Posts Tagged ‘Obama Administration’

Much Love For The Steel City: The G-20 And The Rust Belt Renaissance

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

As the apparatchiks of the globalized economy departed my fair hometown this past Saturday, I am happy to report that Pittsburgh came out looking very well in pretty much all aspects. Our image as Steeltown USA (“hell with the lid off”) and/or a dying Rust Belt town crippled by the loss of the industry that defined us for generations has been put to bed, hopefully for good.

The most powerful men on the planet and their international entourages pleasantly surprised to find a formerly depressed city that had shed its industrial roots and reinvented itself for the information/service economy of the new century.  Maybe even a model for the dozens of other Rust Belt cities between the Mon Valley and Chicago dying a slow and painful economic death.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s some articles from the national and international media:

From Forbes:

. . . President Barack Obama sees in Pittsburgh a way forward for the American city in the 21st century. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “It’s an area that has seen its share of economic woes in the past but because of foresight and investment is now renewed–giving birth to … industries that are creating the jobs of the future. And I think [Obama] believes it would be a good place to highlight some of that.”

Pittsburgh boasts world-class culture and president-approved industries crucial to the growth of the nation (education, health care, technology, energy), but it will never be New York. Pittsburgh is also a conglomeration of neighborhoods, where mom-and-pop stores are still a staple and people greet their neighbors in the supermarket, but it’s no small town. In the city’s historic South Side, mega-chains like Urban Outfitters coexist with tiny consignment boutiques that have persisted for over a decade, and a Cheesecake Factory is just a stone’s throw from a row of old biker bars.

Pittsburgh is, in other words, a big city with a small-city mindset. Or maybe it’s a small city with big-city ideas. Either way, it is negotiating–sometimes precariously, sometimes with aplomb–a balance between these two spheres. As city councilman Bill Peduto says, “It is figuring out how to become global while staying local.” Which is perhaps the greatest challenge in this age of rapid globalization and economic turmoil.

From WaPo’s “Pittsburgh Shows How the Rust Belt Can Be Polished Up”:

Pittsburgh has shaken off its smoky image, transformed by an industrial collapse that drove out half of the city’s population in the early 1980s. As the Group of 20 gathers Thursday, members are more likely to ask what Pittsburgh can teach them than why they had to come here.The city’s unemployment rate is well below the national average. Wages and housing prices are stable or up. Nearby Cleveland has experienced rampant foreclosures, but here they are relatively uncommon.

The city’s main industries — health care and education — are thriving. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, an $8 billion health-care company, employs 50,000 people in western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh’s health services business has almost tripled in size since 1979, creating more than 100,000 jobs.

It is quite a turnaround for a city that lost 120,000 jobs between 1981 and 1984, after its steel industry collapsed. Thousands of young residents fled the city to find work, and unemployment reached 17 percent among those who remained. Much as with Detroit today, many wondered whether Pittsburgh could continue to exist.

“But here we are, still a major center and doing well,” said Christopher Briem, an urban studies expert at the University of Pittsburgh. “The lesson is that there’s life after your defining industry dies.”

From the BBC, with the can’t-resist-the-stupid-pun headline “Pittsburgh Steeled to be Host City”:

Another [thought by the White House] was ensuring that the Pittsburgh story told a positive story about Obama’s America.

Later in the article. . .

And the symbolism?

Well, the population of Pittsburgh seems remarkably on-message. Local politicians, business leaders and folks in cafes and bars will all tell you the same story.

Pittsburgh – the grimy old steel town that was a powerhouse of American heavy industry and made its money under choking clouds of smoke from its mills and mines – is no more.

Locals have been making their feelings clear about declining industries

In its place is a clean, green example of regeneration. A city where pleasure cruisers carry tourists between the wooded banks of its three rivers and where people make a living in services such as health and education or in hi-tech business.

No-one puts it better than Frank Coonelly, president of the city’s baseball team the Pittsburgh Pirates: “It’s a remarkable transformation, not just of the economy but of the city itself from an industrial steel town to a city that now really is driven by hi-tech and service sectors.

“People who think of Pittsburgh as a smoky steel town, when they come in here this week they’ll see quite a different thing.”

It feels like the perfect message for the Obama administration to send out from a city which is about become the backdrop for 1,000 TV reporters from around the world.

And a piece from Voice of America on our new wave of immigration in a city that has always been defined by an ethnic makeup of Irish, Italian, “hunky” (those of Eastern European descent) and black:

European immigrants flocked to western Pennsylvania at the dawn of the industrial age to work in the steel mills and factories of Pittsburgh, which was the world-famous “Steel City” well into the 20th century. Over the past 50 years, however, heavy industry has been leaving Pittsburgh, along with tens of thousands of jobs. But over time Pittsburgh essentially “reinvented” itself, and the city is now best known for high-technology enterprises, medical specialties, banks and universities. That transformation has prompted a new wave of immigrants, this time including many from south Asia. Families originally from India now are one of Pittsburgh’s largest ethnic communities, and they are thriving.

Your Humble Author has to admit a certain amount of hometown pride in seeing a city that when I was a child and teenager was written off as another Gary, Indiana or Baltimore in the making become the example for other ailing metropolises to adapt to the 21st century.

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Talkin’ Geopolitics With Joe Biden: Waiting For The Inevitable Gaffe.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

One of the things that will be most amusing about the Obama administration in the coming years will be watching Joe Biden stick his foot in his mouth, and then make it worse trying to get it out. This is pretty much a guarantee. But at the Munich Security Conference ten days ago, the Vice President was all business, delivering the first major foreign policy speech since the inauguration.

Reuters compiled a last of significant quotes from the speech, and I taking a look at them one by one would be interesting:

“I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration, an administration that is determined to set a new tone not only in Washington, but in America’s relations around the world. That new tone is rooted in a strong bipartisanship to meet these common challenges. And we recognise that meeting these challenges is not a luxury but an absolute necessity.”

So he’s taking a more conciliatory, if measured, tone towards foreign policy, but it’s not like this is hard to do after eight years of the fuck-you-if-you-don’t-like-it Bush Doctrine.

ASKING MORE FROM PARTNERS

“As we seek a lasting framework for our common struggle against extremism, we will have to work cooperatively with nations around the world – and we will need your help. For example, we will be asking others to take responsibility for some of those now at Guantanamo as we determine to close it. Our security is shared. So, too, I respectfully suggest, is our responsibility to defend it.”

“America will do more. That’s the good news. The bad news is that America will ask for more from our partners as well.”

A nice little one-two punch at our European allies, making good on the promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but also a put-up-or-shut-up call for help.

AMERICA WILL LISTEN

“We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America’s power. We believe they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and our values. So we’ll engage. We’ll listen. We’ll consult.”

An unsurprising paean to the gurus of the loosely organized Western international order, but again, after Bush, a welcome one. Republicans, of course, will use this as a bludgeon to beat Obama about the head and neck with.

USING FORCE

“Our administration has set ambitious goals … to advance democracy not through its imposition by force from the outside, but by working with moderates in government and civil society to build the institutions that will protect freedom.”

“As America renews our emphasis on diplomacy, development, democracy and preserving our planet, we will ask our allies to rethink some of their own approaches – including their willingness to use force when all else fails.”

This is a pretty fascinating development, because it’s not exactly abandoning the “democracy is great for everyone” aspect of the Bush Doctrine, which was surprising to Your Humble Author;  they should be running away screaming from any of Bush’s policies. Also, the second quote seems to imply that the preemptive war doctrine aspect is also still in effect,  its’ just implied. These are not the improvements I was hoping for: America always has preemptive war in its pocket (though it will be much more difficult now), there’s no reason to state it or even subtly imply that we intend to keep it. Best left unsaid.

IRAN

“The Iranian people are a great people. The Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its people; its illicit nuclear program is but one of those manifestations. Our administration is reviewing policy toward Iran, but this much is clear: We will be willing to talk.”

“We will be willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives.”

Hopefully this is the first shot fired across the bow of Iran in efforts to start a dialogue, beginning with the State Department and hopefully ending at the White House. A carrot-and-stick approach is probably the only way to contain Iran’s ambitions nuclear-wise; there’s no way to stop them from developing nuclear weapons, but you can delay it. The focus on Iran’s atomic ambitions is baffling to me, when the already currently nuke-capable Pakistan is the far greater danger.

ISRAEL

“It is long time past for us to secure a just Two State solution. We will work to achieve it, and to defeat the extremists who would perpetuate the conflict. And, building on the positive elements of the Arab Peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia, we will work toward a broader regional peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

More of the usual. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

AFGHANISTAN

“The result must be a comprehensive strategy for which we all take responsibility that brings together our civilian and military resources that prevents a terrorist safe haven, that helps the Afghan people develop the capacity to secure their own future. But no strategy for Afghanistan, in my humble opinion, can succeed without Pakistan.”

If Joe were being honest, this quote would end with, “And Pakistan is not going to help us.” Pakistan’s civilian government is now back in the hands of the folks who created and funded the Taliban to begin with, and the military is run by Pervez Musharraf’s right-hand man; naturally, the deeply Islamist armed forces, secret police and fundamentalist political parties that support them are all covertly aiding the Taliban, if not Al Qaeda.

This statement is also more nation-building nonsense about Afghanistan, where a surge along the borderlands has less of a chance of succeeding than it’s already-improbably cousin in Iraq. Afghans as a whole aren’t too keen about the whole idea of a central government in general, to say nothing about military occupation by infidels.  Admittedly, I do agree that there does need to be a nation-building apparatus in the State Department that coordinates with the military. After all, we’re going to go to war again at some point, and the general consensus these days is that after you blow it up you have to fix it too.

MUSLIM WORLD

“America will extend a hand, as the President has said, to those who unclench their fists.”

“In the Muslim world, a small and I believe very small, number of terrorists are beyond the call of reason. We will and we must defeat them. But hundreds of millions of hearts and minds in the Muslim world share the values we hold dear. We must reach them.”

The VP is of course being polite with the facts, but the truth is that probably ten percent of Muslims (a not-insignificant hundred sixty million people) are at least passive supporters of what we in the West call “Islamism.” The Sunni Ikhwan, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, is organized politically in at least a dozen Middle Eastern countries and often held down through repressive policies by their host government; Al Qaeda has morphed into a worldwide ideology in the last seven years despite the actual group’s limited resources, based almost solely on Osama bin Laden’s marketing as a latter-day Saladin; The Taliban, their Pakistani franchise and the Kashmir jihadists all enjoy massive popular support; the Shi’ite Hizb’allah in Lebanon is widely admired by Arabs even of other religious persuasions for forcing Israel to end a twenty-year occupation of the Galilee.

These are the exact words the Bush Administration was mouthing for two full terms, so I’ll believe it when it’s backed up with an actually effective hearts and minds campaign.

NATO

“Our Alliance must be better equipped to help stop the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons, to tackle terrorism and cyber-security, to expand the writ of energy security and to act in and out of area more effectively.”

The only worrying part of this is the “expand the writ of energy security” part, because it’s an obvious shot at Russia’s current stinginess with shipping natural gas to Europe and the Near Abroad. One wonders what “acting in and out of area more effectively” really means.

MISSILE DEFENCE

“We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost effective. We will do so in consultation with you our NATO allies and with Russia.”

This is just plain stupid, sticking our finger in the Russian’s eye for no good reason. Everyone knows the real reason for so-called missile defense in Eastern Europe is to intimidate the Bear into backing off from the Near Abroad countries. Someone get back to me when we actually have a missile interceptor that can stop an ICBM or IRBM that uses countermeasures.

RUSSIA

“The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our Alliance. It’s time, to paraphrase President Obama, to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together.”

This doesn’t really mean anything besides, “We are unwilling or unable to discuss our strategy for Russia.”

So out of the starting gate, Obama’s foreign policy is looking like a mixed bag. As a president who’s almost guaranteed to have a doctrine named after him, this needs to be at least as much of a focal point of the administration as the economy. Things cannot be allowed to drift, a la the first Clinton term, because the consequences could be catastrophic. America’s standing in the world means more and more in an increasingly close-knit world, and repairing it better be at least Job Two on Obama’s to-do list. Ending “enhanced interrogation techniques” and closing Gitmo is a good start though, and hopefully picking foreing policy guru Biden as Vice President (where he inherits a national security staff larger than the National Security Council’s thanks to Dick Cheney) means they plan on taking this seriously.

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