Sunday, February 24, 2013

Time to Get Tough with Egypt and Morsi. By Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne.

U.S. needs to show Egypt some tough love. By Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne. Washington Post, February 20, 2013.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.

Kagan and Dunne:

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry need to pay attention to Egypt — now. The most populous Arab country, poster child of the Arab Spring, faces a looming economic crisis and a widespread breakdown in law and order, including increasingly prevalent crime and rape. Either will cripple Egypt’s faltering effort to become a stable democracy.

The Obama administration has treated Egypt primarily as an economic problem and has urged Cairo to move quickly to satisfy International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands to qualify for financing. But there is no separating Egypt’s economic crisis from its political crisis — or from the failures of its current government. Egypt’s economy is struggling and disorder is rampant primarily because the country’s leaders the past two years — first the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, now President Mohamed Morsi — have failed to build an inclusive political process. Until they do, no amount of IMF funding will make a difference.

Although Morsi won a narrow victory last summer, he has yet to learn what it means to lead in a democratic society. His Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s strongest political force, but it does not command a majority of public support. It cannot simply force its will on the nation, especially one still aroused by the spirit of revolution. Morsi can hardly take on urgent tasks, such as the cutting of wasteful fuel subsidies and the reformation of a corrupt interior ministry and police force, when much of the country is against him and ready to take to the streets at the least provocation.

Under Morsi’s rule, Egyptian society has become polarized between Islamists and non-Islamists. Enraging the political opposition late last year, he railroaded through a new constitution that contains inadequate protections for the rights of women and non-Muslims and leaves open the possibility of Islamic clerical oversight of legislation. Ignoring protests about the flawed process by which the constitution was drafted and passed, Morsi is moving ahead to legislative elections based on an electoral law to which the opposition objects. Meanwhile, his government has cracked down on journalists, brought spurious charges against opposition leaders and limited the right to public protests. It is considering legislation that would constrain the activities of non-governmental organizations even more than Hosni Mubarak did.

The increasingly desperate secular opposition parties have formed a “National Salvation Front,” but under the surface they are divided between those who want to force Morsi to compromise and those who want to force him from power. Even though most favor the economic reforms necessary to get an IMF loan, many feel they must mobilize street protests against any Morsi action.

The result is that, with Egypt at the edge of bankruptcy — it has enough reserves to pay for only three more months of food and fuel imports — the government and the opposition are locked in a game of chicken. The economy is sinking, political conflict is rising and the security situation is deteriorating.

Washington’s response to this crisis has largely been business as usual. Just as the United States once clung to Mubarak, the Obama administration has hewed closely to Morsi, offering a visit to Washington and continuing to deliver the annual $1.3billion in military assistance including a recent shipment of F-16 aircraft. The administration’s response to Morsi’s majoritarian bullying has been muted. Egypt’s opposition and nonpartisan human rights groups believe, understandably, that Washington has resumed ignoring undemocratic practices so long as the Egyptian government protects U.S. strategic interests. Outside of opening new contacts with the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, there has been no fundamental reassessment of U.S. policy toward Egypt since Mubarak’s removal in 2011. Our military and economic aid packages remain the same — except that nearly all democracy and civil-society assistance has been cut off.

It’s time for a new approach. Both the administration and Congress need to fully review military and economic assistance to Egypt. What does the Egyptian army need to bring security to the Sinai? Probably not F-16s. What conditions should Congress place on aid? Previous packages have appropriately been conditioned on progress toward democracy, but the administration has insisted on a national security waiver and has exercised it to provide the aid regardless of Egypt’s behavior. Perhaps Congress should not permit such a waiver in the next aid bill.

As for Morsi’s planned trip to Washington, it would be better to hold that invitation until he demonstrates a sincere commitment to working with all of Egyptian society and allowing genuine freedom to all citizens. That means supporting a law that meets international standards on regulating civil society, allowing watchdog organizations to operate freely and finally resolving the controversial status of foreign and foreign-funded NGOs. It means ending the persecution of journalists and opposition figures, committing to reform the police and hold them accountable, and building a consensus on such critical matters as the constitution and electoral law.

The United States made a strategic error for years by coddling Mubarak, and his refusal to carry out reforms produced the revolution of Tahrir Square. We repeat the error by coddling Morsi at this critical moment. The United States needs to use all its options — military aid, economic aid and U.S. influence with the IMF and other international lenders — to persuade Morsi to compromise with secular politicians and civil-society leaders on political and human rights issues to rebuild security and get the economy on track.

The Walmart Test: Payroll Taxes and the Social Contract. By George Packer.

The Walmart Test: Payroll Taxes and the Social Contract. By George Packer. The New Yorker, February 20, 2013.


If you were to write a social history of America through the story of business, what would be the most significant companies in the years since the Second World War? I’d divide the period into two: from 1945 to the mid-seventies, I might name General Motors and Woolworth’s. They set the standard for corporate success and behavior during a period that could be called the Roosevelt Republic, when a social contract underwrote American life. It included an expanding middle class, a strong safety net, high marginal tax rates, a white male establishment that grudgingly made way for other groups, a bipartisan approach to legislation in Washington, and a business culture that was cautious, loyal, hierarchical, and unimaginative.

In the decades since the mid-seventies—you could call it the Reagan Republic, but I prefer the “Unwinding”—the social contract has frayed to the point of disintegration. The middle class has shrunk; tax rates (especially on upper brackets) have plunged; inequality has exploded; the safety net (especially for the poor) has weakened; the old power structure has given way to a more diverse and broad-based upper class based on education; bipartisanship—well, you know; and business culture has become entrepreneurial, fast, risk-taking, and harsh. The trade-off: more freedom, less security.

The Broken Contract: Inequality and American Decline. By George Packer. Foreign Affairs, November/December 2011.

Gilded Class Warriors. By Victor Davis Hanson.

Gilded Class Warriors. By Victor Davis Hanson. National Review Online, February 21, 2013.

Brave New World. By Victor Davis Hanson. Works and Days. PJ Media, February 19, 2013.

Hanson, Brave New World:

Them and Us

I think it was around 2009 when an entire new vocabulary entered the American popular lexicon. Where did the 1% versus the 99% come from? From where did the new financial Mason-Dixon line arise — good below $250,000 in annual family income, very bad above it? When did the 47% — or is it the 50%? — pay no federal income taxes?

At some magical point, the rich became not the successful, the skilled, the well-inherited, the lucky, or the hardworking, but “them”:  the suspect, the damned even, even as the lifestyles of the rich and famous became ever more sought after.

There are not just the rich and poor any more, but now the “good rich” (e.g., athletes, rappers, Hollywood stars, Silicon Valley grandees, Democratic senators, liberal philanthropists, etc.) and the “bad rich” (e.g., oil companies, CEOs, doctors, the Koch brothers, etc.). The correct-thinking nomenklatura and the dutiful apparat versus the kulaks and enemies of the people.

The president in his State of the Union damns the “billionaires with high-powered accountants,” as a friendly Facebook pays no state or federal taxes, as a George Soros walks away with $1.2 billion in speculation profits (in three months, no less!) by betting against the Japanese yen, and as a Jesse Jackson, Jr. gets caught stealing from a campaign fund to buy a $43,000 Rolex (was not a $1,000 one enough?). I thought Soros at his age knew when he had made enough money?

We shrug at all this. A president who thunders to the nation that we must be on guard against the “well-off and well-connected” heads south to Palm Beach to meet his $1,000-an-hour golf pro, while Michelle and the family go west to hit the slopes at “downright mean” Aspen, where no one accepts that they’ve reached a point where they’ve made enough money, or that there was any time when it was not good to profit.

Something strange has insidiously happened to the old notion of hypocrisy. Does it even exist any longer?

Or do we shrug and just accept it as rebranded medieval penance? Obama gets to golf with zillionaires because in soaring cadences he attacks them — and all for us?

Jack Lew takes his $1 million bonus from a federally bailed-out Citigroup and invests his stash in his offshore tax haven in the Caymans because he will be a progressive, raise-your-taxes secretary of Treasury — and because Barack Obama has castigated those who took bonuses from a federally bailed-out money-losing company and derided offshore tax havens in the Caymans?

Chris Hughes is a cutting-edge, gay progressive who buys the New Republic because his Facebook portfolio does pretty well without owing taxes? Is that how it works now?

Have we come to the point where we expect John Kerry’s populist rhetoric to explain why he can feel no pain over dodging taxes on his yacht or marrying into the big money that he used to warn against? John Edwards can lounge around in his ugly mansion precisely because of his “two Americas” choruses?

When did we expect the elite to enjoy their wealth and to rail against its acquisition, to lumber around on four legs in the barn with the animals and strut on two in the kitchen with the overseers? Do Levis and t-shirts mean it’s okay for Google to offshore its profits? Does “Earth in the Balance” mean you can walk away as a guilt-free liberal with $100 million in petro-profits from a sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic sheikdom?

Republicans Shouldn’t Be Too Reasonable. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Republicans Shouldn’t Be Too Reasonable. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, February 22, 2013.

An Interesting Time to Be Alive (If You’re a Republican). By Peter Wehner. Commentary, February 22, 2013.

In Search of Republican Reformers. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, February 20, 2013.

How to Save the Republican Party. By Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. Commentary, March 2013.

Upward Mobility. By Fareed Zakaria.

Upward Mobility. By Fareed Zakaria. Time, March 4, 2013.


America has long been seen—by its citizens and the world—as the place where anyone can make it. And yet studies from the past two decades all point to a different reality. Economic mobility in the U.S. is low compared with what it was in times past and with current levels in many European countries and Canada. It is particularly sticky at the two ends of the economic ladder. Rich people rarely become poor in a generation—and the poorest seldom get rich. Despite the rags-to-riches myth, such stories are the exception. A comprehensive study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project documents that in the U.S. today, few poor people become even upper middle class.

The myth of America’s social mobility. By Fareed Zakaria. Video. Fareed Zakaria GPS. CNN, February 24, 2013.

Pew Economic Mobility Project. The Pew Charitable Trusts.

What I Learned About Empire in the West Bank. By Nathan Schneider.

The Hourglass: What I Learned About Empire in the West Bank. By Nathan Schneider. Tikkun, February 14, 2013. Also find it here.

Purim and Esther: Dawn of a New Age. By Mark Kirschbaum.

Torah Commentary – Purim: Eshter – Dawn of a New Age. By Mark Kirschbaum. Tikkun, February 21, 2013. Also find it here.

Peace and Watermelons. By Uri Avnery.

Peace and Watermelons. By Uri Avnery., February 23, 2013.

Independent UN Panel Urges Action Amid Ongoing Human Rights Abuses in Syria.

Independent UN panel urges action amid ongoing human rights abuses in Syria conflict. UN News Centre, February 18, 2013.

UN commission of inquiry: all partiesbecoming increasingly reckless with human life as the Syrian conflict drags on. United Nations Human Rights Council, February 18, 2013.

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. A/HRC/22/59. United Nations Human Rights Council, February 5, 2013.

U.N. Rights Officials Urge Syria War Crimes Charges. By Nick Cumming-Bruce. New York Times, February 18, 2013.

Syria: The death of a country. The Economist, February 23, 2013. Also find it here.

The country formerly known as Syria. The Economist, February 23, 2013. Also find it here.

UN panel: Syria civil war increasingly sectarian, radical; weapons supply needs to be curbed. AP. Washington Post, February 18, 2013.

A Syrian woman carries her injured son, who was shot by the border guards as the pair crossed a river from Syria to Lebanon. AP.