Friday, August 23, 2013

Twitter Links -- August 23 -- Insightful Reading

End of day addition from Al Jazeera America.
Unlike the typical military junta, the Egyptian military has a lot more skin in the Egyptian economy than most. Reading this makes me think that the country has been run by a military dictatorship for years, with Sadat, Nasser and Mubarak all being civilian straw men protecting an infrastructure with military lynch pins.
Analysis: What do Egypt's generals want?
It ousted Mubarak, then ousted Morsi and freed Mubarak. But Egypt's military has interests of its own
by Dilip Hiro

August 23, 2013
Only Egyptians whose parents both hold university degrees can apply to the Egyptian Military Academy and other military colleges. Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak would not have met this requirement, since they all had fathers who were civil servants. Moreover, expensive private schools or private tutoring (PDF) are often required to pass stiff entrance exams at these colleges. 
Fattened on the patronage of successive presidents drawn from its ranks, including Mubarak, the Egyptian military has become part of a transnational military-industrial complex whose contribution to the Egyptian GDP may be as high as 40 percent. 
After the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Sadat was able to divert a large portion of military production capacity to manufacturing goods for the civilian economy under the National Service Projects Organization (NSPO), which came to make washing machines, heaters, clothing, doors, stationery, pharmaceuticals, olive oil and shoe polish. Its food-security division developed a network of dairy farms, cattle feed lots and poultry and fish farms. Its first priority was to supply the ranks, with the excess sold in the private sector. 
The NSPO, like the military's budget -- including the $1.3 billion annual stipend provided by the U.S. -- is managed by the generals, with no oversight by a civilian authority.

Short read first, thanks to Kal...
The Indifference of the Arab Middle Class
The upheaval in the Arab world has radically changed the fabric of society there. The Arab Spring has been followed by a shift in affinities towards people's kinship and religion. Moreover, the recent civil war in Syria has shown that Arab solidarity is a myth. An essay by Sami Mahroum

Disintigration of Syrian society 
A dramatic manifestation of the mechanistic pattern of solidarity is now emerging in Syria as well. While Syrians have been facing death, violence and displacement for more than two years, the international community has been busy debating the nature of the Syrian rebels. Left to its fate, Syrian society began to disintegrate and reorganise on a sectarian basis. As the conflict intensified, established profession-based identities began to disappear, giving way to family, regional and religious solidarities. 
Civil-society and professional groups have been unable to respond in a way that maintains organic social cohesion, owing to a lack of resources, weak capacity, or both. Mechanistic solidarity has emerged as a more effective means to mobilise people and resources. 
At the heart of the crisis is a strong element of indifference. For example, the role of the Arab middle class has been notably muted in efforts to support Syrian refugees. The American actress Angelina Jolie's highly publicised visits to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey underscored the near-absence of similar awareness campaigns by Arab celebrities.
Arab solidarity 
Indeed, while millions of Arabs tune in weekly to watch and vote for their favourite singers on the Arabic version of The Voice and Arab Idol, a fund-raising campaign for the benefit of Syrian refugees has yet to be organised. By contrast, TV channels with specific religious and sectarian affiliations have been very active, including on social media, in fundraising efforts. It is perhaps not surprising then that most Arab youths do not see role models beyond their close social circles. 
In short, Arab countries are haemorrhaging social capital, which can significantly derail economic recovery and state-building. As the Nobel laureate economist Kenneth Arrow argued in 1972, "much of the economic backwardness in the world can be explained by the lack of mutual confidence." 
Against this backdrop, the recently announced Arab Stabilisation Plan, an Arab-led private-sector initiative aimed at creating tens of thousands of jobs through large-scale infrastructure investment, is exactly the type of action needed to preserve social cohesion. International efforts, led by the World Bank and other international donors, have tended to focus on strengthening relations between the state and its citizens in order to achieve "Tocquevillian" gains – i.e. operational democracy and effective government. But what is urgently needed is a strong complementary focus on job creation to preserve and foster Durkheim's organic solidarity.
Much longer read next... 
 How the Chuck Hagel Fight Changed the American Jewish Landscape in Washington
 J. J. Goldberg 
Aug 20, 2013
This piece is over six and a half thousand words. 
I'm printing it out as I write to be read later, but I already know where it is headed.  I have a hunch that seen through a certain lens, it can be interpreted as yet another illustration of Barack Obama's political instincts. The cards he has been dealt have been pretty shitty. But he has played them as well as could be expected.  The following snip, for example, suggests he has played the Republican loyal opposition against the Republican disloyal opposition with some success.
The Jewish-Republican alliance has been actively nurtured by the Israeli right since the days of Menachem Begin and Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. For decades it’s had a braking effect on U.S. Middle East policy, narrowing the maneuvering room available to successive administrations as they’ve tried to impose their will in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

The strength of the alliance has been a source of endless speculation and wonder among outside observers. Conservatives have wondered when the Republicans’ loyalty to Israel would begin to pay off in a rightward shift among America’s overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish voters. Every four years Jewish conservatives have announced that this would be the year, and each time they’ve been disappointed.

Liberals, meanwhile, have wondered how far the organizations that purportedly speak for American Jews could stray from the views and values of their liberal base before something snapped.

Now we have an answer, at least a partial one. Over the decades the most influential Jewish organizations had lowered their profiles on domestic issues that matter deeply to their constituencies, such as abortion rights, civil liberties and economic justice, and diverted an ever-increasing share of their resources to Israel and Middle East policy. But in the Hagel nomination they reached their limit.

A Senate vote to deny confirmation of a president’s nominee for cabinet secretary is virtually unknown in American history. It’s happened only nine times, seven of them before 1900. The last was John Tower, nominated for defense secretary by George H.W. Bush in 1989 and rejected because of his history of drunken misbehavior. Denial because of policy disagreement hasn’t happened in more than a century. Denial by filibuster would have been unprecedented.

That Senate Republicans were willing to entertain such a move was an indication, not of Hagel’s qualifications, but of the degree of radicalization of the Republican Party during the Obama years. Their Jewish allies were simply unwilling to go that far.

Whether the rift is more than a fleeting incident won’t be clear for some time. Republicans have a disproportionate presence among board members and big donors of the major organizations. This creates an internal inertia toward closer ties with the right. At the same time, the radicalization of the Republican Party in recent years has strengthened the Democratic leanings—and dislike of Republicans—among ordinary Jews.

But the timing of the episode raises the stakes on the puzzle. It was less than a month after the Senate confirmation vote that Secretary of State John Kerry launched his new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. His goal was, first, to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after three years of deep freeze, and second, to shepherd the warring sides toward a permanent peace agreement.

To save leaving the page, here is the whole article. 
It's not too long. 
And as usual, Jonathan Chait hits several nails on the head. 

The debate over “libertarian populism” may seem, at first blush, like nothing more than a meaningless, dull blogger circle-jerk. But it’s significant because it reflects at the intellectual level something that is happening at the political level: the Republican Party’s inability to grapple with the yawning chasm between its ideology and the economic needs of most Americans. Libertarian populism has caught on as a catchphrase on the right precisely because it elides the problem while purporting to hold out a solution.

The traditional conservative anti-government economic agenda is getting less and less popular in large part because it appeals to the economic interests of a small minority of capital owners and high-income earners. “Libertarian populism” proposes different ways of avoiding this problem. One of them, advocated by orthodox right-wingers like Ben Domenech, is simply to assume that all market income is just, that those who benefit from government are “the powerful,” and those who benefit from the free market are “the people.” It’s “libertarian populism” in the sense that it presupposes that libertarianism is inherently populist.

A second, subtler method of the libertarian populists is to propose an agenda that boosts the middle class and comports with the libertarian goal of shrinking government. There certainly are ways to do this: cutting farm subsidies, other unnecessary corporate welfare, reforming criminal justice, and so on. The trouble is that these items fail to grapple with the central political-economic questions. On the whole, the free market creates and perpetuates enormous extremes of wealth without government, so an agenda that limits itself to government-shrinking measures is going to inevitably leave them defending the interests of the rich at the expense of the non-rich.

The same dynamic — ignoring the main problem that confounds their ideology in order to focus on the smaller bits that dovetail with it — can be seen in the halting libertarian populist efforts to answer the major fiscal questions. For instance, Timothy Carney proposes that libertarian populists endorse a cut in payroll taxes. Sounds great, right? Payroll taxes are regressive. So there you have a policy that fulfills both the requirement of helping the middle class and shrinking government.

Except … payroll taxes are just part of the Social Security system. And the taxes may disproportionately harm the poor and middle class, but the benefits of Social Security disproportionately help the poor and middle class. Overall, the program transfers income downward. And since it already faces a long-term gap between its revenue and its outlays, you can’t just cut the payroll tax without worsening its fiscal standing. You could cut benefits in a progressive way — which is part of the standard liberal Social Security plan — but nobody has proposed a way to shrink the revenue stream and make the numbers add up without cutting benefits for people with pretty modest incomes. Cutting payroll taxes is just a way of hand-waving away an entrenched fiscal policy dilemma.

Ross Douthat, likewise, argues that Obamacare robs unfortunate young, healthy people who would rather go uninsured:

The money that pays for the uninsured isn’t just being taken from wealthy taxpayers and bar-hopping “bros” – it’s also coming from a potentially-much-larger population of middle-class Americans who may end up paying higher premiums for a product they’re now required to buy.
I’d dispute this whole argument, for many reasons, one of which is that young people who will have to pay more now will eventually become older people who benefit from a functioning individual insurance market. But leave all that aside. Bringing young, healthy people into the insurance market is part of a larger scheme of providing coverage to those who are too poor or sick to get it. On the whole, Obamacare is extremely progressive. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Reihan Salam, Douthat’s co-author:
The taxes embedded in the ACA [Affordable Care Act], e.g., the unearned income Medicare contribution tax, are fairly narrowly-targeted to high-earners, and so redistribution away from the highest-earners is substantial. And the average value of subsidies for households at the 40th household income percentile and below is quite large. If the goal of the ACA were simply to reorient resources from the rich to the poor (and not to spend the money wisely, etc.), it is likely to be a success.
That’s the aggregate effect of the law. Libertarian populists can point to some tiny segment of people who are (arguably) worse off and non-rich. They can likewise point to some beneficiaries of the law who are rich. But Obamacare is a very progressive law on the whole. Repealing it would be a massive upward transfer of income, and even if repeal comes with a replacement, conservative replacement plans will leave many non-rich people worse off than they were under Obamacare.

Again, the Democrats’ policy agenda does not have all the answers for middle-class economic security for multiple reasons, political reality being one of them. There are ways to shrink the government while also fulfilling progressive goals (especially at the local level, where opportunities for government-cutting progressive initiatives are ripe). But libertarian populism at the federal level seems to be a process of starting with a slogan and then trying to work up ideological premises while hoping the details fill themselves in eventually. The actual agenda can't be filled in. Bad and/or nonexistent budget math is the whole secret to making it work.

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