The GOP Debate: Reality Keeps Intruding on the Tea Party's Alternate Universe

Sep 14, 2011Bo Cutter

There are real crises coming down the line -- such as an almost inevitable default in Europe -- but the Republicans refuse to deal with reality.

I'll start by acknowledging that I do not even remotely understand Republican party dynamics and can't read what happens in a Republican debate the way I think I can read Democratic party events.

There are real crises coming down the line -- such as an almost inevitable default in Europe -- but the Republicans refuse to deal with reality.

I'll start by acknowledging that I do not even remotely understand Republican party dynamics and can't read what happens in a Republican debate the way I think I can read Democratic party events.

Nevertheless, in approximately 45 years of reasonably close involvement in American politics, I have never seen more divergence from reality in what purports to be a serious discussion by men and women who actually think they might wind up being president of the United States. The Republican debate on Monday consisted of eight adults standing up for two hours and discussing an alternate universe.

This really is a "the emperor has no clothes" kind of moment. Unfortunately,  what is claimed and asserted in our current politics is always imperfectly related to reality. You can generally assume that any quote -- particularly from an opponent's book -- and any statistic (I've always thought that I have never, ever heard a complicated statistic used correctly by a major politician) is simply wrong. And therefore you have to "grok" what anyone would actually try to do when faced with the real world. So we become accustomed to the dissonance.

But isn't there a point when the divergence is just too great not to acknowledge? Michele Bachmann says President Obama "stole" $500 million from Medicare. She says President Obama embedded $105 billion in post-dated checks. Newt Gingrich says he "helped balance the budget for four straight years." The debate's moment of high drama and its aftermath involved vaccine inoculations, a moment that was prolonged the next day when Bachmann claimed that these inoculations caused retardation -- a problem no one else in the medical profession has ever heard of. The very real possibility of a lost American decade, the reality of 9 percent unemployment, or the potential for a complete European economic collapse never intruded on the fantasy world these people have spun for themselves.

So I think the answer to my question is "no." CNN cosponsored the debate (which makes it a profit center); serious adults such as David Gergen were commentators. Everyone was obsessed with the tactics. No one pointed out that this is one of the moments that shows we are beginning to go off the rails.

But we really are going off the rails, and it is time to change a basic assumption that I, and I would guess almost everyone, has always had about America and its leadership: that we have grownups in charge who have a reasonably firm grasp of reality and a sense of prudence about the risks they are willing to take. George W. Bush challenged this assumption, but this debate declared it null and void. That strange light in Michele Bachmann's eyes when she went into raptures over her willingness to risk an American default, or whenever she is about to try to foist a total mistruth on unsuspecting Americans, is a dead giveaway. I would guess that the odds are slightly better than even that one of these eight will be elected in 2012. This is like the shortstop who can't hit, but on the other hand can't field. Based on this debate, where there was almost no connection between what was said and the real world, the public doesn't have a clue what any of them would actually do as president, but on the other hand we can be sure that when they do it, it will scare the bejesus out of us.

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How could anyone see this debate and not see with blinding clarity the need for a movement from the radical center?

The harrowing thing is that there are real crises coming down the line that will require real leadership. As I was watching the debate, I was finishing Peter Boone and Simon Johnson's article "Europe on the Brink" published by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It begins, "Attempts to solve the problems in Europe are failing and the crisis is spreading... The euro crisis is not under control." Then it gets pessimistic. I finished the article, looked up some credit default swap numbers, talked to some friends, and concluded that there is a 60 percent chance of a Greek default -- an unplanned, messy default -- within six weeks.

This event will (1) lead directly to the bankruptcy of a number of European banks, and (2) put unsustainable pressure on Italy, Spain, and Portugal -- maybe even France.  There is no institution or process in Europe that can stop this; the IMF can't stop it and we damn sure aren't going to do anything. Nor is there a will to do anything. A European friend who would know said to me, "The French say Greece is the cradle of democracy, give them anything they want. The Germans say the Greeks are lazy liars, let them starve. And there is no voice in between."

As this process moves on, Italy, Spain, and Portugal will not be able to finance themselves at all from private markets and there are not enough other resources in Europe to step in. There will be more defaults, more bankruptcies, and a hair-raising recession in Europe.

What are we going to do?  In a normal country, say America 20 years ago, we would begin to anticipate these events, discuss them quietly in Washington between the leaders of both parties, and have a rough plan. But not now. If you judge by the Republican debate, we will do our damnedest to avoid thinking about any actual crises. Besides, this one involves foreigners, and what do they know anyway?

When asked what factors determined the success of a prime minister, Harold McMillan of Great Britain famously answered, "Events, dear boy, events." Inconveniences like complete economic and financial meltdowns in Europe constantly intrude on the otherwise well encapsulated lives of ideologues, and you actually do have to have a point of view about them.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic presidents.

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How September 11 Called the Millennial Generation Into Action

Sep 9, 2011Reese Neader

The youngest generation is already working hard to transform the country in honor of those who lost their lives.

On September 11, 2001, I stood up and walked out of class. I was studying international relations at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio and my class had been invited by our professor to discuss what just took place. What had happened and why? But more importantly, what did September 11 represent?

The youngest generation is already working hard to transform the country in honor of those who lost their lives.

On September 11, 2001, I stood up and walked out of class. I was studying international relations at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio and my class had been invited by our professor to discuss what just took place. What had happened and why? But more importantly, what did September 11 represent?

September 11 did not change our lives in the way the terrorists wanted. We are still the strongest country in the world and we are still the leaders of a global system that represents the American experiment in higher ideals of democracy, liberty, and shared prosperity.

Instead of destroying our country, September 11 roused a generation. The children who witnessed the fall of the towers have grown up through the Longest War, the Iraq War, two contested national elections, the housing crisis, the battle over climate change, a credit and student debt explosion, Hurricane Katrina, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and the Great Recession.

Our country is witnessing the long, slow breakdown of our systems. We are faced with an era marked by crises in energy, the economy, and national defense. As the world continues to look to America for global leadership, we find ourselves facing a crisis in leadership. Our government is paralyzed, our financial sector is rotten with corruption, and our corporate economy is choking under its own weight. Overseas, our soldiers continue to bravely fight the Longest War but are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, facing 21st century enemies with 20th century weapons and rules.

But this is not the first time that America has faced down an existential challenge. We fought for our independence against the British Empire. We rooted out the disease of slavery. We built our way back from the Great Depression and defeated the Nazis. Our parents and grandparents marched together for Civil Rights. We have traveled to the moon and we ended the Cold War. Every one of these events was born from a generational struggle. On September 11, 2001, as Millennials saw our way of life being attacked, we dedicated ourselves to achieving the promise of America and building a country where everyone can speak with freedom, worship with freedom, achieve prosperity, and live in peace and security. Our generation will also meet the challenges of our time and we will do it by following in the our country's tradition of exploration and innovation. America has changed the world with its inventions and ideas, and we're not done yet.

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The Millennial Generation is rising to meet the challenges of our time.

We are designing the next generation of energy infrastructure in labs and offices across the country, developing cleaner fuels, smarter technologies, and new forms of transportation that will create jobs for millions of Americans and propel our country into a new era of prosperity.

In cities across the country, Millennials are designing job creation policies and financial services that invest in American workers and replenish local economies. Social entrepreneurs, green businesses, and technology specialists are building a new economy that will generate wealth for Wall Street and Main Street, while making it a priority that our profits are generated from social enterprise, energy savings, and conserving the environment, creating millions of American jobs for American workers in the process.

And always vigilant, our military is responding to national security threats by designing new fighting systems and making smart investments in renewable energy research and development.

America began a new chapter on September 11, 2001. Rest assured that our generation is fighting for our future by actively rebuilding our country from the inside out. We are changing the way we live, the ways that we make money, and the way we value money. The lack of security engendered by 9/11 has provided our generation with a strong resolve to overcome challenges.

In our time we will, as a country and as a world, hang together or hang separately. America needs leadership imbued with values and a long-term vision for the progress of our country. The Millennial Generation is busy at work while waiting for its turn to take control of the country. We will succeed in our mission to rebuild the United States and ignite a new era of national prosperity, and we will do it inspired by the men and women who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. In the words of President Obama, in his inaugural speech in 2009, "We say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Policy Director.

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Preventative Action: Redirecting Post-9/11 Zeal Toward Our Health Care Crisis

Sep 9, 2011Rajiv Narayan

health-care-money-150We could redirect fervor and resources to prevent deaths through the health care system.

health-care-money-150We could redirect fervor and resources to prevent deaths through the health care system.

September 11th marked a political coming-of-age for many young Americans. Where we could once afford to be blissful in our policy ignorance, the realities of terrorism required a far more adult understanding of the issues. It's in the aftermath that I first began to notice the zeal for a particular brand of post-terror policy. It seemed as though every American, and their corresponding representatives in Washington, D.C., would do whatever it took, spend whatever was needed, to prevent the next attack. The commonsense perception dictated eliminating the threat before it could grow into a crisis. I like to imagine applying that standard to the problems I see in health care.

But consider first the extent to which preventing terror dominated the first resulting policy changes. A network of rules and regulations that encroach on civil liberties seek to prevent explosives and weapons from making it onto airplanes. A nation was controversially invaded to prevent its leader from using weapons of mass destruction. A broader war was declared to level Al Qaeda in another country to avenge the attacks and prevent future terror plots. An undisclosed, but certainly astronomical, amount of money was afforded to a top secret government agency to carry out unknown tasks to prevent potential terror threats.

Let's check in on these change: Individuals have found ways to bring weapons and explosives anyway. It is still unclear what threats, precisely, were prevented by invading and then occupying Iraq. Al Qaeda is largely decimated, but the conditions prevailing in Afghanistan can foster a new generation of radicalized anti-American sentiment. And we continue to chase terror plots to this day.

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Now consider a similar zeal for preventative policy, this time applied to health care. A network of rules and regulations could seek to eliminate a growing epidemic of obesity already affecting a third of Americans. We could go into Africa instead of Afghanistan, this time with $3 billion a year in targeted aid (what the Pentagon spends in two days) to end malaria and save those at risk. A disclosed and comparably lesser sum of money could task the federal government with reorienting our health care system around preventative medicine to stop the 900,000 American deaths each year from preventable causes.

A decade later, the results of these initiatives would be a little different. Ending obesity could save $147 billion each year in its associated costs. Our invasion of good will in Africa could save more than a million lives a year, the results of which would be met with a markedly higher level of international admiration, respect, and cooperation. Of course, some will still regrettably fall victim to preventable health problems. But we would know for certain where our dollars are going -- to our health.

There are many legacies and takeaways from 9/11. What I've learned is the power and reach of passionately driven policy. I've also learned that It should not take an attack, or any catastrophe, to ignite zealous action where it is needed.

Rajiv Narayan is a Senior Health Policy Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a student at the University of California, Davis.

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Libya Shows How the U.S. Can be a Super-Partner, not a Superpower

Sep 1, 2011Reese Neader

The Libyan conflict proves that by working with international allies, the U.S. can keep the peace without breaking the bank.

The Libyan conflict proves that by working with international allies, the U.S. can keep the peace without breaking the bank.

Operation Odyssey Dawn was a coming out party for NATO. Our European allies, especially France, led a successful air campaign and funneled special operations advisers and intelligence operatives behind enemy lines to help Libya's rebels topple the Gaddafi regime. This strategy of engagement was a big change from a decade of international military campaigns defined by unilateral, or heavy dependence on, U.S. action.

The U.S. took a different approach in Libya. Our limited, cost-effective campaign supported an organic, indigenous uprising. We strictly followed a United Nations mandate as our tactical guide for the conflict, and U.S. forces played a supporting role for a legitimate multinational force. The U.S. acted as a "super-partner," not a "superpower," and the results so far have been very positive.

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO had been struggling to find an identity. The Long War stalemate in Afghanistan has ground the alliance down and left policymakers asking if it is the organization's role to play global super-cop. Intervention in Libya followed a new game plan and served as a challenge, and an opportunity, for our allies to lead their own military campaign.

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It was clear from the outset of Odyssey Dawn that NATO's European forces were not prepared to shoulder the burden of the Libyan air campaign. The U.S. war machine has been fine-tuned from a decade of coordinating high-intensity, precision air strikes across multiple theaters. It took months for European and Arab forces to put together a well coordinated plan of action, and increased kinetic action from U.S. assets in the final weeks of the conflict was still the game changer in the air campaign. President Obama ordered a well executed, heavy strike operation by U.S. naval and air forces that delivered a decapitating blow to the Gaddafi regime's infrastructure.

Hopefully intervention in Libya did not exhaust the European appetite for warfighting. Europe needs to shoulder its burden of global security. If our European allies want continued access to cheap energy and trade security, they will have to strengthen their armed forces and continue to work with more coordination between NATO and the U.S.

It is also important to note that other U.S. allies besides Europe played a crucial role in the execution of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Turkey was the wild card in this conflict. It led a strong push for support of the operation in the Middle East and has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and weapons to the Libyan rebels. Qatar also led the charge by participating in air strikes and funding the rebel's oil export operations.

The conditions that opened the door for an unprecedented international military campaign are not certain to exist in every future American national security theater, but the success of the revolution in Libya might be illustrative of what U.S. wars will look like in the 21st century. While the U.S. continues to struggle with a massive jobs crisis, crumbling infrastructure, and nationwide cuts in social services, we need a leaner, meaner approach to national defense that shares the cost of global security with our allies. Our approach in Libya is a good example of how the U.S. can achieve its national security goals while practicing fiscal restraint.

Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Policy Director.

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Action in Libya Took the Right Course -- but Isn't a New Roadmap

Aug 29, 2011Reese Neader

The U.S. aid to rebels in Libya was necessary, but it can't necessarily be replicated across the Arab region.

The U.S. aid to rebels in Libya was necessary, but it can't necessarily be replicated across the Arab region.

Col. Muammar Gaddafi ruled over Libya with an iron fist for 42 years. During that time he went from an international pariah and state terrorist to Western darling and finally to an overthrown tyrant targeted by the international community. His rise and fall help illustrate the complexities of our global system and how the changing power dynamics of that system affect U.S. national security. Ultimately, it was the right call for the U.S. and the international community to end the humanitarian crisis in Libya by supporting opposition forces. But the strategy specific to this situation doesn't necessarily signal a new era in U.S. foreign policy.

A little background:

In the early 2000s, Gaddafi abandoned his nuclear and chemical weapons programs in exchange for international acceptance from Western powers and access to lucrative oil, development, and trade contracts. For several years he was embraced by Western foreign policymakers; as president of the African Union, he showed them that global "bad guys" could "turn good." And then, with the birth of the Arab Spring, his house of cards fell.

Libya ignited in February 2011 as Gaddafi ordered the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests across the country. The battle between government soldiers and protesters quickly escalated into a humanitarian crisis as an armed revolt broke out. Thousands died as under-equipped rebels battled Gaddafi's forces. The international community recognized that genocide in Libya was imminent. In March, the United Nations sanctioned de-facto intervention in the conflict by passing resolution 1973, establishing a no-fly/no-drive zone within the country. The Arab League strongly supported this measure, and several Middle Eastern states have been aggressive in their support for the revolutionary government, the Transitional National Council (TNC). This provided legal cover for NATO to strike at Gaddafi's military assets, disabling the regime's ability to wage war against the Libyan people and empowering the TNC to build a new, democratic Libyan state.

Making a case for Just War:

Arguments that U.S. intervention in Libya was warranted because the conflict became a humanitarian crisis are well founded, but do not represent a coherent trend in U.S. foreign policymaking. If supporting democracy and human rights abroad is a national security goal for the U.S. (and the international community), then every global humanitarian crisis represents a "Right to Protect" (R2P) and requires international intervention. However, current U.S. and NATO military commitments make R2P an unrealistic strategy for policymakers. As critics of the war have noted, the US is currently bogged down in a five-front foreign war, and any expansion of military engagement should not be taken lightly.  The current revolt in Syria also illustrates the divide between ideology and reality. Many rogue governments (such as Syria's Baath regime) are too well protected to be legitimate targets for decapitation by foreign intervention.

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Selective engagement is also not a coherent U.S. strategy and intervention in Libya does not signal a change in any long-term U.S. policy toward genocide. Selective engagement is a tactical effort to promote global stability and is not a sound policy for advancing our national security interests. In other words, we didn't support the rebels just because the people of Libya were suffering. We supported the rebels in Libya because removing Gaddafi was good for global order. The Arab Spring is much too far along for the United States to sit on the fence and continue supporting regional dictators. The consequences of the Arab Spring are still unpredictable, but whatever unfolds, it is in the United States' interest to be on the side of change. Supporting the Arab Spring is the only position the U.S. can take if we want the results to strengthen global stability.

Global instability is a threat to U.S. national security because many nation-states we brand as "rogue nations" and "failed states" are run by unstable, undemocratic regimes that control access to deadly weapons of mass destruction, a relic from the Cold War. In the 21st century, the U.S. and its allies continue a costly hunt to secure these weapons, but emerging threats (such as cyber attacks, transnational criminal organizations, and non-state terrorism) make these operations difficult to execute. Libya is therefore a security concern for the U.S. because the regime has stockpiles of deadly weapons: shoulder-held rocket launchers and stores of poison gas. While it is not a security goal to occupy Libya (or pay for the occupation of Libya), it is a security goal for the United States (and the international community) to ensure that the deadly weapons in Libya are secured.

If intervention in Libya represented an opportunity for the U.S. to support regime change (which would support human rights and promote democracy), then involvement in the war should have been framed in that context and the president should have sought approval from Congress immediately after deploying U.S. forces to the region. This would have allowed them to use more kinetic force against Gaddafi's military command and communications infrastructure. It is unfortunate that what took NATO six months of action could have taken the U.S. several weeks. But this is the price we will pay for a more balanced foreign policy. The upside to this approach is that our government saves a lot of money and American families will save many sons and daughters.

But if targeting Gaddafi was our goal, and I believe that it was after he failed to reconcile with the TNC, it was smart, although we should have been more honest about it. In every global conflict there are still "good guys" and "bad guys." The people of Libya were being oppressed by a tyrant and they protested fearlessly for freedom. The United States possesses vast military superiority over the global system and has the ability to save millions of people across the world from suffering. We were right to intervene for humanitarian reasons and to assist with overthrowing the Gaddafi regime.

Ultimately, President Obama took the right approach to the war in Libya. He decisively engaged U.S. forces in a just and limited war at very low cost in lives and spending, and he kept his campaign promise to respect international law and work more closely with our allies to secure democracy and human rights abroad. Unfortunately, you don't always get rewarded for doing the right thing.

Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Policy Director.

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Hamptons Institute Takes on the Unfolding Story in the Middle East

Aug 10, 2011

The Roosevelt Institute recently teamed up with Guild Hall to present the third installment of the Hamptons Institute, a symposium that brings political, economic, and cultural thought leaders together to let the intellectual sparks fly. Karen Greenberg lead a discussion about the various issues plaguing the Middle East with Jane Harman, CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Canter, Daniel Yerkin, Chairman of Cambridge Energy Resource Association, and Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiy.

The Roosevelt Institute recently teamed up with Guild Hall to present the third installment of the Hamptons Institute, a symposium that brings political, economic, and cultural thought leaders together to let the intellectual sparks fly. Karen Greenberg lead a discussion about the various issues plaguing the Middle East with Jane Harman, CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Canter, Daniel Yerkin, Chairman of Cambridge Energy Resource Association, and Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiy.

While the U.S. has been preoccupied with our financial disaster, there have been a lot of changes taking place in the Middle East. The word on the street is no longer "terrorist" but rather "Arab Spring." While the Middle East is still caught up in almost any conversation about U.S. national security, it appears that there are a host of other issues that are relevant to our future security concerns as well as the region's prosperity.

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The panel acted as a primer for anyone who hasn't been closely following new trends in the region. The discussion ranged from Hisham Melhem's pessimistic commentary on the future of the Arab Spring movements, to Daniel Yerkin's stark description of the resource challenges facing the Middle East, to Jane Harman's explanation of the different ways in which the U.S. could be more strategic in our Middle East policy. Harmon pointed out that an internal "counter Jihad" could be influencing the hearts and minds of people in Middle Eastern countries against the radical terrorists that we often talk about in the U.S. They all agreed that the Middle East is an unfolding story with an uncertain future.

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Hamptons Institute Serves Up Menu of Fresh Ideas

Jul 18, 2011Lynn Parramore

idea 150The Hamptons Institute is the best beach brainfood the East End has ever seen.

idea 150The Hamptons Institute is the best beach brainfood the East End has ever seen.

On a pinch-me perfect summer weekend, people hungry for fresh ideas and discussion bypassed the beach and gathered in East Hampton for the 3rd installment of the Hamptons Institute, a symposium put on by the Roosevelt Institute in collaboration with Guild Hall, the East End's premier cultural center. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Ellen Chesler worked with Guild Hall to create a smorgasbord of intellectual nourishment, with panels topics ranging from lighter fare, like how to produce a Broadway show, to the most thorny economic and political issues of the moment.

On Saturday, two panels delved into subjects fit to challenge the most pointy-headed of pundits.

The morning panel, “The Outlook for the Middle East,” was moderated by the brilliant Karen Greenberg, executive director of NYU's Center on Law and Security. Thought leaders Daniel Yergin, Jane Harman, and Hisham Melhem joined her in a discussion of the ever-changing situation in the Middle East.

Melhem, a Lebanese journalist, offered one of the weekend's most memorable (and sobering) lines: "The Arab Spring is morphing into a Hot Summer and a Dark Winter." He reminded us of the complexity of the region and the nuance required for discussion and framing of issues. For example, he suggested that the US would have been better served by framing the response to 9/11 as war on Al-Qaeda, rather than a war on terror or an implied battle against Islam. Melhem noted that politics informed by religious values is not necessarily bad. What you don't want, he observed, were theocracies. Melhem suggested that US should push societies in the Middle East to open the space for various parts to compete and debate, citing the examples of Egypt and Tunisia, whose relatively open societies permit robust public discussion in contrast to countries like Bahrain which currently make this untenable. He expressed grave concern that the Arab world is currently bereft of strong leaders with vision.

Former Congresswoman Jane Harman, who now runs a D.C.-based think thank, discussed whether the US government was prepared or caught off guard by the Arab Spring. She deplored America's "incredible ignorance about Arab societies" which pervades Congress, the administration, and the American public. Harman pointed out that "Yemen is ground zero for threats against us" and commented on the potential instability of a region where people are running out of oil and water, and increasingly driven to hopelessness. But she also put faith in the idea of a "counter-jihad" happening throughout the region -- a trend in which Muslims are thought to be rising up against Al-Qaeda, hard-lined types.  Referring to Iran as the 'Big Enchilada" of the Middle East, she gave the view that economic sanctions are working, as evidenced by the fact that Ahmadinejad is in trouble. Harman further noted that there are good opportunities "to change Iranian policy without military intervention."  She added that the "clock is ticking against Israel as a Jewish state," noting the decreasing number of reliable friends not only in the neighborhood but in Europe as well.

Author Dan Yergin discussed the role of the resources in the region, noting that oil and natural gas issues loom very large.  He observed that the interplay between countries that have oil and natural gas and those that don't will become increasingly important, and warned that food prices in the region are also huge problem. "Anger is not just about lack of participation," said Yergin, "but economic hardship." He saw the future of the region as one in which ossified systems become dynamic. But he noted that economic challenges were of tremendous concern.

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The afternoon panel, "Perspectives on the Obama Presidency" was moderated by Lynn Sherr and focused on questions that have been plaguing everyone: Has Obama been an effective president? Will he be reelected?

Author Bob Caro, a biographer of Lyndon Johnson, reminded the audience of how LBJ got things done, in contrast to Obama: He did whatever it took to get votes, from bribing to cajoling to threatening.  Caro saw Obama's biggest challenge for reelection as the fact that there are really only 4 or 5 states in play -- the Rust Belt and Florida -- and that they happened to be areas especially hard hit by unemployment. He gave the view that Obama would have a "tremendous problem even being elected by default" because of those states.

The New Yorker's George Packer mused on the oft-cited difference between Obama the Candidate and Obama the President.  Observing that Obama was not like Roosevelt or a figure who would fit the New Deal era, Packer wondered how he might have flourished in an earlier, progressive time when moralizing and lofty speeches were in vogue, and "when an appeal to civic-mindedness and political reform had a real audience in the middle classes". Packer observed that Obama is "a reasonable man speaking into a hurricane",  characterizing the President as both behind and ahead of his time. Introducing a little-discussed theme, Packer made the point that Obama likely saw his job as managing an America in decline. On the challenges of reelection, Packer agreed that unemployment was a doozy, along with Obama's failure to connect to the public. "How many phrases can you remember from his presidency?" asked Packer. Nevertheless, Packer predicted that Obama will win in 2012 by default. He gave the opinion that health care was the best thing about Obama's first term.

Historian HW Brands was the most inclined to see the bright side of Obama's presidency, maintaining that he was doing about as well as any president could under the circumstances. But in discussing the hopes that Obama would usher  in a New Deal, he observed that "it wasn't going to happen because things were bad, but not bad enough." Talking about the stimulus, he reminded the audience that in politics, "you don't get credit for what didn't happen".  Brands was clear that Obama's would not be a transformational  presidency. But he proposed that after the debt ceiling debate, Obama would be able to move from governing to campaigning, which is his forte. In Brands' view, the best thing this President did was to "focus the country on long-term issues like the deficit."

All this sounds like a lot to have on your plate on a summer Saturday. But judging from the lively conversations that bubbled up among attendees, this year's Hamptons Institute only whetted appetites for more.

Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, co-founder of Recessionwire, and the author of Reading the Sphinx.

**Follow Lynn Parramore on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/lynnparramore

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Pyramid Song: Youth Engagement in Egypt

Jul 15, 2011Reese Neader

egypt-flag-wall-150Reese Neader shares his thoughts about his upcoming trip to Egypt and the importance of grassroots youth networking.

egypt-flag-wall-150Reese Neader shares his thoughts about his upcoming trip to Egypt and the importance of grassroots youth networking.

Today I'm boarding a plane at JFK Airport to travel to Egypt. In Cairo and Alexandria I'll be training youth opposition leaders in civic engagement and grassroots policy making, convening discussions with young people that are seeking to build political coalitions and gain representation in the Egyptian government. In my role as the policy director for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network I've been selected as a grant recipient by the State Department U.S. Speaker & Specialist program.

The timing of this trip coincides with renewed protests in Tahir Square, where protesters have returned in response to government inaction since popular protests deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak in February. Egypt is the cultural center of the Middle East and the return of protesters to Tahir Square is a signal that the Arab Spring is not complete. In Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Morocco pro-democracy protests continue to pulse. Elsewhere in the region, Iraq is continuing its shaky transition to democracy as US troops continue their gradual withdraw and NATO is engaged in a bombing campaign to oust Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Join us at the Hamptons Institute July 15-17 to hear distinguished speakers take on today’s most pressing issues!

Will the Arab Spring transform the Middle East into a prosperous democratic region? If the voices of the youth in the Middle East can be transformed into political action, the answer will be "yes."

And is it in the interest of the United States to promote democracy and human rights in the Middle East? If the voices of America's Millennial Generation can be transformed into political action, then the answer will also be "yes."

In our Blueprint for Millennial America and Budget for Millennial America, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network supports a positive vision for US global leadership in the 21st century.

During the Cold War, there was a clear overarching goal for US foreign policy: contain and defeat communism. But since its end, when the US became the world's only superpower, we have operated without a coherent long-term strategy that defines our position in the international system, outlines our goals for engagement with other countries, and provides a plan for ensuring that our foreign policy builds our national prosperity. We need a 'Grand Strategy' to ensure that America wins the 21st century. My generation wants to keep America safe. And we recognize that we need new models of foreign policy strategy to address 21st century threats.

The Millennial Generation, and especially Roosevelt's network of 10,000 students at over 100 chapters across the country, are prepared to meet that challenge and provide policymakers with a vision for the future of American global leadership. Roosevelt Campus Network students have engaged on the cutting edge of the national security debate with our student research projects, speaking events hosted by the World Bank (among others) and hosted conferences that have been attended by generals, diplomats, White House officials, and United Nations representatives. And we're ready to keep working to win the future.

On August 1st, friends from across the Campus Network will join me in kicking off "Operation Rising Tide", a New Deal 2.0 blog series that outlines our Millennial Grand Strategy. We will use this series as a platform to educate the public, engage the national security community, and to promote upcoming projects and media events related to our projects. On my return to New York City I'll share my experiences in Egypt and their relation to events happening across the Middle East and to the ongoing national security debate in Washington. I will see you on the other side.

Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Campus Network’s Policy Director.

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Troops Fighting Wars Abroad, Fighting Banks at Home

Jul 13, 2011Bryce Covert

Protecting service members from predatory lending at home is the least we can do to thank them for protecting our interests overseas.

This week's credit check: Most service members make less than $31,000 a year. Payday lending can cost military families over $80 million in fees each year.

Protecting service members from predatory lending at home is the least we can do to thank them for protecting our interests overseas.

This week's credit check: Most service members make less than $31,000 a year. Payday lending can cost military families over $80 million in fees each year.

Our military takes good care of its troops. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in a recent column, it gives them access to excellent health care, provides superb child care to enlisted parents, and invests in service members' education. "[I]t does more to provide equal opportunity to working-class families -- especially to blacks -- than just about any social program," he says. "It has been an escalator of social mobility in American society because it invests in soldiers and gives them skills and opportunities." Those risking their lives in the line of duty deserve such treatment. They also deserve support once they return home.

But that's not what awaits them. Instead, they often find themselves victim to predatory lending. Service members, in fact, rate financial stresses as second only to work and career.

The most egregious case surfaced earlier this year when it was revealed that JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America had violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by improperly foreclosing on almost 50 active duty military families. Under the SCRA, active duty troops are protected from suits such as foreclosure so that they don't have to worry about financial troubles at home while serving their country. On top of this, it was revealed that JP Morgan overcharged 4,000 military families on their mortgages. Troops can have their mortgage interest rates lowered to 6% under the SCRA, but Marine Capt. Jonathan Rowles brought to light the fact that his family was being overcharged at rates above 9 or 10 percent and then hounded by debt collectors for the extra amount they didn't owe, up to $15,000.

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But these aren't the only abuses they face. A 2006 report by the Department of Defense found, "Predatory lending practices are prevalent and target military personnel, either through proximity and prevalence around military installations, or through the use of affinity marketing techniques, particularly on-line," including payday loans, car title loans, tax refund anticipation loans, and rent-to-own operations. The report describes how military personnel are perfect targets for predatory lenders, who make loans based on income but not on the long-term ability to pay. In fact, 48% of enlisted service members are under 25, making them less experienced and less likely to have savings; they are away from any family that might be able to help out with financial troubles; they're paid regularly and aren't likely to lose their jobs; they're geographically concentrated; and there's even a military policy explicitly stating that they must pay their debts. On top of this, their pay isn't very high: most make less than $31,000 a year. It may be little wonder, then, that in 2005 active-duty military personnel were three times more likely than civilians to take out a payday loan. In fact, payday lending cost military families over $80 million in fees each year.

There is some good news for our troops. In 2006, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act was passed, making it illegal for lenders to charge military members and their families interest rates above 36%, among other helpful provisions. The Justice Department settled with a JP Morgan unit and Bank of America for $22 million over the wrongful mortgage charges and foreclosures to provide relief to more than 170 active-duty personnel. And the new cop on the beat, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, just announced an agreement with the Judge Advocate Generals of all military branches "to provide stronger protections for service members and their families in connection with consumer financial products and services." Protecting our troops from predatory lending is almost literally the least we can do to thank them as they come home.

Bryce Covert is Assistant Editor at New Deal 2.0.

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Believe in Bilin: Palestine's Future Rests in Hands of Youth

Jun 27, 2011Caitlin Howarth

bilin-fence

Will Palestine's "Generation Oslo" be the game-changer in the West Bank?

bilin-fence

Will Palestine's "Generation Oslo" be the game-changer in the West Bank?

Last Friday, Muhammad Khatib walked down a long country road toward a security fence. For the last six years, he and a cadre of nonviolent protesters have made their way down the road every Friday. And every Friday, they have been met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. Some protesters threw stones in response. Most would retreat, burned by the gas or hit by the bullets.

Last Friday, Khatib and his fellow protesters marched for the last time in Bilin.

The campaign to reclaim land in the small Palestinian village of Bilin was marching in victory: the security wall deemed illegal in 2007 by the Israeli Supreme Court is being rolled back. While organizers debate the next phase of their campaign, this nonviolent movement's success marks yet another victory for the Arab Spring.

Whether it will be a game changer in the West Bank depends on whether Khatib and the rest of Palestine's "Generation Oslo" become the face of Palestinian leadership. Frustration over years of legal battles in Israel's courts and at the International Court of Justice leave many convinced that Tel Aviv's 'wait it out' policy may ultimately prevail, giving settlers enough time to establish communities that will be difficult to unroot. The youthful leaders like those at the center of events in Tunis and Tahrir Square have little access to power in the Palestinian Authority or political parties. And the longstanding dispute over whether Hamas can join in any legitimate Palestinian government, let alone in peace negotiations with Israel, is a constant source of tension that threatens to unravel any progress.

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All the more reason, then, to believe in Bilin. Palestinians face a critical moment in the months ahead: namely, whether or not a third intifada (popular uprising) will take place in September, when Palestine approaches the UN to claim international recognition of its statehood. Whether that uprising will occur as it did it Tahrir -- and with as much call for fresh Palestinian leadership as for liberation from Israeli occupation -- depends largely on successful organizing among Palestine's well-educated, under-employed youth. Cut off from job opportunities, Generation Oslo spends its time studying; its literacy rate is estimated above 94%, more than 20 points higher than Egypt's. Brian drain from students leaving the territories in search of higher education and jobs has created a diaspora with precisely the kinds of diplomatic, financial, and organizational resources needed to help rebuild the West Bank and Gaza.

But jobs alone will not be enough to create a stable, thriving Palestine; nor will the old, hard-line leaders in Ramallah, Gaza, or Tel Aviv accomplish a lasting peace. The next generation, some of whom I was lucky to meet during a recent trip to the West Bank, understands both the tough game of politics and the power of hope. They, like so many young leaders I worked with in the States, are both deeply pragmatic and fundamentally driven by basic values. They aspire to nothing more -- and nothing less -- than human dignity. All they need is the opportunity to break free of an old and limited political paradigm.

For many, international recognition of Palestine could be a catalyst moment for the Oslo Generation to take charge. And despite all the complexities unique to Palestine and Israel, this next generation of leaders should hold one thing constant from the last year of revolution: a commitment to nonviolence. Leaders like Muhammah Khatib understand the uncompromising power that comes from walking toward walls with no protection other than their faith in each other. That is the power that makes everything else possible.

Let's hope the Oslo Generation believes in Bilin.

Caitlin Howarth is the former policy director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. When not in class at the Harvard Kennedy School, she works on the human security documentation team at the Satellite Sentinel Project.

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