Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 8, 2011

Politics or Policies?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Mark Chubb on June 8, 2011

Over the past few days an interesting theme has emerged around homeland security budget deliberations. As Jessica, Chris, Phil and many commentators on their posts have pointed out, we have no shortage of views about what’s right or wrong with the way we’ve been spending money over the past ten years or about how we should spend money in the future.

As I read these interesting and very informative perspectives, I could not help but think that despite all the discussion of politics this situation is more a problem of policy and the tendency of politicians to confuse the two. The distinction I intend here is simple: Politics concerns itself with competing conceptions of the good related to who, why, where and what; policy extends these judgments by focusing on how, when and how much.

No doubt the competing narratives about whether we’ve spent wisely or whether the proposed cuts go too far are steeped in politics. But the policy questions raised by the decisions unfolding before us have very real implications for programs, processes, people and ultimately what we choose to call progress.

This last point — how we define progress — illustrates the central problem confronting politicians and policy analysts alike. Politicians tend to define success very differently from policy analysts.

A simple semantic distinction might make this problem clearer. Public officials often use the terms efficiency and effectiveness carelessly. If we’re talking about economic (aggregate) efficiency — welfare maximization — then they may not be all that different. But when we talk about efficiency the way the current budget debate seems to be — as a question of productivity or throughput, then it is far less clear that the two terms have the same meaning.

Indeed, when politicians frame budget cuts as a way to hold public administrators accountable, they usually want to improve productive or managerial efficiency, rather than aggregate efficiency. As a consequence, it should come as no surprise when policy analysts and public administrators raise concerns that these decisions will compromise the effectiveness of their programs.

This, of course, sets off a knee-jerk response on the part of politicians, who suspect that the policy analysts and public administrators are only concerned with their own welfare, not the public’s. For their part, the policy analysts and public administrators usually respond to such rhetoric by wondering aloud (albeit under their breath) about the parentage of their political masters.

I am not usually one to suggest that such complex problems have simple solutions, but this might be an exception to that rule. The current budget debate underscores why it is important for us to produce a better understanding of how homeland security contributes to aggregate improvements in welfare. These gains can take many forms, not all of which are economic in nature, but which nevertheless all have some form of value.

Security is a value. So is liberty. Clearly people have competing conceptions of what they would be willing to pay to feel secure. These decisions are in essence a question of how much liberty individuals are willing to sacrifice to feel safe.

We can monetize the value of security by asking ourselves how these individual decisions play out in light of different political or policy choices. Perhaps more importantly, we can assess the ways competing policies affect these tradeoffs. By questioning not just how much we have spent and on what, but also by examining how airport security, for instance, has facilitated or inhibited the desire of individuals to travel as measured by passenger trips taken and the health of the industry, we can assess whether our political choices and policies resulting from them have had their intended effects.

Obviously, these techniques have limitations. Not the least of which is the difficulty measuring how well our investments help us prepare for threats we have not yet imagined. These questions require politicians to trust the policy analysts and public administrators rather than second-guessing them and moving beyond the who, why, what and where to concern themselves with how, when and how much.

Gaining the trust to tackle these difficult questions makes it all the more important that we establish some common ground between the politicians and policy analysts when it comes to deciding what investments to make and how to make them. As such, both groups would do well to review a primer on welfare economics and transaction cost economics before the final vote on the budget.

June 7, 2011

“America’s Cyber Future: Security And Prosperity In The Information Age”

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on June 7, 2011

A colleague told me about a May 31, 2011 two volume policy report from the Center for A New American Security called  ”America’s Cyber Future: Security And Prosperity In The Information Age.”  The report is available at this link.

From the web page:

America’s growing dependence on cyberspace has created new vulnerabilities that are being exploited as fast as or faster than the nation can respond. Cyber attacks can cause economic damage, physical destruction, and even the loss of human life. They constitute a serious challenge to U.S. national security and demand greater attention from American leaders.

Despite productive efforts by the U.S. government and the private sector to strengthen cyber security, the increasing sophistication of cyber threats continues to outpace progress. To help U.S. policymakers address the growing danger of cyber insecurity, this two-volume report features accessible and insightful chapters on cyber security strategy, policy, and technology by some of the world’s leading experts on international relations, national security, and information technology.

Here is the table of contents:

Volume I

America’s Cyber Future: Security and Prosperity in the Information Age

By Kristin Lord and Travis Sharp

Volume II

Note: Chapters are bookmarked within the Table of Contents.

  • Chapter I: Power and National Security in Cyberspace
    By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
  • Chapter II: Cyber Insecurities: The 21st Century Threatscape
    By Mike McConnell
  • Chapter III: Separating Threat from the Hype: What Washington Needs to Know about Cyber Security
    By  Gary McGraw and Nathaniel Fick
  • Chapter IV: Cyberwar and Cyber Warfare
    By Thomas G. Mahnken
  • Chapter V: Non-State Actors and Cyber Conflict
    By Gregory J. Rattray and Jason Healey
  • Chapter VI: Cultivating International Cyber Norms
    By Martha Finnemore
  • Chapter VII: Cyber Security Governance: Existing Structures, International Approaches and the Private Sector
    By David A. Gross, Nova J. Daly, M. Ethan Lucarelli and Roger H. Miksad
  • Chapter VIII: Why Privacy and Cyber Security Clash
    By James A. Lewis
  • Chapter IX: Internet Freedom and Its Discontents: Navigating the Tensions with Cyber Security
    By Richard Fontaine and Will Rogers
  • Chapter X: The Unprecedented Economic Risks of Network Insecurity
    By Christopher M. Schroeder
  • Chapter XI: How Government Can Access Innovative Technology
    By Daniel E. Geer, Jr.
  • Chapter XII: The Role of Architecture in Internet Defense
    By Robert E. Kahn
  • Chapter XIII: Scenarios for the Future of Cyber Security
    By Peter Schwartz

 

“How can we then make decisions who have so well unlearned to decide.”

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on June 7, 2011

The National Priorities Project — whose mission is to make “complex federal budget information transparent and accessible so people can prioritize and influence how their tax dollars are spent” — reports

The United States has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Total homeland security spending since September 11, 2001 is $635.9 billion.

The Congressional Quarterly [subscription required] points to a 2009 article estimating Al Qaeda’s annual spending ranges from a low of 10 million to a high of 300 million dollars a year.

Even anything close to that ratio represents a massive return on Evil’s investment.

“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah,” bin Laden said in a 2004 interview.

———————————————-

Yesterday, Jessica reported:

[T]he House approved a 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill that slashes homeland spending by $1.1 billion dollars (2.6% decrease) for this year…,” including a 52% percent cut for the Science & Technology Directorate.

Meanwhile, some of the same congressional representatives who recently criticized DHS for not demonstrating what the country has gained from previous years’ homeland security spending, now warn that cuts threaten to undo the progress we’ve made in preparedness over the past decade.

I suppose a foolish consistency remains the hobgoblin of little minds.

———————————————-

“[T]he Pentagon doesn’t know how it spends its money,” says Oaklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

One might say the same thing for homeland security, “because homeland security funding flows through literally dozens of federal agencies and not just through the Department of Homeland Security,” says the National Priorities Project

———————————————-

I am confused by what is going on in the budget world.

On the one hand, it reminds me of a sculpture in the Columbia Center — the tallest building in Seattle and a target included in al Qaeda’s original 9/11/01 hit list. I think the sculpture is called “Climbing the ladder of success.”

You may note none of the climbers have heads.  As if thought, rationality and consistency have no place on a trip to success.

On the other hand, the steaming semantic gyre of budgets, cuts, expenditures, threats, vulnerabilities and missions reminds me of a poem that appeared in the August 19, 1944 issue of the New Yorker. The century’s second war was ending, quickly to be replaced by another, more complicated one.

 

Lincoln said in 1862 we must “think anew and act anew.” As we move into homeland security’s second decade, after its largely knee jerk first decade, we can be guided helpfully by Fenton’s question: “how can we then make decisions who have so well unlearned to decide.”

 

June 6, 2011

Will Hard Appropriations Decisions Leave the U.S. Between A Rock and A Hard Place?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on June 6, 2011

Last Thursday, the House approved a 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill that slashes homeland spending by $1.1 billion dollars (2.6% decrease) for this year.  The bill is $3 million less (more than 7%) than the Obama budget request. The bill passed the House by a vote of 231-188, with many voting against it expressing concerns and objections over proposed cuts to mass transit, grant programs, and interoperable communications.

The biggest cuts were to grants and the Science & Technology directorate.

In the grants area, President Obama had requested $3 billion for various grant programs, including those intended to strengthen mass transit and port security efforts.  The bill allocated $807 million.  There was an effort by Congressmen Tim Bishop and Rush Holt to add $75 million to help build up mass transit security, especially in light of evidence gathered during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound suggested that trains were an inviting target. That amendment was defeated.

The Science & Technology Directorate was decimated, being allocated $398 million, a 52% percent cut.  The Administration had actually asked for more funding for the critical directorate – close to $1.2 billion. According to Science Insider, the decrease “will wipe out dozens of programs, stalling the development of technologies for border protection, detection of bio-hazards, and cargo screening.”

For many of the cuts, supporters of the bill said that a number of grant programs were not proven to provide federal benefit in our homeland security efforts.  Others noted that some funds from past years remain unspent.

These are obviously hard times requiring financial discipline at all levels of government and the private sector.  That said, terrorists and disasters do not stop doing their thing because the U.S. needs to reduce its deficit.

There is also no question that the U.S. government must be more efficient in how it allocates and spends homeland security funding.  The grants programs are in need of tuning — we’ve seen over the past ten years the call for a more risk-based approach to homeland security grant allocations.  It is unclear, however, how the grants cuts proposed by the House bill address the needs of homeland security while promoting efficiencies.  If there are abuses, duplication or a lack of necessity for funds, then substantial assessments – tied to risks and threats-should more clearly drive the homeland security appropriations process.  Complicating such an approach is how to link homeland spending to disasters as disasters cannot be predicted, though they can be prepared for.

In terms of the Science & Technology cuts, those  potentially put our nation at risk in the long term.  As the 9/11 Commission noted in its assessment of the failures leading to 9/11, “[t]he most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat.”  The work that is happening in S&T is intended to meet present and future threats in a thoughtful way.  Rather than being reactive and instituting security measures as things arise and after the fact (think quart baggies for liquids and shoe removal), the work in S&T should be addressing and anticipating homeland security needs – linking the private sector to academia to government to end users.  If the cuts to S&T are intended to address deficiencies in the component, then those deficiencies should be specifically addressed rather than cutting the component in its entirety.

With the exception of funding restrictions for TSA on personnel issues (meant to tackle collective bargaining and private screeners), most of the homeland security appropriations cuts do not seem political in and of themselves.  While the intent may be well-meaning in most instances, the U.S. cannot risk making the wrong decisions on the homeland security front.  Al Qaeda is as interested in causing us economic damage as physical harm.  The wrong cuts now could actually end up costing the U.S. more in the long run if vulnerabilities are left unaddressed.

 

June 5, 2011

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Preliminary Report on Japan

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on June 5, 2011

 In case you missed it, last week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released the preliminary report of their Fact Finding Mission to Japan. (http://iaea.org/newscenter/focus/fukushima/missionsummary010611.pdf)

The expected observation that the tsunami threat was underestimated has gotten most of the headlines.  More interesting to me, however, was the mention of remediation efforts in contaminated areas to allow people to resume their normal lives.  Once the reactors are completely “turned off” (which may take the rest of this year and beyond), these issues of decontamination, radiation risk assessment and communication with the public will be a running public learning exercise for the next nuclear power disaster or dirty bomb. 

There are already indications that the Japanese government has already stumbled in this arena: raising radiation limits for children without explaining the decision to the public or efforts to take simple measures to decontaminate schoolyards near the Fukushima plant.

Interesting as well is the fact that security is never mentioned explicitly, though references are made to “extreme external events.” The nuclear power industry is hesitant to engage issues of security in addition to safety, regardless of the fact that a terrorist attack might also aim to disrupt the primary and backup power systems of a nuclear power plant with the purpose of causing similar consequences.  Hopefully, the earthquake/tsunami combination that led to the nuclear meltdown will drive planning for simulataneous and unexpected events, including terrorist attacks.

The report also underlines the point that the physical impact on people of the radiation release has been minimal: “To date no health effects have been reported in any person as a result of radiation exposure from the nuclear accident.”  So much attention here in the U.S. has focused on the nuclear disaster that it is easy to forget we’re worried about events that haven’t led to one death while not seriously considering how we would handle events that could kill tens of thousands.

The main preliminary findings and lessons learned are:

  • The Japanese Government, nuclear regulators and operators have been extremely open in sharing information and answering the many questions of the mission to assist the world in learning lessons to improve nuclear safety.

 

  • The response on the site by dedicated, determined and expert staff, under extremely arduous conditions has been exemplary and resulted in the best approach to securing safety given the exceptional circumstances. This has been greatly assisted by highly professional back-up support, especially the arrangements at J-Village to secure the protection of workers going on sites.

 

  • The Japanese Government’s longer term response to protect the public, including evacuation, has been impressive and extremely well organized. A suitable and timely follow-up programme on public and worker exposures and health monitoring would be beneficial.

 

  • The planned road-map for recovery of the stricken reactors is important and acknowledged. It will need modification as new circumstances are uncovered and may be assisted by international co-operation. It should be seen as part of a wider plan that could result in remediation of the areas off site affected by radioactive releases to allow people evacuated to resume their normal lives. Thus demonstrating to the world what can be achieved in responding to such extreme nuclear events.

 

  • The tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated. Nuclear designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and provide protection against the risks of all natural hazards, and should periodically update these assessments and assessment methodologies in light of new information, experience and understanding.

 

  • Defence in depth, physical separation, diversity and redundancy requirements should be applied for extreme external events, particularly those with common mode implications such as extreme floods.

 

  • Nuclear regulatory systems should address extreme external events adequately, including their periodic review, and should ensure that regulatory independence and clarity of roles are preserved in all circumstances in line with IAEA Safety Standards.

 

  • Severe long term combinations of external events should be adequately covered in design, operations, resourcing and emergency arrangements.

 

  • The Japanese accident demonstrates the value of hardened on-site Emergency Response Centres with adequate provisions for communications, essential plant parameters, control and resources. They should be provided for all major nuclear facilities with severe accident potential. Additionally, simple effective robust equipment should be available to restore essential safety functions in a timely way for severe accident conditions.

 

  • Hydrogen risks should be subject to detailed evaluation and necessary mitigation systems provided.

 

  • Emergency arrangements, especially for the early phases, should be designed to be robust in responding to severe accidents.

June 4, 2011

Saleh leaves Sanaa (?)(!)

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 4, 2011

A few minutes ago (6:16 AM Eastern Time) the BBC reported:

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left Yemen a day after being injured when his presidential compound in Sanaa came under attack, reports say.

Sources in the government told the BBC that he had been flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment, but it is not clear whether he has gone there for good.

The prime minister and four other senior officials were also flown out.

The president has not appeared in public since Friday, but he broadcast an audio message saying he was well.

I am not yet seeing confirmation from other sources.  About an hour ago Al Jazeera, apparently depending on Reuters, reported:

Several top Yemeni officials injured in an attack on the presidential palace on Friday have been flown to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for treatment, a medical source said on Saturday.

The speakers of both houses of parliament, the deputy prime minister and other officials were evacuated, the source said without offering details on the conditions of the officials.

The most recent report from the Associated Press does not mention Saleh’s departure and is still being treated as breaking news by several European media. The AP says:

Five top members of the government were sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds they suffered in a rebel rocket attack on the presidential palace, the official government news agency reported Saturday. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was slightly injured.

At 6:43 Eastern Time the BBC is reporting that other Yemeni government officials are denying the President has left the country. I will go to breakfast and give you an update after some oatmeal.

About 90 minutes after the initial BBC report, there seems to be growing confidence that President Saleh has NOT left Sanaa and, in the words of a Saudi official, “has no intention of leaving.” At around 7:00 AM Eastern Time the Telegraph is flatly reporting, “President Ali Abdullah Saleh suffered head injuries but was not among those sent to Saudi Arabia.”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Twelve hours on from the initial posts above, Al Jazeera is reporting, Saleh ‘to seek medical care in Saudi Arabia’. Reuters, AP,  The Telegraph and other outlets all have similar stories.  As of 4:00 PM Eastern Time every credible report I am finding is still using the future tense for the trip to Saudi Arabia (and the BBC is being especially careful).

Several reports indicate that Friday’s attack on Saleh and others left the Yemeni President with shrapnel near his heart.

At 4:35 PM Eastern Time Reuters is reporting, “Saudi Arabia brokered a fresh truce in Yemen on Saturday and a Riyadh government source said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was expected to leave the country within hours for medical treatment. ‘Saleh is expected to come to Saudi Arabia tonight for treatment for neck and chest wounds,’ the source in Riyadh, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.” At roughly the same time as the Reuters report, the online New York Times headlined its lead story as “Yemeni Leader Agrees to Go to Saudi Arabia for Treatment.”

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE: As of 8:00 PM several media sources are now reporting President Saleh is in Riyadh. See Al Jazeera, BBC, and New York Times.  Power has been transferred to the Yemeni Vice President.

For more context please see a late Friday report by Deutsche Welle: Yemeni rivals accuse each other of profiting from al Qaeda threat. Additional background is available from the Council on Foreign Relations.

As far as I know, John Brennan is still in the region. He was in Saudi Arabia and UAE on Thursday and Friday.

June 3, 2011

2012 Homeland Security Appropriations

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on June 3, 2011

On June 1 the 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill was submitted for action in the House of Representatives. The legislation provides $40.6 billion in non-emergency funding for the various programs and agencies within DHS. This is a decrease of $1.1 billion – or 2.6% – below last year’s level and $3 billion – or 7% – below the President’s request.

The entire bill is available from the Appropriations Committee’s website.  Several amendments were being considered by the whole House on Wednesday and Thursday. The outcome of those votes are summarized here.

In commenting on the bill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) commented, ““We’ve significantly reduced or eliminated ineffective and wasteful programs, while requiring reforms in underperforming programs through heightened oversight, to get the most out of each and every tax dollar. This includes long-overdue reform of the State and Local Grant program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been plagued by inefficiency. These grants often remain in federal coffers for years – right now, there is a backlog of more than $13 billion in unspent funds. As such, this bill reduces funding for this program by $2.1 billion, changing the structure and requiring increased measurement and reporting.”

Here’s related language from the Appropriations Committee report on the homeland security appropriations bill:

The Committee recommends long-overdue reform of FEMA’s administration of its State and Local Programs. For far too long, FEMA has failed to measure the return on investment for the billions of dollars awarded through its first responder grant programs. Furthermore, billions of dollars appropriated in prior years for first responder grants remain unspent due to a variety of reasons, some of which are entirely inexcusable. The Committee believes the Nation’s fiscal crisis and the importance of preparedness and the work of State, local, and tribal first responders to the homeland security mission necessitate bold reform. Therefore, the Committee recommends the following: (1) a substantial reduction in annual appropriations for FEMA’s State and Local Programs; (2) a reorganization of FEMA’s State and Local Programs with funding administered at the discretion of the Secretary and prioritized to the greatest needs and highest risks; (3) a mandate for the FEMA Administrator to submit a plan to drawdown all unexpended balances by the end of fiscal year 2012 from funds appropriated prior to fiscal year 2008 under the heading ‘‘State and Local Programs’’; and (4) a withholding of fifty percent of the funding for the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management until the submission of the National Preparedness Goal and National Preparedness System, consistent with the directions within the recently signed Presidential Policy Directive-8. The latter requirement is designed to compel the Department to begin taking steps to measure the effectiveness and future requirements of these programs.

In addition to the rationale noted above, the cuts to Homeland Security appropriations should be seen as part of the ongoing process of negotiating a deficit reduction plan.  Actual appropriations will reflect Senate input, the outcome of a broader agreement — if any — on the deficit, and horse trading in the eventual House-Senate conference.

Following is specific report language on the proposed reduction in State and Local Programs:

The Committee recommends $1,000,000,000 for State and Local Programs, $2,844,663,000 below the amount requested and $1,229,500,000 below the amount provided in fiscal year 2011. These reductions are due to the persistent lack of quantifiable metrics that measure the additional capability that our Nation has gained for the billions that have been invested and the inability of programs to expend their funds in a timely manner. These concerns, combined with the inadequacy of the Department’s request for a number of other programs, such as ignoring $4,900,000,000 in known disaster costs and $650,000,000 in offsets from aviation security and customs fee revenue that has not yet been authorized, force the Committee to make tough decision on all programs.

Due to a historical pattern of poor execution and management, the Committee is recommending significant reform to the DHS grants process. For years, the Committee has asked question after question of the Department regarding grants and the returns the taxpayers are getting for the funds invested. Today, these questions remain largely unanswered. Therefore, the Committee is making three significant recommendations on first responder grants.

First, the Committee recommends reorganizing the grant program to allow funds to be directed towards the highest need. In the wake of recent terrorist activity, this reorganization will allow the Secretary the discretion to apply limited funds to the programs that have the highest need based on the threat and risk. To address urban areas with the highest threat, the Committee has included language specifically limiting Urban Area Security Initiative funds to the top 10 highest risk urban areas.

Second, the Committee has addressed the massive amounts of unexpended balances in programs. Based on the latest estimates, the Department currently has almost $13,000,000,000 in previously appropriated funds that remain unspent dating back to fiscal year 2005. This level of unexpended balances is unacceptable. To encourage a sense of urgency, the Committee includes a proviso directing the Administrator of the FEMA to submit within 60 days of the date enactment of this Act, a plan to expend all unexpended balances by the end of fiscal year 2012 from funds appropriated prior to fiscal year 2008 under the heading ‘‘State and Local Programs’’.

Third, the Committee has included language directing the submission of the National Preparedness Goal and National Preparedness System consistent with the directions within the recently signed Presidential Policy Directive—8. Funds have been fenced within the funding provided for the Office of the Secretary until information on these programs are provided to the Committee

Unexpended balances are an unequivocal measure of ambiguous meaning.  This is especially the case with federal funds for state and local programs.

There are situations where funds remain because federal officials have not been proactive in working with state and local officials. There are other situations where state and local officials have been slow, even reluctant to integrate federal priorities with existing priorities.  Delayed expenditure is especially an issue where federal programs — appropriately and helpfully — are encouraging state and local innovation.  In some cases funds remain unexpended because of substantive disagreements between levels of government on appropriate purpose and strategy.

Sometimes delayed expenditure is the result of stupidity.  Other times it is the outcome of prudence. The $13 billion includes plenty of each.

June 2, 2011

Brennan in Riyadh regarding Yemen

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 2, 2011

I’ve been in meetings all day, so perhaps the following is already well-known.  But if not, it strikes me as especially important.  For several months the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen has been identified as the source of the single most significant asymmetrical threat to the United States, primarily due to its effectiveness at recruiting in the United States.  This report is reprinted from The Guardian, more of the story is available by selecting the link.  It was posted at 7:42 PM London time.  I am posting at 5:26 PM Eastern time.

–+–

The US is stepping up efforts to persuade Yemen‘s veteran president to step down before escalating fighting between the government and tribal rebels develops into fully-fledged civil war.

Diplomats said that Washington was now pressing hard to convince Ali Abdullah Saleh to reconsider his rejection of a peace plan brokered by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states alarmed by the prospect of growing instability in the region.

John Brennan, Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, held talks in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where the government has strong ties with Yemeni tribes but has been slow to act. It has been accused of sending mixed signals to Saleh, who is seen as desperate to cling on to power after 32 years.

Brennan has previously worked closely with Saleh on fighting al-Qaida – a key US and western concern. MORE.

–+–

Certainly the situation in Yemen seems to moving from bad to worse.  Ishaan Tharoor, reporting this afternoon for Time, writes, “In Yemen, over three decades of authoritarianism are unraveling in a bloody maelstrom. The regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has brutally staved off protests against its rule, fueled by frustrations over a lack of political freedoms in the country and the perceived graft of Saleh’s family and cronies. At least 350 people have died in violence since the upheaval commenced early this year.” MORE

Al Jazeera is blogging live in English from Sanaa with reports from other locations in Yemen.  A Yemeni physician, Dr. , is also blogging occasionally in English at LateNightSurgery.

June 1, 2011

New Generations Aspiring to Greatness

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Events,Futures — by Mark Chubb on June 1, 2011

Stock and commodity markets reacted negatively today to news that sluggish private sector hiring, slipping domestic manufacturing and sliding Greek sovereign debt ratings. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans met with President Obama to discuss legislation to raise the debt ceiling following a show-vote on Tuesday meant to signal their resistance to any measure that fails to herald a new era of fiscal discipline in Washington. (Which, it should be noted, they regard primarily, if not solely, as cuts to domestic discretionary spending and entitlement programs.)

Although the economic situation in Germany and Japan are not much better than here in the United States (and some would argue much worse), the stories grabbing the biggest headlines in these countries are very different from those here at home. Indeed one might wonder whether the tables have now truly turned since the end of the Second World War.

Those Americans who worked to defeat the axis powers in World War II have come to be known as the Greatest Generation for their willingness both to make difficult decisions and to make significant sacrifices at home and on the battlefield for the sake of future generations. Their leadership benefited not only our generation, but those too of the nations they fought.

The turnabout decision this week by Germany to abandon nuclear power by 2022 and invest heavily in renewables with a target of supplying at least 80 percent of their domestic demand by 2050 reflects nothing short of a payback on our nation’s post-war investment in rebuilding war-ravaged Europe. Germany’s decision and the actions that must follow are no less ambitious than the mobilization of labor and capital required in the United States to supply the war effort 60 years ago. The German people will only succeed in reaching their goal through a combination of expanded capacity, technological innovation and significant reductions in demand through energy conservation and increased efficiency.

A segment of the population of that other great power of the war era has shown a different kind of foresight and fortitude that reflects a more personal sort of sacrifice. The lingering crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has fueled the loss of faith in the government and is now mobilizing a segment of Japanese society that one might assume has every right to sit back and wonder what happened to the country they helped build as the successors to the generation defeated by our grandparents. Instead, this generation of retirees and grandparents is volunteering to expose themselves to dangerous levels of radioactivity by helping cleanup the damaged nuclear reactors rather than leaving the job to younger workers who would be more likely to suffer the long-latent effects of such significant radiation exposures.

In both instances, the decisions and actions we see taking center-stage overseas reflect the sorts of values that made our forebears great. At the same time, their presence, even prominence in the news from abroad makes their absence from our own political debate that much more glaring and indeed worrying for our stability, stature, security and future prospects of success.

What sacrifices are we willing to make to maintain our greatness? How hard are we willing to work? How much would we pay to remain an exemplar of the can-do spirit for other nations to follow?

Judging by the crisis of confidence afflicting both the political and economic spheres, it seems the answers to these questions are “not so much.” Our crisis will continue, if not deepen, unless those who can start doing. Americans should not expect leadership of the sort displayed in Germany and Japan this week to come from politicians alone. As the examples of our former rivals aptly illustrate, we need leadership at every level of our society if we are to restore our greatness.

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