Monday, April 18, 2016

Brazil's Shrewd Senate Boss Unlikely to Rescue Rousseff

By Brad Haynes and Alonso Soto
April 18, 2016

Dilma Rousseff is not the first Brazilian president forced to contemplate the loyalty of Renan Calheiros on the eve of her possible impeachment.

Nearly 25 years ago, Calheiros, the current president of the Senate who will decide the pace of debate over Rousseff's impeachment, weighed the fate of a fellow politician from his tiny northeastern state of Alagoas: Fernando Collor de Mello.

Calheiros was a key advisor in Collor's successful presidential campaign in 1989. Just three years later, his explosive revelations of government corruption to journalists and congressional investigators helped topple Collor in a corruption scandal.

As the impeachment process against Rousseff moves to the Senate after winning overwhelming support in the lower house of Congress on Sunday, she and her allies may look with trepidation to Calheiros, a crucial but inconsistent ally in the past year.

Calheiros has resisted the rush to remove Rousseff among a large wing of his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), throwing his support behind the idea of new general elections to settle the country's political crisis.

Yet those proposals are distant and theoretical, while the decision before Calheiros is urgent. He faces intense pressure from his own party and others in the opposition to quickly set a date for a Senate vote on whether to accept impeachment charges and put Rousseff on trial.

The precedent of Collor's impeachment suggests a committee will be formed to present a recommendation on whether Rousseff should be tried. This would be voted on by the full chamber within 10 parliamentary sessions - which would be in early May.

The pro-impeachment camp only needs a simple majority in the Senate to open a trial, an easier hurdle than Sunday's lower house vote, which required two-thirds support.

But if Calheiros delays the vote it could give Rousseff vital time to regroup, negotiate and try to swing wavering senators in her favor.

Those closest to Calheiros say his shrewd sense of realpolitik, which has helped him dodge several scandals of his own, makes him reluctant to put his own judgment before the intense political currents of the day.

"Renan could decide the history of the country. And that's exactly what he doesn't want: to be marked as the one who dealt the final blow," said a close confidant in his home state of Alagoas, who asked not to be named. "Because if that works for him, then it's chicanery, and if it goes wrong then he's dead."

Calheiros' aides did not respond to a request for comment, but the Senate leader downplayed his role to reporters on Monday, saying he would neither rush or draw out the impeachment process but would follow the law and the constitution.

A Survivor

Calheiros, 60, is part of a group of politicians known in Brazil as the "dinosaurs", an old guard who entered politics under military rule and consolidated power after the return of democracy in the 1980s with a knack for compromise and sharp survival instincts.

Born in the remote interior of Alagoas, Brazil's third poorest and most violent state, Calheiros' career has been marked by shifting allegiances.

First elected to Congress in 1982, he quickly built a reputation as a power broker and has allied with every Brazilian president since Collor in 1990, even as the ruling ideology shifted to the left under the governments of Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Calheiros is also known for close escapes from corruption scandals that could have sunk a less experienced politician.

One incident came in 2007, when a news magazine reported a construction company's lobbyist was paying child support for a daughter Calheiros conceived with a young journalist.

Further allegations of tax fraud and improper business dealings prompted an inquiry by the Senate's ethics committee and calls for his ouster.

Calheiros quit as Senate boss, taking enough heat out of the attacks to gather votes and dodge impeachment.

And by 2013, he was back in charge of the Senate.

When Rousseff's congressional coalition began crumbling and the movement to impeach her began last year, Calheiros came to her aid.

He helped to pass crucial tax measures and delayed an audit into a breach of budgetary laws for which she will now likely be put on trial in his chamber.

But colleagues in his party, the PMDB, which led the impeachment process in the lower house, believe he will not stand in the way of Rousseff being forced from power.

One party leader with close ties to Vice President Michel Temer, who will replace Rousseff if she is impeached, admitted there were divisions in the PMDB but that in the face of significant political change the party sticks together.

To prove the point, the source called Calheiros during the interview. "Lets move ahead together, my friend," he told Calheiros in a light-hearted phone conversation.

On Monday, Calheiros took center stage in the impeachment saga, meeting with Rousseff and then her arch-rival, lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, and Ricardo Lewandowski, the Supreme Court justice who would preside over a trial in the Senate.

Regardless of Calheiros' own views, the political momentum is clearly with the pro-impeachment camp.

"I think Renan right now is watching to see who wins," Paulo Pereira da Silva, a union boss and ardent critic of Rousseff, said as votes were being cast in the lower house on Sunday.

"But once the impeachment arrives in the Senate, he will be the first to hang her out to dry."

Article Link to Reuters:

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Angela Merkel’s Sultanic Bargain

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doesn’t have a sense of humor. Nor, to judge by her decision to allow a comedian’s prosecution, does the German chancellor.

By James Kirchick
Politico EU
April 18, 2016

As if to confirm the stereotype that Germans lack a sense of humor, Chancellor Angela Merkel last week allowed a legal case to proceed against a comedian accused of “insulting” the president of Turkey.

On March 31st, satirist Jan Böhmermann read a poem on state television broadcaster ZDF accusing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of “repressing minorities, kicking Kurds and slapping Christians.” This was one of the few printable lines in an otherwise scatological riff, which, among other crude puns, involved a quip about Erdogan’s manhood rhyming with “doner.”

Hypersensitive bully that he is, Erdoğan invoked an obscure and rarely utilized section of the Prussian-era German penal code prohibiting offense against the “dignity” of foreign leaders. By pressuring Merkel to enact the obsolete dictates of lèse-majesté, Erdoğan joins a rogues gallery alongside the late Shah of Iran and Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, both of whom inveighed previous German governments to punish their critics.

Erdoğan’s cynical exploitation of German law was but the latest in a series of attempts to interfere in that country’s domestic politics. In February, the Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara summoned the German ambassador, Martin Erdmann, for a dressing down over an educational handout distributed to teachers in the state of Saxony-Anhalt addressing the Armenian genocide, which Turkey denies. The following month, Erdmann was again reprimanded over a video satire aired on German television poking fun at Erdoğan as “the Boss from the Bosphorus.” When Turkish officials insisted that the video be removed from the internet, Erdmann reportedly showed them unflattering caricatures of Merkel printed in the German media so as to demonstrate how withstanding criticism — sometimes even juvenile lampooning — is the cost of doing business for leaders in free societies.

Like the character of German legend who made a pact with the devil, Merkel’s shameful decision comes as the result of a corrupt bargain with her Turkish counterpart. Earlier this year, in exchange for Ankara’s stanching the flow of migrants into Europe, the European Union agreed to fork over up to €6 billion in aid, as well as accelerate the Mediterranean country’s visa waiver process and membership application to the 28-nation bloc. That was far more than the Turks deserved for doing what they ought to have been doing anyway: stopping illegal immigration. Demanding the head of a German comedian is Erdoğan’s way of sticking an embittered finger in the eye of Europe, which he sees as disrespecting his Sultanate.

"Increasingly dependent upon illiberal regimes for its economic health and security, the West is increasingly willing to sacrifice core values."

By deferring to the judiciary on the question of whether to prosecute Böhmermann, (who could potentially face up to three years in prison) Merkel can, at best, be defended on grounds of adhering to a particular German pedantry. “Not the government, but courts and the legal system will have the final word,” she said.

But this rationalization is far too charitable to the chancellor. Merkel could have struck a blow for freedom of expression by nipping the legal process in the bud, simultaneously sending a signal to Erdoğan and the rest of Europe that the continent will not compromise its values on the whims of a dictator whose government recently seized control of the country’s leading opposition newspaper and has lodged some 2,000 legal cases against its own citizens for insulting the president. Erdoğan will now be able to use this foreign policy victory for domestic political purposes, demonstrating to his people — and, in particular, his battered and beleaguered opposition — the extent of his growing power.

* * *

Last month, Washingtonians got a taste of Erdogan’s authoritarianism when his security detail roughed up reporters and protestors outside a think tank where he was due to deliver a speech. For about an hour on March 31st (the same day Böhmermann read his poem), the normally staid confines of Massachusetts Avenue, a long stretch of which houses some of D.C.’s most respectable research institutions from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, resembled the rough and tumble of Gezi Park as Turkish security agents tussled with demonstrators outside the Brookings Institution.

It was later revealed that Brookings threatened to cancel Erdoğan’s speech due to the thuggish behavior of his entourage, whose violence elicited condemnation from journalists and think tank denizens alike. While German civil society has performed admirably in l’affaire Böhmermann, support for the comedian has hardly been universal, beginning with his own network. Without any prompting from the German government, ZDF removed the video of Böhmermann’s riff from its website, and Berlin police banned a demonstration outside the Turkish embassy. The usually verbose Böhmermann, like many another critic or satirist of Islamist cry bullies, has not been heard from for weeks and is living under police protection with his family.

* * *

A neo-Ottoman autocrat’s temper tantrum concerns far more than the livelihood of this single German comedian. Indeed, the scandal demonstrates a negative, unintended consequence of globalization. As we have come to learn in recent years, it’s not only things we want — like goods, services, and fresh ideas — that can now traverse increasingly irrelevant national borders, but also things we don’t want — like refugee flows and, alarmingly, the censoriousness of foreign despotisms. Because it is increasingly dependent upon illiberal regimes for its economic health and security, the West in general, and Europe in particular, is increasingly willing to sacrifice core values. Whether it’s the Italian government covering up the Capitoline Museum’s naked statues so as not to offend the visiting president of Iran, or newspapers refusing to publish images of Mohammed, Europeans are surrendering their freedoms little by little. If this dishonorable sufferance on behalf of religious obscurantists continues, we will not have much freedom left.

"Merkel could have struck a blow for freedom of expression by nipping the legal process in the bud."

Merkel is hardly alone in deserving blame for this sorry situation; her supplication before Erdogan is the consequence of a broader continental fecklessness. The refugee crisis that has left Europe at the mercy of Turkey is the direct result of its lack of resolve in Syria. Western indecisiveness — refusing to fight for its interests in the Levant with force — cleared the field for a Russian military intervention that exacerbated refugee flows. In this sense, a German comedian’s virtual house arrest proves the need for a robust, united European foreign policy that stands up for its values abroad so that it doesn’t have to sacrifice them at home.

Jan Böhmermann humorously challenged the staid orthodoxies of his consensus-obsessed countrymen and for that, he is paying the price for Western apathy. But his fate is no laughing matter.

Article Link to Politico EU:

"Wronged" Trump May Be Seeking an Escape Route

By Caitlin Huey-Burns
Real Clear Politics
April 17, 2016

After finding himself outmaneuvered on the ground in idiosyncratic but critical state contests, Donald Trump is attempting to turn his campaign shortcomings into a strategic advantage.

The GOP front-runner is blaming the rules of the game, arguing that delegate losses in Colorado recently are illustrative of a “rigged” system that moves power away from voters and toward party operatives. Never mind the fact that the rules, most of them determined by state Republican parties, have been in place for some time. In an election year without a consensus candidate, the rules have played an outsized role, and thus veteran and new voters alike have been exposed to the ugly innards of arcane processes.

And that just so happens to match Trump’s overarching message against status quo and establishment politics. “Let me ask America a question: How has the ‘system’ been working out for you and your family?” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Even the businessman’s opponents agree that turning his failure to understand the process into an asset is a politically savvy, if hastily conceived, strategy that may help him galvanize supporters ahead of several important contests in the Northeast, which could propel Trump to the nomination after all. The tactical shift in tone also provides him with options, including a possible escape route from humiliation. If he falls short of the 1,237 requisite delegates, and can’t use this message to woo more his way before or at the convention, Trump can tell his supporters that the party establishment wronged him.

“If you're a Trump supporter, the ‘we were done wrong’ theme is good for them,” says Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist who has advised several presidential campaigns. However, “it is little ironic for Trump to be doing this because he is a guy who knows his way around a lawyer and a lawsuit.”

While it likely resonates with supporters, Trump's rage against the Republican system and the party he wants to represent could also come back to bite him. He is still a long way from securing the nomination on the first ballot. His campaign will need to court additional delegates, and most of them are party activists and leaders. And, if he does in fact become the nominee, he will need the RNC and its resources to compete in what will be a massively expensive, data-driven general election.

“He’s going to need these very same people he is bashing to immediately help him organize a general election offensive across the country because he has not set up an effective infrastructure,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean told RCP. “This is like a general severely admonishing his own special forces before ordering them to go into battle. Trump runs the risk of demoralizing grassroots party organizers when he is going to need every asset to help him beat the Democratic nominee.”

Trump seems to be acknowledging that reality. The campaign gathered its few Capitol Hill supporters in Washington for a strategy session last week. He hired former RNC political director Rick Wiley, the manager for Scott Walker’s failed presidential campaign, to run party outreach efforts. This comes after giving his delegate director, Paul Manafort, greater influence in the campaign. The Journal editorial felt much more thought out and strategic than Trump’s typically off-the-cuff speeches, and seemed to be delivered in an adviser’s voice. He focused his ire about the rules more toward rival Ted Cruz and less toward the GOP.

“For a man who styles himself as a warrior against the establishment (you wouldn’t know it from his list of donors and endorsers), you’d think he would be demanding a vote for Coloradans. Instead, Mr. Cruz is celebrating their disenfranchisement,” he wrote. “My campaign strategy is to win with the voters. Ted Cruz’s campaign strategy is to win despite them.”

Trump then gave a nod of sorts to the RNC, pledging to “work closely with the chairman of the Republican National Committee and top GOP officials to reform our election policies. Together, we will restore the faith—and the franchise—of the American people.”

Both Cruz and GOP officials have fought back against Trump’s attacks on the party’s varying rules regarding primaries, caucuses and state conventions.

“It ain’t rocket science,” Cruz said Friday during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

"The Constitution gives this authority to the states, that's the way it's been the entire history of the country,” he said. “If anyone is running an effective and competent presidential campaign, they ought to be able to figure out how to go and win an election.”

The RNC, which has been reluctant to weigh in on Trump and his various attacks throughout the campaign cycle, has grown visibly tired of the front-runner’s complaints.

“The rules surrounding the delegate selection have been clearly laid out in every state and territory and while each state is different, each process is easy to understand for those willing to learn it,” wrote RNC Chief Strategist Sean Spicer in a memo published in response to Trump’s op-ed.

“The system has been around for a long time,” Chairman Reince Priebus told ABC News. “If it was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, I think it’s good enough for whoever our nominee is going to be.”

Trump’s focus on the process comes as he is still leading the delegate count, and when the primary map is again turning in his favor. Anti-Trump forces that helped propel Cruz in Wisconsin earlier this month have virtually conceded New York’s primary on Tuesday to the real estate mogul. The state awards most of it delegates by congressional district, and both Cruz and Kasich have targeted pockets where they can pick off delegates. But polling shows Trump well positioned in most areas of the state.

Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, and Rhode Island also looking promising for Trump in the coming weeks, providing him with opportunities to again reset the trajectory of the race.

Cruz’s campaign has proven to be the best organized when it comes to hunting delegates, and hopes to prevent Trump from clinching the nomination outright. The campaign sees an opportunity to secure the nomination in a contested convention, and has already begun to win over delegates bound to Trump on the first ballot.

During his interview with Hannity, Cruz pitched himself to voters and delegates who have yet to weigh in.

“I love the Trump supporters. I understand why they're supporting Donald Trump. They're angry with Washington,” he said. “We have got to unify the party to win.”

Even some of Trump’s supporters agree. The New York Post endorsed him on Friday, ahead of the primary there. But it also issued a directive. “Should he win the nomination, we expect Trump to pivot — not just on the issues, but in his manner,” the editorial read. “The post-pivot Trump needs to be more presidential: better informed on policy, more self-disciplined and less thin-skinned.”

Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

What Clinton and Sanders Owe Progressives

By E.J. Dionne
Real Clear Politics
April 18, 2016

WASHINGTON -- Compared with the ferocious fractiousness of the Republican campaign, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are operating by rules inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, the gentle animal-loving holy man whom Pat Buchanan once derided as "the pacifist with the pigeons."

But with the GOP setting a very high standard for political brutality, that's not saying much.

Any doubt that Clinton and Sanders are fed up with each other was put to rest in last Thursday's debate. In big block type, the New York Daily News proclaimed them "Brooklyn Brawlers." They went at each other as if there would be no tomorrow after New York votes. That's pretty much true.

You sensed from Sanders' aggressiveness that he knows he's on the edge of effective elimination. If he does win on Tuesday, he'd throw the Democratic race into turmoil and make Clinton's path to the nomination much rockier. A Clinton victory in New York, which polls suggest is more likely, would all but seal the deal for her.

So it's time to ask: Will both candidates now acknowledge that the differences between them are minor compared with the philosophical chasm that separates them from any of their potential Republican foes?

The issue of particular contention between the two Democrats is, paradoxically, the one that shows how far both are from the GOP: what to do about the financial system.

Sanders wants to break up the big banks, seeing anything short of this as selling out. Clinton argues that breaking them up won't solve the financial system's problems and wouldn't touch the many nonbank institutions that helped cause the crash that led to the Great Recession. Instead, she proposes much tougher regulation.

Their underlying argument is more than a century old, reprising an internecine progressive fight that goes back to the 1912 election. It was an American classic when the Republican Party split into two: the relatively conservative incumbent president, William Howard Taft, secured the party's nomination; former President Theodore Roosevelt walked out and formed the Progressive Party. Two other progressive candidates, Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Socialist Eugene Debs, rounded out the most remarkable field of candidates American voters were ever offered.

Although Sanders reveres Debs and has a medallion commemorating him in his Senate office, his position on the banks is closer to Wilson's approach to monopoly. Proclaiming his devotion to a "New Freedom," Wilson wanted more aggressive anti-trust actions and warned, Sanders-like, that the country was nearing "the time when the combined power of high finance would be greater than the power of the government."

Roosevelt, arguing for a "New Nationalism," saw economic concentration as inevitable and believed Wilson's approach was naive. He saw stronger government regulation of large entities as more likely to secure both justice and efficiency. When it comes to the world of finance, Clinton is the TR candidate this year.

I've always been sympathetic to Roosevelt's side in that argument, but the larger point is that Sanders and Clinton (like Wilson and Roosevelt before them) both see government as playing an important role in checking concentrated economic power and preventing abuses of the system.

And the Republicans? Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich would all reduce government supervision of the financial system by repealing the Dodd-Frank reforms. Clinton and Sanders are arguing about what needs to be done. The Republicans want to do less altogether.

Or take health care. Clinton and Sanders have battled fiercely about how to move forward from Obamacare, but both want to build on its successes. Republicans would repeal it. The two Democrats have squabbled about how much the minimum wage should go up; the Republicans all oppose a federal minimum wage increase. Such party differences are multiplied across a broad field of issues.

At a time when ideological polarization between the parties is so high, such contrasts should be obvious. But the bad blood between many of Sanders' supporters and Clinton obscures the stakes and presents Democrats with a special challenge.

Their victories (compare 2008 with 2010, or 2012 with 2014) depend on high participation among younger voters who are turned on to Sanders and, in many cases, turned off to Clinton. The pro-Sanders young are unlikely to vote Republican, but if too many stay home in November, much of what Sanders and Clinton believe in could be consigned to the dustbin.

That's why the day after New York, the Brooklyn Brawlers would do well to sit down over a couple of Brooklyn Brewery ales and figure out a way forward.

Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

Donald Trump is bad news for the GOP, but he's great for Obama

By Doyle McManus
The Los Angeles Times
April 17, 2016

President Obama's standing in the eyes of the American people has recovered after a three-year slump — and that's good news for Hillary Clinton.

Obama's job approval rating — the percentage of voters who say he's doing a decent job — has reached an average of about 50% over the last two months.

A 50-50 split may not look like a historic achievement, but it's a better number than Obama has seen since 2013. And it's not a mirage; the president's standing has been on a gradual upswing for the last four months.

That's been enough to make Obama aides throw their hats in the air, figuratively speaking. “Five points makes a huge difference,” one of them told me last week.

Politicians routinely pretend that they don't pay attention to the polls, but there's no question Obama pays attention to his. During his years in the polling wilderness, he often sounded frustrated that he wasn't getting credit for his accomplishments.

Now, though, Obama sounds more confident that he might be able to end his presidency on a high note. “I feel greatly encouraged,” he told Democrats in Texas last month. “I think when people step back and get some perspective, they'll say we did good.”

And he sounds eager to campaign for a Democratic successor “who can continue the legacy that we built” — especially if it's Hillary Clinton, who has embraced his record more fervently than Bernie Sanders.

A popular president, even one on the way out, is naturally a bigger asset to his party than an unpopular one. Alan Abramowitz of Emory University has found that when a two-term president leaves office, his party is likely to win the next election if his job approval is over 50%, but lose if the number is below 50%.

But there's a quirk inside Obama's improved poll numbers.

The president and his aides would like to think his standing has improved mostly because Americans have finally recognized that the economy is on the upswing, and acknowledge the president's role in making that happen. But most of the available evidence doesn't support that theory. The Gallup Poll's economic confidence index, a measure of how Americans feel about the economy, is the same now as it was late last year, when the president was less popular.

“There's no clear correlation with presidential approval,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman noted.

Instead, Obama's numbers appear to have gone up in large part because the Republican campaign — in particular, GOP front-runner Donald Trump — have reminded many voters why they chose Obama in the first place.

"[Obama] and his aides ... know that an economic reversal (which they consider unlikely) or a terrorist attack (entirely possible) could blow a hole in his job approval."

The public image of the Republican Party has fallen as the president's has risen. During the last three months, the CNN-ORC poll found that the share of voters with an unfavorable view of the GOP swelled from 50% to 61%. In the same period, Trump impressed increasing numbers of American voters — in the wrong direction. In the CNN-ORC poll, 67% of adults said they had an unfavorable impression of the real estate magnate, the highest negative rating ever recorded for a major party's presidential candidate.

The Trump hypothesis is bolstered by other surveys showing that much of Obama's increased support has come from younger voters and Latinos, two groups that have reacted strongly against the Republican front-runner. Both groups are strongly opposed to more restrictive immigration policies, Trump's signature issue.

Obama has tried quite bluntly to capitalize on the vulnerabilities of the GOP field as he has tuned up his message for the fall campaign.

“I actually think that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have done us a favor,” he said at a Democratic fundraising event in San Francisco on April 9.

The favor, he explained in Los Angeles, “is laying bare, unvarnished, some of the nonsense that we've been dealing with in Congress on a daily basis. People act as if these folks are outliers. But they're not…. We should thank Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz for just being honest.”

That's a partisan argument, of course, aimed at rallying Democrats around their president and, eventually, their new nominee.

But that's what a presidential campaign is mostly about: making sure a party's voters “come home” and vote for their side — or against the other side, which is just as effective. That's pretty much what Obama did in 2012, when he succeeded in painting Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat.

Obama's standing is still fragile. He and his aides would feel better if he were over the 50% mark. They know that an economic reversal (which they consider unlikely) or a terrorist attack (entirely possible) could blow a hole in his job approval.

But for the moment, their prospects for securing the Obama legacy with a third Democratic term have been improved — thanks to the unlikely assistance of Donald Trump.

Article Link to the L.A. Times:

Berniacs In Brooklyn: Forget the Polls

So what if the polls show Clinton leading in crucial New York by double digits? They mean nothing, Berniacs at a Prospect Park rally said Sunday: Sanders is headed for an epic upset.

The Daily Beast
By Jackie Kucinich 
April 18, 2016

BROOKLYN, New York — It was an afternoon of sunlight, revolution, and unicorns in Prospect Park, a fitting setting for the beginning of Bernie Sanders’s last stand in New York.

“Welcome to the political revolution!” he said after taking the stage to a hero’s welcome. “This is a campaign that one year ago was considered a fringe candidacy, 70 points behind Secretary Clinton. They don’t consider us fringe anymore.”

Sanders has closed the gap here dramatically over the past few weeks, drawing massive crowds of supporters to his rallies across the state—all which give the impression that Hillary Clinton, with her more modest venues and, for the most part, small crowds is falling behind.

But the polls show a different picture.

Yes, Sanders is closing the gap, but a Real Clear Politics average of New York state polling shows Clinton leading her opponent 53.5 to 41 percent. Recent polling has him closer, and the Clinton campaign is prepping for a tighter-than-expected race.

And while Sanders campaign staff has sought to dial back expectations as well, his supporters, seeing the enthusiasm around them, believe that the momentum and ultimately the state is behind the Vermont senator. Many said they expect nothing less than an epic upset on Tuesday.

The rally on Sunday did little to quiet their enthusiasm. According to Sanders, about 20,000 poured into the sunny park on Sunday afternoon. In the back of the park, some climbed trees to get a glimpse of his shiny, slightly sunburned head peeking out from behind the podium.

“[Hillary] came and spoke at my school, there were like 200 people there,” said Sequoia Sellinger, a student at Purchase College who was perched behind a metal barrier around the large press pen. “There were more people outside her speech than were actually there.”

“I believe Bernie will win the New York primaries,” she said. “This rally, the Bronx rally…the one in Poughkeepsie, there were like 10,000 people there.”

“We know who’s [at Hillary rallies]. It’s not young people,” said Christopher Graham, of Fairfax County, Virginia, noting that while he can’t vote Tuesday, he did vote for Sanders in Virginia.

Sellinger and Graham were two of the thousands who flooded into a meadow in Prospect Park, clutching cardboard cutouts of their hero—both full body and College Gameday-style heads—swaying to the sounds of indie rock band Grizzly Bear, and listening to celebrities of various levels of famous actors and musicians who took to the stage to say why they were feeling the Bern.

The smell of marijuana wafted through the spring air, with intermittent plumes of white smoke coming up from the crowd as if from individual smoke stacks.

“He is a politician we can all trust, and just that alone is such a rare thing, it’s like unicorn rare,” Justin Long—a Brooklyn-born actor who played “Mac” in those grating Mac vs. PC commercials—told the crowd, moments after describing grainy footage of Sanders in the ’80s as like watching “an actual unicorn.”

There was a deep distrust of the polls among Berniacs and a pervasive belief that the system and the polling was rigged to begin with—because of major media outlets and their association with large corporations.

“It’s all a lie. It’s a conspiracy by CNN and MSNBC,” Chuck Blocker, 62, of Connecticut, partially joked.

“Yeah, polls can be misleading, if it’s only reaching 2 percent of the actual population, and those who take it don’t necessarily reflect the demographics of the polling group,” said Daeha Ko, 37, of New York. “It’s like anything in statistics, it can be manipulated by specific media outlets, or if the media outlet is reaching toward specific demographics.”

Demographics have been a problem for Sanders in his push to the White House, and New York has been no exception.

Both candidates spent several days last week courting the African American vote, which has been particularly unreceptive to Sanders.

The race has also gotten more divisive on the Democratic side in recent weeks, perhaps because the stakes are so high.

At the Democratic debate on Thursday, the two contenders seemed tired of the other’s presence in the race.

That lack of love was on full display Sunday, when the mention of Clinton’s name provoked loud boos from the Sanders crowd.

The Vermont senator’s riff on Clinton’s failure to release the text of her paid speeches to banks like Goldman Sachs provoked a particularly raucous chorus of jeers from his supporters.

In the end, Sanders’s final pitch deviated very little from his standard pitch, but his supporters didn’t care. They were there to be in the movement that Sanders himself has said he never imagined would come to this point.

“Let’s have a record-breaking turnout on Tuesday,” he said. “New York state, help lead this country into the political revolution!”

Not everyone was on fire.

“Yeah, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m not a native New Yorker, but I’ve lived here a long time now, almost two decades, and the city is very progressive,” said rally attendee Jolia Burke. “But Hillary’s been here a long time and has a foothold, so I don’t know. I’m cautiously optimistic, I’m really hoping to be shocked.”

Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Monday, April 18, Morning Global Market Roundup: Shares follow oil down after Doha disappointment


April 18, 2016

A dive in oil prices sent stock markets lower on Monday after producers meeting in Qatar failed to agree on a plan to curb global supply, quashing the more optimistic tone which prevailed for much of the past week.

Japan's Nikkei index led the way, tumbling more than 3 percent after a devastating earthquake in the southwest of the country, with signs from a summit in Washington that other Group of 20 governments oppose intervention against the strength of the yen also playing a role.

Europe's major exchanges all fell by more than half a percent on opening .FTEU3, while markets in Hong Kong .HSI and Shanghai .CSI300 .SSEC lost around 1 percent.

Oil prices were down 4 percent on the day LCOc1, with U.S. crude falling back below $40 for the first time in a week.

Some 18 oil-exporting nations, including OPEC members, had gathered in Doha, the capital of Qatar, over the weekend in an attempt to agree to stabilise output at January levels until October 2016. The pact fell apart after Saudi Arabia demanded that Iran join in.

"The short-term impact on prices is clear to see this morning, while longer term it’s hard to see supply slowing much this year," said Joe Rundle, Head of Trading at ETX Capital in London.

"In the end it proved just too much for the Saudis to cut a deal with Iran."

The plunge in crude oil prices took a large slice out of commodity currencies, pushing the dollar almost 1 percent higher against its Canadian counterpart to C$1.2926 CAD=D4.

The yen, traditionally a target for capital in times of global stress, hit a 3-year high against the euro EURJPY=. It rose half a percent against the dollar JPY= but was still well short of highs of 107.63 yen per dollar hit a week ago.

The 7.3 magnitude quake struck early on Saturday and was centred in Japan's Kumamoto prefecture, an important manufacturing hub.

Shares of Sony Corp (6758.T) fell almost 7 percent after the electronics giant said its image sensors plant in Kumamoto would remain suspended. Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) tumbled 4.8 percent after suspending production at plants across Japan due to disruptions to its supply chain. [nL3N17K06O]

"Many are waiting for the dust to settle as it is not yet possible to quantify the damage in its entirety," said Martin King, co-managing director at Tyton Capital Advisors.

One big exception to the rule was Brazil, where stock markets are expected to react euphorically to a vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff that looked set to force her from office after 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule.

Brazil's stocks and currency have been among the world's best-performing assets in recent weeks on growing bets that Rousseff would be removed from office, allowing her successor to adopt more market-friendly policies.

"Brazilian assets will most likely react positively to news of Rouseff's impeachment," analysts from retail broker Swissquote said in a note. "But we expect the overall risk-off sentiment to cap the potential gains."

Botched Doha deal undermines OPEC credibility, oil prices tumble

By Henning Gloystein
April 18, 2016

Oil prices tumbled on Monday after a meeting by major exporters in Qatar collapsed without an agreement to freeze output, leaving the credibility of the OPEC producer cartel in tatters and the world awash with unwanted fuel.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran were blamed for the failure, which revived industry fears that major government-controlled producers will increase their battle for market share by offering ever-steeper discounts.

"OPEC's credibility to coordinate output is now very low," said Peter Lee of BMI Research, a unit of rating agency Fitch. "This isn't just about oil for the Saudis. It's as much about regional politics."

Morgan Stanley said that the failed deal "underscores the poor state of OPEC relations," adding that "we now see a growing risk of higher OPEC supply," especially as Saudi Arabia threatened it could hike output following the failed deal.

Oil prices have fallen by as much as 70 percent since mid-2014 as producers have pumped 1 to 2 million barrels of crude every day in excess of demand, leaving storage tanks around the world filled to the rims with unsold fuel.

Sunday's meeting in Qatar's capital Doha had been expected to finalize a deal to freeze output at January levels until October 2016 in an attempt to slow that ballooning oversupply.

But the agreement fell apart after top exporter Saudi Arabia demanded that Iran, which was not represented, should also sign up.

The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shia Islamic republic of Iran compete for influence in the Middle East, where they are currently fighting proxy wars in Syria and Yemen.

Brent crude futures fell almost 7 percent in early trading on Monday before recovering to $40.97 per barrel at 0647 GMT, still down 2.15 percent since their last settlement.

Traders said only an oil worker strike in Kuwait had prevented Brent from tumbling below $40 per barrel, while a cut in U.S. drilling down to 2009 levels had prevented steeper falls there.

Benchmark U.S. crude futures were down more than 5 percent at $38.31 a barrel.

Goldman Sachs said the Doha no-deal could a "bearish catalyst" for U.S. crude prices, which it forecast would average $35 a barrel in the current quarter.


Analysts said that the failed agreement would also impact the broader economy.

"In the near-term, lower oil prices are bound to weigh on investor confidence and could exacerbate financial volatility," said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economics research at HSBC.

"Concerns over financial stability in the energy sector and a further fall in drilling capex are headwinds to growth against an already fragile global economic backdrop."

With producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia pumping near record levels and Iran also increasing output following the lifting of international sanctions against it last January, there is no end in sight for the global oil glut.

Iran was the only OPEC member not to attend the Doha talks.

Despite calls on Saudi Arabia to save the agreement, Riyadh, OPEC's de facto leader, insisted that all 13 members must take part in any freeze.

"It seems that for the Saudis politics and national pride are still more important than the price of oil," said Ralph Leszczynski of shipbroker Banchero Costa.

Iran has refused to stabilize production, seeking to regain market share post-sanctions.

"Iran has no reason to auto-sanction themselves when they are just trying to get back some of the market share they lost in recent years due the western-imposed sanctions," Leszczynski added.

While tumbling oil prices hurt producers, straining the budgets of energy exporters from Russia to Malaysia, they can also benefit consumers.

Asked whether the failed talks could result in further crude supply discounts for his company, Daniel Purba of Indonesia's Pertamina, a major importer of refined products, said: "We hope so."

As a result of the failure at Doha, Barclays said that Brent would likely average $36 per barrel during the second quarter of this year as a global glut continued unabated.

"This meeting and its outcome should have built... trust among producers for possible future cooperation and coordinated action. In this regard, the meeting was a complete failure," Barclays said, adding that "the failure of the talks gives the market another clear indication that OPEC's relevance in this market environment has faded."

Article Link to Reuters:

'60 Minutes' hacks congressman's phone for security report

By Cyra Master
The Hill
April 17, 2016

“60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi traveled to Berlin, where she interviewed a team of hackers who are looking for vulnerabilities in mobile phone systems so they can warn the public of the risks they face.

The program sent an iPhone to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology, who agreed to use it knowing it would be hacked.

The results were startling.

As soon as the hackers had the phone number, they accessed a flaw in a in a vital global network that connects phone carriers and accessed nearly everything in his phone. They were able to listen to and record calls, view his contacts and track his movements.

When the program played the lawmaker a recording of a phone call he had with a staffer, he had two reactions.

“First, it's really creepy. And second, it makes me angry,” he said.

“They could hear any call of pretty much anyone who has a smartphone. It could be stock trades you want someone to execute. It could be calls with a bank. … Last year, the president of the United States called me on my cellphone. And we discussed some issues. So if the hackers were listening in, they would know that phone conversation. And that's immensely troubling.”

Hacker John Hering, who cofounded the mobile security company Lookout, said the average person isn’t going to be targeted by such extreme attacks.

“But our goal was to show what's possible. So people can really understand if we don't address security issues, what the state of the world will be.”

The hackers created a “ghost” version of the hotel Wi-Fi and had Alfonsi connect – a process called “spoofing.” They immediately gained access to her email and pulled her credit card information, phone number and records about her movements from her ride-sharing apps. They also showed how they could take control of the camera on her phone and use it to broadcast a live video stream from the phone.

“We live in a world where we cannot trust the technology that we use,” Hering said.

Article Link to the Hill:

U.S. Ratchets Up Cyber Attacks on ISIS

Military hackers are disrupting ISIS’s encrypted chats, implanting viruses in terrorists’ computers, and mining the machines to launch real-world strikes.

By Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef
The Daily Beast
April 18, 2016

President Obama confirmed for the first time last week that the U.S. is conducting “cyber operations” against ISIS, in order to disrupt the group’s “command-and-control and communications.”

But the American military’s campaign of cyber attacks against ISIS is far more serious than what the president laid out in his bland description. Three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that those operations have moved beyond mere disruption and are entering a new, more aggressive phase that is targeted at individuals and is gleaning intelligence that could help capture and kill more ISIS fighters.

As the U.S. ratchets up its online offensive against the terror group, U.S. military hackers are now breaking into the computers of individual ISIS fighters. Once inside the machines, these hackers are implanting viruses and malicious software that allow them to mine their devices for intelligence, such as names of members and their contacts, as well as insights into the group’s plans, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive operations.

One U.S. official told The Daily Beast that intelligence gleaned from hacking ISIS members was an important source for identifying key figures in the organization. In remarks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., this week, Obama confirmed that cyber operations were underway and noted that recently the U.S. has either captured or killed several key ISIS figures, including Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar, a leader of its chemical weapons program, and “Haji Iman,” the man purported to be ISIS’s second in command.

The military has also used cyber operations to block ISIS’s use of encrypted communications, in order to force members to use less secure channels where they can be more easily monitored, officials said. That tactic appears to be a response to ISIS’s effective use of encrypted text applications in particular, which officials had said previously made it harder for the military and intelligence community to track individual fighters.

Three former intelligence officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations, told The Daily Beast that U.S. Cyber Command, which conducts online attacks for the military, has the capability to identify when someone is using an encrypted application and then target the communications infrastructure to make it harder, if not impossible, to use that application.

“Encrypted communications definitely make things more difficult,” one former officer said. “But any military adversary worth its salt is going to be using them, whether commercially available or otherwise. You take that as a given, and you just find ways to go after it.”

The new cyber campaign against ISIS isn’t the first time the U.S. has used offensive techniques to penetrate the computers of an adversary. But it’s a new feature in the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State and represents an escalation from a few months ago.

In February, U.S. military hackers began to interfere with ISIS’s online communications, the computer equivalent of jamming radio signals, making it harder for members to communicate with each other and for commanders to give orders, the officials said. Those operations helped to hamstring ISIS in the Syrian town of Shaddadi, one of its training and logistics sites, while rebel forces on the ground took back the city.

But those operations were broader and less precise than what’s being conducted today. Defense officials wouldn’t comment on the exact methods being employed to compromise ISIS computers, except that individuals were being tricked into loading malicious software onto their devices, thereby giving U.S. hackers access.

This could be achieved through “spear phishing”—sending emails with infected attachments that appear to come from a trusted source—or through so-called “watering hole” attacks, in which websites that a group is known to visit are surreptitiously loaded with malicious software.

President Obama’s confirmation of cyber operations followed comments by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and his deputy, Robert Work, who told reporters last week that the U.S. was “dropping cyber bombs” on ISIS. It was an arguably mixed metaphor, since there’s no indication that the U.S. has launched cyber attacks that have caused physical damage to infrastructure connected to the Internet, such as power grids or oil facilities. But Work’s remarks and Obama and Carter’s statements signaled a marked shift both in rhetoric and policy.

Never have so many top officials spoken openly about cyber attacks, which historically have been guarded with the utmost secrecy because of the sensitive and often perishable techniques that are used to penetrate computers, monitor them, and sometimes control them remotely.

Work said that Carter’s orders to launch cyber attacks on ISIS were unprecedented. “It is the first time he has given Cyber Command guidance [that] we’re going to go after ISIL. Just like we have an air campaign, I want to have a cyber campaign,” Work said.

But within the government, there is debate over how exactly to wage a cyber war, who should be in charge of it, and what limits should be imposed on hackers who have the capability to do far more damage than just spy on jihadist computers. One official acknowledged that the U.S. is still figuring out its rules for cyber warfare even as it engages in it.

Carter is pushing for U.S. Cyber Command to have greater freedom to launch attacks, a defense official told The Daily Beast. Barely seven years old, Cyber Command has never been given a full-fledged attack mission, and its leaders have been reluctant to go on the offensive in part because the rules of engagement in the cyber fight against ISIS haven’t been precisely defined. Also, offensive operations that involve entering computers or disabling pieces of the telecommunications infrastructure have been seen as hostile acts that require approval from high up the military chain of command, and in some cases the president himself.

Carter wants to give Cyber Command more freedom to make decisions on when to strike. He’s essentially asking how can “we address tactical cyber threats against ISIL,” a defense official explained, using an alternate acronym for the group. “It comes down to defining the battlespace and who is responsible in it.”

Those freer strikes, officials stressed, would be limited only to ISIS. There is no proposal on the table to give Cyber Command a freer hand to attack other U.S. adversaries or countries such as North Korea and Iran that have launched their own cyber attacks on American institutions.

But while Carter is pushing for a more aggressive mission, there’s also been disagreement within the military and the intelligence community over whether it’s better to continue monitoring a compromised ISIS computer gleaning potentially useful insights—or whether the smarter move is to disable those systems and make it harder for the group to operate online.

Carter has generally come down on the side of taking out ISIS’s computers and networks, which is the job of Cyber Command, and has been urging the national security community to “eliminate the threat,” one defense official said. The Pentagon, as well as the FBI, have also been leaning on social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to step up their efforts to shut down accounts used by ISIS fighters and their sympathizers to spread the group’s propaganda. In February, Twitter shut down 125,000 such accounts in one fell swoop—a move that had a substantive impact on ISIS’s online recruitment, according to a recent study.

The conflict between gathering intelligence and going on the offensive is not unique to this cyber campaign against ISIS, or cyber operations in general. In fact, it’s been a hallmark of armed conflict for generations.

But the lack of clarity around the rules and laws that govern cyber operations have aggravated that tension between intelligence and attack, officials said. Carter’s push to give more power to Cyber Command is seen as an effort to clarify matters.

The command is based at Fort Meade, Md., the headquarters of the National Security Agency, which is charged with entering computer systems in order to gather intelligence. Some of the NSA’s hackers, however, also work for Cyber Command. When it comes time to launch offensive operations, such as shutting down a computer or a network, they simply “switch hats.”

“It’s as if one moment, I’m NSA, and now, I put on the other hat, and I’m Cyber Command,” a former intelligence officer explained. Both NSA and Cyber Command are run by the same person, Adm. Michael Rogers.

The new, more aggressive posture in cyber operations against ISIS was spurred by theISIS attacks on Paris last November, officials said. The administration pushed the military to develop new ways to mitigate the ISIS threat online. Two months later, Rogers crafted a U.S. cyber offensive strategy, one defense official said. That’s when the U.S. began actively disrupting ISIS communications in Syria.

So far, there’s not enough evidence to say whether the operations are fundamentally changing the course of the war. But the former intelligence officers were skeptical.

“There are methods to basically deny their ability to communicate,” one former officer said. “If there’s a forum on the Web where they talk and send orders, you could shut it down. You could target specific individuals and their communications devices or their social media accounts.”

But unlike when the military and intelligence community deployed cyber operations against ISIS’s predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2007 and 2008, the U.S doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground, nor has it deployed teams of hackers and analysts. When cyber operations were at their peak in the Iraq war, soldiers and spies worked around the clock in shifts to kill or capture fighters, mine their computers and phones, and use the information to launch subsequent cyber operations that led to more raids and more intelligence.

It was a full-throttle, cyber operations combined with military strikes. By comparison, this new effort against ISIS looks relatively modest, the former officers said.

And in Obama and other top officials’ willingness to talk openly about cyber attacks, the former officers sensed a public relations effort.

“Cyber Command has been around seven years now,” one former officer said, “and I think they’re under pressure to do something.”

Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Protesters return to Egypt's streets

Will Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's decision to renounce Egyptian control of two Red Sea islands to Riyadh be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, amid widespread anger at the government policies?

April 18, 2016

CAIRO — Protesters took the streets of Cairo April 15 chanting “Arhal" ("Leave") — the same slogan that was ubiquitous during the January 25 Revolution when protesters called on then-President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Massive protests and sit-ins were organized in various parts of Cairo, including the city center, on the so-called Friday of the Land. The demonstrators objected to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s giving up ownership of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia during the recent visit of King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to Egypt.

The protesters chanted slogans such as “Bread, freedom and the islands are Egyptian,” a modification of the iconic “Bread, freedom and social justice” slogan of the revolution, and “Awad sold his land,” a reference to an Egyptian folktale about a man named Awad who brought his family shame by giving up the family farm. Other chants could be heard condemning the transfer of the Islands, which had been under Egyptian control.

Despite the political and security measures that had succeeded in thwarting previous demonstrations, the protesters have returned to the streets to denounce Sisi’s policies. In the same squares that witnessed the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution, hundreds of protesters rallied and marched to various locations in downtown Cairo, with thousands gathering in front of the Journalists Syndicate after the security forces closed and denied access to Tahrir Square.

During the march from Sayyida Zeinab Square to the center of the capital, Al-Monitor spoke with a number of protesters who said that the demonstrations aim to quash Sisi’s decision of relinquishing Tiran and Sanafir, and that they demand full Egyptian sovereignty over the islands.

Essam Khalil, one of the protesters, told Al-Monitor, “The January [25] Revolution has yet to end. Our protest is peaceful. Today the people are saying 'no' to this bad deal. We will not wait around for the parliament to reject [Sisi’s decision]. It is obvious that the members of parliament have blessed this deal ever since they 'hailed King Salman' and gave him the opportunity to address parliament as a sign that they are upholding Saudi Arabia’s position disregarding Egypt’s historical right to the islands.”

The protesters’ enthusiasm and determination to continue organizing events to force the parliament to reject the deal was obvious; they even discussed with Al-Monitor proposals of organizing trips to Tiran Island from the city of Sharm el-Sheikh to raise the Egyptian flag there.

Political activist Ahmed Abdullah told Al-Monitor, “What's happening today is the beginning of a popular movement against Sisi’s decisions. We have started to break the barrier of fear and despair of staging protests.”

He added, “While most protesters today are liberals and leftist activists, there is a large-scale public objection to the regime's policies. By nature the Egyptian people are attached to their land, and historically most Egyptians worked in agriculture. Land for Egyptians is a matter of honor.”

In light of a massive deployment of security forces, particularly in downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square, frictions between protesters and security forces were limited to the start of the protests.

The Central Security Forces, however, intervened to break up the protests in downtown Cairo and in the Giza and Mustafa Mahmoud squares in the Mohandeseen district by using tear gas and buckshot and rubber bullets.

The protesters had disregarded the Ministry of Interior’s warnings not to respond to calls to take part in these “tendentious” protests, especially in light of the statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood calling for participation in the protests and the media attacks by Sisi’s supporters accusing the protesters of being traitors and “agents.”

In an attempt to prevent the protests from deviating from their main objective — namely preventing the transfer of the islands and recovering their ownership — the crowd chanted, “Unite your ranks, shoulder to shoulder, our objective is one.”

In front of the Journalists Syndicate, where the largest crowd gathered, lawyer and political activist Khaled Ali spoke to Al-Monitor about the need for continuing the revolutionary movement against the transfer of the islands, calling on protesters to sign petitions to support the case brought before the Egyptian judiciary to challenge the constitutionality of the Saudi-Egyptian agreement.

Mahmoud Hussein, a young man in his 20s, told Al-Monitor, “I participated in the rebellion against the Brotherhood and supported Sisi at the beginning of his reign since he called for fighting terrorism, protecting the Sinai Peninsula and reforming the economy. I now realize that he was promoting illusory projects and this is evidenced by the fact that he has sold off part of the state for a few billion [dollars] as a temporary solution to the collapsing economy.”

The protesters agreed to end the sit-ins, setting April 25 — Sinai Liberation Day — as a date to return to the streets again if the government does not respond and renounce the transfer deal. It seems that the April 15 protests were just a warning to the regime and an expression of anger that prevails among many Egyptians.

Ambassador Masum al-Marzouki, former assistant to the minister of foreign affairs and a member of the popular movement, told Al-Monitor, “The popular movement did not end with Friday’s protests. What happened was a form of strong popular pressure that could force the regime to renounce the deal and apologize to the people.”

As the angry protesters filled the streets of Cairo, Sisi was on an inspection visit to follow up on the execution of the Galala city project on the highest plateau of the Galala Mountain in the Red Sea area. Sisi held an open dialogue with a group of young supporters of his political program on the shores of the Red Sea, warning of what he called "national suicide and acts undermining the will of the Egyptians."

Sisi spoke with a number of representatives of social movements, editors-in-chief of Egyptian newspapers and some members of parliament in a meeting called "the Egyptian Family," where he strongly condemned the offensive reactions against the maritime demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia. He said, “This was a stab in the heart. The agreement only gave back a right to its rightful owners and was not a land sale agreement,” demanding Egyptians not to talk about the agreement. “They only hurt themselves by talking about this,” he said.

The scene of the massive protests that rocked the Egyptian streets for the first time since Sisi’s rise to power is a new indicator of the state of public anger and outrage in Egypt, which may continue against the political messages that the president and the government are trying to pass about Sisi’s ability to contain crises and lead Egypt to a better future on all internal and external reform levels.

Article Link to Al-Monitor:

Protesters return to Egypt's streets

Flipping the Script on ISIS

Ideas are ISIS's fuel; they can also be its downfall.

Jacob Olidort
The National Interest
April 18, 2016

While the attacks in Brussels are a tragic reminder of the ambitions of ISIS, we have yet to understand the inner workings of its ideology. Just days prior to the tragedy, Belgian authorities raided the home of Algerian Mohamed Belkaid, who was linked to the Paris attacks. Among the items they found were a Kalashnikov, an ISIS flag and a book on Salafism. The event, and the combination of these items, put into stark relief the ongoing debate in Europe and the United States about the precise nature of how these three items—or, more precisely, the physical, symbolic and intellectual weapons in Belkaid’s arsenal—led him and others to conduct violent activities.

While the first two items were tools of war, the third is much harder to classify. Here we arrive at the basic problem of analyzing ideas and their influence, especially ideas that may be highly sectarian, intolerant, even extreme by liberal standards, but not themselves violent. However, Salafism—a Sunni theological and legal worldview that draws on concepts and texts articulated in the early years of Islam—has been in circulation for centuries. Many of its adepts live fully integrated and nonviolent lives around the world, meaning that it alone does not necessarily inspire violence. Moreover, as Bernard Lewis aptly wrote in The Jews of Islam, “For Christians and Muslims alike, tolerance is a new virtue, intolerance a new crime. For the greater part of the history of both communities, tolerance was not valued nor was intolerance condemned.” As far as religious dogma goes, he writes: “How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as logical absurdity.”

This analytical conundrum lies at the heart of the public debate on the roots of ISIS’s ideology, and the policy discussions on how to fight violent extremism and undermine ISIS’s appeal. In contrast to earlier confrontations with hostile ideologies, here we encounter a theological tradition that is hostile by very virtue of being theological. And yet it lies at the very core of ISIS’s claim to historical and textual authenticity, and is therefore a leading driver of its appeal.

This also makes pointing fingers at root causes polemical, and problematic. Is Saudi Arabia “the father of ISIS,” as one observer noted following the Paris attacks, alluding to the fact that the kingdom “relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on”? If so, why do Wahhabi clergy, who subscribe to a version of the Salafi ideology, condemn ISIS? Why, moreover, is Saudi Arabia itself a target of ISIS?

Other analyses regard the nonviolent version of Salafism as a potential panacea against ISIS and jihadism in general, because it forbids engaging with either violence or politics. This, too, is imprecise, and does not take into account the politicization of nonviolent Salafis, as has happened in Egypt and Tunisia during the last five years—or, for that matter, the jihadization of nonviolent Salafis, as one could fairly describe the foreign-fighter phenomenon.

And yet Salafism is a key ingredient in ISIS’s success, as well as that of global jihadism (hence the latter’s alternative name of Salafi-jihadism). It has indeed been buttressed by Saudi largesse over the twentieth century, which has extended to support for educational institutions and publishing activities.

To understand the power of ideas, in particular the theological ones that Salafi-jihadis like ISIS promote, one needs to understand the ecosystem in which they flourish. Specifically, Salafism evolved into a social movement in the Middle East at a time when Islamism was the dominant political ideology, when Gulf states had the means to support its projects and when political causes validated the theological interpretation of events that it promoted—such as the atheist Soviet oppression of Afghan Muslims, a major rhetorical driver of the Arab Afghan phenomenon that fed the creation of Al Qaeda. To communities both inside the Middle East and beyond, much of the current unrest in the Middle East validates a highly sectarian narrative in which Shiite forces (Assad and Iran) seek hegemony over the region, the United States facilitates their efforts and a purist Sunni project intends to create a utopia in their midst.

The success of any effort to problematize the power of Salafi ideas lies not in our efforts to rhetorically challenge its theological claims, as Western leaders have attempted in recent years, but to project the power of our own ideas through controlling the political-military ecosystem, so that that the ISIS project is not perceived as a Sunni utopia but as a destructive exploitation of people, traditions and ideas. The way to do this is to change the script, rather than to refute the message. To be more precise, we must continue empowering “moderate” Islamic voices. But we must do so because this is a vital project on its own merit; we cannot deceive ourselves into thinking that only by empowering “moderates” will we “counter” the appeal of ISIS. To achieve the latter, we need to engage Iraqis, Syrians and Kurds of all creedal persuasions on the ground to not only fight ISIS—which could embolden ISIS fighters further—but also to rebuild their countries.

Doing so, and showing the world that it is accomplishing worthy goals, will show potential ISIS recruits that the group’s sectarian narrative is not the way to reclaim and restore a former way of life.

Article Link to the National Interest:

G-20 Delivers Empty Warning on Global Economy

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The Bloomberg View
April 18, 2016

The communique issued by the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers at the conclusion of talks in Washington this weekend had a somewhat unreal, and worryingly ironic, tone.

Noting that global growth "remains modest and uneven," the G-20 warned the large advanced economies against continuing their prolonged, excessive reliance on unconventional monetary policy to power growth. Yet the communique, which was issued in the names of the specialized policy makers most closely involved in perpetuating this highly unbalanced policy mix, contained few new policy initiatives. As a result, the outlook is for more of the same, which means disappointing growth and financial risks that could affect the well-being of billions of people around the world.

The G-20 meeting was held as the International Monetary Fundreleased yet another downward revision of its outlook for global growth. Making the updated assessment even more sobering was the institution's warning about the unusual range of risks, including the possible disorderly exit of the U.K. from the European Union, along with other political risks to financial volatility as well as the particular challenges facing commodity exporters experiencing huge hits to their earnings.

The IMF's correct appraisal was accompanied by the reiteration both of the measures that it says are needed (a more comprehensive policy approach) and those that must be avoided (particularly, beggar-thy-neighbor currency devaluations). There also was broadening awareness that the longer the current configuration persists the more it will erode the potential for future growth and prosperity. Timing is important: The prolonged over-reliance on monetary policy is delivering fewer benefits even as its unintended consequences become more pronounced and the threat of collateral damage increases.

Nonetheless, no notable attempt was made to agree on how to translate wise words into durable and effective actions (such as a global infrastructure initiative combining both national measures with multilateral ones, all financed by the unusually low interest rates prevailing in the advanced economies). This is particularly unfortunate given the consensus that has developed around the IMF’s call for a better mix of monetary, fiscal and structural reform measures -- to which I would add the need to address pockets of excessive indebtedness and enhance global policy coordination, including through a further strengthening of the credibility and operational flexibility of the IMF itself.

The sad irony is that despite the unusually high degree of consensus on the outlook for the global economy and the policy implications, the G-20 again fell short of committing to a collective and verifiable set of actions that could spur measures at the national level. This is particularly disappointing for two reasons:

First, the G-20 has shown its ability -- though too infrequently, alas -- to act; and when it has, the results were potent. Indeed, if it weren't for the coordinated policy approach adopted by the G-20 at its meeting in London in April 2009, the world could have fallen into a devastating multiyear depression.

Second, with companies sitting on so much cash or devoting it exclusively to financial engineering, the unleashing of global growth does not need a "big bang" in terms of policies. A small bang would probably prove sufficient to unleash faster global recovery, with the private sector doing much of the heavy lifting by using its strong balance sheets to expand current and future output. The resulting upside would be turbocharged by firm- and sector-specific innovations that could deliver economy-wide benefits.

The economic officials from around the world who attended the meetings can take comfort in the greater collective understanding both of the risks facing the global economy and of the better set of policies needed to address those challenges. What they don't have, however, is enough of a durable win-win action plan to serve as a catalyst for reluctant politicians at home.

Sadly, the required policy response may only come with a further worsening of an already mediocre outlook for growth as well as deteriorating prospects for genuine financial stability. In the meantime, both excessive political dysfunction and alarming levels of inequality will remain high as the global economy languishes in a frustrating state of low growth, accompanied by mounting risk of further declines in economic potential.

Article Link to Bloomberg View:

Obama's Hollow Peace in the South China Sea

America can't take war off the table.

The National Interest
April 18, 2016

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea—involving China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines—are destabilizing the region. Although not a claimant, the United States has a vested interest in the outcome. The U.S. Seventh Fleet has been operating in the area since the Cold War, and the maritime disputes involve the Philippines, a close American ally. In fact, far from being a peripheral interested party in the South China Sea, Washington plays a key role in determining the course of the disputes. Both government officials and academic observers have asserted that smaller states with interests in the dispute would have to rely on a resolution brokered by China and the United States.

Although the prospect of resolving the South China Sea disputes hinges on U.S.-China relations, an agreement orchestrated by Washington and Beijing could be highly problematic. As pointed out by Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan in a March 2016 public lecture, what Beijing and Washington agree on may not necessarily serve ASEAN or Southeast Asia's interests. Furthermore, the disputed maritime zone is but one of several areas of contention between the two major powers. A rising concern among Southeast Asian states holds that the Obama administration has fallen into the trap of maintaining peace at any price. This mode of thinking is not new. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger identified this fallacy during the Cold War when President Dwight Eisenhower conducted U.S.-Soviet relations based on the slogan "there is no alternative to peace." The context is different but the concept is the same. Because war seems no longer to be a conceivable instrument of policy, at least as observed by the Obama administration, any act of aggression short of war becomes acceptable. Unfortunately, such a fragile peace not only threatens the interests of smaller U.S. partners but also erodes America's credibility in the Asia Pacific.

When the United States places disproportionate emphasis on avoiding war and conflict, a few scenarios can occur; some have already been set in motion. First, it emboldens China to change the status quo of the dispute and establish a fait accompli of its territorial claims. Since the U.S. response to China's intensification of reclamation works in the South China Sea has been limited to rhetoric and unprovocative freedom of navigation operations, China can continue to push the envelope. Nothing Washington has done so far has slowed down Beijing’s pace of reclaiming artificial islands and deploying military assets in the disputed maritime area. It has become increasingly likely that Beijing will declare an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea.

Second, it forces Southeast Asian claimants to resort to self-help and trigger greater military buildup in the region. Vietnam and the Philippines have already begun improving their naval capabilities. At the same time, maritime law enforcement agencies have also seen an upgrade in equipment and increase in budget. Recent statistics released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reveal that defense expenditure in Asia and Oceania increased by 5.4 percent in 2015 while the global increase was 1 percent. This increase includes China's defense spending, which then fuels the spending spree of the region. If the U.S. security umbrella refuses to open in anticipation of dark clouds, Southeast Asian states must beef up their own militaries.

Third, extraregional powers feel the need to step in before China asserts its claims further. Australia and Japan have political, economic and strategic interests in the South China Sea and have recently announced their intentions to deploy some of their military assets and participate inmilitary exercises with the Philippines. Japan recently amended its constitution and joins the United States and the Philippines in their annual major bilateral exercise, “Balikatan,” in April 2016. Australia's Defense White Paper, announced in February 2016, indicates its growing concern over developments in the South China Sea. With more parties involved in the disputes, the situation could become more complicated, making a resolution even more unattainable.

Most significant is that Washington’s lack of initiative could irreversibly erode American credibility in the Asia Pacific. Although the involvement of Japan and Australia in the region's maritime dispute falls under their alliance relationship with the United States, their newfound activism in the area really stems from their proximity to the disputes. The fear of American disengagement from Asia and the Pacific is not a new trope in Tokyo and Canberra’s strategic thinking. Although the Pentagon has quashed reports of dissenting voices from Seventh Fleet commanders, the fact remains that the Obama administration lacks a game plan in the South China Sea. That the US has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is another blemish on American trustworthiness.

Assuming that China continues to deploy military assets and develop military bases in the South China Sea, the price to pay for this hollow peace will be high. Has the price for avoiding war been weighed sufficiently by President Obama and his advisers? When an unstable peace becomes too precarious to maintain, and looks to cost more than conflict, policymakers in Washington must not eliminate military action as an option. Kissinger's warning in his 1956 Foreign Affairs article is worth remembering: "If the phrase 'there is no alternative to peace' were to become accepted doctrine, it could lead to a paralysis of policy." Right now, it looks like Beijing understands this logic better than Washington.

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