Debt ceiling crisis: the US reaction

What the American papers have to say about the on-going political crisis.

The deadline for the US government to raise its debt ceiling is fast approaching. While officials have said they are optimistic a deal will be reached, the last few days and weeks have been marked by intense partisan fighting, and splits within the Republican party as hardline Tea Party representatives hold their more moderate colleagues to ransom. Here is a selection of views from American commentators.

New York Times

Maureen Dowd holds the Tea Party accountable for the current mess:

Like gargoyles on the Capitol, the adamantine nihilists are determined to blow up the country's prestige, their party and even their own re-election chances if that's what it takes...

Consider what the towel-snapping Tea Party crazies have already accomplished. They've changed the entire discussion. They've neutralized the White House. They've whipped their leadership into submission. They've taken taxes and revenues off the table. They've withered the stock and bond markets. They've made journalists speak to them as though they're John Calhoun and Alexander Hamilton.

The newspaper's editorialis concerned about the emphasis on austerity amid sluggish growth:

The economy is in trouble, and Washington -- fixated on budget slashing at a time when the economy needs more spending -- seems determined to make matters worse...

[Growth has nearly ground to a halt] Nor are there persuasive signs that absent more government support, conditions will turn around anytime soon. Indeed, they are bound to worsen if Congress approves deep near-term spending cuts as part of a debt-limit deal while letting relief and recovery measures expire.

Washington Post

Peter Wallsten considers the implications for Barack Obama's presidency and the challenges ahead:

Averting possible disaster and signing legislation to make deep cuts in federal spending could hand Obama a quick boost -- particularly with the independents who supported him in 2008 but appear to be favoring a Republican in next year's election.

But success means achieving a politically precarious task: finding a formula to win over battle-weary skeptics in both parties and marginalize purist tea party conservatives and liberal Democrats.

Even ending the immediate crisis is likely to set the stage for more difficult battles this year over trimming entitlements and raising taxes -- a process laid out in both the House and Senate bills that seemed to be forming the basis for eleventh-hour negotiations.

LA Times

Kathleen Hennesy and Lisa Mascaro ask whether Congress is now too partisan to settle on any middle ground.

Again and again in recent weeks, the pragmatism that so often has resolved difficult problems in government has collapsed under the weight of ideology. Negotiations repeatedly have broken down at the point of real concession...

Political dynamics aside, former lawmakers say something fundamental has changed. The days of bipartisan socializing and interaction are gone. Many members make a point of spending as little time in Washington as possible, sleeping in their offices and leaving most weekends.

The result is a shortage of the personal relationships and political understandings that ease compromise.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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"We are not going to change": Barcelona defies terror with a return to normality

After a attack which killed 14 and injured scores more, shock gives way to defiance and unity.

A perfect summer afternoon in Barcelona suddenly turned into a nightmare on Thursday evening, a nightmare that has become far too common in Europe in recent years. 

“I was having a coffee here [in Plaça Catalunya] and was about to go and walk down there like everyday, because I live just off the Ramblas”, says 26-year-old Eneko de Marcos, pointing down the promenade. “I stayed because I was waiting for a friend, and when she came we heard a big noise and then everyone was running."

Thousands of people, most of them tourists, had been ambling casually along the Ramblas, the most iconic of Barcelona boulevards, which descends from Plaça Catalunya to the old port and the sea, when a white van had mounted the pedestrianised centre of the walk and began driving into people. 

Even after the van came to a stop, leaving a trail of dead and injured in its wake, De Marcos and hundreds of others were trapped for hours inside bars, shops and hotels while the police cordoned off the area and investigated the scene.

Seeing the Ramblas and the surrounding areas completely empty of people following the attack is, for anyone used to the area, unreal and the first reaction for most has been shock. Barcelona had felt safe both to locals and tourists, which had been coming to the city in increasing numbers since last year, many perhaps trying to avoid other destinations in Europe seen as more at risk of attack. 

Shock gave way to confusion and fear during the evening. The van driver was still at large and a series of ugly images, videos and unconfirmed rumours about other attacks spread across social media and the news. The number of victims increased steadily to 13 dead and more than 80 injured of many different nationalities.

At 11pm the city centre and its surroundings were eerily quiet and dark. Few people were venturing on to the streets, and the bar terraces which would normally be packed with people enjoying the late dinners Spaniards are famous for were half empty.

The next morning Barcelona woke up to the news that after 1am that night the Police had stopped a second attack in the touristic beach town of Cambrils, an hour and a half away to the south. What was going on? The streets of Barcelona were still quiet, far too quiet in a city usually noisy and crowded, and again the terraces, so symptomatic of the Barcelona’s mood, were unusually empty.

“I always said something like this would never happen in Barcelona”, says Joaquín Alegre, 76, walking through Plaça de Catalunya the morning after with his friend, Juan Pastor, 74, who nods and agrees: “I always felt safe.”

But slowly fear had given way to defiance. “Afraid? No, no, no”, insists Joaquín. “We’re going to carry on like normal, respecting the victims and condemning the attack, but we are not going to change”, says Juan.

Little by little the Ramblas and the whole area started to fill up during the day. People came from all directions, all kinds of people, speaking all kinds of language. The day was beautiful, the sky was blue, there are no clouds in sight and it got hotter by the minute. It began to look like Barcelona again.

“It’s important not to show fear, that’s what (the terrorists) want”, says Emily, an 18-year-old from Dresden, in Germany, who landed yesterday at Barcelona airport with her mother a few minutes after the attack. She says people were checking their phones while still on the plane and then one girl said aloud there’d been a terrorist attack in Barcelona. “It’s important to come here (to Plaça Catalunya) at this time”, says her mother, Anna, 42, both of them sitting on a low wall at the square.

Next to them, where the Ramblas begins, people once again filled the boulevard full of shops and hotels, which many locals also see as a symbol of how tourism has gone wrong in Barcelona. But Catalans, Spaniards from elsewhere and foreigners mingled happily, feeling united against a common enemy. Many left flowers and lit candles at the feet of a big ornamental lamppost on top of the Ramblas, many others did the same next to the famous Canaletes fountain a little down the promenade. 

“We the people have to respond to this by getting out and taking the streets”, says Albert Roca, a 54 year old publicist, who’s decided to come against the wishes of his girlfriend, who told him he was crazy. “I took a picture of the Ramblas and sent it to her and wrote, ‘Look how many crazy people there are’.”

Just before noon the Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau visited the Plaça Catalunya with her retinue. She is a very popular figure who comes from civil society in a country where many citizens don’t feel properly represented by traditional politicians. Many people followed her carrying roses, a symbol of Barcelona, while they made their way into the square.

Shortly after, around 100,000 people packed Plaça Catalunya and its adjacent streets for a minute of silence begins for the victims. Only the flapping of pigeon’s wings overhead can be heard. And then an applause and a loud chant break the silence: “I am not afraid! I am not afraid!”, sang the people in Catalan.

Along with Colau in the centre of the square there was Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan regional government and leader of the independence movement that has called for a referendum on 1 October, and along side them, King Felipe as the head of State, and Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain and a bitter political rival of Puigdemont. Seeing them standing together presents an image that until yesterday afternoon would’ve seemed impossible.

Very slowly people start emptying the square, where many still remain singing defiantly. “The attacks yesterday were a disgrace”, says a doorman just outside the city centre as Barcelona began returning to normality, “but we are going to carry on, what else can we do?”