18 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


Witnesses describe people ‘running for their lives’ after blast in Chelsea as police examine second device while mayor Bill de Blasio says no link to terror

Manhattan explosion: police investigate second suspected device – live
New Jersey pipe bomb targets run in support of Marines

New York City firefighters at the site of an explosion in Chelsea, Manhattan on Saturday.

New York City firefighters at the site of an explosion in Chelsea, Manhattan on Saturday. Photograph: Andres Kudacki/AP

New York has been placed on full alert after 29 people were injured in an explosion in the Chelsea area of Manhattan on Saturday evening, with at least one other device being investigated by police in the city.

The cause of the first blast, which one witness said was “like a volcano”, was believed to have been an explosive device placed in a trash can on 23rd Street, a bustling area of the city on the lower west side a few blocks from the Empire State Building.

Another device reported to be a pressure cooker with wires attached to a cell phone was discovered on nearby 27th Street.

Earlier in the day, a pipe bomb exploded in New Jersey near the scene of a run in support of US Marines.

Although the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, told a media conference the Chelsea explosion was an “intentional act”, he stopped short of saying it was a bomb and said that there was “no evidence” yet of any link to terror.

However, a police officer at the scene confirmed to the Guardian that the first explosion was caused by a device placed in a trash can on 23rd Street. He did not give any further details.

The second site of investigation on 27th Street also involved “a device”, the officer said, and police were also examining a third site of interest but it was not clear whether it was an explosive device.

CNN reported that the second device was a pressure cooker, found with wires attached to a cell phone and a note. Pressure cooker bombs were the devices used to deadly effect in the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013.

Bomb squad officers removed the device from the site and were preparing to transfer it to a safe location to conduct a controlled explosion away from the heavily residential area.

De Blasio was flanked by the newly installed New York police commissioner, James O’Neill, when he spoke to reporters at around 11pm local time. “Injuries are significant but none of the injured are likely to die,” the mayor said after the blast had rocked city streets, producing a wall of flame that sent people “running for their lives”.

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Projected figures on migrant fatalities released as US prepares to host two major summits on refugee crisis

Sub-Saharan migrants onboard a rescue vessel off the coast of Libya.

Sub-Saharan migrants onboard a rescue vessel off the coast of Libya. Photograph: Ricardo Garcia Vilanova/AFP/Getty Images

The world is on course to register its highest number of migrant deaths this year, as criticism mounts over failing international efforts to cope with the global refugee crisis.

Forecasts from analysts at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) indicate that the number of fatalities among refugees will pass the landmark figure of 10,000 in 2016. The dire statistic will cast a shadow over two high-profile summits on migration in New York this week: on Monday the UN general assembly will meet to discuss the record volume of individuals forced to flee their homes as a result of crises and war around the world. That number currently stands at 65 million people, including 21.3 million refugees who have been forced to flee their country.

On Tuesday, US president Barack Obama will host a leaders’ summit – to be attended by the prime minister, Theresa May – intended to raise funds for refugee initiatives and expanded resettlement programmes.

Julia Black, of the charity Missing Migrants Project at its data analysis centre in Berlin, said that the organisation was confident that the world was facing its highest-ever mortality migration rate. She told the Observer: “Last year we had more than 5,000 deaths across the world. This year we’re already at more than 4,000, but outside of the Mediterranean and Europe the information is so poor we really think it’s a gross underestimate.

“This year we’ll reach that 5,000 total again realistically, but I would expect the real figure would be twice as much. The order of magnitude is greater than anything we’ve seen.”

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‘We have a moral obligation’: advocates look to Obama as refugee crisis wears on

Syrian refugees go about their lives at a camp for Syrian refugees in Islahiye, south-eastern Turkey, in March.

US politics

Election 2016

Latest Election Minute

David Clarke has been accused of covering up a deputy’s misdeeds while Joe Arpaio has been called ‘unrepentantly lawless’. Meet the prominent officers who want the businessman in the Oval Office

Paul Babeu, David Clarke and Joe Arpaio on police ta

Paul Babeu, David Clarke and Joe Arpaio are among officers supporting Donald Trump for president. Photograph: Jan Diehm

Vincent Caldara, one of the Donald Trump campaign’s official pilots and head of his “Florida law enforcement coalition”, is doubly devoted to the Republican presidential nominee and his pledge to crack down on criminality.

A former police officer in New York and Miami, Caldara told supporters at a recent gathering in Florida that he had been flying vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence “from coast to coast to make sure we get the law and order message out to every single person that will be voting on November 8th”.

Caldara is simultaneously fighting claims that he is a lawbreaker himself.

The 55-year-old pilot is charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, after he allegedly drove a vehicle at another person repeatedly in Pompano Beach in July last year. According to court records, the victim, whose name is withheld, was treated in hospital for leg and back injuries. Caldara has pleaded not guilty.

In a separate case, Caldara is accused of severely injuring a woman in June 2014 by recklessly driving into her with his Harley Davidson motorcycle in Fort Lauderdale. The woman is suing Caldara and seeking a jury trial. According to court records, officials have been unable to find Caldara to serve him with a summons.

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Trump ‘cornerstone is bigotry’: Sanders and Warren take on Clinton’s Ohio fight

Trump tells controversial group Clinton immigration plan will ‘abolish borders’

Mike Pence releases doctor’s letter highlighting ‘excellent general health’

Donald Trump: the madman in his castle


Two American Dreams: how a dumbed-down nation lost sight of a great idea

As Clinton and Trump prepare to debate next week, noble ideals are overwhelmed in a culture where most Americans do not know what is real anymore and the dream of equal opportunity is a fantasy


It’s one of the greatest inventions of all time, and just like it says on the dollar bill – novus ordo seclorum – it created an entirely new order in human affairs. After millennia of pharaohs, emperors, kings, queens, sultans, caesars and czars, with all their attendant aristocracies and locked-down social structures, a country was founded where birth and lineage didn’t matter so much, where by application of your talents, energy, labor and willingness to play by the rules, you could improve your material lot in life and achieve a measure of economic security for yourself and your family. Peasants and proles could aspire to more than mere survival. Radical!

We know it today as the American Dream. The now-obscure historian James Truslow Adams coined the term in his book The Epic of America, defining “the American dream” as:

a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Adams was writing in 1931, but the dream was there from the start, in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” formulation in the Declaration of Independence, “happiness” residing in its 18th-century sense of prosperity, thriving, wellbeing.

Nobody ever came to America with a starry-eyed dream of working for starvation wages. Plenty of that available in the old country, and that’s precisely why we left, escaping serfdom, peonage, tenancy, indenture – all different iterations of what was essentially a “rigged system”, to put it in current political verbiage – that channeled the profits of our labor upstream to the Man. We came to America to do better, to secure for ourselves the liberation that economic security brings, and for millions – mostly white males at first, and then slowly, sputteringly, women and people of color – that’s the way it worked out, nothing less than a revolution in the human condition.

Upward mobility is indispensable to the American Dream, the notion that people can rise from working to middle class, and middle to upper and even higher on the model of a (fictional) Horatio Alger or an (actual) Andrew Carnegie. Upward mobility across classes peaked in the US in the late 19th century. Most of the gains of the 20th century were achieved en masse; it wasn’t so much a phenomenon of great numbers of people rising from one class to the next as it was standards of living rising sharply for all classes. You didn’t have to be exceptional to rise. Opportunity was sufficiently broad that hard work and steadiness would do, along with tacit buy-in to the social contract, allegiance to the system proceeding on the assumption that the system was basically fair.

The biggest gains occurred in the post-second world war era of the GI Bill, affordable higher education, strong labor unions, and a progressive tax code. Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, median household income in the US doubled. Income inequality reached historic lows. The average CEO salary was approximately 30 times that of the lowest-paid employee, compared with today’s gold-plated multiple of 370. The top tax bracket ranged in the neighborhood of 70% to 90%. Granted, there were far fewer billionaires in those days. Somehow the nation survived.

“America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.” So wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated column of 6 January 1941, an apt lead-in to her husband’s State of the Union address later that day in which he enumerated the four freedoms essential to American democracy, among them “freedom from want”. In his State of the Union address three years later, FDR expanded on this concept of freedom from want with his proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights”, an “economic” bill of rights to counteract what he viewed as the growing tyranny of the modern economic order:

This Republic had at its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship … As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy has expanded – these political rights have proved inadequate to assure us equality. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.

Political rights notwithstanding, “freedom” rings awfully hollow when you’re getting nickel-and-dimed to death in your everyday life. The Roosevelts recognized that wage peonage, or any system that inclines toward subsistence level, is simply incompatible with self-determination. Subsistence is, by definition, a constrained, desperate state; one’s horizon is necessarily limited to the present day, to getting enough of what the body needs to make it to the next. These days a minimum wage worker in New York City clocking 40 hours a week (at $9 per hour) earns $18,720 a year, well under the Federal Poverty Line of $21,775. That’s a scrambling, anxious existence, narrowly bounded. Close to impossible to decently feed, clothe, and shelter yourself on a wage like that, much less a family; much less buy health insurance, or save for your kid’s college, or participate in any of those other good American things. Down at peon level, the pursuit of happiness sounds like a bad joke. “It’s called the American dream,” George Carlin cracked, “because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

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