Weekly Roundup 8/29/2011

American town halls more contentious ever, in part by design
David A. Farenthold, The Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2011 (Aug. 28 in print)

Synopsis: Farenthold, one of the Post’s congressional correspondents, travels to New Hampshire, birthplace of the town hall meeting, to see how members of Congress are interacting with their constituents in the contemporary iteration of retail democracy. Alas, he finds, town halls are often devolving into free-for-alls, discord replacing civil discourse. The intensified partisanship in Congress, Farenthold suggests, mirrors increased partisanship among constituents. But activist groups are also deliberately targeting town hall meetings with their representative in Congress for political confrontations uploadable on You Tube.

Takeaway: “Somehow, an event that was once all about listening has become all about shouting,” Farenthold writes. “It now counts as a defeat if one’s opponent is allowed to make a point in peace.”

For CQ Researcher coverage, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Gridlock in Washington,” April 30, 2010 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

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Medicare Spending Slows Sharply
Maggie Mahar, Taking Note blog, Century Foundation, Aug. 25, 2011

Synopsis: Health-care providers may be taking the hint delivered by the 2010 health-care reform law: Take steps to slow hitherto out-of-control medical cost growth by focusing more on improving people’s health outcomes – or the government will do the cost cutting for you. Even though the cost-trimming elements of the new law won’t begin to kick in until 2014, Medicare spending has been growing at a slower rate than usual since early 2010. Some experts think the unusual slowdown is happening because health-care providers are finally taking cost growth seriously, in anticipation of the law’s operation. Of course, a year and a half of data never tells the tale. But it’s an interesting – and heartening! – development, if it’s true. Stay tuned.

Takeaway: “Medicare spending began to plunge in January of 2010. After levitating by an average of 9.7 percent a year from 2000 to 2009, the Congressional Budget Office’s monthly budget reports show that Medicare pay-outs are now rising by less than 4 percent a year…. This slow-down is not a result of Congress cutting Medicare spending. Instead, as former White House health care adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel” has pointed out, “Providers are ‘anticipating the Affordable Care Act kicking in 2014.’ They can’t wait until the end of 2013, he explained: ‘They have to act today. Everywhere I go…medical schools and hospitals are asking me, “How can we cut our costs by 10 to 15 percent?” They know that they must trim their own costs if they are going to lower the bills that they send to Medicare.’ ….Emanuel is seeing a ‘shift toward value in the health sector.’”

For more, see my reports on “Health Care Reform” from June 11, 2010, (updated May 24, 2011) and Aug. 28, 2009, and “Rising Health Costs,” from April 7, 2006.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

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Libyan Nation Building After Qaddafi
By James Dobbins and Frederic Wehrey, Foreign Affairs, Aug. 23, 2011

Synopsis: With the fall of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi imminent, the United States and its allies must establish a strategy for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. The ensuing nation-building will be resource intensive and must address the interests of the competing factions vying for power.

Takeaway: As difficult as it is to overthrow an autocratic regime, it is more difficult to create a new government that stands by the ideology of the uprising. Like many things, it is far easier to destroy than to build.

For background see the CQ Global Researcher report “Turmoil in the Arab World” by Roland Flamini (May 3, 2011).

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor

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The Changing Face of the Burning Man Festival
By Jessica Bruder, The New York Times, Aug. 28, 2011

Synopsis: Thanks to my grown sons, who live in San Francisco, at least I had heard about the annual, week-long Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. But I didn’t know until yesterday that the celebration of creativity and personal freedom for some 50,000 participants is put on by a for-profit company. I don’t know why it freaked me out when I read that– after all, this IS America, global capital (at least for now) of capitalism. But the festival is indeed underpinned by capitalism. And that isn’t the only change, Jessica Bruder reports.

Takeaway: Perhaps because of the controversy over Burning Man’s lack of transparency about profiting from a decidedly counter-culture event, the operators of the festival have decided to cash out their ownership and convert the festival to a nonprofit operation in the next three years.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Earthquake Shakes East Coast

The walls swayed, the floor shook and pictures rattled against the wall. Who knew? An earthquake in Washington, D.C.?

Up on our office building’s eighth floor, my CQ Researcher colleagues and I had a rude awakening just before 2 p.m. today when a magnitude 5.9 temblor shuddered along the entire East Coast, from Virginia to New York and as far away as New England and perhaps beyond. Another strong quake struck Monday night in Colorado, a magnitude 5.3 temblor that was the state’s biggest in more than a century.

For me, today’s quake in D.C. brought back memories of another I experienced, oddly enough, in Manhattan in the 1980s, when I felt walls shake and china rattle in a cupboard. As I noted in a CQ Researcher report last year on earthquake threats worldwide, the U.S. Geological Survey says earthquakes pose a significant risk to 75 million people in 39 states, from the Pacific Northwest and California to the Midwest, Carolinas and New England. David Applegate, senior science adviser for earthquake and geologic hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey, told me that Manhattan sits atop a zone of ancient faults, including a small one running down Harlem's legendary 125th Street. He called a quake underneath New York City an example of a low-probability, high-consequence event.

So far, the reports in Washington and other cities indicate minor damage and no injuries. And in an hour, we were allowed back in the building.

For background, see my CQ Researcher report, “Earthquake Threat,” April 9, 2010 (subscription required).

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor


Weekly Roundup 8/22/2011

13-year-old Uses Fibonacci Sequence to Improve Efficiency
Tyler Lee, Ubergizmo, Aug. 19, 2011

Synopsis: It took a thoughtful 13-year-old to figure out that a well-known numerical sequence that governs how trees branch and leaves sprout along a stem might help solve an important engineering dilemma – how to improve the efficiency of solar panels, which, like leaves in the forest, transform sunlight into a different form of energy.

Takeaway: “His design (or rather nature’s design) yielded 50 percent more efficiency than a regular flat panel solar collector…. Perhaps in the future we will start seeing solar ‘groves,’ which we can imagine are more space efficient as well.”

For more, see “Energy Policy,” May 20, 2011 (subscription required). Excerpts can be found here: http://cqresearcherblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/can-clean-energy-sources-compete.html

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

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On the home front, reminders of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come in small doses
Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post, Aug. 21, 2011

Synopsis: Jaffe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has covered the Pentagon since 2000, follows a busload of veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a baseball game to examine the reception that Americans give to service members returning from the battlefront. “Troops often question,” Jaffe writes, “why their sacrifices are so poorly understood by the people they serve.”

Takeaway: “For most Americans,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates remarked last year, “the wars remain an abstraction. A distant, unpleasant series of events that does not affect them personally.”

For more, see these CQ Researcher reports; “Military Suicides,” forthcoming, Sept. 23, 2011; “Caring for Veterans, Aug. 23, 2010; and “Wounded Veterans,” Aug. 31, 2007 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


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There Ought to Be a Law
Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, Aug. 21, 2011

A Hollywood Throwback, Serving Stars but Never Dishing Gossip
Guy Trebay, The New York Times, Aug. 21, 2011

What ticks you off? Hipsters still wearing those no-longer-trendy Panama and fedoras hats? Customers in long lines who still don’t know what they want – or have their money ready -- when they reach the order-taker? Those are two of the pet peeves columnist Neil Genzlinger shares in his very funny piece in Sunday’s Times. Back in the day, before color and lively feature stories, The Times used to be known as the Gray Lady because of its long columns of dull type. Now it leavens all the awful news about war and unemployment with some humor and stories that folks actually don’t mind reading, like the delightful profile of celebrity maitre’d hotel Dmitri Dmitrov– on the front page of Sunday’s Times – who elegantly and discretely caters to the likes of Jennifer Anniston and Johnny Depp. But if you must have your fix of serious stuff, see the Times’ lead editorial for the editors’ prescription for the suffering economy.

For more, see “Future of Journalism,” CQ Researcher, March 27, 2009; updated Sept. 3, 2010; and “Journalism Standards in the Internet Age,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 8, 2010 (subscription required).

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

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Climate-change science makes for hot politics
Joel Achenbach and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, Aug. 19, 2011

Synopsis: The authors examine the sea change that has occurred in the political discussion of climate change since the 2008 presidential election, when it wasn’t even among the top issues voters said they cared about. Today a GOP presidential candidate must disavow the science behind climate change or risk being dismissed by conservative tea party Republicans. Skepticism about climate change has grown among both political parties over the past four years, but most dramatically among conservative Republicans. This has occurred even though surveys show that 97 to 98 percent of 1,400 climate scientists still agree that humans contribute to global warming – a theory supported by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

Takeaway: “Climate change has become a wedge issue” in presidential politics, said Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado professor who has written extensively on the climate debate. “It’s today’s flag-burning or today’s partial-birth-abortion issue.”

For more, see the following CQ Global Researchers: Climate Change, February 2010, and Curbing Climate Change, February 2007 (subscription required).

--Kathy Koch, managing editor, CQ Global Researcher

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Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, Aug. 17, 2011

Synopsis: With a take-no-prisoners approach to covering government and politics, Taibbi has acquired a reputation for occasionally putting hyperbole ahead of reporting. But in this piece, he dials down the rhetoric. The facts, as he presents them, are plenty explosive on their own. Relying on accounts to Congress by a whistleblowing lawyer for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Taibbi reports that the agency – by law the public’s watchdog on Wall Street – has at least since 1993 been shredding thousands of files of preliminary investigations into wrongdoing in the finance industry. The investigations in question didn’t lead to prosecutions. But Taibbi and some of his sources maintain that those files would allow SEC staff looking into current cases to recognize that a present-day case of possible wrongdoing fit a pattern.

Takeaway: The records-destruction policy reflects a general lack of investigative zeal at the upper levels of the SEC, which is heavily staffed with former and future employees of firms under SEC jurisdiction, Taibbi argues. Another possible reason to destroy records? Embarrassment. Among the shredded files were those involving Ponzi swindler Bernard Madoff – about whom the SEC notoriously was warned in vain.

For background, see “Financial Crisis,” CQ Researcher, May 9, 2008; and “Financial Bailout,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 24, 2008 (updated July 20, 2010) (subscription required).

--Peter Katel, staff writer

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Google’s Irresistible Potential as an Alternative to Cable
Adam Clark Estes, The Atlantic, Aug. 22, 2011

Synopsis: Google is cozying up to TV executives at a media conference in Scotland, just days before the company is expected to bid for streaming-video portal Hulu. The move would potentially provide Google with existing contracts and relationships that could bring more premium content into the Google network, which already includes YouTube.

Takeaway: The low satisfaction rates among traditional cable providers such as Comcast and Time Warner give Google a competitive advantage in what has heretofore been an elastic pricing market. The acquisition of Hulu would bring users one step closer to the inevitable convergence of the computer and television mediums.

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor

For background, see “Television’s Future,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 16, 2007 (subscription required).

Weekly Roundup 8/15/2011

The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy
Ruth Padawer, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Aug. 14, 2011

Synopsis: Assisted reproduction often results in a multiple-fetus pregnancy – twins, triplets, or more. A so-called megapregnancy can present increased risks for both the mother and the fetuses. Medical technology allows a doctor to “extinguish,” as Padawer puts it, one or more of the healthy fetuses and thereby increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. Early in this development of this medical approach, physicians performing pregnancy reductions adopted a rule of practice to reduce to twins, but not below. Now, however, some physicians believe it permissible to reduce to a single fetus, a change of view driven by parents who fear the demands of twins would be too much for their financial and social circumstances. Is it ethical? Padawer, a writer and teacher and the once overtaxed mother of naturally conceived twins, explores the issues thoroughly and evenhandedly.

Takeaway: “We are in the midst of a choice revolution right now,” one physician remarks, “where we’re trying to figure out where the ethical boundaries should be.”

For an overview of issues in the field, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Reproductive Ethics,” CQ Researcher, May 15, 2009 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

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Chinese Director’s Path From Rebel to Insider
Edward Wong, The New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011

Synopsis: How much do you really know – and understand – about China? If you’re like me, not a whole lot. Or in my case, perhaps less than I think I know. A case in point, Sunday’s front page article about Zhao Liang, director of the acclaimed film “Petition,” about “how the authorities muzzle and brutalize Chinese who…travel to Beijing seeking redress for wrongdoing by local officials.”

Takeaway: I discovered in this fascinating report that, in fact, China does not forbid independent filmmaking. Hence, Wong says, “Petition” was able to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2009 but was banned in China. As Wong explains, China “does control distribution, so filmmakers who want their work to be widely seen end up submitting themselves to a capricious censorship process. Since then, Zhao has transformed his relationship with the authorities. Last year, for example, he completed a film about discrimination against Chinese with AIDS or H.I.V. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Health.

For background see Roland Flamini, “U.S.-China Relations,” CQ Researcher, May 7, 2010, updated May 24, 2011; and Peter Katel, “Emerging China,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 11, 2005.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

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FYI: The Markets Don’t Want Austerity
Liaquat Ahamed, The Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2011

Synopsis: Pulitzer Prize-winning financial historian Ahamed argues that Washington politicians are misreading the stock market’s jitters. Instead of doubling down on austerity measures, he writes, “budget cuts are precisely the wrong medicine for what ails us.” Such austerity, he continues, “would only exacerbate a slowdown” and possibly trigger a double-dip recession.

Takeaway: Instead, the government should take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates to repair crumbling infrastructure, which would put people back to work and inject money into the economy, he contends. That view was repeated by Martin Barnes, the chief economist at BCA Research, an investment research firm based in Montreal, Canada, on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” today. “This is the worst time imaginable to have fiscal austerity,” Barnes said. “You do not normally follow a path of fiscal austerity when the economy is skirting the edge of recession.” Acknowledging that Congress is highly unlikely to approve a new stimulus package, given the current political environment, both men suggested stabilizing the housing market instead. Barnes recommended “some kind of national refinancing program” in which all homeowners can refinance at low interest rates without paying penalties. A big refinancing program “would be a long-term stimulus,” he points out. “Homeowners would be saving thousands of dollars a year, for many years to come.”

For background see the following CQ Researcher reports by Marcia Clemmitt, “Aging Infrastructure,” Sept. 28, 2007; “Public-Works Projects,” Feb. 20, 2009 and “Mortgage Crisis,” Nov. 2, 2007, updated: Aug. 9, 2010.

--Kathy Koch, Managing Editor, CQ Global Researcher

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Critics Question Competency of Inspector General’s Office at Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Tom Zeller, Jr., Huffington Post, Aug. 12, 2011

Synopsis: Reports from the Inspector General’s office at the NRC are being rewritten to weaken negative findings and to avoid implicating the commission itself in problems discovered at nuclear plants, a former IG analyst charges.

Takeaway: In one report issued by the IG’s office in 2010 from a draft submitted in 2009 by a now-retired NRC investigator, “many of the most damning findings were excised,” writes Zeller, who interviewed retired investigator George Mulley for his piece. Furthermore, problems that Mulley and his team had identified in their draft report as due to weaknesses in NRC’s oversight procedures are portrayed in the final report as having been caused by lapses on the part of the nuclear-plant owners instead. Mulley and others say there’s substantial evidence that NRC’s IG office is whitewashing problems in NRC inspection processes that cry out for a remedy. “It was a joke,” said Mulley of one recent report. “If I was still employed in my former capacity, this report would have never been issued.”

For more on the nuclear-power industry, see my June 10, 2011, report, “Nuclear Power,” and Jennifer Weeks’ Jan. 28, 2011, report, “Managing Nuclear Waste.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

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The Americas, Not the Middle East, Will Be the World Capital of Energy
Amy Myers Jaffe, Foreign Policy, Sept./Oct. 2011

Synopsis: The Western Hemisphere, and not the Middle East, may likely become the world’s global energy supply center by the 2020s. Horizontal drilling and other technological innovations are unlocking the potential of hard-to-reach hydrocarbons in offshore deposits and heavy oil formations.

Takeaway: The United States will no longer have to fret about meeting its own energy needs, but will rather have to find a buyer for its surplus. Energy-thirsty China has recognized this potential within the Americas with heavy investments in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Furthermore, the Arab Spring will likely stem the region’s future oil production, turning the global energy arena on its head.

For background see the CQ Global Researcher report “Energy Nationalism” by Peter Behr (July 2007).

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor


Understanding the Economic Crisis

If you’re concerned about the economy – and who isn’t following the biggest market drop since 2008 – CQ Researcher and CQ Global Researcher can help you make sense of what’s happening at home and abroad. In the past 88 years, we have published literally hundreds of reports on economic matters ranging from the national debt and budget deficits to jobs outsourcing, the role of the Federal Reserve, future of manufacturing and the squeeze on the middle class. The following are just a few of our recent reports (subscription required). (And if you want to take the long view, you can view CQ Researcher reports going back to the Great Depression, and before.) For a complete listing, use the Issue Tracker on the CQ Researcher home page.
--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

“Reviving Manufacturing,” 7/22/11
“Future of the Euro,” 5/17/11 (Global)
“National Debt,” 3/18/11 and 11/14/08
“Income Inequality,” 12/3/10
“Mortgage Crisis,” 11/2/07, updated 8/9/10
“Financial Bailout,” 10/24/08, updated 7/30/10
“Financial Industry Overhaul,” 7/30/10
“Jobs Outlook,” 6/4/10
“State Budget Crisis,” 9/11/09
“Fixing Capitalism,” 7/09 (Global)
“Rethinking Retirement,” 6/19/09
“Vanishing Jobs,” 3/13/09
“Middle-Class Squeeze,” 3/6/09
“Public Works Projects,” 2/20/09
“Regulating Credit Cards,” 10/10/08
“The Troubled Dollar,” 10/08 (Global)
“Financial Crisis,” 5/9/08
“Curbing CEO Pay,” 3/9/07
“Consumer Debt,” 3/2/07
“Budget Deficit,” 12/9/05

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

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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

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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

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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


Are Pakistan and the United States allies?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "U.S. - Pakistan Relations" by Marcia Clemmitt on August, 5 2011.

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After the Abbottabad raid, some Pakistanis complained that the United States routinely violates Pakistan's sovereignty, while some in Congress argued the incident proves Pakistan can't be trusted. However, many South Asia analysts argue that, despite conflicts, the countries do often support each other's interests.

“It is undeniable that our relationship with Pakistan has helped us pursue our security goals,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass. [Footnote 7]

“Pakistan has been a critical partner in capturing Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” wrote Georgetown's Fair. Without Pakistan's prior “cooperation, the United States would not have even been in a position to kill bin Laden.” [Footnote 8]

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Pakistan has “given us bases and over-flight rights, and we, in turn gave them aid and debt relief,” notes Dennis Kux, a senior policy scholar at the nonpartisan Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a retired State Department South Asia expert.

Furthermore, despite the Pakistani military's continued conviction that India, to Pakistan's east, is its primary enemy, the army has “moved a number of divisions to the western front,” bordering Afghanistan, at the behest of the United States, says William Milam, a senior policy scholar at the Wilson center and a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

“The help of the Pakistani intelligence services to Britain,” which has a large Pakistani population, “has been absolutely vital to identifying the links” of potential Pakistani militants now living in the United Kingdom to militant “groups in Pakistan, and to preventing more attacks on Britain, the USA and Europe,” wrote Anatol Lieven, a professor of war studies at King's College, in London, and a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington. [Footnote 9]

The United States has greatly increased aid to Pakistan in the past decade, from $36.76 million in 2001 to $4.46 billion 2010, a 2,273 percent increase, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. [Footnote 10]

Nevertheless, the alliance has long been troubled.

For example, the United States has provided and withdrawn economic aid to Pakistan repeatedly over the decades, depending on Pakistan's cooperation with U.S. strategic aims and the level of interest in South Asian affairs shown by various congressional leaders and presidents. In fiscal 2000, Pakistan didn't even rank in the top 15 nations in the amount of U.S. economic aid received (No. 15 Nigeria received $68 million.) But in fiscal 2010, Pakistan leapfrogged to third as the United States sought its cooperation with drone strikes and other targeting of Islamic militants in the region. [Footnote 11]

The ups and downs of U.S. aid have exacerbated Pakistan's difficulties in developing economically and greatly contributed to Pakistanis’ distrust of the United States, many scholars say.

In 1965, the United States walked away from the alliance altogether, says Kux. Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize the communist government of the People's Republic of China, on its northeast border, and President Lyndon Johnson “was mad over that” as well as generally “sick of South Asia,” where Pakistan and India had squabbled for years, Kux says. Johnson cut off both military and civilian aid, although “he regretted it later, I was told,” Kux says. “To me, that was the turning point for Pakistan. The relationship was all downhill from there.”

“Until recently our South Asia policy has been made because of our anti-Soviet policy,” says Brookings’ Cohen. As a result, the U.S. policy “has been, ‘Let's let them solve their own problems, unless there's a crisis’” or specific U.S interests are at stake, says Cohen.

Because the United States has viewed the alliance as a way to achieve defense goals, it has allied itself primarily with Pakistan's military and “reinforced a message that we're only interested in working with dictators,” not in supporting Pakistan's development into a democracy, says Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan research center in Washington. Both countries “gloss over the fact that their interests are often inconsistent.”

In recent years, the United States has stoked Pakistani resentment by building America's relationship with rival India with acts that, many Pakistanis charge, symbolize neglect of the longstanding U.S.-Pakistan alliance.

In 2000, on a South Asia visit, President Bill Clinton “spent five glorious days in India and five cold hours in Pakistan,” observes Kux.

Throughout the Cold War, India was a Soviet ally and Pakistan a friend of the United States, but when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, “the United States said, ‘Oh, look, India's the bigger country! Let's get involved with them,’” says Barry Blechman, cofounder of the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington that researches security issues. In 2008, for example, President George W. Bush “made that terrible nuclear deal” — allowing India to engage in nuclear-technology trade although it hadn't signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — “which was a slap in the face to everyone we had hectored over the years” about nuclear nonproliferation, including Pakistan, he says. [Footnote 12]

“We care about a geographical location, not about a country,” says Paula Newberg, director of Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Talk in the United States of helping Pakistan “reform” is “worse than useless,” since it's accompanied by “actions that do the opposite,” such as channeling aid “to people who shouldn't be in power in the first place.”

Partly because the countries exaggerate the extent to which their interests align, “there's this long story line of desertion” on both sides, says Adil Najam, vice chancellor at Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences. This is exacerbated in Pakistan by “tribal notions of what it means to be a friend — that a friend stands by you even when you're wrong.”

Anti-Americanism is increasing throughout Pakistan, says Aqil Shah, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University. “Many people feel the United States has let them down, talking about how they support democracy but not protecting them against dictators,” and periodically “washing their hands of us and walking away.” Now, with the United States winding down the Afghan war, Shah says, “it looks to people as if the United States is planning another exit” from its alliance with Pakistan, as it did when the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat from Afghanistan around 1990. Just as occurred then, Shah says, Pakistanis fear that Washington will leave them with another bad situation on their doorstep, this time in the form of an Afghanistan permanently aligned with Pakistan's nemesis, India.

Complicating matters is the fact that Pakistan's military and intelligence agency continue to tell the public that India is the country's chief enemy and that they will defend Pakistan's borders against all foreign encroachments, including U.S. strikes on terrorist targets, says Milam. In fact, they “have played a double game with the public,” acting “in complicity with the United States in the drone program since 2004, but not telling that truth to Pakistanis, who remain largely unaware that the government has been in favor” of many of the drone attacks, he says.

The alliance is like a marriage disintegrating, says Najam. “When things start falling apart, you start promising more than you can deliver” as a misguided way to patch things up, he observes. That's what Pakistan has done by telling the United States that “we will be with you completely in the fight against terror.” Public opinion inside Pakistan makes that politically impossible, but when Pakistan doesn't fully deliver, the United States sees betrayal.

Both countries “need to be smarter about what they really want” and more honest about what they can give, says Najam. “I wish Pakistan told the United States ‘No’ more often,” because it would be better “to promise less but deliver better.”

The Issues:

  • Are Pakistan and the United States allies?
  • Is Pakistan on the verge of collapse?
  • Should the United States cut off aid to Pakistan?
Click here for more information on this CQ Researcher report [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.

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Footnotes:

[7] Quoted in Aqil Shah, “Time to Get Serious With Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs, May 6, 2011, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67836/aqil-shah/time-to-get-serious-with-pakistan.

[8] C. Christine Fair, “The Road from Abbottabad Leads to Lame Analysis,” Huffington Post, June 21, 2011, www.huffingtonpost.com/c-christine-fair/the-road-from-abbottabad-_b_881256.html.

[9] Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011), Kindle Edition, Location 275.

[10] Susan B. Epstein and K. Alan Kronstadt, “Pakistan: U.S. Foreign Assistance,” Congressional Research Services, June 7, 2011, p. 5, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41856.pdf.

[11] Curt Tarnoff and Marian Leonardo Lawson, “Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy,” Congressional Research Service, Feb. 10, 2011, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40213.pdf, p. 14.

[12] For background, see Jayshree Bajoria, “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” Council on Foreign Relations website, Nov. 5, 2010, www.cfr.org/india/us-india-nuclear-deal/p9663.

Weekly Roundup 8/1/2011

Famine in Somalia: world’s largest refugee outpost strained
Kate Snow, NBC News, July 31, 2011

Chronicle of a famine foretold
The Economist, July 30, 2011

Synopsis: A devastating drought has combined with political instability in the Horn of Africa to cause a deadly famine that has affected 12 million people across four countries. NBC correspondent Kate Snow’s report on NBC “Nightly News” on Sunday began a series of reports to continue over the week. Meanwhile, The Economist, the British newsweekly, explored whether the world reacted too late to the coming of the disaster.

Takeaway: “The response by donors has been patchy,” The Economist reports. “Of the $2 billion the UN says the region needs, it has received less than half.”

Note: NBC News provides a list of charitable organizations fighting the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

For background, see Jason McLure, “The Troubled Horn of Africa,” CQ Global Researcher, June 2009; and David Masci, “Famine in Africa,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 8, 2002.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

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The Next Election: The Surprising Reality
Andrew Hacker, The New York Review of Books, July 21, 2011

Synopsis: America’s historically low voter turnout, a candidate-nomination process dominated by the strictest party faithful and constitutional checks and balances that help strengthen minority views in Washington have made it possible for a Republican House majority to prevail on many issues, despite attracting far fewer voters in the 2010 elections than President Obama did in 2008. Less clear, however, is whether the wide field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates can capitalize on those gains.

Takeaway: In the 2010 election, “current House Republicans received 30,799,391 votes, compared with Obama’s 69,498,215 total” in the 2008 election, but they turned that apparent overwhelming numerical disadvantage into a strong force to shape future policies.

For more, see the following CQ Researcher reports: Marcia Clemmitt, “Gridlock in Washington,” April 30, 2010; Peter Katel, “Democrats’ Future,” Oct. 29, 2010; Kenneth Jost, “Campaign Finance Debates,” May 28, 2010; and Kenneth Jost, “Redistricting Debates,” Feb. 25, 2011.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

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Life on the Line
Andrew Rice, The New York Times Magazine, July 28, 2011

Rice’s richly detailed piece reports on the latest chapter in the intimate relationship between the twin cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Ju├írez, Mexico. Physically speaking, they are really one city split by the Rio Grande River and U.S.-Mexico border. Yet the differences are stark. El Paso is a safe city, a distinction becoming ever more important as war between Mexico’s drug gangs keeps claiming lives – a war in which some military and police have by all evidence taken sides with one syndicate or another (an angle that Rice mentions only in passing). Yet, despite the claims by some politicians of a “spillover” into the United States, Rice makes clear that El Paso, in fact, is benefiting from an exodus of Juarez businesspeople and professionals. He reports on one company owner who manages his Juarez business by remote control because his life would be endangered if he went back home. Rice also notes that El Pasoans don’t forget an element of the Mexican drug business that U.S. politicians tend not to dwell on – the demand that drives the commerce is American. “A generation-long effort to stanch the flow of drugs and desperate people across the border had reached its logical endpoint,” he writes, “the approach favored by ancient empires: the raising of a wall.” Freelance journalist Rice is the author of a book on Idi Amin’s murderous reign in Uganda.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer