Thursday, March 15, 2007

For the last 2 days I've not been able to get blockquote to work, either by selecting text or by using HTML. If anyone has any idea why I'd love to know. Today it’s Bobo and Bob Herbert on black unemployment. Let’s get Bobo out of the way:

"Senator Carl Levin has always been one of the most serious participants in the Iraq debate. He’s one of those politicians who could actually pass a test of Middle East cultural literacy — who could tell you what the Mahdi Army is or whether Al Qaeda is a Sunni or Shiite organization. He’s one of the Democrats who generally hasn’t formed his Iraq position with an eye to Iowa primary voters or the party’s donor base.

Which is why it’s significant that his speeches during yesterday’s Senate war debate were so utterly unconvincing.

The essential Levin argument was that the Iraqi leaders have been shirking their duties and it’s time to force them to get serious. “It is time for Congress to explain to the Iraqis that it is your country,” Levin declared. It is time to shift responsibility for Iraq firmly onto Iraqi shoulders, and give them the incentives they need to make the tough choices. The Democratic timetable resolution, Levin concluded, “will deliver a cold dose of reality to Iraqi leaders.”

But does anybody think that Iraqi leaders, many of whom have seen their brothers and children gunned down, need a cold dose of reality delivered from the U.S. Congress? Does anybody buy the Levin model of reality, which holds that Iraqi leaders are rational game theorists who just need to have their incentives rearranged in order to make peace? Does anybody believe the rifts in Iraqi society can be bridged by a few “tough choices” made by the largely reviled Green Zone politicians?

The Democrats spent three years attacking the Bush administration for ignoring intelligence, but now they’re making the Republicans look like pikers. In this debate, they have rigorously ignored the latest intelligence estimates, which take a much deeper, more organic view of Iraqi reality than the technocratic, top-down approach Levin was articulating Wednesday afternoon.

The intelligence agencies paint a portrait of a society riven at its base with sectarian passion. They describe a society not of rational game theorists but of human beings beset by trauma — of Sunnis failing to acknowledge their minority status, of Shiites bent on winner-take-all domination, of self-perpetuating animosities, disintegrating bonds and a complex weave of conflicts.

The intelligence agencies see chaos if the U.S. withdraws. Carl Levin, based on phantom intelligence, sees newly incentivized Iraqis returning to reason and moderation.

The fact is there are two serious approaches to U.S. policy in Iraq, and the Democratic leaders, for purely political reasons, are caught in the middle, and even people like Carl Levin are beginning to sound silly.

One serious position is heard on the left: that there’s nothing more we can effectively do in Iraq. We’ve spent four years there and have not been able to quell the violence. If the place is headed for civil war, there’s nothing we can do to stop it, and we certainly don’t want to get caught in the middle. The only reasonable option is to get out now before more Americans die.

The second serious option is heard on the right. We have to do everything we can to head off catastrophe, and it’s too soon to give up hope. The surge is already producing some results. Bombing deaths are down by at least a third. Execution-style slayings have been cut in half. An oil agreement has been reached, tribes in Anbar Province are chasing Al Qaeda, cross-sectarian political blocs are emerging. We should perhaps build on the promise of the surge with regional diplomacy or a soft partition, but we certainly should not set timetables for withdrawal.

The Democratic leaders don’t want to be for immediate withdrawal because it might alienate the centrists, and they don’t want to see out the surge because that would alienate the base. What they want to do is be against Bush without accepting responsibility for any real policy, so they have concocted a vaporous policy of distant withdrawal that is divorced from realities on the ground.

Say what you will about President Bush, when he thinks a policy is right, like the surge, he supports it, even if it’s going to be unpopular. The Democratic leaders, accustomed to the irresponsibility of opposition, show no such guts.

As a result, nobody loves them. Liberals recognize the cynicism of it all. Republicans know the difference between principled opposition and unprincipled posturing. Independents see just another group of politicians behaving like politicians.

What we get is foreign policy narcissism. The Democrats call it an Iraq policy, but it’s really all about us. "

That's the end of Bobo. And now here’s Bob Herbert:

"The national unemployment rate came in at 4.5 percent last week and was generally characterized as pretty good. But whatever universe those numbers came from, it was not the universe that black men live in.

Black American males inhabit a universe in which joblessness is frequently the norm, where the idea of getting up each morning and going off to work can seem stranger to a lot of men than the dream of hitting the lottery, where the dignity that comes from supporting oneself and one’s family has too often been replaced by a numbing sense of hopelessness.

What I’m talking about is extreme joblessness — joblessness that is coursing through communities and being passed from one generation to another, like a deadly virus.

Forget, for a moment, the official unemployment numbers. They understate the problem of joblessness for all groups. Far more telling is the actual percentage of people in a given segment of the working-age population that is jobless.

Black men who graduate from a four-year college do reasonably well in terms of employment, compared with other ethnic groups. But most black men do not go to college. In big cities, more than half do not even finish high school.

Their employment histories are gruesome. Over the past few years, the percentage of black male high school graduates in their 20s who were jobless (including those who abandoned all efforts to find a job) has ranged from well over a third to roughly 50 percent. Those are the kinds of statistics you get during a depression.

For dropouts, the rates of joblessness are staggering. For black males who left high school without a diploma, the real jobless rate at various times over the past few years has ranged from 59 percent to a breathtaking 72 percent.

“Seventy-two percent jobless!” said Senator Charles Schumer, chairman of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, which held a hearing last week on joblessness among black men. “This compares to 29 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.”

Senator Schumer described the problem of black male unemployment as “profound, persistent and perplexing.”

Jobless rates at such sky-high levels don’t just destroy lives, they destroy entire communities. They breed all manner of antisocial behavior, including violent crime. One of the main reasons there are so few black marriages is that there are so many black men who are financially incapable of supporting a family.

“These numbers should generate a sense of national alarm,” said Senator Schumer.

They haven’t. However much this epidemic of joblessness may hurt, very little is being done about it. According to the Labor Department, only 97,000 new jobs were created in February. That’s not even enough to accommodate new entrants to the work force.

And then there’s the question of who’s getting the new jobs. According to statistics compiled by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, the only groups that have experienced a growth in jobs since the last recession are older workers and immigrants.

People can howl all they want about how well the economy is doing. The simple truth is that millions of ordinary American workers are in an employment bind. Steady jobs with good benefits are going the way of Ozzie and Harriet. Young workers, especially, are hurting, which diminishes the prospects for the American family. And blacks, particularly black males, are in a deep danger zone.

Instead of addressing this issue constructively, government officials have responded by eviscerating programs that were designed to move young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the labor market.

Robert Carmona, president of Strive, an organization that helps build job skills, told Senator Schumer’s committee, “What we’ve seen over the last several years is a deliberate disinvestment in programs that do work.”

What’s needed are massive programs of job training and job creation, and a sustained national effort to bolster the education backgrounds of disadvantaged youngsters. So far there has been no political will to do any of that.

You get lip service. But when you walk into the neighborhoods and talk to the young people, you find that very little, if anything, is being done. Which is why the real-world employment environment has become so horrendous for so many."

Here endeth the reading.

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