Weekly Roundup 8/8/2011

Origins of the debt limit showdown
Brady Dennis, Alec MacGillis, and Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post, Aug. 6, 2011 (online); Aug. 7, 2011 (print)

Synopsis: The debt-limit showdown that took the government to the brink of default was not “a haphazard escalation of a typical partisan standoff,” the Post’s team of reporters writes, but “the natural outgrowth of a years-long effort by [Republican Party] recruiters to build a new majority and reverse the party’s fortune.” The 5,000-word article chronicles the story chapter by chapter from President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 through the debt-limit deal enacted into law on Tuesday (Aug. 2), only hours before a potential government default.

For coverage and commentary on Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade the government’s credit rating from AAA to AA+, see these Aug. 7 stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

For CQ Researcher coverage, see two recent reports by Marcia Clemmitt: “National Debt,” March 18, 2011, and “The National Debt,” Nov. 14, 2008 (subscription required). In addition, the CQ Researcher Plus Archive includes more than a dozen past reports on the national debt dating from the first, in 1926.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


What Happened to Obama?
Drew Westen, The New York Times, Aug. 6, 2011

Anyone who has spent any time talking to Democrats over the past several months can testify to the high-voltage current of dissatisfaction and, in many cases, anger running through their ranks. Its target: President Obama. He has not, to put it mildly, fulfilled the hope he aroused in them during his campaign for the presidency. Westen, an Emory University psychology professor who moonlights as a consultant to Democrats on “messaging,” has written the best explanation so far of why Obama falls short in the eyes of so many who voted for him. To simplify Westen’s careful analysis, Obama at a time of deepening crisis tries to please everyone instead of speaking and acting decisively. “The president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him,” Westen writes. Like many other Democrats, Westen wants Obama to fight for a more equitable distribution of wealth. Agree or disagree with that view, there’s no doubt that Westen has laid out the case for why Obama faces trouble not only from his militant Republican foes but from his disillusioned Democratic base.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


Afghanistan: U.S. and Pakistan Seek to Reinforce a Border That Was Arbitrary to Begin With
Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus, Aug. 2, 2011

Synopsis: In 1893, Britain’s top colonial officer in India, Sir Mortimer Durand, chopped in two the territory occupied by the Pashtun people, restricting some to the then-Russian-dominated territory that is now Afghanistan and the rest to the British-dominated region that became Pakistan by creating an artificial border between the Pashtuns living west and east of what’s now called “the Durand line.” Running through some of the most treacherous mountain terrain in the world, the artificial border would need little military guarding, yet would increase the colonies’ governability by keeping the fiercely independent Pashtuns from being a majority population in either region, Durand reasoned. Just one problem: the Pashtuns, who’ve lived in the area for at least 2,500 years, have never accepted the line’s validity and, to this day, treat attempts to enforce it as enemy invasions and occupations of their historical territory. From the Pashtuns’ ranks are drawn most of today’s Taliban fighters, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Takeaway: “Pakistan’s military is currently engaged both in fighting its own domestic Taliban in South Waziristan and maintaining troops in North Waziristan, but the North West Frontier and Federally Administered Tribal Areas—the part of the world we are talking about—are vast tracts of terrain, and ‘pacifying’ them is quite beyond the capabilities of any army in the world, let alone Pakistan’s.”

For more, see my report on “U.S.-Pakistan Relations” (CQ Researcher, Aug. 5, 2011), and Thomas J. Billitteri’s “Afghanistan Dilemma (CQ Researcher, Aug. 7, 2009; updated May 25, 2011).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Paying for News? It’s Nothing New
Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times, Aug. 7, 2011

Synopsis: It’s a basic tenet of Journalism 101 that reputable news-gathering organizations don’t pay sources for information, for interviews or for access. Just isn’t done. Except that it is, writes New York Times media reporter Peters. “News outlets twist themselves into logical knots insisting that they do not pay for interviews,” he explains. “The payment is always for something else, tangible or intangible, like one’s time or the rights to memorabilia. It is a rare but sometimes necessary evil, they say.”

Takeaway: “Checkbook journalism has been part of news coverage since long before the celebrity gossip boom.”

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor