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NYT: Sovereignty v Self-Rule

NYT: Sovereignty v Self-Rule

The Kosovars’ secession from Serbia drove a deep wedge between the United States and Russia that soured relations for years. Washington supported Kosovo’s bid for independence while Moscow saw it as an infringement of Serbia’s sovereignty. Now 15 years later, the former Cold War rivals again find themselves at odds, but this time they have effectively switched sides.

Slate: Anti-Protest Bill

Slate: Anti-Protest Bill

In short, citizen protests puncture the pretty, patriotic illusion of a focus-grouped, Photoshopped media event, and replace it with the gritty patriotic reality of democracy in action. That’s why the teeny cosmetic changes to Section 1752, which purport to be about new kinds of security, are really all about optics.

BIJ: Covert Drone War

BIJ: Covert Drone War

A UN counter-terrorism expert has published the second report of his year-long investigation into drone strikes. The report, by British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, identifies 30 attacks between 2006 and 2013 that show sufficient indications of civilian deaths to demand a ‘public explanation of the circumstances and the justification for the use of deadly force’ under international law.

WP: Democrats Too Liberal?

WP: Democrats Too Liberal?

The recent polarization of American politics has been far more obvious on the right than the left. The emergence of the tea party movement and its influence in Congress has brought to the fore political values that are more conservative than those of the average voter. But while Republicans have become more conservative, Democrats have grown more liberal.

BI: State of the Int’l Order

BI: State of the Int’l Order

The State of the International Order report assesses international cooperation in the economic, diplomatic and security realms five years after the global financial crisis and over a decade after the invasion of Iraq. In gauging the state of the order, we ask two questions: What are the material realities shaping the options faced by the great powers? What are the issue-by-issue interactions that are revealing or shaping the content of great power relations, and international order more generally?

RE: Putin’s Anti-Olympic Creed

RE: Putin’s Anti-Olympic Creed

Suddenly, the winter games that Putin hosted have given way to his penchant for using armed force in what is beginning to look like a 21st-century version of the Great Game. This is the second time in six years that Putin has exerted Russian hard power to intimidate a neighboring country.

AJ: Shocking Corporate Welfare

AJ: Shocking Corporate Welfare

State and local governments have awarded $110 billion in taxpayer subsidies to business, with 3 of every 4 dollars going to fewer than 1,000 big corporations. The largest five subsidies went to Boeing, ALCOA, Intel, General Motors and Ford. Dow Chemical received 410 separate subsidies worth $1.4 billion. Federal, state and local governments publish exhaustively detailed statistical reports on welfare to the poor, disabled, sick, elderly and other individuals who cannot support themselves. But corporate welfare is not the subject of any comprehensive reporting at the federal level. Disclosures by state and local governments vary greatly, from substantial to nearly nonexistent. Taxpayers who want to understand their burdens should demand that Congress require and pay for detailed annual reports showing every federal, state and local subsidy received by corporations.

NYT: Benefits of a Higher Wage

NYT: Benefits of a Higher Wage

Republicans sputtered with outrage when the Congressional Budget Office said that immigration reform would lower the deficit, strengthen Social Security and speed up economic growth. What Republicans fail to mention is that Tuesday’s report from the budget office, a federal nonpartisan agency, was almost entirely positive about the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

Working toward social justice requires the courageous protest by a minority to help the majority gain the wisdom necessary to change; criminalizing social activity that leads to crucial discussions about how to minimize suffering and terror, and labeling that activity a form of terrorism, is contrary to the values necessary for a healthy democracy.

NYT: Spying on Law Firms

NYT: Spying on Law Firms

An American law firm was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States. The disclosure is of particular interest because lawyers in the United States with clients overseas have expressed growing concern that their confidential communications could be compromised by such surveillance.

TN: Election Reformation

TN: Election Reformation

American presidential election campaigns are absurd. Absurdly expensive. Absurdly long. Absurdly structured. And absurdly narrow in the range of ideas and options offered to a nation with an absurdly low level of voter participation. If ever there was a time to rethink how this country chooses its chief executive, this is it.

TG: Orwell a Terrorist?

TG: Orwell a Terrorist?

If George Orwell were to return from the Spanish civil war today, he would be arrested under the Terrorism Act 2006. If convicted of fighting abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive” he would face a maximum sentence of life in prison, but not, strangely, if he possessed a financial motive. Far from it: such motives are now eminently respectable. You can even obtain a City & Guilds qualification as a naval mercenary. Sorry, “maritime security operative”. As long as you don’t care whom you kill or why, you’re exempt from the law. But what clearer case could there be of the “use or threat of action … designed to influence the government … for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” than the war with Iraq?

PS: Stagnation by Design

PS: Stagnation by Design

The difficulties that we are facing now are not the result of the inexorable laws of economics, to which we simply must adjust, as we would to a natural disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami. They are not even a kind of penance that we have to pay for past sins. Instead, our current difficulties are the result of flawed policies.

AN: Sordid Tale

AN: Sordid Tale

Just about everything Americans need to know about the surge of income inequality is contained in the 43- page indictment last week of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. It’s a simple and base transaction. For a bit of personal wealth, a politician sells out the people who elected him, the people who trusted him to serve their interests.

TA: The Next New Deal

TA: The Next New Deal

Americans will look back and marvel at what became of our old welfare state–that tangle of inequity and dysfunction once known as federal entitlements. Why did the public tolerate a system that wound up distributing most of its benefits to the well-off? And how did the economy survive its costs? With the vaunted post-Cold War Peace dividend evaporating, the United States found itself unable to invest adequately in either its infrastructure or its children. Eventually people began to talk of another Great Depression, before the coming of the next New Deal. This Atlantic magazine article from 1992 almost could have been written today.

AJA: US Environmental Policy Haze

AJA: US Environmental Policy Haze

Obama mentioned climate change and forcefully called for energy independence, but much of the environmental section of his speech was dedicated to his “all of the above” strategy, which includes big increases to one of the most controversial sources of alternative energy, natural gas.

IISS: Strategic Survey 2013

IISS: Strategic Survey 2013

The next year will be a year of living tactically. However, there are developments on the horizon of potential strategic consequence that will call out for larger, more coordinated, designs. In their absence, the sense that we live in a state of sublimated strategic anarchy will persist.

TG: NSA Climate Talk Spying

TG: NSA Climate Talk Spying

Developing countries have reacted angrily to revelations that the United States spied on other governments at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how where world leaders including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel failed to agree to a strong deal on climate change.

NYT: Obama Trade Conundrum

NYT: Obama Trade Conundrum

Obama’s desire for fast-track authority on the TPP and other agreements clashes with reducing income inequality. Data on NAFTA poses a significant challenge for President Obama. He said he wants to battle the plague of income inequality and to expand the NAFTA model with TPP, but he cannot have it both ways.

FA: Failed State Paradigm

FA: Failed State Paradigm

After a decade of conflict and effort with precious little to show for it the recent era of interventionist U.S. state building is drawing to a close. The decline of the state-building narrative reflects a more profound underlying truth: the obsession with weak states was always more of a mania than a sound strategic doctrine.

NYT: NSA Program is Illegal

NYT: NSA Program is Illegal

The Obama administration has portrayed the NSA’s bulk collection program as useful and lawful but an independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down. The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”

DS: Disaster Centennial

DS: Disaster Centennial

It has now been 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, but the European catastrophe remains relevant today. As the Continent looks back this year, old wounds could once again be rubbed raw. More than 60 million soldiers from five continents participated in that orgy of violence. The absolute focus on national interests did not lead to happy times for any of the wartime enemies. In the era of NATO and integrated armed forces, hardly anyone can imagine a war between Europeans. Still, it is possible to sow discord in other ways in the 21st century. Historians of different stripes note with concern that the course of events in 1914 are not that different from what is happening in Europe today.

DS: Germans May Investigate NSA

DS: Germans May Investigate NSA

Germany and the US appear to be edging closer to political confrontation. Germany’s Federal Prosecutor says there is sufficient evidence to open a politically explosive investigation into NSA spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Under German law, the justice minister has the right to order the federal prosecutor to open legal proceedings.

AN: Obama and Haiti’s Minimum Wage

AN: Obama and Haiti’s Minimum Wage

The Obama Administration fought to keep the Haitian minimum wage to 31 cents an hour. Haiti passed a law in 2012 raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. America corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss vociferously objected, claiming such an increase would irreparably harm their business and profitability.

FA: Good Enough Global Governance

FA: Good Enough Global Governance

The future will see not the renovation or the construction of a glistening new international architecture but the continued spread of an unattractive but adaptable multilateral sprawl that delivers a partial measure of international cooperation through a welter of informal arrangements and piecemeal approaches. The furious pace of technological change risks leaving global governance in the dust.

NYT: Transparency?

NYT: Transparency?

Withholding the opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the president and executive agencies, is deeply troubling. The office’s advice often serves as the final word on what the executive branch may legally do, and those who follow that advice are virtually assured that they will not face prosecution.

NYT: Abolish the Corporate Income Tax

NYT: Abolish the Corporate Income Tax

In recent decades, American workers have suffered one body blow after another: the decline in manufacturing, foreign competition, outsourcing, the Great Recession and smart machines that replace people everywhere you look. Amazon and Google are in a horse race to see how many humans they can put out of work with self-guided delivery drones and driverless cars. What can workers do to mitigate their plight? One useful step would be to lobby to eliminate the corporate income tax.

NC: Monsters of Our Own Creation

NC: Monsters of Our Own Creation

“We know everything but learn nothing” would be an honest slogan for the NSA, CIA and lesser-known spy agencies that specialize in leading us so dangerously astray. For all of their massive intrusion into the personal lives of individuals throughout the world, it is difficult to recall a time when the “intelligence” they collected provided such myopic policy insight.

PS: Financial Regulators’ Mess

PS: Financial Regulators’ Mess

The recent $13 billion settlement between the US Department of Justice and JPMorgan Chase appears significant, but the message is clear: There will be no change to business as usual. JPM has a total balance sheet of around $4 trillion, the penalty is to be paid largely by its shareholders, and $7 billion of the fine is likely to be tax deductible, implying a tax break worth around $2.2 billion.

WP: NSA Quantum Computer

WP: NSA Quantum Computer

The National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world. The effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” is part of a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets.”

PS: Income Inequality Policy

PS: Income Inequality Policy

US President Barack Obama recently declared that growing income inequality and the inequality of opportunity that it creates are the defining challenges now facing America. These problems have risen to the top of the political agenda in the United States, but they are not uniquely American problems.

DS: NSA Hacking Unit

DS: NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

DS: Putin War of Images

DS: Putin War of Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. With its recipe of smart propaganda, sex appeal and unlimited cash, it is outperforming its peers worldwide.

NYT: Obama’s Inequality Speech

NYT: Obama’s Inequality Speech

President Obama’s speech on inequality was important in several respects, but there’s a crucial dimension the president left out: the revival, since the mid-1970s, of the laissez-faire ideology that prevailed in the Gilded Age. It’s no coincidence that this laissez-faire revival has unfolded over the very period in which inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.

PM: Lament of the Plutocrats

PM: Lament of the Plutocrats

On a recent afternoon, executives at Goldman Sachs invited a few hundred major investors to the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan. The bankers and their guests filed into a large room and turned their eyes to Hillary Clinton. Ordinarily these masters of the universe might have groaned at the idea of a politician taking the microphone. But Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring,

NYT: NSA Actions Probably Unconstitutional

NYT: NSA Actions Probably Unconstitutional

A federal district judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, describing its technology as “almost Orwellian” and suggesting that James Madison would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way. District Judge Leon wrote that he could not “imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval… Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. He also wrote that the government had failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the N.S.A.’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive.”

DT: Insurance Modernization Report

DT: Insurance Modernization Report

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Federal Insurance Office (FIO) has released its report on how to modernize and improve the system of insurance regulation in the United States. The report concludes that in some circumstances, policy goals of uniformity, efficiency, and consumer protection make continued federal involvement necessary to improve insurance regulation. However, the report concludes that insurance regulation in the United States is best viewed in terms of a hybrid federal/state model.

BI: Macroprudential Policy History

BI: Macroprudential Policy History

Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, policymakers have debated the need for a new toolkit of cyclical “macroprudential” policies to constrain the build-up of risks in financial markets, for example, by dampening creditfueled asset bubbles. These discussions tend to ignore America’s long and varied history with many of the instruments under consideration to smooth the credit cycle, presumably because of their sparse usage in the last three decades.

NYT: Inequality and Hardheartedness

NYT: Inequality and Hardheartedness

Over the course of American history, support for economic redistribution has been the exception, not the rule. The substantial gains of the left on cultural and social issues and recent electoral victories in New York and Boston have created a misleading perception among liberals that the country is moving in the same direction on economic issues. That is not the case: an ethos of self-reliance and individual responsibility continues, as it has for the past 237 years, to grip the American imagination.

FA: Defense Austerity Good Strategy

FA: Defense Austerity Good Strategy

The United States is now in a period of austerity, and after years of huge increases, the defense budget is set to be scaled back. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the consequences of past U.S. defense cuts were not bad. A look at five such periods over the past century — following World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War — shows that austerity can be useful in forcing Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush.

TE: Legislative Verbosity

TE: Legislative Verbosity

The most consequential laws go on for thousands of pages. Greater length is partly a consequence of the increases in computing power that have made it easier for people to produce interminable documents. But it is mainly a result of gridlock in Congress. If longer bills were merely a byproduct of cleaner government, that would be a reason to celebrate. But they also reflect a more open form of corruption.

TE: America and the World

TE: America and the World

An American president’s most important power is not the veto pen or the ability to launch missiles. It is the bully pulpit. When a president speaks, the world listens. That is why Barack Obama’s credibility matters. If people do not believe what he says, his power to shape events withers. And recent events have seriously shaken people’s belief in Mr Obama.

FA: Banking Systems

FA: Banking Systems

The same kinds of politics that influence other aspects of society also help explain why some countries, such as the United States, suffer repeated banking crises, while others, such as Canada, avoid them altogether. A country does not choose its banking system; it gets the banking system it deserves, one consistent with the institutions that govern its distribution of political power.

NYT: What Took So Long?

NYT: What Took So Long?

It’s hard to analyze whether the $13 billion is a good deal for the government or for JPMorgan. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with the government recycling well-known facts to drag a bank that behaved badly to the negotiating table. Had the Justice Department aggressively investigated the banks’ practices using its full array of powers, who knows how much more it could have generated?

TN: Obama’s War on Pot

TN: Obama’s War on Pot

Ultimately, what stands in the way of meaningful change is the Controlled Substances Act. As long as it is in place, the Justice Department will bring forward marijuana prosecutions. President Obama is unlikely to spend political capital pushing to change federal law. The man marijuana reformers elected in 2008 will likely leave office in January 2017 having changed as little as possible.

BI: Changing World Order?

BI: Changing World Order?

Like the heralding of “American decline,” warnings about “the coming global disorder” have often proved premature. But with Americans and others rethinking the U.S. role in the world, and with no other nation, group of nations or international institutions willing or able to take its place, global disorder seems a more distinct possibility than it has since the 1930s.

NYT: Give Snowden Asylum in Germany

NYT: Give Snowden Asylum in Germany

All of our current knowledge about surveillance is thanks to one man, Edward J. Snowden. It’s embarrassing that democratic European countries, where the rule of law should reign supreme, have until now shied away from confrontation with the United States and have preferred to place Mr. Snowden’s fate and security in Russia’s hands.

FA: End of (Easy) Hypocrisy

FA: End of (Easy) Hypocrisy

One of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices — and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.

Reuters: White House, Optimistically

Reuters: White House, Optimistically

Democrats have watched as one calamity after another has befallen what was once the most promising Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy’s. Yet all is not lost. The Obama administration has not exactly bungled its way through five years of power.

AN: Subsidizing Vacation Homes

AN: Subsidizing Vacation Homes

Flood insurance rates will have to rise quite a bit to reflect the actual risks of flood damage. At some point, America will have to manage these costs. They cannot just constantly rebuild every flood-prone area, especially if it becomes increasingly unlivable. Sadly, Congress is preparing to make the politically expedient choice of doing nothing.

NYT: Trans-Atlantic Trust

NYT: Trans-Atlantic Trust

Trans-Atlantic relations have reached a low point not seen since the Iraq war. In fact, the current crisis may be worse: Back then it was a question of policy disagreement; this time, it is a matter of broken trust and personal humiliation, the worst thing that can happen to a political leader.

GAO: Flood Insurance

GAO: Flood Insurance

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was added to GAO’s high-risk list in 2006 and remains high risk due to losses incurred from the 2005 hurricanes and subsequent losses, the financial exposure the program represents for the federal government, and ongoing management and operational challenges.

BBC: Why America Doesn’t Work

BBC: Why America Doesn’t Work

There are those who scorn the idea that the American government is dysfunctional. Despite the fact that it left the world teetering on the edge of an economic catastrophe, they say everything is working just fine. American government’s purpose is to allow a fractious minority to stop the will of the majority. We shouldn’t be surprised when it succeeds.

GAO: Federal Data Transparency

GAO: Federal Data Transparency

The federal government spends more than $3.7 trillion annually, with more than $1 trillion awarded through contracts, grants, and loans. Improving transparency of this spending is essential to improve accountability. GAO recommends the development of a long-term plan to implement comprehensive transparency reform, and increased efforts for obtaining stakeholder input to ensure reporting challenges are addressed.

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.

NYT: Viewing US in Fear and Dismay

NYT: Viewing US in Fear and Dismay

The word many Mexicans now use to describe Washington reflects a familiar mix of outrage and exasperation: berrinche. Technically defined as a tantrum, berrinches are also spoiled little rich kids, blind to their privilege and the effects of their misbehavior. A common question crossing continents remains quite simple: The Americans aren’t really that unreasonable and self-destructive, are they?

PS: In Defense of World Government

PS: In Defense of World Government

A world “government” could never have democratic legitimacy, but the idea of world government can illuminate a sensible path for capturing the benefits of a more effective global polity. Given a fully interdependent global market, we should worry less about the risk of bad rules and policies from imperfect global institutions and more about how to exploit these institutions’ potential to lock in policies at home and abroad that minimize risks and maximize opportunities for people everywhere.

NYT: Business Influence on House GOP

NYT: Business Influence on House GOP

As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain. To some extent, the Chamber of Commerce itself, along with other lobbying groups, helped create the conditions for Washington’s impasse.

TG: The Snowden Files

TG: The Snowden Files

Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.

Spiegel: US Hypocrisy

Spiegel: US Hypocrisy

By using the Espionage Act to punish Bradley Manning, the Obama administration has shown how far it will go to intimidate leakers. It is political despotism to use this act in a trial that has to do with neither espionage nor sabotage. His sentencing is a stain on the president’s legacy and on America’s global reputation.

Guardian: Obama’s Bad Economic Advice

Guardian: Obama’s Bad Economic Advice

The president’s economic initiatives – food stamps, manufacturing, infrastructure, raising the debt ceiling, appointing a new chairman of the Federal Reserve – have mostly ended in either neglect or shambles. After five years, the Obama Administration’s stated intentions to improve the fortunes of the middle class, boost manufacturing, reduce income inequality, and promote the recovery of the economy have come up severely short.

IISS: The Eurasian Sea

IISS: The Eurasian Sea

Maritime disputes in Eastern Asia have been sending odd ripples of excitement through Western Europe for the past few years. Experts and policymakers claim that Europe cannot stay aloof. Maritime disputes in the East are, to be sure, a source of much uncertainty, and could escalate. But is this a reason for Europe to dive into the play pool of the Pacific powers? This question needs to be examined through a broad geopolitical prism.

BBC: Pilotless F-16 Jet

BBC: Pilotless F-16 Jet

Boeing has revealed that it has retrofitted retired fighter jets to turn them into drones and suggested that the innovation could ultimately be used to help train pilots, providing an adversary they could practise firing on. Boeing said that it had a total of six modified F-16s, and that the US military now planned to use some of them in live fire tests.

NoC: Obama and Cluster Bombs

NoC: Obama and Cluster Bombs

Obama would be standing on stronger ground in demanding that Syria’s government eliminate its stocks of poison gas if the US would sign onto the UN’s 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. He should order the US military to destroy its massive stockpiles of cluster weapons, and vow never to use them again.

AN: Politics and the Brain

AN: Politics and the Brain

A new research study shows that partisanship can undermine our very basic reasoning skills. People who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.

NoC: Kerry and Kissinger

NoC: Kerry and Kissinger

The Kerry-Kissinger meeting, and the public outcry against the proposed attack on Syria to which both men are publicly committed, should be viewed through the lens of another Sept. 11…1973. On that day, 40 years ago, the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was violently overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup.

FA: Stealth Multilateralism

FA: Stealth Multilateralism

The US Senate rejects multilateral treaties as if it were sport. The US still wields influence in the UN Security Council and in international financial and trade institutions, but when it comes to solving global problems beyond the old centers of diplomatic and economic power, the United States suffers the self-inflicted wound of diminishing relevance.

NYT: Drug Agents’ Data Trove

NYT: Drug Agents’ Data Trove

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

Lakoff: Metaphor and War

Lakoff: Metaphor and War

Metaphors are used in communicating policy, but also influence behavior through systemic causation. Conceptual metaphors and scenarios have real inferences that may or may not fit the world. America will act, or act by not acting. There will be real-world consequences in either case. From infanthood on we experience simple, direct causation. Systemic causation by contrast cannot be experienced directly, it has to be learned. To President Obama, “Syria” is not primarily about direct causation. It is about systemic causation as it affects the world as a whole. But the president has not made this clear, and he could not possibly do it in one speech, given that most people don’t viscerally react to systemic causation, and many don’t understand it at all. We need to keep track of the metaphors and scenarios we use so that we can better see the consequences of our actions.

NoC: An Explosive Fall

NoC: An Explosive Fall

The culmination of faux regulation, debt ceiling debates, derivatives growth and the ever-expanding Federal Reserve books will provide lots of volatility for which the White House will be caught unprepared. We need banking reform ala Glass-Steagall. Anything less is an exercise in political posturing and regulatory futility.

Foreign Affairs: Ali Khamenei

Foreign Affairs: Ali Khamenei

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s head of state, commander in chief, and top ideologue. His views are what will ultimately shape Iranian policy. Khamenei has always been critical of liberal democracy and thinks that capitalism and the West are in inevitable long-term decline. Nevertheless, he is not reflexively anti-Western or anti-American. He does not believe that the United States and the West are responsible for all of the Islamic world’s problems, that they must be destroyed, or that the Koran and sharia are by themselves sufficient to address the needs of the modern world. He considers science and progress to be “Western civilization’s truth,” and he wants the Iranian people to learn this truth. He is not a crazy, irrational, or reckless zealot searching for opportunities for aggression. But his deep-rooted views and intransigence are bound to make any negotiations with the West difficult and protracted, and any serious improvement in the relationship between Iran and the United States will have to be part of a major comprehensive deal involving significant concessions on both sides.

AlterNet: US & Chemical Warfare

AlterNet: US & Chemical Warfare

The United States has been a supplier, supporter and even employer of a wide range of weapons of mass destruction, including sarin gas. The Syrian government may or may not have done what the Obama administration is claiming but the United States has its own dark history with biological and chemicals weapons, which we ignore at our peril.

New Yorker: Test in Confidence

New Yorker: Test in Confidence

In American courthouses this summer, a vitally important struggle over the First Amendment’s scope is taking place between the Obama Administration and the press. At issue is whether the Administration will fulfill a recent pledge to end its heavy-handed pursuit of professional journalists’ sources. The ripest case concerns a Times reporter, James Risen.

NYT: NSA War on Encryption

NYT: NSA War on Encryption

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

Economist: Overcrowded Prisons

Economist: Overcrowded Prisons

For decades American politicians have assumed that mass incarceration works, wooing voters with ever-tougher sentencing laws. The dramatic fall in crime since the 1990s has persuaded many that they were right. Prison has diminishing returns, and America long ago passed the point where jailing more people makes sense.

Guardian: NSA Collects Everything

Guardian: NSA Collects Everything

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

FP: NSA Fears More Snowdens

FP: NSA Fears More Snowdens

Few documents have been more closely held by the U.S. intelligence community, but now the “black budget” — the detailed breakdown of how American spies spend their money — has largely been made public. The materials depict an expanding intelligence apparatus that is struggling to respond to myriad challenges despite enjoying unprecedented levels of funding.

Economist: Cronies and Capitols

Economist: Cronies and Capitols

The great battle of the 20th century was between the state and business. And the state was likely to win because the thinkers and bureaucrats at its service were better at occupying the moral and intellectual high ground. Today the problem is not the marginalisation of business but its excessive influence.

Economist: The Secret State

Economist: The Secret State

After the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, most Americans seemed content to pare back some civil liberties in return for potential security. But after revelations of widespread spying by the National Security Agency (NSA), and the harsh treatment and verdict handed down to Bradley Manning, American public opinion is shifting.

NYT: NSA Rebuked

NYT: NSA Rebuked

A federal judge sharply rebuked the National Security Agency in 2011 for repeatedly misleading the court that oversees its surveillance on domestic soil, including a program that is collecting tens of thousands of domestic e-mails and other Internet communications of Americans each year.

NYT: Facial Scanning & Surveillance

NYT: Facial Scanning & Surveillance

The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces – now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

Stanford/NYU: Living Under Drones

Stanford/NYU: Living Under Drones

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false. It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account.

NYT: Madam President

NYT: Madam President

It’s odd that Obama, who once talked about being a transformational president, did not want to ensure that his allies and his aims were imprinted on the capital. Instead, he has teed up the ball for Hillary. Some of the excitement about Barack Obama was the prospect of making a clean start. Yet Obama ushered in the return of Clinton Inc. and gave it his blessing.

Josette Sheeran: Civil Servant

Josette Sheeran: Civil Servant

Josette Sheeran is president and CEO of Asia Society. She is responsible for leading and advancing the organization’s work throughout the U.S. and Asia, and across its disciplines of arts and culture, policy and business, and education. Formerly, Sheeran was Vice Chair of the World Economic Forum and Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

Paddy Ashdown: Politician

Paddy Ashdown: Politician

After service as a Royal Marine and as an intelligence officer for the UK security services, Paddy Ashdown was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1983 to 2001, and leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 until 1999; later he was the international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006.

AlterNet: What Makes People Tick

AlterNet: What Makes People Tick

People act from wellsprings of emotions, values and non-conscious fears and longings much more than they do from rational calculations of costs and benefits that, in an ideal world, should underlie their relationship to politics and social change. The more leaders understand people, what makes them tick and what they need and fear, the better able they are to connect with their real interests.

Al Jazeera: Daniel Barenboim

Al Jazeera: Daniel Barenboim

Sir David Frost travels to New York to meet the legendary Israeli conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim. A giant in the world of classical music, Barenboim is also a man with very strong political views, and is believed to be the only man alive with both an Israeli and a Palestinian passport, reflecting his deep interest in the Middle East. Daniel Barenboim bares his life and his soul to Sir David: he is emotional and outspoken. His love of music shines through the whole interview, as do his political beliefs.

PS: Sino-EU Vision

PS: Sino-EU Vision

Many Europeans believe that China, one of the EU’s ten so-called strategic partners, behaves more like a competitor. And many Chinese, for whom the EU is just one of more than 70 strategic partners, complain that the EU’s policy toward China is more commercial than strategic. The time has come for the world’s largest developing country and largest bloc of developed countries to define and deepen their strategic partnership.

FP: Best Hope to Stop NSA

FP: Best Hope to Stop NSA

The court may be primed for a reinterpretation of its own rulings on metadata, which can be even more revealing than content. Congress has shown little appetite for clarifying these issues, and has reliably voted to expand, not limit, the surveillance powers of the executive branch. President Barack Obama’s position on the issues is not only a continuation of his predecessor’s, but a change from the views he held as a candidate.

NoC: Political Dreaming

NoC: Political Dreaming

We often focus our energy on the nuts and bolts of what’s wrong with the world, what has to be fixed immediately, but perhaps it’s time to try a different approach. Everyone has their own dream of the world as it should be, and every dream is open to endless interpretation. The world will never look exactly like our mythic dreams. But we can’t get to any better future unless we first imagine that future, together. A political dream is a magnet that pulls us toward our goals.

AlterNet: Corporate Propaganda

AlterNet: Corporate Propaganda

The Bipartisan Policy Center carries weight with the media and Congress, but its ‘research’ is little more than PR for moneyed interests. Among other examples, the BPC issued a report on America’s Energy Resurgence with over fifty policy recommendations. The chief outside consultant on the report was William Klinefelter, a lobbyist whose major clients include ExxonMobil.

TD: Surveillance Blowback

TD: Surveillance Blowback

Within a decade, the U.S. will likely deploy an aerospace shield, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and even vaster, more omnipresent digital surveillance networks that will envelop the Earth in an electronic grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield, atomizing a single suspected terrorist, or monitoring millions of private lives at home and abroad.

NYT: Corporate Tax Avoidance

NYT: Corporate Tax Avoidance

The world’s richest economies endorsed a blueprint to curb widely used tax avoidance strategies that allow some multinational corporations to pay only a pittance in income taxes. However, it could be years before any changes take place in national tax laws, and big corporations and other interest groups are sure to lobby heavily to preserve their tax breaks.

NYT: Leak Crackdown

NYT: Leak Crackdown

Soon after President Obama appointed him director of national intelligence in 2009, Dennis C. Blair called for a tally of the number of government officials or employees who had been prosecuted for leaking national security secrets. In the previous four years, 153 cases had been referred to the Justice Department. Not one had led to an indictment.

New America Foundation

New America Foundation

The New America Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States. The foundation’s mission is animated by the American ideal that each generation will live better than the last. That ideal is today under strain.

IISS: 2012 Strategic Survey

IISS: 2012 Strategic Survey

Strategic Survey 2012: The Annual Review of World Affairs covers all the events and themes of the year region by region, and includes special essays on important policy issues: the implications of the cyber world for intelligence agencies; building cooperation in African defence; and the effectiveness of economic sanctions on Iran.

Foreign Affairs: Federal Europe

Foreign Affairs: Federal Europe

The first step forward for Europe has to be developing an economic growth strategy, to escape the union’s current debt trap and to create breathing space for the tough reforms that can make Europe as a whole competitive again. Then, to sustain reform, the union needs a clear path to legitimacy for a strong but limited European government, one that resembles today’s Swiss federation.

Foreign Affairs: War of Law

Foreign Affairs: War of Law

If officials are going to make rules for Americans, those officials should be Americans, democratically accountable to voters. Given the recent history of international meddling of this kind, even when a treaty is non-self-executing (that is, its implementation requires the passage of a law), this is not merely a theoretical concern.

New Yorker: Snoops Scoops

New Yorker: Snoops Scoops

The NSA programs represent a troubling increase in state power, even if—so far, and so far as we know—they have not occasioned a troubling increase in state wrongdoing. The harm is to the architecture of trust and accountability that supports an open society and a democratic polity. The harm is to the reputation of the United States as such a society, such a polity.

Foreign Affairs: Why Drones Fail

Foreign Affairs: Why Drones Fail

Armed drones can be tactically useful. But are they helping advance the strategic goals of U.S. counterterrorism? Drones are not helping to defeat al Qaeda, and they may be creating sworn enemies out of a sea of local insurgents. It would be a mistake to embrace drones as the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism.

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