NEWS ANALYSIS: Mourning a Calamity, Confronting a Challenge

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By Ernest Corea

WASHINGTON DC - The threat of a possible terrorist attack to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the "day of infamy" in 2001 did not materialize, and did not undermine the solemn and moving memorial events that marked the event.

The threat was considered "credible and specific but not corroborated." White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaking at two political talk-shows on September 11 said that the reported threat "is credible in terms of the source that it comes from. And what we're trying to do is to put the pieces together."

He indicated, too, that the reported threat was consistent with information gathered from Osama bin Laden's quarters in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Brennan said: "We know that al-Qaeda has been trying for many years to carry out an attack here on our homeland.

"We know that they have tried to carry out major attacks similar to the 9/11 type of attack that took place 10 years ago. But we also know that they are now trying other types of attacks, maybe smaller attacks using car bombs or other types of things."

Vigilance and the pursuit of counter action continue. On September 11 itself, however, the emphasis was on reflection and remembrance.

Reflective Thoughts

Speaking during a 'Concert for Hope' in Washington's Kennedy Centre, President Barack Obama captured the reflective nature of the day's events, when he said:
"Ten years ago, America confronted one of our darkest nights. Mighty towers crumbled. Black smoke billowed up from the Pentagon. Airplane wreckage smoldered on a Pennsylvania field. Friends and neighbors, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters – they were taken from us with a heartbreaking swiftness and cruelty. And on September 12, 2001, we awoke to a world in which evil was closer at hand, and uncertainty clouded our future.

"In the decade since, much has changed for Americans. We've known war and recession, passionate debates and political divides. We can never get back the lives that were lost on that day or the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars that followed.

"And yet today, it is worth remembering what has not changed. Our character as a nation has not changed. Our faith – in God and in each other – has not changed. Our belief in America, born of a timeless ideal that men and women should govern themselves; that all people are created equal, and deserve the same freedom to determine their own destiny – that belief, through tests and trials, has only been strengthened…"

Other voices were raised as well; those that wondered aloud why the tenth anniversary of other cataclysmic events, including the civil war, did not receive the same attention as this tenth anniversary. Others pointed out that there has been no accountability for the war in Iraq which caused thousands of Americans and Iraqis to "die for a lie", or for the use of torture and rendition when suspected terrorists were interrogated.

Obama, meanwhile, much as he is moved by the calamity that hit the U.S. 10 years ago, cannot dwell only on the past as he continues with the business of governing, and also gears up for the major event in his future; the presidential election of 2012.

Moving Forward

So on the very day after the commemorative events in which he immersed himself, he was back on the issue that is fundamentally important to some 14 million unemployed Americans and their families. Pivoting to the question of jobs is simply a reminder that life must go on, and does.

Obama outlined his jobs plan during a speech to a joint session of the Houses of Congress on the eve of the September 11 commemorations. Details of the plan were fleshed out in draft legislation (The American Jobs Act) that he unveiled at the White House on September 12 and submitted to Congress. A White House summary outlines the main provisions of the legislation as follows
"First, it provides a tax cut for small businesses, not big corporations, to help them hire and expand now and provides an additional tax cut to any business that increases wages.

Second, it puts people back to work, including teachers, first responders and veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and construction workers repairing crumbling bridges, roads and more than 35,000 public schools, with projects chosen by need and impact, not earmarks and politics.

Third, it helps out-of-work Americans by extending unemployment benefits to help them support their families while looking for work and reforming the system with training programs that build real skills, connect to real jobs and help the long-term unemployed.

Fourth, it puts more money in the pockets of working and middle class Americans by cutting in half the payroll tax that comes out of every worker's paycheck, saving families an average of $1,500 a year.
Fifth, it removes the barriers that exist in the current federal refinancing program to help more Americans refinance their mortgages at historically low rates, save money and stay in their homes."

Common Cause

These proposals have been generally well received by economists, with the exception that it has been criticized for not dealing adequately with the problem of foreclosures that has many householders sinking in debt.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have said that the proposals "merit consideration." It should, because it includes proposals that have been floated by both Democrats and Republicans.
Darrel M. West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at Brookings Institution points out, for instance, that "the moment provides an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation, if our leaders can find the political will. / Among the measures Obama offered were proposals that can also be found in a plan put forward recently by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, traditionally thought of as a Republican-leaning organization, and in proposals offered by his rivals in the presidential race. And many echoed themes that experts here at Brookings have advocated for some time."

Now, "the devil is in the details," as that old saying goes, and in this case particularly in the details of financing for the jobs package. Obama undertook in his speech to the joint session and in statements elsewhere that the new jobs package would be fully funded. He has now explained that this would be done by raising the taxes of the wealthy to support the needs of the unemployed and indigent. Changes in the tax structure would apply to individuals earning over $200,000 a year and families earning over $250,000 a year.

The changes will bring in slightly over the amount required for full funding of the jobs package. Moreover, the principle of taxing the rich to support the less well-endowed has recently been strongly endorsed by some of the country’s wealthiest entrepreneurs.

The problem, however, is that most Republican legislators have signed a pledge never, ever to raise taxes in any shape or form. The coming days and weeks will show whether politicians will unite to liberate 14 million unemployed Americans and their families from anxiety and the threat of long-term poverty, or whether a partisan pledge will triumph
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