Opinion

David Rohde

Talk for now in Syria, but prepare to arm

David Rohde
Feb 24, 2012 00:52 UTC

REYHANLI, Turkey – Here on the border between Turkey and Syria, evidence abounds that Bashir Al-Assad is winning.

Despite widespread rumors, no organized effort is under way to arm rebel fighters. The opposition “Free Syrian Army” remains a poorly equipped and loosely organized militia unable to stop a Syrian army still loyal to Assad. At the same time, a sectarian conflict between Assad’s ruling Allawite minority and Syria’s Sunni majority is intensifying.

In northern Syria, Sunni and Allawite villages have divided into pro- and anti-government enclaves, according to fleeing refugees. At checkpoints, government security forces order people to pray to the country’s Allawite leader. If they refuse, they are deemed Sunni subversives. And Sunni army defectors say Allawite officers threatened them with execution if they refused to fire on demonstrators.

“I had to do it,” a remorseful 24-year-old Sunni soldier who defected this week told me. “If I don’t fire, someone will kill me.”

At Friday’s “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis, the United States and its allies should demand cease fires that would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged enclaves. And they should pressure the predominantly Sunni Syrian opposition to unify, gain firmer control of rebel fighters and more aggressively court Allawites, Christians and other minorities to join them.

What job creation looks like outside Washington

David Rohde
Feb 16, 2012 22:47 UTC

RALEIGH-DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA — In two small, unassuming offices here, Bob Robinson and Eric Buckland are quietly making heroic efforts to help the American middle class. But American capitalism — and the American government — serve them both poorly.

The two men, the small businesses they painstakingly nurture and the difficulties they encounter are on-the-ground examples of the broad economic challenges the United States faces. Their stories do not present easy answers. Instead, they put the lie to Republican and Democratic orthodoxies regarding economic growth.

Start with Robinson. He is the executive director of the Raleigh Business & Technology Center, a primarily government-funded effort to help the poor and middle-class residents of southeast Raleigh start small businesses. The center — and the neighborhood it calls home — shows how a high-tech boom that has made Raleigh-Durham the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. nonetheless misses large segments of the population.

The university as job laboratory

David Rohde
Feb 10, 2012 01:40 UTC

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA — At the age of 17, Holden Thorp placed fifth in a nationally televised Rubik’s cube competition on the ABC show That’s Incredible! At 24, he received a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology after studying for three years instead of five. And at 43, he was named chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, becoming one of the country’s youngest university presidents.

Today, Thorp is trying to turn this 29,000-student public university into an engine of economic innovation. A business owner who has twice launched $25 million pharmaceutical startups, Thorp has streamlined the process for faculty members to turn their discoveries into private companies. He has made “entrepreneurship” a minor for all undergraduate students.

And Thorp has co-written a book, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the 21st Century, with the university’s “entrepreneur in residence” — a former venture capital banker. It calls for the top 125 U.S. research universities to revitalize the American economy.

Mitt and the middle class

David Rohde
Feb 3, 2012 02:32 UTC

Mitt Romney’s declaration that he wasn’t concerned about “the very poor” was lampooned by Republicans and Democrats alike this week. But his next statement in a CNN interview is the one that could determine the fate of his candidacy.

“I’m concerned about the very heart of America,” Romney said, adding later: “My focus is on middle-income Americans.”

With astonishing speed, the 2012 presidential election is becoming a referendum on how best to help the American middle class. So far, Romney’s solutions are likely to be far more pleasing to the Republican base than the general electorate.

America’s good bank

David Rohde
Jan 27, 2012 21:36 UTC

It didn’t take a penny in federal bailout money. It grew throughout the financial crisis. It has consistently garnered top customer service rankings. And Fortune magazine just named it one of the 20 best companies to work for in America. Meet America’s good bank: USAA.

USAA is a San Antonio, Texas-based bank, insurance, and financial services company with 22,000 employees, serving 8 million current and former members of the military and their families. The company’s roots go back to 1922, when 25 army officers agreed to insure one another’s cars when no traditional companies would. Since then, USAA, or the United Services Automobile Association, has steadily grown.

By its very definition, USAA serves the middle class. It does business only with current and former members of the military and their families. Studies have shown that the U.S.’s all-volunteer military is dominated by members of the middle class, not the elite.

The world according to Romney

David Rohde
Jan 20, 2012 01:25 UTC

Update: Given yesterday’s results in South Carolina, I clearly shouldn’t have called Romney the Republican party’s “presumptive nominee.” For a critical look at a Gingrich administration foreign policy, take a look at this analysis by The Atlantic’s Max Fisher. Here’s my Jan. 20th take on Romney’s foreign policy.

Declare China a currency manipulator. Impose harsh sanctions on Iran. Build a missile shield against Russia. Keep American troops in Afghanistan. Halt negotiations with the Taliban. Visit Israel on first presidential trip. And add 100,000 soldiers to the U.S. army.

To be sure, as a former moderate Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney needed to out-chest-thump his Republican rivals to become the party’s presumptive nominee. But don’t expect Romney to tack to the center in this year’s general election.

White House: The American middle class is shrinking

David Rohde
Jan 13, 2012 19:12 UTC

In a speech in Washington on Thursday, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers said that the American middle class has been shrinking since 1970. Princeton University economist Alan Krueger said the American middle class shrank from 50.3 percent of American households in 1970 to 42.2 percent in 2010. Krueger defined the middle class as households with annual incomes within 50 percent of the national median income. Here is a table presented describing his findings.

 

Later in the speech, Krueger cited well-known studies describing growing income inequality in the United States. His claim about a shrinking middle class, though, appears to be new. While researchers have in the past argued that the middle class is shrinking, both Democratic and Republican administrations have generally steered clear of giving an exact definition of the middle class. Apparently fearing that an exact definition could backfire on them if the economy performs poorly, administrations have vowed to defend the middle class but avoided specifics. Given the central role that the state of the middle class will play in the 2012 presidential campaign, all of that may be different this year. To me, that’s a step forward.

Talk to the Taliban

David Rohde
Jan 12, 2012 22:28 UTC

WASHINGTON — As American officials scramble to contain the fallout from an appalling video showing Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, news that the Obama administration is carrying out secret negotiations with the Taliban has barely registered on the American political landscape. The lack of interest in the talks – and public outrage at the video – reflects how little Americans apparently care about the conflict, despite its staggering human and fiscal cost.

Since 2001, the war in Afghanistan has killed at least 8,000 Afghan civilians, 5,500 Afghan police and soldiers, 1,800 American soldiers and 900 soldiers from other nations.

Thousands of Taliban fighters have died as well, according to American military estimates, but no reliable figure exists. While suffering heavy casualties in set-piece battles, the Taliban have excelled at suicide attacks, roadside bombs and propaganda that portrays American forces as abusive occupiers. The video showing Marines urinating on Taliban corpses – a hugely offensive act to Muslims and a potential war crime – will only reinforce that image.

Yes, we’re creating jobs, but how’s the pay?

David Rohde
Jan 5, 2012 22:50 UTC

Update: The December job numbers released this morning continued the same trend described in yesterday’s column. Of the 200,000 new jobs created last month, 78,000 – or nearly 40 percent — were in transportation, warehousing and retail, sectors known for low pay and seasonal hiring. In a far more positive sign, manufacturing gained 23,000 workers in December after four months of little change. A vast expansion of that trend would benefit the middle class tremendously.

WASHINGTON — Between now and November, middle class Americans are going to hear an enormous amount of bragging about job creation.

Mitt Romney will tout his role in the creation of Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s, three firms that he says created 100,000 jobs. Barack Obama will say 2.9 million jobs have been created since March 2010, and highlight a surge of 140,000 new private sector jobs in November.

What do we mean by “middle class”?

David Rohde
Dec 29, 2011 21:51 UTC

Update: My apologies. I cited the wrong Census data table when describing my definition of the middle class. A corrected version is below.

Are you middle class?

For decades, praising the middle class has been a staple of American politics. Candidates vow to defend the middle class and accuse their opponents of betraying it. But what, exactly, is the “middle class”?

Since I began writing this column three months ago, readers have asked for an exact definition of the middle class. The question is a legitimate and vital one. With studies showing the American middle class in decline, understanding which policies create, expand and protect the demographic is more important than ever. But definitions vary.

  •