Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Obama Warns of Trillion-Dollar Deficit Potential


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday braced Americans for the unparalleled prospect of “trillion-dollar deficits for years to come,” a stark assessment of the budgetary outlook that he said would force his administration to impose tighter fiscal discipline on the government.

Mr. Obama sought to distinguish between the need to run what is likely to be record-setting deficits for several years and the necessity to begin bringing them down markedly in subsequent years. Even as he prepares a stimulus plan that is expected to total nearly $800 billion in new spending and tax cuts over the next two years, he said he would make sure the money was wisely spent, and he pledged to work with Congress to enact spending controls and efficiency measures throughout the federal budget.

“We’re not going to be able to expect the American people to support this critical effort unless we take extraordinary steps to ensure that the investments are made wisely and managed well,” Mr. Obama said, speaking about the dire fiscal outlook after meeting with his economic team for a second straight day.

In his most explicit language on the subject since winning the election, Mr. Obama sought to reassure lawmakers and the financial markets that he was aware of the long-term dangers of running huge deficits and would take steps to limit and eventually reduce them.

Big deficits force the government to borrow more money, saddling future generations with large financial burdens and leaving the nation reliant on foreign governments and other big investors to lend cash. The problem is even more acute now because credit markets, which in recent months have made it much harder and more expensive for businesses and individuals to borrow, could be further strained by financing a huge government deficit.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama plans to name a chief performance officer with the task of finding government efficiencies. He has chosen Nancy Killefer, who is director of McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, and was an assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration. The Congressional Budget Office will also release its latest budget estimates, providing the first official predictions of the shortfalls tied to the economic slowdown and the fallen financial markets.

Mr. Obama has made the economy virtually the sole public focus of his first full week in Washington since winning the election. He called on Tuesday for the creation of an economic recovery oversight board that would include outside advisers to monitor spending — and find abuses — of the economic stimulus plan. He also said earmarks for lawmakers’ special projects would be banned from the bill.

“When the American people spoke last November, they were demanding change — change in policies that helped deliver the worst economic crisis that we’ve see since the Great Depression,” Mr. Obama told reporters at his transition offices. He added, “They were demanding that we restore a sense of responsibility and prudence to how we run our government.”

But Republicans and some fiscally conservative Democrats have expressed concern that the need for a substantial economic stimulus plan could sweep away for years any serious effort to bring government spending into line with its revenues.

While economists almost universally support running large deficits to combat the kind of steep recession the country is grappling with now, they are increasingly expressing alarm at the prospect of sustained fiscal imbalances heading into a period in which the aging of the population will create huge budgetary strains because of the growing costs of the Medicare and Social Security programs.

Still, the deficit now seems likely to be so large that it will inevitably constrain Mr. Obama’s administration to some degree. At a minimum, it seems sure to force him to walk a line between maintaining the confidence of the financial markets, which could drive interest rates up sharply if they doubt his will or ability to improve the government’s financial condition in the long run, and various constituencies that will be pressing him to make good on his campaign promises.

Mr. Obama has so far not backed away from any of the big initiatives he ran on, including his plan to expand health insurance. On that issue, as on others, he has begun making a case that the economically prudent course is to invest now in addressing the nation’s big challenges rather than avoiding them in the name of saving money in the short run.

Mr. Obama was not specific about the size of the deficit he expects, beyond his reference to “a trillion-dollar deficit or close to a trillion-dollar deficit” for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. Aides said later that the estimate — in line with what economists have been anticipating given the economy’s rapid deterioration — did not include the costs of the proposed stimulus package, which could add hundreds of billions of dollars more to the red ink.

At $1 trillion, the deficit would not only shatter the largest previous shortfall in dollar terms — $455 billion last year — but it could also exceed the post-World War II-era record by the measure more meaningful in economic terms, the deficit as a percentage of total economic activity.

Diane Rogers, chief economist at the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization that supports fiscal discipline, estimated that the deficit this year would hit 7 percent of the gross domestic product. The largest previous record in those terms was in 1983, when it hit 6 percent.

Mr. Obama declined to say on Tuesday whether the budget that his administration submits to Congress in February would be larger than the $3.1 trillion budget that President Bush submitted for the current fiscal year. He also did not offer any specific examples of how spending could be controlled, saying only that his advisers had been scouring the budget looking for programs that could be eliminated.

“I’m going to be willing to make some very difficult choices in how we get a handle on his deficit,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what the American people are looking for and, you know, what we intended to do this year.”

But the short-term budget shortfalls are big enough to pose serious headaches in themselves, especially if bond investors start demanding higher interest rates.

In just the first three months of the 2009 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, the government spent $408 billion more than it took in. About one-third of that shortfall stemmed from the Treasury Department’s rescue program of injecting capital into banks, which the government will book as an “investment” rather than “spending.”

The recession itself will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. Even before Congress adds any new stimulus measures, higher outlays will climb for existing unemployment benefits, food stamps and other social programs. Tax revenues will fall because of rising unemployment, falling corporate profits and huge investment losses in the stock and bond markets. Mr. Obama’s stimulus program could add another $400 billion in each of the next two years.

“One thing investors have to be thinking is, what’s the exit strategy? How do we unwind this stuff?” said Robert Bixby, director of the Concord Coalition. “I would analogize it to what the government is doing with the auto companies. Congress said, we’ll give you the money but you have to show us a plan for sustainability.”

Mr. Bixby added, “Now the government is in the same position of the auto companies, but they haven’t come up with any plan for sustainability.”

As the latest budget estimates are released on Wednesday, the good news, at least for the moment, is that the Treasury’s borrowing costs are as almost as low as they have ever been. Short-term Treasury rates are hovering just above zero, but the rates on 10-year Treasury bonds are about 2.5 percent.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Pitch for Mass Transit

Unlike President Bush, Barack Obama is going to enter office with a clear appreciation of the urgent problems of climate change and America’s growing dependency on foreign oil — and a strong commitment to address both.

One way he can do this is to give mass transit — trains, buses, commuter rails — the priority it deserves and the full financial and technological help it needs and has long been denied.

Mass transit has always played second fiddle to the automobile, so Mr. Obama will need strong allies. Ray LaHood, Mr. Obama’s choice for transportation secretary, must be not only an ally but a champion for mass transit. Mr. LaHood is a Republican and former member of Congress from rural Illinois, where farmers produce a lot of ethanol and where people mostly drive. His résumé on transportation issues is thin, and we fear he may need some coaxing in this new direction.

Another important ally should be — and almost certainly will be — James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

For years, the division of transportation money in Washington has heavily favored cars and trucks — more than 80 percent of the big transit money from gas taxes goes to highways and bridges, and less than 20 percent to railroads or mass transit. Mr. Oberstar is leading the charge to change that formula and divide this money a little more evenly. This will not be easy. Automobiles will be with us a long time, and old spending habits die hard. But as part of the stimulus package now under discussion for transportation, Mr. Oberstar is proposing $30 billion for highways and bridges and $12 billion for public transit. That is certainly a far healthier mix.

The new administration could further help mass transit by shelving the unfair “cost effectiveness index” that President Bush put in place several years ago for new transit programs. The net effect of this index was to make it easier to build highways and almost impossible to use federal money for buses, streetcars, light rail, trolleys — indeed, any commuter-rail projects.

For Mr. Obama’s transit agenda and for Mr. LaHood, the next big challenge will be a transit bill that Congress must pass by September. Mr. LaHood is widely praised for his management skills and his ability to work well with others. Those abilities will certainly be needed if he and the Congress are to find and then finance the best, the most-efficient and the most-advanced ways for Americans to move around.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your
Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a
Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Watch the Body Brilliance Movie

Friday, January 2, 2009

Relentless Challenger of Apartheid System, Is Dead at 91


Helen Suzman, the internationally renowned anti-apartheid campaigner who befriended the imprisoned Nelson Mandela and offered an often lonely voice for change among South Africa’s white minority, died in Johannesburg early on Thursday, a family member said. She was 91.

Her son-in-law, Jeffrey Jowell, a law professor in London, said she died peacefully at her home in the affluent northern suburbs of Johannesburg after a brief illness.

For decades, Mrs. Suzman was among the most venerated of white campaigners urging an end to racial rule. As the liberal Progressive Party’s lone representative in the all-white Parliament for 13 years until the mid-1970s, a period when many of apartheid’s most repressive features were being devised, she used her parliamentary immunity to speak out when other avenues of protest were harshly suppressed.

While she challenged apartheid at a time of violent protests among the black majority, she advocated peaceful change. More controversially, she differed sharply with more radical campaigners inside and outside South Africa who were supportive of economic sanctions to press the country’s white rulers toward reform, saying sanctions would hurt poor blacks more than whites.

To Mrs. Suzman’s frustration, this led some of her critics to say she was unwittingly helping to prolong apartheid. This was a variation on a critique she had long endured, and to some extent accepted — that by engaging in what was largely a charade of parliamentary politics in apartheid South Africa, she became complicit, however unwillingly, in the larger deceits of apartheid, which would ultimately be ended not by a small band of white dissenters, but by the more powerful forces of the black freedom struggle and external political pressure.

Among her friends, it was a reality Mrs. Suzman conceded, though she and many opponents of apartheid believed that it was important to keep the hopes of eventual democracy in the country alive and that she could help the victims of apartheid by her efforts to expose the evils of the system in and out of Parliament.

In a 1966 profile in The New York Times Magazine, Joseph Lelyveld, the newspaper’s correspondent in South Africa at the time, recounted one of her favorite stories, about an overeager dinner host who gave a black man serving her a lecture on her parliamentary achievements.

“Do you know who this is, John?” the host asked. “This is Helen Suzman, the champion of your cause — the champion of human rights in South Africa.”

“She waste her time,” John replied, as Mrs. Suzman retold it later, laughing brightly as she repeated the line. “She waste her time.”

Diminutive, elegant and indefatigable, Mrs. Suzman confronted the forbidding Afrikaner prime ministers — Hendrik F. Verwoerd, John Vorster and P. W. Botha — who became synonymous with apartheid’s repression of the black and mixed-race populations. She was dismissive of the death threats she received by telephone and in the mail, and undaunted in her showdowns with the men she described as apartheid’s leading “bullies,” who in turn dismissed her as a “dangerous subversive” and a “sickly humanist.”

Shouts of “Go back to Moscow!” greeted her when she rose in Parliament, and, on at least one occasion, “Go back to Israel!” — a reference to her antecedents as the daughter of early 20th-century Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. After the 1976 Soweto riots, Mr. Vorster mocked her for beating with what he called her “pretty little pink hands” against apartheid, while secure in the knowledge, as he claimed, that she and other white opponents could continue to enjoy the privileged lives apartheid guaranteed without fear that their demands for an end to the racial laws would succeed.

“I am not frightened of you — I never have been, and I never will be,” she told Prime Minister Botha in a parliamentary exchange in the late 1970s. “I think nothing of you.”

For his part, Mr. Botha called her “a vicious little cat.” When a government minister once accused her of embarrassing South Africa with her parliamentary questions, she replied, “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.”

Her home and office telephones were constantly tapped, an intrusion she liked to counter by blowing an ear-splitting whistle into the mouthpiece.

But perhaps because of her parliamentary immunity, a feature of their showpiece democracy that apartheid leaders guarded with care, she was never detained or subjected to one of the stifling “banning orders” that apartheid leaders used to curb dissent by prohibiting people from attending political meetings, speaking in public or even leaving their homes.

Her opposition to economic sanctions made her a contentious figure among some apartheid opponents, including protesters on American college campuses, like Brandeis and Harvard, where she received honorary degrees. “I understand the moral abhorrence and pleasure it gives you when you demonstrate,” she told a New York audience in 1986. “But I don’t see how wrecking the economy of the country will ensure a more stable and just society.”

She rarely faced such criticism from South Africa’s best-known black leaders. Mr. Mandela spoke with affection of her visits to the Robben Island prison in the chilly Atlantic waters off Cape Town, where he was serving a life sentence imposed in 1964 and where he remained until he was moved to a mainland prison nearly 20 years later. Using her parliamentary visiting rights, she made her first trip in 1967 and returned frequently.

“It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard,” Mr. Mandela recalled in an interview when he was released in 1990 after serving 27 years. “She was the first and only woman ever to grace our cells.”

On Thursday, the governing African National Congress paid tribute by saying in a statement that Mrs. Suzman “became a thorn in the flesh of apartheid by openly criticizing segregation of Blacks by a Whites-only apartheid system.” Mr. Mandela’s foundation issued a statement from its Johannesburg headquarters saying that South Africa had lost “a great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, who forged a close friendship with Mrs. Suzman when they were leading proponents of peaceful change during the violent upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s, said in his statement that the country owed her an enormous debt. “She really was indomitable,” he said.

By the early 1990s, when apartheid gave way to black majority rule, there was widespread affection for Mrs. Suzman in black townships like Soweto, where many people knew her simply as Miss Helen.

But while no longer in Parliament in her final years, she remained an acerbic critic of what she viewed as official wrongdoing, now by the country’s new black rulers. Only recently, she joined other prominent South Africans in demanding a fresh inquiry into dubious government arms contracts in the 1990s, some involving the president of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma.

Mrs. Suzman was born Helen Gavronsky on Nov. 17, 1917, in Germiston, a gold-mining town on the outskirts of Johannesburg. She was educated at the Parktown convent school in Johannesburg, and studied economics at the city’s Witwatersrand University. At the age of 19, in 1937, she married Moses Meyer Suzman, known as Mosie, a cardiologist, with whom she had two daughters, before returning to the university in 1944.

She is survived by her daughters, Frances, an art historian, and Patricia, a medical specialist.

Universities around the world awarded Mrs. Suzman 27 honorary doctorates, and she received numerous other honors from the United Nations and an array of religious and human rights groups around the world. Queen Elizabeth II made her an honorary dame, customary for citizens of countries other than Britain.

Mrs. Suzman traced her opposition to apartheid to her university years, when she studied South Africa’s racial laws and was incensed by what she learned, particularly by the so-called pass laws, which were fundamental to the apartheid system, restricting where blacks could live and work.

She ran for Parliament in Johannesburg’s upscale Houghton district and remained the district’s legislator from 1953 to 1989. She began as a member of the United Party, which had been usurped in 1949, after decades as South Africa’s governing party, by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party. It was the Nationalists, under Mr. Verwoerd, who codified and extended the existing racial laws, creating apartheid.

In 1959, impatient with the United Party’s tolerance of racial segregation, she became a founder of the liberal Progressive Party, later known as the Progressive Federal Party, which favored a more inclusive, nonracial franchise that would lead to black majority rule. Some of the most relentless enforcers of apartheid eventually developed a grudging respect for her, even a hint of affection. James T. Kruger, the justice minister under Mr. Vorster during the Soweto riots, was one of the “bullies” Mrs. Suzman frequently denounced.

Years later, out of office, Mr. Kruger learned that Mrs. Suzman was planning a tourist visit to the Soviet Union with her husband. A keen amateur philatelist, he approached her in the parliamentary lobby and gave her a sheaf of self-addressed postcards and letters, each bearing new South African stamps, asking her to mail them back to him from Moscow.

When she said that the Soviet postal authorities would not accept South African stamps, she recalled, Mr. Kruger was puzzled. For Mrs. Suzman, the incident demonstrated the occluded world inhabited by many apartheid leaders, who often acted, she said, as if they belonged to the 17th, not the 20th century. “Poor old Jimmy Kruger,” she said. “Like most of them, he knew very little of the world beyond South Africa.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And the Fighting Continues in the Middle East

War Over Gaza

Published: December 30, 2008

Israel must defend itself. And Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory. Still we fear that Israel’s response — devastating airstrikes that represent the largest military operation in Gaza since 1967 — is unlikely to weaken the militant Palestinian group substantially or move things any closer to what all Israelis and all Palestinians need: a durable peace agreement and a two-state solution.

Israel must make every effort to limit civilian casualties. Hamas’s leaders, especially those safely ensconced in Damascus, are unconcerned about their people’s suffering — and masters at capitalizing on it.

Before the conflict spins out of control, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries will have to find ways to cajole or more likely threaten Hamas (or its patrons in Syria and Iran) to accept a new cease-fire.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should be pressing Cairo and Riyadh to use all of their influence with Hamas, and they should be pressing Israel to exercise restraint.

By Monday, some 350 Palestinians — mostly Hamas security forces — were reported killed. A Hamas security compound was among dozens of structures pummeled in the attacks, and the group’s leaders were supposedly driven into hiding. The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, promised a “war to the bitter end.”

We hope he does not mean a ground war. That, or any prolonged military action, would be disastrous for Israel and lead to wider regional instability. Mr. Barak and Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, both candidates to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in elections set for February, must not be drawn any further into a competition with the front-runner, Benjamin Netanyahu, over who is the biggest hawk.

There can be no justification for Hamas’s attacks or its virulent rejectionism. But others must also take responsibility for the current mess. Hamas never fully observed the cease-fire that went into effect on June 19 and Israel never really lived up to its commitment to ease its punishing embargo on Gaza. When the cease-fire ran out, no one, including the Bush administration, made a serious effort to get it extended.

Meanwhile, the peace process Mr. Bush launched with such fanfare in Annapolis last year is moribund. There is plenty of blame to go around for that, too. Mr. Olmert’s government failed to halt settlements and give the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas — Hamas’s sworn enemy — the support he needed. Mr. Bush refused to press Mr. Olmert to do what was needed but politically unpalatable. Arab leaders never did enough to boost Mr. Abbas, or to persuade or pressure Hamas to cut its ties with Iran and join peace efforts.

Ms. Rice once hoped to make a Middle East peace her legacy. It is too late for that. But she should do her job. That means getting on a plane for Cairo and Riyadh — now — to enlist their help in brokering a new cease-fire. Then it will be up to President-elect Barack Obama to quickly pick up the pieces and fashion a Middle East peace strategy that may actually bring peace.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself

In Desperate Times, the Rise to Take the Reins and Take On Fear Itself

HYDE PARK, N.Y. — As winds howl through the empty rooms of failed financial institutions and foreclosed homes, as unemployment statistics spike and stocks plunge, as an era of high hopes stutters with fear, and seeming shelters shake on fraudulent foundations, who would not hope that new leadership might stave off further catastrophe?

And a new leader, coming to power with his “brain trust” of advisers and his “new deal” for the nation, has but a short time to make his case before inertia and fear become dominant once again.

Does the analogy need to be spelled out? In his campaign, as the financial world was convulsing a few months ago, Barack Obama invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and cited his most famous line from the First Inaugural — “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” — words delivered in 1933 during the worst days of the Depression. Four thousand banks had collapsed in two months, and one of every four workers was unemployed. Nearly half the country’s $20 billion in home mortgages were in default.

Since Mr. Obama’s election, references to Roosevelt have become even more plentiful. Caricatures of the president-elect with a cigarette holder and an insouciant Roosevelt grin have appeared in major publications. Mr. Obama has implicitly invoked Roosevelt’s approach to what was the worst financial crisis of the 20th century, saying he would enact the largest public-works program since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s. And he has made clear (conceptually echoing Roosevelt) that his attention to the welfare of the citizenry would be inseparable from his attention to the health of the economy.

So it is fortunate that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum here, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the start of the New Deal, mounted an exhibition, “Action and Action Now: FDR’s First 100 Days,” referring to the brief period that Roosevelt treated as a self-imposed challenge to begin having an effect. During that time he oversaw the passage of 15 major pieces of legislation that transformed the country’s view of itself and redefined the character of American government.

After Mr. Obama was elected, the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan borrowed rare items and documents from the Roosevelt library to present a miniature version of the exhibition — really an expanded display case and a capsule view of those tumultuous days — called “A New President Takes Command.” There are political cartoons, drafts of speeches and a few objects like a set of braces Roosevelt had worn on his paralyzed legs. A timeline provides, in compressed space, some sense of the urgency and haste with which problems were addressed.

In facing the crisis, Roosevelt had argued that he would need the equivalent of emergency wartime powers. Many were prepared to go further. On the day of his inauguration, March 4, 1933, The New York Herald-Tribune said it was “for dictatorship if necessary.” But a dictator could not have done more. Within five days of Roosevelt’s taking office, Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act, establishing procedures for reopening sound banks; that was just the beginning.

The Public Works Administration was created to provide jobs building highways, dams and public structures. The powers of the Federal Trade Commission were increased to regulate stock trading. The gold standard was abandoned. A Civilian Conservation Corps was established, putting a quarter-million young men to work in park development and outdoor projects. Farm and home mortgages were refinanced by the government to prevent foreclosures. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created to protect bank deposits. And the National Recovery Administration was established to regulate the practices of American business.

Nearly everything we now take for granted about the federal government’s role in dealing with unemployment, poverty and economic protection can be traced to programs started during this period. “In three months,” the show notes, “F.D.R. created the basic toolbox of modern American liberalism.”

But ultimately, the Manhattan display, while informatively sounding every crucial theme, only whets the appetite for deeper understanding. The Hyde Park exhibition is far more thorough and absorbing.

It begins in a darkened gallery in which film clips and photographs of the Depression are projected onto a mock tree stump and clapboard house, showing images of poverty on a wide scale. This material makes clear just how dire the circumstances were, and why there was so much clamor for action beyond Herbert Hoover’s hesitant and constrained approach. An attempted assassination of the president-elect in February 1933 nearly dashed all hopes.

But the inauguration brought promises of relief. The psychological effect was as important as any policy — which, in any case, Roosevelt never outlined in advance. We can also hear the newly elected leader here in excerpts from the first of his many radio broadcasts: for the first time, ordinary citizens could hear a president’s voice in an intimate setting.

Roosevelt expertly modulated his delivery. During the Hoover administration, we are told, 5,000 pieces of mail came to the president in a week; during the Roosevelt administration, 50,000 arrived. The week after Roosevelt’s first address, so hungry were listeners for contact and reassurance, that nearly half a million came in. Copies of many of those letters wallpaper a gallery.

It becomes clear, too, that before 1933, the United States was a largely rural nation — half the populace lived outside urban areas, and one in five workers was on a farm. The transformation wrought by the New Deal, a devastating drought and the growth of industry didn’t just mean that a new form of federalism was being shaped, but that a new national culture was evolving, as if pieces were being fit together to create a new image. One display here notes that in 1933 10 million jigsaw puzzles were sold every week, some celebrating Roosevelt.

The New Deal legislation itself is dealt with in a kind of quick summary. Some achievements are clear, even in minor programs. The Civilian Conservation Corps, for example, ultimately hired three million young people for outdoor work and conservation, ultimately strengthening the national parks movement.

Others, conceived in an emergency, have a constricted character that might have caused as many problems as they solved. Did the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which tried to stabilize food prices by paying farmers not to produce crops, succeed in stopping the deflationary collapse of prices, or was the persistent drought responsible, amplified by other scarcities? This subsidy program even remains active today, though now it has the faint aura of a racket.

One reason there has been a conservative reaction against the New Deal in recent years is that so much writing about it has been so unabashedly celebratory, missing the movement’s shadows. The National Industrial Recovery Act, for example, outlawed child labor and helped in the formation of unions, but it also led to arbitrary price- and wage-fixing and was ultimately declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Some examples of its overreach, outlined in Amity Shlaes’s recent book, “The Forgotten Man,” are chilling.

Yet like Jonathan Alter’s biography of Roosevelt, “The Defining Moment,” the exhibition suggests that the New Deal’s main doctrine was experimentation. “Certainly the record of the First 100 Days is mixed,” the show concludes. “Some of Roosevelt’s initiatives succeeded. Others failed. Some programs were contradictory. Still, to suffering Americans, what mattered was that someone was taking bold action.”

In this way Herman R. Eberhardt, the show’s curator, avoids engaging in the knotty, passionate debates about New Deal policies and Keynesian economics that are hinted at in excerpts from recent writings about the period. He makes the case that even though the Depression was to drag on for years, Roosevelt quickly succeeded in establishing the foundations for a new kind of social consciousness. The W.P.A. and relief programs asserted that there really was a larger public worth thinking about, transcending individual need and desire. The democratic trick then, as now, was to avoid turning the public into an absolute master demanding deference — or vice versa.

There was a kind of moral psychology at work in the New Deal that should not be underestimated. The projection of ethical authority, genteelly applied, was one of Roosevelt’s great political gifts. And it could hide the New Deal’s flaws as well as display virtues. One of the show’s most fascinating panels is an array of political cartoons published during those first 100 days, showing Roosevelt walking a tightrope over a chasm, or taming a caged lion, or pulling an injured Uncle Sam up the edge of a cliff, or comforting a disabled veteran — all images of extraordinary physical courage and ability.

Of course Roosevelt was paralyzed from polio, and next to the cartoon display is a case with his leg braces, along with a rare photograph showing Roosevelt trying to walk in them — an image that the press, for reasons of tact, and the president, for reasons of strategy and pride, never drew attention to.

This kind of dissembling would never work today, but with it Roosevelt was able to project fully the kind of power and stance he wanted. That image was part of the economic policy.

Contemporary analogies are strained: our economy is not yet close to the one Roosevelt faced. But at least so far, Mr. Obama has shown a comparable skill with image; the substance is yet to come.

“Action and Action Now: FDR’s First 100 Days” continues at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, N.Y.; (845) 486-7770, “A New President Takes Command: FDR’s First Hundred Days” runs through May 3 at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, at 77th Street; (212) 873-3400,

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Watch the Body Brilliance Movie

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Angry Youths Become a Force in Darfur

HAMIDIYA CAMP, Sudan — The sheik was in a panic.

The agitated youth in this West Darfur refugee camp, young men and adolescents who traditionally would have deferred to his authority, had gotten wind of his presence at a ceremony also attended by an official with the Sudanese government, their longtime antagonists.

Terrified that the youths would accuse him of treason, the sheik begged United Nations officials to rush to his aid and vouch that he had not even broached the topic of compromise involving his people’s cause.

The youths are known collectively as the “shabab,” the Arabic word for young men. And they have become a vehemently pro-rebel political force in the camps for the 2.7 million people displaced by years of war between the Arab-dominated Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Increasingly angry and outspoken about their uncertain fate, the generation that came of age in the camps is challenging the traditional sheiks, upending the age-old authority structure of their tribal society and complicating efforts to achieve peace.

“They are much more extreme than the sheiks,” said the United Nations official who related the episode of the frightened sheik, speaking anonymously to avoid jeopardizing his own acceptance among the shabab. “And they are hotheaded.”

Eleven tribal sheiks around Zalingei — where Hamadiya is one of five refugee camps housing 120,000 people — have been killed since the beginning of 2007. One sheik was found with a nail hammered into his forehead. Another was shot at point-blank range. The cases remain unsolved, but some suspicion falls on the shabab.

“The sheiks and the traditional leaders have been influenced by the government, so the young people don’t believe that the sheiks are still loyal to both the cause and the people of Darfur,” said Abdallah Adam Khater, a Khartoum-based publisher and political writer from Darfur. The word influenced is a local euphemism for bribed.

In the short run, the emergence of the shabab makes any peace negotiations even more tangled, as rebel leaders will have to keep one eye focused on their most combustible constituents, who are opposed to any compromise with the government. In Kalma camp in South Darfur last year, the Fur ethnic group rose to evict all members of the Zaghawa clan to punish their leaders for signing the first Darfur peace agreement with the government. The protests, led by the shabab, helped drive more than 10,000 people from the camp. They also resulted in the killing of several shabab activists. Although shabab is the name used to describe the young Darfurians, they are not connected with the Shabab insurgent group in Somalia.

In the long run, outsiders also worry that a cohesive militant group will organize across Darfur’s many camps, just as they emerged in the Palestinian territories and among Afghan refugees.

The shabab, strident in their politics, watch warily for any sign of compromise with the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is being sought by an international prosecutor on charges of genocide and war crimes against the people of Darfur. Humanitarian officials suspect there are jails that the shabab help run in the camps, and that they mete out punishment like whippings to transgressors.

At Zalingei, United Nations officials have learned to give traditional sheiks 24 hours’ notice before any gathering outside the camps so that the sheiks can seek approval from elected shabab representatives.

The Zalingei police chief, a member of the Fur clan that dominates the camp, actually has relatives inside. But when he attends a wedding or other family gathering he has to drive his own car because the sight of his official vehicle might spark a riot, the United Nations official said.

During a recent tour of Hamidiya camp by top United Nations officials, Shafiq Abdullah, 33, a shabab leader, lambasted a Sudanese reporter from Khartoum as a government stooge and became so vehement that the United Nations deployed security forces around them.

Mr. Abdullah reeled off four prerequisites before the shabab in any camp would agree to negotiations between Darfur rebels and the government: disarming the government militias; prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, starting with Mr. Bashir; expelling anyone who settled on land stolen from the displaced farmers; and carrying out all United Nations Security Council resolutions on Darfur.

“We organize protest marches against anyone who says we should negotiate with the government for the sake of Darfur,” Mr. Abdullah said in an interview. “I speak out for the sake of our case, even if I have to die.” Sheiks can no longer guarantee that they can win over men like Mr. Abdullah.

“The traditional structure of authority is beginning to break down,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum, the capital, with wide experience in the camps. “The rebel leaders can no longer control the population through the sheiks.”

With about 80,000 residents, Kalma is among the largest and most volatile of the camps. When a group of high-ranking United Nations officials were inspecting a water pumping station there in late November, Mohamed Ahmed Ismael, a gangly 20-year-old, waded in among them.

“We are not free in Kalma!” Mr. Ismael shouted, pronouncing his words syllable by syllable in English learned in the camp school and gesticulating like the lawyer he aspires to become. “Look at our sheiks; they are not free! The security can come into Kalma at any time!”

Education in the camps, which often stops at the eighth grade, has to a degree expanded the horizons of men like Mr. Ismael. English was not taught in their now-razed villages, for instance. But their heightened awareness has also stoked their outrage about the wrongs committed against them and about their lack of opportunity.

“You cannot call them a unified group with one political ideology, but they are all angry,” said Mr. Khater, the writer. “That is the factor unifying them.”

Leaving the shabab feeling isolated, without hope for the future, would be dangerous, he added, since the youth may “support any kind of violent acts.”

The expense of maintaining the camps is phenomenal. Of the $7 billion in donations the United Nations is seeking for emergency relief worldwide in 2009, $1 billion is for Darfur.

Kalma, though a squalid shantytown built mostly of straw and mud brick and standard United Nations-issue plastic sheeting, exudes a certain air of permanence. An extended market dominates the main drag. Shiny metal storage tanks that supply much of the camp’s water sit on solid concrete bases. The camp stretches about 10 miles, along railroad tracks and has some 10 mosques and 8 cemeteries. Residents say they fear leaving its confines lest they fall prey to the janjaweed — a word they now use to describe any enemy, not just the government-allied militias that have wreaked so much havoc in Darfur.

The civilians who fled to Kalma when it opened in early 2004 are about to start their sixth year here. The shabab complain that life is monotonous, the hutches that they live in miserable and the camp battered constantly by a hot, dusty wind.

“Before, our desires were simple when it came to education, to culture — all we really thought about was farming,” said Adam Haroun Ahmed, 20, who arrived in the camp at 15. “The colonization, the oppression, all the brutal things done to us by the janjaweed caused us to change our views.”

When asked to describe his old village, his school friends jostling around him shouted down the idea. “It is something in the past, almost imaginary,” one yelled. Another chimed in, “It is so far from our reality that we don’t want to be there.”

In an effort to help manage the young men’s anger, some shabab, including Mr. Ismael, have been employed as community police volunteers by the United Nations peacekeeping force, to help fight camp crime.

The camps have become de facto no-go zones for the Sudanese government, which it finds galling and which prompts regular announcements that it will clear them out — in contravention of all humanitarian standards. The government paints the camps as havens for rebels and criminal gangs who steal cars and cultivate marijuana.

Government forces tried a weapons raid in Kalma last August, deploying scores of troops in some 60 vehicles. The camp’s word-of-mouth early warning system, something the shabab helped mobilize, soon had thousands of residents pouring into the streets to block their entrance.

The troops opened fire in the ensuing melee, killing 33 residents and wounding at least 70, according to the United Nations. The government troops retreated, but vowed to try again.

The Darfur camps present a challenge for the government, not least because they form a collar around several major cities. Ali Mahmoud, the governor of South Darfur and the man United Nations officials believe ordered the raid, professed himself unconcerned that young, highly politicized camp residents might resettle in Nyala or other cities.

“I don’t think it is going to be a problem in the future,” he said. “Some people return to where they lived before and some don’t return, maybe 20-25 percent don’t return. We can absorb all of them into the city.”

Others are less sanguine. “The government has created a powder keg that it doesn’t know how to defuse,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum with wide experience in the camps.

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Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your
Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a
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available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama's choice for U.N. Strong Advocate for Action Against Mass Killings

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen his foreign policy adviser, Susan E. Rice, to be ambassador to the United Nations, picking an advocate of “dramatic action” against genocide as he rounds out his national security team, Democrats close to the transition said Sunday.

Mr. Obama intends to announce Ms. Rice’s selection at a news conference here Monday along with his previously reported decisions to nominate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, keep Robert M. Gates as defense secretary and appoint Gen. James L. Jones, a retired Marine commandant, his national security adviser, the Democrats said.

The choice of Ms. Rice to represent the United States before the United Nations will make her one of the most visible faces of the Obama administration to the outside world aside from Mrs. Clinton. It will also send to the world organization a prominent and forceful advocate of stronger action, including military force if necessary, to stop mass killings like those in the Darfur region of Sudan in recent years.

To reinforce his intention to work more closely with the United Nations after the tensions of President Bush’s tenure, Mr. Obama plans to restore the ambassador’s post to cabinet rank, as it was under President Bill Clinton, according to Democrats close to the transition.

While the cabinet consists of 15 department heads, a president can give other positions the same rank for the duration of his administration.

“She’s obviously one of Obama’s closest advisers, so it underscores how much of a priority he’s making the position,” said Nancy Soderberg, a senior United States diplomat at the United Nations under Mr. Clinton. “If you look at the last eight years, we obviously need to be more engaged at the U.N. and realistic about what the U.N. can do.”

At Monday’s announcement, the president-elect will also formally unveil his nominations of Eric H. Holder Jr. to be attorney general and Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona to be secretary of homeland security, the Democrats said. He will not announce any of the top intelligence appointments on Monday, but the Democrats said they expected him soon to name Adm. Dennis C. Blair, a retired Pacific Fleet commander, as director of national intelligence.

If confirmed, Ms. Rice at 44 would be the second-youngest ambassador to the United Nations. A Rhodes scholar who earned a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University, she joined Mr. Clinton’s National Security Council staff in 1993 before rising to assistant secretary of state for African affairs at age 32. When Mr. Obama decided to run for president, she signed up as one of his top advisers, much to the consternation of the Clinton camp, which resented what it saw as a defection.

As the ambassador at the United Nations, Ms. Rice will have to coordinate with Mrs. Clinton, but will not be in the White House or at State Department headquarters on a daily basis as major policies are formulated. One person close to Mrs. Clinton said the senator did not object to Ms. Rice serving at the United Nations.

Some colleagues from her Clinton and Obama days said Ms. Rice can be blunt and unafraid to “mix it up,” as one put it, on behalf of issues she cares about. Ms. Rice herself acknowledges a certain impatience at times.

Admirers said she is a good listener and able to stand up to strong personalities, including foreign autocrats and militants in volatile regions of the world.

“Susan certainly is tough, and she’s tough in exactly the right way,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state and now president of the Brookings Institution, where Ms. Rice has worked in recent years. “She’s intellectually tough, she’s tough in her approach to how the policymaking process should work and she will be very effective as a diplomat.”

John R. Bolton, who was one of Mr. Bush’s ambassadors at the United Nations, would not discuss Ms. Rice’s selection, but said it was unwise to elevate the position to the cabinet again.

“One, it overstates the role and importance the U.N. should have in U.S. foreign policy,” Mr. Bolton said. “Second, you shouldn’t have two secretaries in the same department.”

During her first run at the State Department, Ms. Rice was a point person in responding to Al Qaeda’s 1998 bombing of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But her most searing experience was visiting Rwanda after the 1994 genocide when she was still on the N.S.C. staff.

As she later described the scene, the hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing, hacked up bodies that she saw haunted her and fueled a desire to never let it happen again.

“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.

Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, praised the pending Rice nomination on Sunday, calling it a powerful sign of the new president’s interest in the issue. The coalition is urging Mr. Obama to begin a “peace surge” of sustained diplomacy to address the continuing problems in Sudan.

“It sends a very strong signal about his approach to the issue of Sudan and Africa in general,” Mr. Fowler said. Ms. Rice will be joining a high-powered team on stage with Mr. Obama on Monday, most notably Mrs. Clinton.

The two rivals from the polarizing battle for the Democratic presidential nomination will seal their reconciliation with Mrs. Clinton’s nomination to head the State Department.

At a time when the country remains engaged in two wars and still faces the threat of international terrorism, Mrs. Clinton will anchor a national security team with more of a centrist character than some of Mr. Obama’s liberal supporters once hoped to see.

Some critics have pointed out that the team represents experience rather than the change Mr. Obama promised. But it also drew praise from across the aisle.

“The triumvirate of Gates, Clinton and Jones to lead Obama’s national security team instills great confidence at home and abroad and further strengthens the growing respect for the president-elect’s courage and ability to exercise sound judgment in selecting the best and the brightest to implement our nation’s security policies,” said Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee.