “Stocks rise
on strong jobs numbers,” the New York Times
observed that “hiring growth has been uninspiring
in the last year, trudging along just barely fast
enough to keep up with population growth but not
nearly quickly enough to put a major dent in
unemployment. A backlog of 12.3 million idle
workers remains. The average worker who is
unemployed has been pounding the pavement for
35 weeks” and “Millions have exhausted their
unemployment benefits, and many more will roll off
the government’s system in the coming months with
no options in sight.”

While those in charge of this clearly can’t agree on
what should be done about the situation on the jobs
front, those gathered at Davos appear to have taken
note of the fact that, at least in Europe and the U.S.,
government policies are pushing things in the wrong
direction and if some powerful forces have their way,
austerity measures will be rolled out that will make
things a whole lot worse.

“Three years ago, a terrible thing happened to
economic policy, both here and in Europe,”
economist Paul Krugman wrote in the Times last
week. “Although the worst of the financial crisis was
over, economies on both sides of the Atlantic
remained deeply depressed, with very high
unemployment. Yet the Western world’s policy elite
somehow decided en masse that unemployment was
no longer a crucial concern, and that reducing
budget deficits should be the overriding priority.”
That view is shared by economist Robert Reich who
observes that “The unfortunate reality is that on
both sides of the ocean we have people making
economic policy who are largely sputtering nonsense
about how to remedy the economy. And for the
foreseeable future they will have the political power
to keep their jobs no matter how disastrous the
outcomes of their policy might be.”

As strange as it may seem, the problem of so many
people out of work for long periods of time has yet to
find a credible place on the nation’s policy agenda.
It hardly rates a mention in the policy priorities
emanating these days from either Congress or the
executive branch.

Reich says the U.S. government is “following
Europe’s sorry example of failed austerity economics

“At a point where the US could be experiencing
catch-up growth to make up for the output lost
since 2007, Washington is importing European
austerity,” wrote Edward Luce, Washington bureau
chief of the Financial Times, adding that “There is
nothing about the anemic US recovery that merits
austerity at this point.”

On January 31, President Obama killed off his high
level President’s Council on Jobs and
Competitiveness that he formed two years ago in
what was said to be an effort to enlist outside
expertise on dealing with joblessness. While the
announcement was awaited over whether the 26-
member panel’s mandate would be renewed, Erika
Eichelberger wrote in Mother Jones magazine that it
had “failed to accomplish much over its two-year life
span, and a lot of what it did turn out was more
friendly to business than to regular people.” A
spokesperson for the Council’s chair General
Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt told her the panel,
which included the chiefs of the heads of AOL, Intel,
Xerox, Boeing, Comcast, and Intel, and other
corporate giants had come up with 60
recommendations for executive action and that
“significant progress” has been made on 54 of those.
However, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, one of
the two labor leaders on the Council, told
Eichelberger: “By reducing overall revenues these
reforms could easily have the opposite [of the
intended] effect. starving the government of the
revenue it needs to create good jobs and upgrade
our infrastructure and education systems, thereby
making the United States a less attractive place to
invest.”

Last January, the Council issued a report which
Trumka voted against saying, “It is clear from our
work in all of these areas that without timely action
by government on a large scale, solutions will
continue to elude us as a nation. Unfortunately, I
believe the report downplays the need for a
proactive role for the U.S. government in many of
these areas; fails to address the significant
additional revenues needed to address the
challenges identified on an appropriate scale; and in
many cases erroneously identifies the root causes of
the underlying structural problems.”

The President last met with the Council in February
2012.

On March 2011, in his last column for the New York
Times, Bob Herbert took note of the corporate
influence on the new jobs panel and commented,
“Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income
inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political
power. So the corporations and the very wealthy
continue to do well. The employment crisis never
gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-
building never gets a foothold here at home.”

Some observers had expected the job creation panel,
which hadn’t met for a year, would nonetheless be
reauthorized if only because not doing so would be a
bad idea from a public relations standpoint. As it
turned out, the Council’s demise went relatively
unnoticed.

According to the Washington Post, “Officials said the
president always intended for the council to fulfill
its mission and then wind down, and said Obama
would continue to actively engage and seek input
from business leaders about ways to accelerate job-
creation and economic growth. Among the steps
Obama plans to pursue are expedited permits for
infrastructure projects, plus programs to boost
entrepreneurship and workforce development.”

Simply put: that’s not enough.

Behind the statistics and projections being
circulated and discussed are real people, men and
women who lives and welfare remain precarious.
They are paying heavily for the economic policies
being hashed in the capitals of the capitalist world
and will continue to do so as long as economic
health is measured in terms of products and profits.
The aim of social policy should be to ensure that
everyone who seeks employment should have
access to a means to earn a living wage. That means
creating jobs. That means now, not somewhere
down the line after “the market” has done it dubious
magic. It’s been done before and it can be dome
again. But it takes political will.

Guy Ryder, director general of the ILO and a former
general secretary of the International Trade Union
Confederation, recently called the unemployment
crisis “a massive waste of the lives of young people
and their talents and extraordinarily damaging to
the people themselves and their societies” and a
threat to social stability.

_______________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union.


Obama’s Biggest Challenge People Without Jobs

Obama’s Biggest Challenge People Without Jobs

Carl Bloice
January 25, 2013
Black Commentator

So much for the hopeful news. African American unemployment actually increased last month and – as has become usual – the rate for young black people remained at an alarming level.

While the overall jobless rate stayed at 7.8 percent, the percentage of African Americans looking for work and finding none went from 13.2 percent in November to 14 percent in December, and black teen joblessness rate rose 39.9 percent to 40.5 percent by the end of the year. It reached 44.9 percent among young black men. The rate for Latinos remains higher than the national average at 9.6 percent, down from 9.9 percent in November.

This Labor Department’s new report comes with the usual caveat: these figures do not include workers who have given up looking.

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist, Heidi Shierholz, called the December job statistics a “status quo.” “The problem, of course, is that a status quo report in today’s labor market represents an ongoing jobs crisis,” she wrote. “The jobs deficit – the number of jobs lost since the recession officially began five years ago plus the number of jobs we should have added just to keep up with the normal growth in the potential labor force – remains nearly 9 million.”

A lot of the black jobless are part of the 1.5 million “99ers” (people without work for 99 weeks or more). That horrendous number is the lowest recorded in two years; however, there is ample reason to suspect the figures don’t mean those who have been jobless for that long a time actually found work. “That decline is likely not due to an improving labor market, because it just hasn’t improved much over the last two years,” Shierholz told the Huffington Post. “A lot of the decline in the unemployment rate we’ve seen is just due to people dropping out of the labor market.” In any case, that’s 4.8 million people who, for over six months, have been unable to earn a living and care for themselves and their families.

When what is referred to as hidden unemployment is taken into consideration the picture that emerges is dire indeed. “Thus, the black unemployment rate of 14.3 percent translates to an overall black unemployment rate of 26.4 percent,” wrote economist and NNPA columnist, Julianne Malveaux (BC Editorial Board member), in November. “That means more than one in four African Americans is unemployed. In some urban areas, as many as half of the African-American male population does not work.”

In an interview with The Root, then-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver (D- Mo.), had this to say about the rate of unemployment among black Americans during the first black president’s first term: “Look, as the chair of the Black Caucus, I’ve got to tell you, we are always hesitant to criticize the president. With 14 percent [black] unemployment, if we had a white president, we’d be marching around the White House.”

“African-American activists must remind our president of this data,” says Malveaux. “They must suggest that there is a coordinated and comprehensive response to the disproportionate exclusion of African Americans in our economy.”

“The unemployment rate data is a monthly reminder of the State of Black America. If we are unsatisfied with the facts, what will we do to change them?” asks Malveaux.

“The One Economic Problem Nobody Seems to Give a Damn About,” is the title of a January 14 commentary by progressive political blogger, Heather Parton, aka Digby. “It remains one of the strangest and saddest aspects of our current economic debates that nobody seems to care all that much about our still painfully high unemployment,” she wrote. “And it’s probably a lot higher than we know.”

She’s right. Listening to most of the media analysis last fall you would have thought the November election results and the fate of the Obama administration hinged on the unemployment statistics. Now that the election is over, it seems mum’s the word.

So, as President Barack Obama begins has second term in office and a new Congress takes its seat, this would seem a good time to ask a few questions. Is this a really serious crisis or what? If it is, what can and is being done about it? Not just for African Americans but for all the 12 million unemployed workers in the U.S. who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have been out of work for an average of 38 weeks.

It didn’t have to be this way and pursuing a radically different approach than the one pursued over the past four years is the challenge before the second Obama Administration.

“Instead of pouring money into the banks, we could have tried rebuilding the economy from the bottom up,” wrote economist, Joseph Stiglitz, in last Sunday’s New York Times. “We could have enabled homeowners who were `underwater’ – those who owe more money on their homes than the homes are worth – to get a fresh start, by writing down principal, in exchange for giving banks a share of the gains if and when home prices recovered.”

“We could have recognized that when young people are jobless, their skills atrophy,” continued Stiglitz. “We could have made sure that every young person was either in school, in a training program or on a job. Instead, we let youth unemployment rise to twice the national average. The children of the rich can stay in college or attend graduate school, without accumulating enormous debt, or take unpaid internships to beef up their résumés. Not so for those in the middle and bottom. We are sowing the seeds of ever more inequality in the coming years.”

Stiglitz allows that the Administration is only partly to blame for the present state of affairs, adding, “President George W. Bush’s steep tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and his multitrillion-dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan emptied the piggy bank while exacerbating the great divide. His party’s newfound commitment to fiscal discipline – in the form of insisting on low taxes for the rich while slashing services for the poor – is the height of hypocrisy.”

On December 17, a group of African American leaders and activists met in Washington to draw up a “black agenda” to be presented to President Obama on the eve of his second term. The tenaciously high jobless rate in the black community figured prominently in the discussion. Those attending the confab included Marc H. Morial, president of National Urban League, Rev. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, NAACP National President and Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Chair Cloves Campbell, Southern Christian Leadership President Charles Steele and Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.

“The plight of the African-American community underscores the urgency of our demand,” the attendees said. “The African-American community was disproportionately battered by the Great Recession, and has benefited the least from the fragile economy recovery. Unemployment remains unacceptably high; income inequality and the ever- widening wealth gap threaten to relegate the black community to perpetual underclass status. Those who wish to curtail investment education and career preparation further dim the prospects for upward mobility for our young people.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has expressed some optimism about the chance of effective action on the jobs front during Obama’s new stint in the White House. “It all starts with the political will, or the national appetite, to again create jobs that are going to be family-supportive and middle-class producing, and I think that’s underway right now,” Trumka has said. “People are talking about it. That’s the difference between this election and the ones in the past. We actually had a debate about what’s hollowing out the country and what isn’t. And our side won, big time.”

Still, there is ample reason for doubt about the Administration’s resolve and the chances of really getting something meaning accomplished. There was mention of trying to ensure that “every person can find independence and pride in their work” and adequate “wages of honest labor” in the President’s second inaugural address; there was no reference to those who cannot find work.

“On election night in Chicago two months ago, President Barack Obama triumphantly pledged to fight for a middle class he’d appealed to relentlessly – and successfully – on the 2012 campaign trail, wrote Dave Jamieson and Arthur Delaney of the Washington Post last week. “I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class,” Obama said. “I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard … you can make it here in America.”

“The central challenge of Obama’s second term is whether he can keep that founder’s `promise’ to working Americans,” wrote Jamieson and Delany.” It won’t be easy, and in an era of divided government and amid cries for austerity and budget cuts, it does not seem likely that the president will offer sweeping new proposals to do so. The administration has said that its top two priorities at the outset of its second term are immigration reform and gun control. Despite an ongoing jobs crisis, creating quality jobs seems to have fallen a few slots on the president’s to-do list.”

“So, it’s not just African Americans who the GOP has it out for. And this is my concern about the future of the black agenda. We have all identified the bad guy and it’s not President Obama,” wrote Etan Thomas, an 11-year NBA veteran and author, along with Nick Chiles, of Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge, and the recently released, Voices of the Future. who participated in the black agenda confab. “The question I have for the over 60 civil rights leaders who convened this week is: how do we defeat the opposition when it appears as though they would rather see President Obama fail then see America succeed?’

______________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.


Will Obama Back Israeli Punishment of Palestinians for U.N. Overture?

Will Obama Back Israeli Punishment of Palestinians
for U.N. Overture?

If the General Assembly approves Palestine’s
application for non-member status, Israel’s
isolation from the international community
would only grow.

By Carl Bloice
Foreign Policy in Focus
blog
November 15, 2012

http://www.fpif.org/blog/will_obama_back_israeli_punishment_of_palestinians_for_un_overture

The arrogance of the man seemingly has no bounds
but still it seems highly presumptuous for Israeli
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to claim to
speak for the United States. However, according to
AFP, last week, on the eve of the U.S. Presidential
election, he said the U.S. would subject the
Palestinians to “severe measures” if their leaders go
ahead and seek non-member status at the United
Nations General Assembly. Israeli television
Channel 10 reported that the rightwing minister
said the U.S. would join Tel Aviv in assuring that
the Palestinian Authority would “collapse” if the
initiative proceeded.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is planning to
take the bid for recognition and admission to the UN
assembly November 29. The body’s approval by
majority vote in the 193-member body is considered
a foregone conclusion.

The strange irony of all this is that for months now
the Israeli leaders and their supporters in the U.S.
and Europe, and most of the major media in this
country, have insisted that a UN vote in favor of the
Palestinians would be meaningless, have no effect
on the situation in the region, and that a Middle
East settlement can only be secured through
negotiations between the Israelis and the
Palestinians. Somehow that view doesn’t mesh with
the near hysterical response and threats emanating
from the Israeli government in response to the
decision by Palestinian President Abbas to seek UN
recognition. What is obvious, however, is that the
Israelis are aware that the UN action would only
increase the growing isolation of Tel Aviv in the
international community, and lay bare the
opposition to the continuation of Israel occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza and the unrelenting
Israeli colonial settlement expansion.

On November 9, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported
that Lieberman has also threatened to accelerate
settlement building in the occupied territories
should the Palestinians go to the UN.

Much media attention in the U.S. over the past
couple of weeks has centered on the consequences
of the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama
on U.S. -Israeli relations and the outlook for moving
ahead with the “peace process.” It appears the right-
wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu was
badly misled by its supporters in the U.S. Sensing
some diplomatic advantage, the Israeli Prime
Minister injected himself into U.S. politics on behalf
of defeated candidate Republican Mitt Romney. Now
that Obama has returned to the White House, the
Israeli leadership has – at least in public – adopted
a more conciliatory attitude toward the
Administration. Supporters of the Netanyahu
government, both in Israel and here, appeared to
have concluded the prime minister’s bold intrusion
into U.S. politics was unwise.

However, the official Israeli response to the prospect
of a vote at the UN remains unchanged. “Only in
direct negotiations can the real positions be
clarified,” Netanyahu says. Adding that if the
Palestinians are serious about a peaceful settlement
they would agree to sit down together “immediately”
and negotiate. A bid for UN membership will “only
push peace back and will only produce unnecessary
instability,” Netanyahu says.

Not all the hawks in the Netanyahu’s Likud party
government are being restrained. Last week, Danny
Danon, deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset, reacted
to Obama’s re-election by telling reporters that
“Obama’s victory demonstrates that the state of
Israel must take care of its own interests.”

“We cannot rely on anyone but ourselves. Obama
has hurt the United States by his naïve leadership
in foreign policy, which prefers the Arab world over
the Western world, along with Israel.” Dayan
continued, “The state of Israel will not capitulate
before Obama.”

“Recent second-term presidents, most tantalizingly
Bill Clinton, turned their attention to the Middle
East,” the British newspaper The Independent said
editorially November 8. “Mr. Obama, faced with the
complexities of the Arab Spring, a civil war in Syria
that threatens to destabilize the whole region, and
pressure to use force to prevent Iran acquiring a
nuclear bomb, may have a unique opportunity,
post-Afghanistan, to address Israel-Palestine in a
wider context.”

On the day of the U.S. election the Netanyahu
government’s nine senior ministers were scheduled
to discuss the Palestinian Authority’s decision to
request an upgrade of its status at the United
Nations. According to Haaretz, they were to
“consider a range of retaliatory actions against the
Palestinian leadership,” an official in Jerusalem
said.

“This unilateral step has broken the rules and
crossed a red line,” Lieberman said before heading
to Vienna to attend a gathering meeting of Israeli
ambassadors to Europe where, according to the
Jerusalem Post, they were to “discuss ways to lobby
European governments not to support the plan and
to pressure the Palestinian Authority to either delay,
or drop, its bid.”

A Palestinian official recently told Reuters that the
votes of 12 states of the 27-member European
Union states are committed to vote for the
admission of Palestine and that some were still
undecided. Among the European delegations
expected to vote “no” on the admission of Palestine
are the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and
Georgia. Palestinians can expect overwhelmingly
support from the delegates of Asia, Africa and Latin
America.

The ambassadors evidently won’t have to spend
much effort on France. Last month Netanyahu met
with President Francois Hollande in Paris after
which the Israeli leader slammed the Palestinian
efforts toward international recognition, saying,
“Going to the UN with unilateral declarations is not
negotiations. It’s the opposite of negotiations.” The
Socialist Party President called for an
“unconditional” resumption of peace talks between
Israel and the Palestinians. According to the Israel
media, he added that France was still committed to
a two-state solution in the Middle East but warned
the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against
trying to force the issue unilaterally.

Following Netanyahu’s visit to France, Hollande
called for an “unconditional” resumption of Israeli-
Palestinian negotiations. “There is the temptation of
the Palestinian Authority to seek at the UN General
Assembly that which it fails to obtain through
negotiation,” he said. However, without at least a
settlement freeze the likelihood of a resumption of
talks is remote.

Following announcement last week that the Israeli
government intends to build 1,200 new houses in
East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, Catherine
Ashton, the European Union’s high representative
for foreign affairs, expressed Europe’s “deep regrets.”
She wrote, “Settlements are illegal under
international law. The EU has repeatedly urged the
government of Israel to immediately end all
settlement activities in the West Bank, including in
East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under
the roadmap.” German Foreign Minister Guido
Westerwelle called the Israeli decision a “hindrance”
to the peace process

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn this
week told Spiegel Online that the Palestinian
application to the UN “is an absolutely justified
request and not a provocation. It is often forgotten
that the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine
of 1948 provided for two states — Israel next to an
Arab state,” said Asselborn. “After the Palestinians
failed in their bid last year to be recognized as a
state by the UN Security Council, Abbas announced
he would follow the Vatican model and apply for the
status of an observer state at the General Assembly.
He even offered to formulate the resolution together
with the Israelis, but Netanyahu refused.”

The real question is whether the Israelis are
committed to a “two-state” solution, or any solution,
or whether their strategy is to continue to establish
“facts on the ground” through continued settlement
expansion in the occupied West Bank.

On November 12, Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member
of the Palestinian team working on the UN bid, said
President Obama had voiced his opposition to the
UN move, but that the Palestinian leader made it
clear the decision was final. “I find it extremely
shocking that the US and Israel would oppose this
step,” Shtayyeh was quoted by Prensa Latina as
saying. “What did we do to deserve this
punishment? Did we declare war?”

Another Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told
official Voice of Palestine radio, “Obama did not
utter any threats but there are threats from the [US]
Congress, which has a draft bill, according to which
it would demand closing the PLO office in
Washington and cutting off aid if the Palestinian
leadership pursues any move at the UN and its
related agencies.”

This week the U.S. stepped up efforts to defer the
Palestinians from going to the UN, including
sending a special envoy to Europe to meet with
Abbas. “We’ve been clear in the past about what
some of the consequences that this would generate,
or engender,” State Department spokesperson Mark
Toner said November 13.

“The stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations
and the lack of prospects for their resumption
anytime soon has persuaded the Palestinian
Authority (PA) to chart its own course by applying to
the United Nations General Assembly (U.N.G.A.) as a
non-voting member state,” wrote Alon Ben-Meir, a
senior fellow at New York University, at the
Huffington Post October 31. “However uncertain the
prospect of such a move may be from the PA’s
perspective, there is very little to lose at this
juncture and perhaps much to gain in taking such a
unilateral step.

“The Palestinians are counting on Israel’s increasing
isolation in the international community and the
overwhelming political support for their cause,
which is also the official policy of the U.S. The
forthcoming elections in the U.S. as well as in Israel,
regardless of their outcome, will provide the
Palestinians with an opportune time to thrust the
nearly forgotten Palestinian problem into the Israeli
and American political agendas while ensuring that
the conflict returns to the forefront of the
international community’s attention.”

Ben-Meir pointed to the recent uniting of
Netanyahu’s Likud Party with the Yisrael Beytenu
group, led by Lieberman, seriously suggests that
coalition government “will hold onto even more
extremist views than the current one, which will
further diminish any hope for achieving a peaceful
solution if Netanyahu wants to legalize settlements.”

Lieberman’s threats to harm Palestinians have
included withholding from the Palestinian Authority
government the tax and tariff revenues Israel
collects and canceling working permits of
Palestinians who are in Israel. “If the Palestinians go
to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral
initiative, they must know they will be subject to
severe measures by Israel and the United States,”
Lieberman said, adding, “If they persist with this
project, I will ensure that the Palestinian Authority
collapses.” So far, there has been no word as to
whether the Obama Administration will go along
with what would amount to not only collective
punishment but action taken against a whole people
for an action that involves no violence.

The U.S. State Department is trying to twist the
arms of the Europeans to induce them to act against
the Palestinians at the UN and Washington’s
seeming willingness to let the far right in Israel
speak for it in the international arena and make
threats on behalf of the Obama Administration is
not a pretty sight. Carrying out such threats would
be ugly. It is not in the interest of peace in the
Middle East. It would be a mockery of the lofty
pledges the President made at Cairo University three
years ago and it is not the kind of thing the people
who gave Obama the Nobel Peace prize had in mind.
______________

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the
Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial
board.


Vote Smart and then Prepare for the Next Stage

Left Margin

Vote Smart and then Prepare for the Next Stage

By Carl Bloice – Black Commentator Editorial Board
BC
October 26, 2012

http://www.blackcommentator.com/491/491_lm_vote_share.html

By the time these words go out into the
internet there will be about 10 days left before the
election. So, it doesn’t seem worthwhile taking the
time to address the proverbial question on the Left:
who to vote for or whether to vote at all? Some
readers will be out actually working to re-elect
President Obama. I assume others are beating the
bushes for either Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky
Anderson of the Justice Party. James Harris of the
Socialist Workers Party, Stewart Alexander of the
Socialist Party, Libertarian Party presidential
candidate, Gary Johnson, or Constitution Party
nominee Virgil Goode. I suspect few are pushing
Mitt Romney.

Most people reading this column regularly can have
little doubt about who I’m voting for. But, hey, this
is California; the Obama-Biden ticket can assume it
has our electoral votes sewed up. I’ll be rushing off
to the polls with urgency because we’ve got some
critical state measures before us (don’t we always?).
The big money, buy-elections people are trying to
strangle union and progressive expression with one
measure (Prop. 32). Insurance moguls are spending
millions of dollars on a proposal to sock it to
working class drivers (Prop. 33). Liberals and
progressives are trying to insure that any genetically
engineered frankenfoods sold at the supermarket
are labeled as such (Prop. 37). And, while it doesn’t
go as far as most of us on the Left would like, there’s
a proposal that would mean more resources for our
state’s underfunded schools (Prop. 30). Also, I think
affordable housing activist, Christina Olague, is the
best choice to represent our inner-city district on
the San Francisco City – County Board of
Supervisors.

I don’t vote absentee unless I have to; I like going to
the polls and seeing my neighbors there and having
them see me and wearing the little badge reading “I
voted” on my lapel as I shop or enter the
neighborhood bar.

Carrying the fight to the mat would have been the
correct response to the opposition’s
intransigence.The fundamental question in this
campaign, I believe, is the country’s future economic
policy. As begrudging and inconsistent as it is, the
Obama policy is generally in favor of a neo-
Keynesian direction of further investment in the
economy to increase consumer demand, while the
Romney-Ryan approach is tax cuts for the rich and
regulatory deregulation. The difference between
these two policies is not inconsequential.
Tenaciously high unemployment and growing
poverty is a reality. For millions of working people,
decisions made over the next four years will have a
direct impact on their daily lives. The same, I think,
can be said about immigration policy, reproductive
rights, and LGBT equal rights.

Yea, I’ve heard the argument. For every negative
thing that can be said about the GOP there’s
something awful to cite about the other party; for
every positive thing the Obama Administration may
have accomplished there is something it did that is
grossly offensive. One Left commentator wrote last
week that he hoped Obama is reelected because his
future failures will further radicalize us. That’s just
another version of the tired old, and morally
dubious, worse-the-better argument.

Not that the Administration hasn’t done some
outrageous and indefensible things. For instance,
supposedly “leading from behind,” the Obama
Administration has joined the European former
colonial powers in creating another Somalia in
Libya. That’s the real scandal. Of course, the
Republicans won’t say so because, having embraced
the neo-conservative warhawks from the Bush
Administration, they are now agitating to create
another one in Syria. And U.S. policy toward Latin
America sucks big time. One thing I find particularly
galling is that having put forward a rather modest
proposal to alleviate the jobless crisis, which
continues to hit the African American community
particularly hard, the President dropped the ball,
when carrying the fight to the mat would have been
the correct response to the opposition’s
intransigence.

There can be no question of the meaning of the
election for labor. The anti-labor intent of the
Republican Party is spelled out clearly in the party
platform and is underscored by the action of the
party in state after state over the past few years.

For millions of working people, decisions made over
the next four years will have a direct impact on their
daily lives.There are, I believe, two other issues that
are forefront in this period. The first is racism, and
there can be no doubt that it is a major element in
the campaigns. Something akin to the “southern
strategy” is at play and I suspect it will intensify in
the coming two weeks. The other is the threat to
democracy. This is reflected in the conscious and
deliberate voter suppression drive and efforts to rig
the system to give financial advantage to capital
over labor in politics. For all the talk on the Left
about the need for electoral and campaign finance
reform, I don’t think there has been sufficient
acknowledgement of the fact that things are actually
moving in the opposite direction. While I don’t
endorse the notion of an imminent “fascist” threat, I
think the danger of the assault on democracy is real.

This latest well-financed and deceptive effort to
restrict labor’s ability to influence political decision-
making in California and the nation are not
unrelated to the coordinated efforts to smash public
sector unions, the Citizens United decision, and the
ongoing voter repression conspiracy. The plutocrats
and the Right-wingers have seen the handwriting on
the wall in terms of political and demographic
trends in the country and they are determined to
reshape politics in the interest of the one-percent by
curtailing democratic decision-making. As Leonard
McNeil, the vice mayor of San Pablo, Ca. put it,
these are efforts to “curtail and stifle the voices of
working people” and “a frontal assault on
democratic pluralism to advance the agenda of
corporations and the wealthy.”

Which brings me to the next question: what
happens after the election?

I like going to the polls and seeing my neighbors
there and having them see me and wearing the little
badge reading “I voted” on my lapel as I shop or
enter the neighborhood bar.If the Right-wingers win
the presidency, liberals, Leftists and progressives
will have their backs against the wall, especially if
the Right ends up in control of Congress. But
whatever the results are, a real danger lurks. While
we sleep, plotters are at work aiming to construct a
“grand bargain” that will have only negative
consequences for working people and the poor.
Behind the slogans of “shared sacrifices” and the
threat of a “fiscal cliff,” the economic and political
elite are working on a “bipartisan” deal that will
shift much of the burden of the current crisis of
capitalism onto the backs of working people. The
gains made in social welfare and economic security,
won through struggle over a century, will be put at
risk. Think of that every time you hear the words
“Simpson-Bowles.”

No matter who wins, when the election is over the
critical political struggle will continue in earnest.

Economist Jared Bernstein, has made the point
that this is not simply a Right-wing conspiracy.
Though conservatives have introduced recent things
like Social Security privatization, and private
accounts for health care and unemployment, this is
not a story of good Democrats and bad Republicans.
“It is the story of the ascendancy of a largely
bipartisan vision that promotes individualist
market-based solutions over solutions that
recognize there are big problems that markets
cannot effectively solve,” he wrote recently.

“We cannot, for example, constantly cut the federal
government’s revenue stream without undermining
its ability to meet pressing social needs,” Bernstein
wrote. “We know that more resources will be needed
to meet the challenges of prospering in a global
economy, keeping up with technological changes,
funding health care and pension systems, helping
individuals balance work and family life, improving
the skills of our workforce, and reducing social and
economic inequality. Yet discussion of this reality is
off the table.”

A critique of the Obama campaign on this matter is
still in order, though I doubt it will make much
difference at this late date. But progressives must be
resolute in defending such critical things as Social
Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Vice-President
Biden has made somewhat reassuring statements
about this matter, while Obama has continued to
indicate a readiness to strike a “deal.” Rev.
Sharpton is on to something when he says the
election is “not about Obama but about yo’ mama.”
But the economic security of your mama – and your
daddy – won’t be secure after Nov. 6. The struggle
continues. Take nothing for granted.
______________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
and Columnist, Carl Bloice, is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union