Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

Fading optimism in “new normal” America

Bernd Debusmann
Dec 23, 2010 15:19 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own

Optimism is so deeply embedded in the American national psyche that it withstood the Great Depression in the 1930s and a string of recessions since then. But in the era some economists call “the new normal” in America, optimism is fading.

So say public opinion polls that ask Americans how they see the future, theirs and their country’s. One recent survey, by the respected Pew Research Center, found that depression era Americans were more optimistic about economic recovery in the near future than people questioned in a Pew poll this October, when only 35 percent said they expected better economic conditions in a year’s time. In response to a similar question in 1936 and 1937, about half expected general business conditions to improve over the next six months.

The phrase “new normal” was coined by PIMCO, one of the world’s biggest investment funds, and is shorthand for an American future that includes lowered living standards, slow growth and high unemployment. Joblessness now stands at 9.8 percent, up from 9.6 percent in October. Add workers who have given up looking for jobs and people forced to work part time and the rate climbs to 17 percent, a powerful reason for declining optimism.

But it’s not the only one. A slew of studies, surveys and reports show that a growing number of Americans – some surveys say more than half – no longer believe that their country is a land of unlimited opportunity, where all it takes to rise to success is hard work and determination.

“The end of American optimism,” as a headline over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal proclaimed this summer, has not quite arrived. But Americans increasingly believe that the rich just get richer and the poor just get poorer. They have good reason to think so. The rich-poor gap in the United States is wider than in any other developed country.

American secrets and bizarre rules

Bernd Debusmann
Dec 17, 2010 15:59 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Does a secret stop being a secret when millions of people know it? Yes, says common sense. No, says the U.S. government, whose reaction to the WikiLeaks dump of classified diplomatic cables portrays a bureaucracy inhabiting a logic-free world all of its own.

Writers thinking of producing 21st century novels emulating the works of Franz Kafka are well advised to closely follow Washington’s problems in coming to grips with what kind of information should be open to whom and when.

Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can see the 1,500-odd classified cables released so far by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which holds more than 250,000 messages exchanged between the U.S. Department of State and American embassies around the world. Five news organizations, including the New York Times, have reported on the cables in great detail. But the fact that the information is in the public domain makes no difference to the government’s view of its classified nature.

WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange

Bernd Debusmann
Dec 10, 2010 16:39 UTC

What started out as a small group of activists operating a clearing house for leaked secret documents, WikiLeaks looks like it is turning into an international grass roots movement that needs no central figure to fight a “data war” in the name of Internet freedom.

It could be a long war, no matter whether Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, remains the world’s most prominent anti-secrecy figure or not.

Since November 28, when WikiLeaks began releasing a quarter of a million classified U.S. State Department cables from embassies around the world, there have been several attempts to drive the organization off the Internet and cut its channels for receiving donations. A day after Assange was arrested in London, Internet activists struck back.

A counter-productive WikiLeak

Bernd Debusmann
Dec 3, 2010 16:00 UTC

WIKILEAKS/AMAZON

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — Now that WikiLeaks has begun releasing a quarter of a million classified U.S. State Department cables from embassies around the world, a new era is dawning. Political change and reform are inevitable world-wide and at long last, there’s a chance for peace and stability in the Middle East. Really.

This is how Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, views the effect of the dispatches that lay bare the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, provide frank and often titillating detail of the shortcomings and foibles of foreign leaders, report on the breath-taking scale of corruption in such places as Afghanistan and Russia, and note that — surprise, surprise — Arab leaders in particular tend to say one thing in public and quite another in private.

“The…media scrutiny and the reaction from government are so tremendous that it actually eclipses our ability to understand it,” Assange said in an interview with Time magazine on day 3 of the data dump, which began on November 28. “I can see that there is a tremendous re-arrangement of viewings about many different countries. And so that will result in a new kind of harmonization … ”

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