Saturday, March 09, 2013

From civilian to fighter - Syria via Egypt Independent

Russia needs to develop eastern provinces as China rises - Russia & India Report

Russia needs to develop eastern provinces as China rises | Russia & India Report

... As of 2011, China had a population of 1.344 billion and its GDP totaled $7.3 trillion, ranking second in the world, while Russia had a population of 142 million and its GDP totaled $1.86 trillion, ranking ninth in the world, according to the World Bank. If measured in terms of purchasing power, China’s GDP is to exceed Russia’s by a factor of five in 2013 and a factor of six in 2017, according to the IMF forecast.

Russia’s political leaders are extremely careful to keep whatever reservations they have about the growing disparities with China private so as not to irritate Beijing. But sometimes they do let their worries show.Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned in August 2012 that “the Far East … is located far away and, unfortunately, we don’t have many people there and must protect it from the excessive expansion of people from neighboring countries.”

Moscow’s cautious attitude toward Beijing is also reflected in Russia’s 2013 foreign policy doctrine, which calls for “a strategic partnership” with India, but for “strategic collaboration” with China. Russia’s military leaders have likewise begun in recent years to hint at challenges presented by their eastern neighbor. In 2009, then chief of the Ground Forces Staff Lt. General Sergei Skokov said the following when describing the kind of warfare the national armed forces should prepare for: “If we’re talking about the east, then it could be a multi-million-man army with a traditional approach to conducting combat operations: straightforward, with large concentrations of personnel and firepower along individual operational directions.”

More recently, the commander of the Russian navy, Vladimir Vysotsky, warned that in the Arctic “a host of states ... are advancing their interests very intensively, in every possible way, in particular China.” In response, “the ships of the Northern and Pacific fleets are continuing to increase their military presence in the Arctic zone,” the admiral said in October 2010. It would be surprising if Russian generals were not planning for a possible conflict with China, which the Economist magazine forecasts to become the world’s largest military spender in 20 years’ time and which has been involved in 23 territorial disputes since 1949, using force in six of them (including the 1969 conflict with Soviet Russia), according to a count by MIT researcher Taylor Fravel.

But the expansion of Chinese influence in Russia’s eastern provinces is unlikely to take a violent turn. After all, Russia has enough nuclear weapons to deter any nation from waging an open large-scale war. Also, thanks to Putin’s personal efforts, the two countries settled outstanding territorial issues along their

3,600-km border – once described by Henry Kissinger as a “strategic nightmare” – in a 2004 agreement.Rather, China’s influence in the Far East and Siberia – which some Russian scholars fear may eventually lead to a de facto loss of Russia’s sovereignty over these regions – will expand incrementally and by economic means. Among the factors increasing the risk of such a development, it is the cross-border demographic and economic disparities that should be of utmost concern to the Russian leadership.

There are fewer people living in all 27 provinces that comprise Russia’s Urals, Siberian and Far East federal districts than in Heilongjiang, just one of the four Chinese provinces bordering Russia. And all four of the Chinese border provinces have significantly greater population density than Russia's eastern regions. The population density in Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Jilin is, respectively, 84, 20, 12 and 146 people per square kilometer, according to the China Internet Information Center. In comparison, Russia’s 2010 national census registered a population density of 6.6, 3.7 and 1 person per square kilometer, respectively, in the Urals, Far Eastern and Siberian districts.

Neither are the economic comparisons of these border lands in Russia’s favor.In 2010, the regional domestic products of Russia's three eastern federal districts totaled roughly $372 billion, compared with $538 billion worth of goods and services produced by the aforementioned four Chinese provinces over the same period of time.

While deepening its economic ties with China, Russia should also tap into the economic potential and modernization know-how of the United States, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and other powers to ensure a diversification of partnerships needed for sustainable development of its eastern provinces.

Otherwise – as Lee predicts in a recent book co-written by my colleague Graham Allison, the director of Harvard’s Belfer Center – “the lands on the bend of the Amur River will be repopulated by Chinese.”...

- The 1969 border war is almost unheard of in the west.

Putin plots to avert a crisis while retaining power -Russia & india Report

Putin plots to avert a crisis while retaining power | Russia & India Report

...  Putin’s electoral rating continues to fall. According to poll data released by the respected Levada Center, if presidential elections were held tomorrow, no more than 32 percent of the voters would cast their ballots for him. It is impossible for Putin to pretend that nothing is going on. His decision to mothball the election system he himself introduced in 2004 and to go back to the 1990s model could signify that he has decided to further disengage himself from the thoroughly compromised United Russia (which, in his view, will continue to serve the Kremlin’s interests anyway) and launch a new support platform for himself – the so-called United Popular Front (UPF).

Until recently, UPF was a loose grouping of mostly provincial and government-linked organizations, businesses and personalities, professing conservative values, profound anti-Westernism and anti-intellectualism. It claims to speak on behalf of “the real people,” and not the “spoiled” and well-off big city dwellers.

With the old new electoral system, United Russia will fight for the 225 Duma seats allocated to parties, while UPF candidates will compete for the 225 seats set aside for independent candidates. With local governors and assemblies still largely in the hands of pro-Putin forces, it is likely that if the general election were held this year, the Kremlin would remain in control of the legislature. 

Putin may well decide to move to parliament, and, as head of the biggest faction, to become its chairman. In these circumstances, an early presidential election would be in order.

In the current political climate and with the opposition still lacking coherent policies and nationwide leadership, it is still possible to imagine that someone Putin trusts, for example the current Defense Minister and long-time emergencies tsar Sergei Shoigu, would win even in an honest contest.

Of course, Vladimir Putin would still like to open the Winter Olympics in Sochi in early 2014 himself, but after this, all bets are off as far as the presidential vote is concerned. Moreover this scenario has to be realized before October 2014, when Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Kremlin’s most vocal, seasoned and dangerous opponent, is expected to be set free. I think Russia is heading toward rough political waters again.

Russian army to do away with Soviet belt

Russian army to do away with Soviet belt | Russia & India Report

New Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu is continuing his reform of the Russian army. His latest initiative is to eliminate the brass-buckle army belt. A dangerous weapon, status symbol, strangling tool, tourniquet and object of fetish, the belt will soon become a thing of the past.

“The new service uniform approved by Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu does not have the belt. They will be completely absent from the new uniform. Some belts will be taken to warehouses, and others will be sold. Soldiers will stop wearing them by the end of the year — especially over vests. That’s what the minister has decided,” a source in the ministry told Izvestia.

The Russian army is switching to a new uniform — which is almost the exact copy of the American uniform — and no belts will be required for the vest. Back in the 1980s, during the war in Afghanistan, Soviet army generals were already saying that belts were not required at all. It was then that bulletproof vests were introduced: putting a belt over such a vest was simply uncomfortable.

The army belt as we know it now appeared after World War II: a strap of robust artificial brown leather (there are genuine leather belts as well, but you really had to go out of your way to get your hands on one back in Soviet times) and a brass-hook buckle with an embossed star on it. The belt was worn over a jacket or shirt, with weapons and ammo attached to it. Owing to the hook, the belt took seconds to both put on and take off.

The belt was a real Soviet multi-tool and a versatile army instrument. Durable and quite heavy, it was a lethal device for attack in any fistfight; it was even sometimes used as a whip or flail....

Russian army to do away with Soviet belt

Russian army to do away with Soviet belt | Russia & India Report

New Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu is continuing his reform of the Russian army. His latest initiative is to eliminate the brass-buckle army belt. A dangerous weapon, status symbol, strangling tool, tourniquet and object of fetish, the belt will soon become a thing of the past.

“The new service uniform approved by Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu does not have the belt. They will be completely absent from the new uniform. Some belts will be taken to warehouses, and others will be sold. Soldiers will stop wearing them by the end of the year — especially over vests. That’s what the minister has decided,” a source in the ministry told Izvestia.

The Russian army is switching to a new uniform — which is almost the exact copy of the American uniform — and no belts will be required for the vest. Back in the 1980s, during the war in Afghanistan, Soviet army generals were already saying that belts were not required at all. It was then that bulletproof vests were introduced: putting a belt over such a vest was simply uncomfortable.

The army belt as we know it now appeared after World War II: a strap of robust artificial brown leather (there are genuine leather belts as well, but you really had to go out of your way to get your hands on one back in Soviet times) and a brass-hook buckle with an embossed star on it. The belt was worn over a jacket or shirt, with weapons and ammo attached to it. Owing to the hook, the belt took seconds to both put on and take off.

The belt was a real Soviet multi-tool and a versatile army instrument. Durable and quite heavy, it was a lethal device for attack in any fistfight; it was even sometimes used as a whip or flail....

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Exclusive: India set to halt Iran oil imports over insurance

Exclusive: India set to halt Iran oil imports over insurance | Reuters

(Reuters) - India is set to halt all crude imports from Iran because insurance companies in the country have said refineries processing the oil will no longer be covered due to Western sanctions, the head of refiner MRPL said on Friday.

India is Iran's second-largest buyer, taking around a quarter of its oil exports worth around $1 billion a month.

"If cover is not available then all Indian refiners will have to halt imports from Iran or else they will have to take a huge risk," P.P. Upadhya, managing director of Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL.NS), told Reuters in a telephone interview. MRPL is India's biggest buyer of Iran crude.

"Insurance companies said if I buy Iranian crude my refinery's insurance cover will be canceled ... If we don't get insurance for the refinery then we will stop buying Iranian crude."

It was not immediately clear why this has become an issue now, several months after Europe and the U.S. introduced tough sanctions aimed at Iran's oil trade to force Tehran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.

But in a letter in January seen by Reuters, the General Insurance Corp of India, the national reinsurer, told the General Insurance Council, an industry group, that it had "dawned" on insurers that cover and losses on processing the crude would not be payable by reinsurers due to existing sanctions.

...

$36 Billion of Military Hardware Could Be Destroyed in Afghan Pullout

$36 Billion of Military Hardware Could Be Destroyed in Afghan Pullout

The Obama White House is cutting $65 billion in the sequester, but it could easily leave or torch 750,000 pieces of major military hardware — worth $36 billion — in Afghanistan after U.S. troops pull out by the end of next year.

Here are the options, according to Face the Facts USA of the George Washington University: Leave the equipment — or destroy it — in Afghanistan; move it to other U.S. military outposts; or transfer it to another U.S. agency or to another country.

The estimated cost for the latter two options: $5.7 billion.

The equipment includes trucks, aircraft, and armored vehicles — most of which are controlled by the Army.

Because the Afghanistan terrain is mountainous and landlocked, transport would be difficult. But leaving it behind intact could put the equipment in the wrong hands.

So, is it best to torch $36 billion in U.S. military assets?

Jordan's national carrier stops flying over Syrian airspace

Jordan's national carrier stops flying over Syrian airspace | Reuters

(Reuters) - Jordan's national carrier Royal Jordanian has stopped flying over Syrian airspace for security reasons, the airline's head said on Sunday.

Syria is a major air and land transport hub for the Gulf and eastern Europe, and nearly two years of revolt there against President Bashar al-Assad has already severely hit multibillion dollar cargo routes from Turkey to the Gulf and vice versa.

The airline, a leading regional carrier, said the move would primarily affect Beirut, a major destination, with a route via Egyptian airspace and over the Mediterranean making a longer journey of its four daily flights....

-bth: probably has something to do with the surface to air missiles Jordan transported for Croatia to Syria.

North Korea threatens US with Pre-Emptive Nuke Attack with advertisement?


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Budget Cuts Threaten Defense Industrial Base, Official Says

Budget Cuts Threaten Defense Industrial Base, Official Says

...As a result, the department’s top maintainer said, third- and fourth-quarter inductions of equipment into depot repair lines will be canceled in many areas.

For example, in the Navy, “70 percent of ship maintenance in private yards in the third and fourth quarter will be canceled,” he said. “That's 25 ship availabilities and potentially two carrier refuelings, and complex overhauls on the aviation side -- 320 airplanes, approximately 10 percent of the fleet and over 1,200 engines and modules.”

This will result in readiness problems in four air wings, Johns added. There will be impacts in the industrial base in all three fleet-readiness centers and across the entire shipyard complex.

“Very clearly,” the deputy assistant secretary said, “this level of impact is going to have an associated effect on assets available for the Navy to deploy worldwide. There's no doubt about that.”

The continuing resolution is affecting the department’s ability to move money from one account to another, Johns said, adding that for the Army, the associated shortfalls in operations and maintenance accounts affect the entire depot and arsenal system, with impacts in multiple weapon system maintenance activities across the board.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno estimated recently that 50 percent of the impact to the Army is associated with the continuing resolution and 50 percent with the severe cuts required by sequestration, Johns added.

If sequestration and funding by continuing resolution are allowed to continue, he observed, “gross financial and production inefficiencies will be generated, thousands of government temporary and term employees and contractor personnel will be impacted immediately, hundreds of small businesses and businesses with strong military-market dependency will be placed at risk, and the readiness of numerous major weapon systems and equipment and, in turn, each service's ability to satisfy future mission requirements, will be seriously degraded.”

The damage may be so severe in some areas, he said, “that full recovery within our national industrial base, both public and private sectors, from just fiscal 2013 reductions could take up to a decade.”...

Monday, March 04, 2013

Challenges and Opportunities in the CENTCOM AOR by Cordesman

This is an extraordinary report by Anthony Cordesman on the balance of power in the Persian Gulf among other demographic in the region.

http://csis.org/files/publication/130304_challenges_opportunities_centcom_aor.pdf

A couple of notes, I had no idea how big the population boom is in Yemen on slide 20-21.  Also I'm surprised at how low the per capita income is in Iraq given its oil wealth. The slides especially at the end of the presentation and in the backup section are quite detailed on war game options and scenarios with regard to Iran and Israel.

Medvedev is ‘dead man walking’ as Putin undoes his Russian reforms

Medvedev is 'dead man walking' as Putin undoes his Russian reforms - Washington Times

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, once one of Russia’s most popular leaders, is now politically a “dead man walking” as his former mentor, President Vladimir Putin, undermines him, leading many to predict that the ruthless president is preparing to dump his reform-minded protege.

Mr. Medvedev, 47, was always the junior partner in the Kremlin duo with Mr. Putin, the 60-year-old former KGB officer. They even traded the top government spots so that Mr. Putin could remain in power.

But somewhere between Mr. Medvedev’s term as president from 2008 to 2012 and Mr. Putin’s return to the presidency in May, the political romance faded.

Mr. Putin has been reversing Mr. Medvedev’s reforms, making slander a crime again and imposing Kremlin control over the direct election of Russian governors. Meanwhile, the pro-Putin state-controlled media ignores the prime minister or carries negative stories about him.

Most analysts agree that Mr. Medvedev is facing imminent dismissal and political obscurity....

Here Come... China's drones - The Diplomat

Here Come…China’s Drones

China’s UAV programs

...Dozens of Chinese UAV concepts have appeared over the years, most of which will never leave the laboratory, let alone the runway. However, the Chinese aerospace sector has clearly devoted a great deal of energy to producing a range of designs from which the PLA has been able to cherry-pick. Chinese engineers have also been able to draw on Israeli technology, having acquired Harpy UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries in the 1990s. “They've gone in the last few years from having none in development to at least 25 different models displayed at arms shows,” says Singer.“So, it’s a very ambitious program. But again, it parallels their growth in capabilities and ambitions in many others beyond UAS, from jet fighters to missiles.” He warns against overhyping China’s UAV effort, noting that for now “we’re talking very small numbers [of Chinese UAVs] … and not yet near U.S. capabilities.”

If the example of the U.S military is anything to go by, the PLA should only have operational requirements for around six to ten UAVs. It appears closer to filling some of these operational niches than others.

The China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) has developed a number of ASN series UAVs, at least two of which appear to be in operational use. First is the ASN-15, a small intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAV similar to the U.S. RQ-11 Raven, a small, man-portable system able to perform basic battlefield ISTAR duties. Second is the ASN-209 medium altitude and medium endurance UAV comparable to the U.S. ScanEagle, a larger ISR asset than the Raven with up to 20 hours of flight time for longer-range battlefield and maritime surveillance. The ASN-209 is probably the same aircraft as the “Silver Eagle” which was widely reported to have taken part in naval exercises over the South China Sea in 2011.

Vertical takeoff UAVs (VTUAV), which are especially useful for naval ISTAR and fire control, are also beginning to enter service (though the U.S. Navy’s comparable MQ-8 Fire Scout is itself yet to receive operational clearance). A PLA Navy frigate was pictured in 2012 operating what was probably one of the 18 Camcopter S-100s China acquired from Austrian company Schiebel, supposedly intended for civilian use. Another VTUAV, the SVU-200, made its first flight late last year, while a third unmanned helicopter, the V750, recently entered civilian service. The PLA Navy is known to be exploring the possible applications of VTUAVs, including their use in anti-submarine warfare, and to be interested in the use of UAVs more broadly on its new and future aircraft carriers, not least because UAVs can significantly augment China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. “A2/AD places a premium on extending your range of monitoring and tracking targets from afar,” Singer says.“UAS are very helpful in that.”

Bigger, more advanced UAVs are also now breaking cover. Two in particular appear to be similar to the U.S.’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAVs best known for conducting lethal operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. These are the Yilong/Wing Loong “Pterodactyl”, built by the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI), and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC’s) CH-4. According to a recent Global Times report, the Yilong is primarily regarded as a Reaper-style strike aircraft, while the CH-4 is more of a multi-role aircraft that will be deployed by civilian agencies, as well as by the military, for surveillance purposes, though it can also be weaponized. These two UAVs appear to be in the same class as the CH-91, built by Aerospace Long March International (ALIT), an ISTAR system which is reported to have already entered production, and the more advanced CH-92, which is due to enter production in 2014. A similar class of UAV, the WJ-600, has been showcased by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), though this system – which is jet-powered, unlike the propeller-driven Yilong and the CH-4 – was not seen at the most recent China Air Show.

Finally, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation is working on the Soaring Eagle, an analogue of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Washington’s high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV. Recent pictures of a Soaring Eagle on the runway suggest that its development is moving forward effectively. There are also hints that China is working on a stealthy UAV called the Wing Blade, which is reminiscent of the U.S.’s black-budget RQ-170 Sentinel, while a stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) called the Dark Sword – perhaps along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s experimental X-74B – may also be in development. Chinese technicians are also undoubtedly experimenting with a new generation of nano-UAVs, like the Black Hornet micro-helicopter now in action with the British Army....

-bth: low prices, technology theft and no export barriers will give China a decided advantage in this field.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

House continuing resolution to restore $7B to military operations

House continuing resolution to restore $7B to military operations - David Rogers - POLITICO.com

... The Navy, for example, asked for nearly $47.5 billion for O&M in 2013 but under the current CR, it was capped at a rate equivalent to $44.2 billion in annual funding or $3.25 billion less.

In fact, with the White House’s permission, the Navy has been spending at a rate about 3 percentage points higher than the CR in hopes of getting some relief in a final deal. That generosity — or political miscalculation — leaves that much less money for O&M in the second half of the fiscal year.

Given the added $3.4 billion cut imposed by sequestration Friday, calculations by POLITICO indicate that the Navy will have to get through the remainder of fiscal 2013 with about 24 percent less money than it anticipated in its initial 2013 budget request. The numbers may help explain the controversial decision to keep the USS Harry Truman in Virginia rather than deploying the carrier to the Persian Gulf.

The Army also has been spending at about the CR rate. But its bigger problem is that it can’t afford to cut back on operations in war zones like Afghanistan, which means more of the burden of the O&M cuts falls on readiness and training at home.

The administration asked for $65 billion in total resources for Army O&M; the current CR provides $59.2 billion and with sequestration, that has now been reduced to about $54.7 billion, 16 percent less than the budget request.

But given the Army’s rate of spending for the first half of the fiscal year, this could translate into an estimated 27 percent cut from what it anticipated for the second half of 2013 under its initial budget request.

Egyptian Copts in Libya allegedly detained, tortured following 'missionising' claims

Egyptian Copts in Libya allegedly detained, tortured following 'missionising' claims - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online

Activists in Libya on Thursday posted photographs on Facebook allegedly portraying Egyptian Coptic-Christians detained in Libya on charges of proselytising.

 

The activists asserted that the images would also be sent to the United Nations, the Egyptian embassy in Libya, the Egyptian foreign affairs ministry, the Libyan Observatory for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, in hopes that "action would be taken to secure their release."

According to a source from Egypt's Coptic Church, a group of Salafist Muslims attacked a church in Benghazi this week and detained roughly 100 Egyptian Copts working in the country.

The detained Copts had been tortured by their captors, who had also shaved their heads and used acid to burn off the crosses tattooed on their wrists, the source – who preferred anonymity – told Ahram Online.

The source added: "The Coptic Church has sent an official request to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in response has begun negotiations with its Libyan counterpart to resolve the issue and release the detained Christians."....

Pakistani Taliban threaten to bomb mobile phone shops - New Straits Times

Pakistani Taliban threaten to bomb mobile phone shops - Latest - New Straits Times

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Pakistani Taliban have threatened to bomb a mobile phone market in the northwestern city of Peshawar for the “shameless” selling of video clips, ring tones and accessories, officials said Saturday.

 

Some 60 shopkeepers received letters in the post ordering them to burn the  offending stock, including memory cards and speakers for MP3 players, and stick  to selling only mobile phones and essential accessories.
 
DVD and CD shops have in the past been bombed by militants who deemed the  businesses “un-Islamic”.  
 
In one of the letters, seen by AFP, militants wrote: “Do not compel us to  send a bomber... stop this shameless business in one week and burn the shameful  stuff. Just sell mobile phones, batteries and chargers....
 

Independents have turned against both parties in Washington

Sequester Cuts Threaten Immigration Reform, Gun Control Plans

Twenty-eight percent of Americans blame Republicans for the lack of a deal to halt sequestration, while 22 percent hold either Obama or the Democrats in Congress responsible, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. Thirty-seven percent blame them all.

The budget standstill has overshadowed Obama's aggressive set of policy goals ranging from boosting pre-school education to fighting climate change and reforming America's immigration system. But Obama vowed on Friday the fiscal troubles would not prevent him from advocating for those proposals progress even with the sequester unresolved. I will continue to push for those initiatives," he told a news conference....
-bth: there is not a chance in hell those other programs will advance without some form of budget resolution.  Look at the polling numbers, the independents have given up on the whole lot of them in DC.

Stymied by a GOP House, Obama looks ahead to 2014 to cement his legacy WaPo

Stymied by a GOP House, Obama looks ahead to 2014 to cement his legacy - The Washington Post

.... Obama, fresh off his November reelection, began almost at once executing plans to win back the House in 2014, which he and his advisers believe will be crucial to the outcome of his second term and to his legacy as president. He is doing so by trying to articulate for the American electorate his own feelings — an exasperation with an opposition party that blocks even the most politically popular elements of his agenda.

Obama has committed to raising money for fellow Democrats, agreed to help recruit viable candidates, and launched a political nonprofit group dedicated to furthering his agenda and that of his congressional allies. The goal is to flip the Republican-held House back to Democratic control, allowing Obama to push forward with a progressive agenda on gun control, immigration, climate change and the economy during his final two years in office, according to congressional Democrats, strategists and others familiar with Obama’s thinking.

“The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now.”

An evolution in strategy

This approach marks a significant shift in the way Obama has worked with a divided Congress. He has compromised and badgered, but rarely — and never so early — campaigned to change its composition.

Democrats would have to gain 17 House seats to win back the majority they lost in 2010, and their challenge involves developing a persuasive argument for why the party deserves another chance controlling both Congress and the presidency. In the last election, American voters reaffirmed the political status quo in Washington, choosing to retain a divided government.

Of all the presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt, only Bill Clinton picked up House seats for his party in the midterm election of his second term . His approval rating on the eve of the 1998 contest was 65 percent, 14 points above Obama’s current public standing....

-bth: This is going to be an unmitigated disaster on the middle class.

This is why Obama can’t make a deal with Republicans

This is why Obama can’t make a deal with Republicans

...The bottom line on American budgetary politics right now is that Republicans won’t agree to further tax increases and so there’s no deal to be had. This is not a controversial perspective in D.C.: It’s what Hill Republicans have told me, it’s what the White House has told me, it what Hill Democrats have told me. The various camps disagree on whether Republicans are right to refuse a deal that includes further tax increases, but they all agree that that’s the key fact holding up a compromise to replace the sequester.

But it’s unpopular for Republicans to simply say they won’t agree to any compromise and there’s no deal to be had — particularly since taxing the wealthy is more popular than cutting entitlements, and so their position is less popular than Obama’s. That’s made it important for Republicans to prove that it’s the president who is somehow holding up a deal.

This had led to a lot of Republicans fanning out to explain what the president should be offering if he was serious about making a deal. Then, when it turns out that the president did offer those items, there’s more furious hand-waving about how no, actually, this is what the president needs to offer to make a deal. Then, when it turns out he’s offered most of that, too, the hand-waving stops and the truth comes out: Republicans won’t make a deal that includes further taxes, they just want to get the White House to implement their agenda in return for nothing. Luckily for them, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t get that far, and the initial comments that the president needs to “get serious” on entitlements is met with sage nods.

I don’t mean to pick on Murphy, who, as I said, is an important guide to contemporary Republican politics and a force for good in his party. But his series of missives on the subject today offered an unusually clear view of where the GOP actually is in the budget debate, and why there was really no alternative to the sequester. There’s no deal even if Obama agrees to major Republican demands on entitlements. There’s no deal because Republicans don’t want to make a deal that includes taxes, no matter what they get in return for it.

The interesting question is whether the possibility of a government shutdown, a debt-ceiling breach or simply the pressure of the sequester’s cuts will, in the coming months, break one side or the other. But as long as the GOP’s position is they won’t compromise, there’s not going to be a compromise.