RSS feed
Echo Chambers
22 October 2014 Last updated at 13:56 ET

'It's rape': High school football hazing charges stun town

Championship banners for the town high school American football team hang from a wall in Sayreville, NJ High school football is a source of pride in Sayreville, NJ, and many other small US towns

A small New Jersey town is reeling weeks after seven high-school varsity American football players were accused of charges ranging from hazing to aggravated sexual assault earlier this month.

According to the victims, seniors on the Sayreville War Memorial High School team would run into the locker room, turn the lights off, pin them to the floor and, at the very least, grab their buttocks. This allegedly happened on multiple occasions between 19 and 29 September.

Three of the players are facing more serious charges, including the sexual penetration of one victim.

Start Quote

By calling sexual abuse hazing, society grants those perpetrators a free pass”

End Quote Gary Phillips The Journal News

This may have been a orchestrated event. Four players would hold a victim on the floor while two were on lookout, one parent told NJ.com after their son confided in them. One player would signal the start of the process with a howl, then turn off the lights and assault the freshman.

Two victims interviewed by the New York Times, including one who said he was digitally penetrated from behind, said they were wearing football pants at the time and didn't consider what happened to be that serious.

Stories of older members of the team pinning down freshmen team-mates and assaulting them in a dark locker room as others cheered initially shocked the community. But after superintendent of schools Richard Labbe cancelled the rest of the team's season, many students and parents defended the programme and criticised what they saw as a punishment that extended to players who were not involved.

"If freshman thought we hated them before, we sure as hell hate them now," one 16-year-old student wrote on Twitter shortly after the season was cancelled.

During a school board meeting, according to Sports Illustrated, dozens of players and parents protested against the decision to cancel the season.

"They were talking about a butt being grabbed," one player's mother, Madeline Thillet, said. "That's about it. No one was hurt. No one died."

In reaction to the extreme backlash, the victims may be minimising the story, say Nate Shweber, Kim Barker and Jason Grant in the New York Times. They write that there has been an "atmosphere of recrimination" since the season's cancellation.

"The search is on for the snitches - the kids who killed football in Sayreville," they write.

Gary Phillips of the Journal News, a newspaper in the Lower Hudson River Valley of New York, says he has a problem with how many people have been referring to what happened as hazing at all. He writes that hazing is a part of team culture, but it is too often an excuse to bully or cause suffering.

What happened in Sayreville was not hazing, he says. What happened had nothing to do with initiation or building camaraderie.

"By calling sexual abuse hazing, society grants those perpetrators a free pass and downplays the brutality of their actions," he writes. "What is actually a very serious crime is passed off as a 'rite of passage' ritual that went too far."

Sayreville, NJ, high school football players attend a board of education meeting the day after their season was cancelled. Savyreville high school athletes attend a board of education meeting the day after learning their American football season was cancelled

Michael Kasdan says there's another word for what happened.

"It's rape," he writes for the Good Men Project. "Yes, it occurred as part of a football team hazing program, and it is boys acting against other boys, but - if the allegations are true - it is rape just the same."

Kasdan says that what happened in Sayreville was abuse, with the sexual aspect being another way to assert dominance.

While the stories are disturbing, they are far from uncommon, says Robert Silverman of the Daily Beast. It's a part of a larger issue across the country and at all levels of the sport.

He says that there is a direct connection between the stories in Sayreville, bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room, the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case and the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal. In all of these cases, the perpetrators had been told that they weren't beholden to the regular rules that all other members of society have to follow.

Silverman says that cancelling the season was the right thing to do.

Start Quote

This vicious, ugly chapter must serve as a wake-up call”

End Quote Editorial Asbury Park Press

"The tragedy here isn't a lost season, it's the four boys that raped, and the absolution of individual and collective responsibility," he writes.

So what happens next?

The editors of the Asbury Park Press are hoping for a change in how schools across the country keep tabs on athletes in their locker rooms.

They write that school boards everywhere should put in place policies that require someone, ideally a member of the coaching staff, to always be present in the facilities until every player leaves. What goes on in the locker room is the school's responsibility, they say.

"If they didn't know, they should have," they write. "The damage is done, children have been harmed. They have to go. This vicious, ugly chapter must serve as a wake-up call that safeguarding students' safety and well-being must be a priority."

New York Post's Naomi Schaefer Riley says that there also needs to be more of an adult presence at home.

She writes that it is illogical to think that anti-bullying rules will make any huge impact on the behaviour of teenagers or the adults who are supervising them. Instead of focusing so much on grades, athletics and other extracurricular activities, perhaps parents need to reorder their priorities, she says.

"When it comes to their friends, we have failed to teach them not only to be good but to judge the character of others, not just adhere to some mindless teen code of loyalty," she writes.

(By Kierran Petersen)


Ebola, race and fear

A woman puts on a surgical mask during hospital Ebola training in Alabama.

The examples of Ebola hysteria in the US are growing too numerous to count.

Two students from Rwanda, 2,600 miles (4,148km) from West Africa, are sent home from a New Jersey elementary school for 21 days. A Maine high school teacher is given three weeks off because she attended a convention in Dallas, Texas.

A Texas college sends out letters to prospective students from disease-free Nigeria informing them that they are no longer accepting applications from countries with "confirmed Ebola cases". A Pennsylvania high school football player is met by chants of "Ebola" from the opposing team. A middle school principal goes to a funeral in Zambia, also with no cases of Ebola, and is put on paid administrative leave for a week.

Start Quote

In both the United States and Europe, Ebola is increasing racial profiling and reviving imagery of the 'Dark Continent'”

End Quote Robin Wright CNN

Some writers think they've found a theme that energises these fears, tying many of these incidents together: racism.

"In both the United States and Europe, Ebola is increasing racial profiling and reviving imagery of the 'Dark Continent'," writes Robin Wright, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, for CNN. "The disease is persistently portrayed as West African, or African, or from countries in a part of the world that is racially black, even though nothing medically differentiates the vulnerability of any race to Ebola."

And as the disease is associated with blacks, she says, it contributes to and feeds off already existing racism in Western society.

The Verge's Arielle Duhaime-Ross takes note of reports that residents of the immigrant-populated Dallas neighbourhood where Thomas Eric Duncan first displayed Ebola symptoms are experiencing "immense discrimination".

line
US opinion shifting on Ebola

A survey by Pew Research Center released on Tuesday suggests Americans are becoming more concerned about the spread of the Ebola - but they haven't lost faith in the US hospital system or the federal government to deal with any outbreaks.

Pew found that 41% of Americans are worried that they or a family member will be exposed to the virus (up from 32% in early October).

Among the 2,003 adults surveyed, 61% said they still have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in US hospitals "to diagnose and isolate" any possible Ebola cases. The federal government still has the trust of 54% of the public to prevent a major Ebola outbreak.

Nonstop news coverage of the Ebola story appears to have had an effect, with 98% of respondents saying they've heard at least "a little" about the disease.

line

"The colour of their skin and their accents make them a target, even though they never came into contact with Duncan, and therefore pose zero risk," she writes. "It doesn't matter: they're dark-skinned and foreign. They're in Dallas. They might be infectious."

The Guardian's Hannah Giorgis says examples like these shed light on the way many Westerners are viewing the outbreak.

"Ebola now functions in popular discourse as a not-so-subtle, almost completely rhetorical stand-in for any combination of 'African-ness', 'blackness', 'foreign-ness' and 'infestation' - a nebulous but powerful threat, poised to ruin the perceived purity of Western borders and bodies," she writes. "Dead African bodies are the nameless placeholders for (unwarranted, racist) 'panic', a conversation topic too heavy for the dinner table yet light enough for supermarket aisles."

Start Quote

White guilt shines the spotlight on white liberal heroism and reduces blacks to supporting players in the white man's drama”

End Quote Danusha Goska The American Thinker

According to the National Review's Charles CW Cooke, however, the accusations of racism are like the fable of the little boy who cried wolf. He says Giorgis and her "fellow travellers" are "shepherds of the asinine, undermining the very cause to which they hope to draw attention".

"We can either regard the word 'Ebola' as an opportunity for the promulgation of chichi sociology essays, or - preferably, I think - we can recognise that we are talking here about a serious problem that requires a serious remedy," he says.

Danusha Goska, writing in the American Thinker, asserts that race is a factor in the reaction to the Ebola outbreak, but not in the way liberals present it.

Instead, she writes, "white guilt" is the real complicating factor. It's preventing Western nations from taking the necessary steps to combat the disease, such as changing tribal customs that tolerate the consumption of possibly dangerous bush meat and encourage unsafe burial ceremonies that involve the handling of possibly contagious corpses.

Television satellite vans park outside Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. The presence of the Ebola virus on US soil has set off a media frenzy

"White guilt shines the spotlight on white liberal heroism and reduces blacks to supporting players in the white man's drama," she writes. "Blacks exist only to be pathetic, to be helpless and to supply the white ego with a black object to save. Any problems that significantly involve black people are not to be talked about with the same clarity we devote to other problems."

For David Brooks of the New York Times, race isn't the problem, class is. Americans live in an increasingly segmented society, alienated from their political, cultural and scientific leaders.

"The Ebola crisis has aroused its own flavour of fear," he writes. "It's not the heart-pounding fear you might feel if you were running away from a bear or some distinct threat. It's a sour, existential fear. It's a fear you feel when the whole environment seems hostile, when the things that are supposed to keep you safe, like national borders and national authorities, seem porous and ineffective, when some menace is hard to understand."

More than 70 years ago the fear during World War Two prompted the US to round up more than 110,000 citizens of Japanese descent and put them in detention camps. They were easy to identify and thought to pose a threat to the nation's safety.

The US Supreme Court, in Korematsu v United States, said that such internments were constitutional. It's a precedent that the court has never overturned.

Fear can make a people commit unspeakable acts. Three cases of Ebola on US soil have set off reactions, and over-reactions, across the country. Whether the culprit is racism, xenophobia or simple ignorance, this crisis has revealed that foundation on which civil society rests can be uncertain.

Given the science of Ebola, the prospect of three cases turning into 300 or 3,000 in the US are miniscule. But the threat Ebola has exposed - what Brooks calls the "weakness in the fabric of our culture" - has been laid bare.

The next crisis, the next contagion of fear, may not be so easy to contain.


Did liberalism win the US culture war?

Two women hold signs promoting gay marriage rights outside a Utah courthouse.

The US Supreme Court's recent non-decision decision to allow multiple lower-court rulings against same-sex marriage bans to stand has led to a spate of articles declaring the Great American Culture War to be over.

Done. Finished. Close books and mark it final. A victory for the forces of liberalism and tolerance - or hedonism and immorality, depending on your political proclivities.

For those not familiar with the history of the US culture war, its unofficial beginning came in 1992, with populist firebrand Patrick Buchanan's Republican National Convention speech in which he described a religious war for the soul of America.

"It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself," he continued.

Start Quote

With a little more foresight and a little less bigotry, Republicans could have realized that misguided cultural attitudes toward gays would naturally diminish over time”

End Quote Bill Scher Politico

He identified abortion, gay rights, religious discrimination and women in US combat forces as among the key battlegrounds on which the war would be fought.

The movement arguably reached its apogee in the early 2000s, with the drive to incorporate gay marriage bans into state constitutions. In 2004 alone voters in 11 states approved such measures.

By 2012, 33 states had adopted gay marriage bans. Then, thanks to successful legal challenges across the country, the legal bulwark religious conservatives had constructed over a decade crumbled and fell.

All that was left was the movement post-mortems and the New York Times editorial.

Bill Scher of the Campaign for America's Future offers the liberal take on how and why the religious conservative movement seemingly has run aground.

He says conservatives never should have committed themselves so fully and irrevocably on the gay marriage issue. Their efforts alienated young voters without a commensurate increase in turnout from their political base.

"With a little more foresight and a little less bigotry, Republicans could have realized that misguided cultural attitudes toward gays would naturally diminish over time, and divined better ways to rally the conservative troops," he says.

The movement's leaders also abandoned a pragmatic approach to limiting abortion, Scher asserts. Instead of incremental steps, such as prohibiting late-term abortions and parental consent laws, they opted for sweeping "personhood" laws that would ban some forms of contraception and abortion even in the case of rape and incest.

"Perhaps Republicans were impatient with incremental progress," he writes. "Perhaps the party lacked a strong leadership figure who could keep fringe players in check. But Republicans made a decision on abortion strategy that they didn't have to make."

Patrick Buchanan speaks at a campaign event in 1991 Is Pat Buchanan's culture war over?

Outside the Beltway's James Joyner says it's undeniable that abortion and contraception strategies were disastrous for conservatives.

"Essentially, as Northeastern, Midwestern and Western moderates became marginalised in the party, the Southern cultural conservatives took over the issue framing," he writes. "Whereas the former were true conservatives, fighting to preserve traditional cultural norms, the latter were radicals seeking to impose a puritanical set of policies with very little appeal on the country through the legislative process."

On gay marriage, however, Joyner says Scher confuses outcome with cause.

"Being wrong on gay marriage is evidence that Republicans lost the culture wars, not the reason they lost," he writes.

Mary Rice Hasson, writing for the website Aleteia, says conservatives shouldn't readily accept defeat. Shifts in public opinion can be transitory, while the principles that undergird their movement - human dignity, value and destiny - are enduring.

Start Quote

The next culture war could pit devout secularists against a shrinking religious minority determined to live in accordance with their beliefs”

End Quote Rehan Salam Slate

"True, American culture does seem to be spiraling towards ever-increasing individualism, utilitarianism, secularism and hedonism, profoundly affecting our relationships with others," she writes. "Self-focused hearts become hardened towards the profoundly disabled or the lonely elderly, disconnected from neighbours and friends, utilitarian towards the human embryos conceived and destroyed during in vitro fertilisation, calloused towards women who become 'breeders' through surrogacy contracts or who become caught up in the sex trade, and indifferent to the loneliness and hardships of immigrants."

The battles may be difficult for her side, she says, "but the real 'war' will never be lost."

Several writers echo Hasson's view of a culture clash that, while different, will endure.

Dick Meyer of Scripps writes that while social issues may no longer be at the forefront of today's policy battles, the cultural polarisation that they reflected is still around and exacerbated by today's politicians.

Slate's Rehan Salam identifies the debate over religious freedom, embodied in the recent Supreme Court decision to allow employers to opt out of providing insurance that covers some forms of contraception, as a possible central focus of a renewed culture conflict.

"The next culture war could pit devout secularists against a shrinking religious minority determined to live in accordance with their beliefs," he writes.

The abortion issue also isn't going away, he notes, as some states continue to push for a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The next big debate could be about reproductive technology that doesn't yet exist, he says, such as artificial wombs and eugenics. Or it could have nothing to do with marriage and sex and instead be a result of the rise of Latino culture in the US.

"Given that the Latino population is poorer than the population at large, we can expect that its members will press for a larger share of public resources at a time when the white and black populations will be aging rapidly," he writes. "It is not at all obvious that non-Latinos will embrace this prospect."

The "culture war" as we know it may be coming to a close. Political conflict, drawn from differing agendas, experiences and priorities, is as old as humankind, however. It's not going anywhere.


Recreational sex is a rich person's game

A young man and woman sit on a couch in front of a private jet.

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

The US doesn't want poor people to have sex. Or rather, it has instituted policies that deny the economically disadvantaged easy access to low-cost birth control, either through insurance or publicly funded family planning programmes.

Catherine Rampell comes to this conclusion in a Washington Post column on Friday.

She notes that the US doesn't seem all that interested in teaching low-income children about contraception in school, giving them easy access to the abortions or caring for the resulting children, either.

"By process of elimination, the solution for low-income people is to never, ever have sex," she says. Enforced celibacy, it seems, is the hoped-for outcome.

While some on the right welcome what they see as a trend towards valuing virginity among teen girls, Rampell calls this kind of logic "magical thinking":

"The belief that we can get entire classes of Americans to practise abstinence until they're financially ready for marriage and children is a right-wing delusion on par with the left-wing delusions that go into socialism: both rely on a fundamental miscalculation about human nature. If the socialists wished to legislate away self-interest, the moralists wish to legislate away libido."

She concludes that it's just another example of the two Americas that live separate and side-by side, rich and poor.

High-income, highly educated Americans have plenty of options when it comes to fertility, she argues - help avoiding pregnancy when they don't want it; help getting pregnant when they do.

Meanwhile, Rampell says, low-income women "drift" into childbearing at an early age, unplanned and often unwanted, at a time when motherhood can have an enormous impact on future productivity and success.

The conservative response, touched on in a tweet by New Hampshire Union-Leader editorial page editor Drew Cline, is that objection to "free" contraception services does not mean they think the poor shouldn't have sex.

He notes that a month's supply of birth control pills costs $6 at retailer Wal-Mart.

China

Rumblings of internal dissent - Chinese President Xi Jinping can't survive the emergence - unheard of in his nation's 5,000 year history - of an educated, enquiring and restless middle class, says Peter Popham of the Independent. "That's why the rule of Beijing is so abhorrent to Hong Kongers."

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou had the same message earlier this month. "Now is the most appropriate time for mainland China to move toward constitutional democracy," he said. "Now that the 1.3 billion people on the mainland have become moderately wealthy, they will of course wish to enjoy democracy and rule of law. Such a desire has never been the monopoly of the West, but is the right of all humankind."

Popham says that the right way for Hong Kong and the mainland to integrate would be for the latter to take on the healthy attributes of the former. "Whether President Xi is sagacious enough for that task remains to be seen."

Iraq

Karl Rove covered up Iraq's real weapons of mass destruction? - This week the New York Times accused the George W Bush administration of covering up US troops wounded by abandoned chemical weapons. Dave Wurmser - a former senior adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney - said that "in 2005-6, [White House political advisor] Karl Rove and his team blocked public disclosure of these (findings) and said: 'Let these sleeping dogs lie; we have lost that fight so better not to remind anyone of it.'"

"After the US found thousands of the old chemical-weapons shells, Wurmser and others at one point argued that they had an obligation to declare the stocks of chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy them," writes Eli Lake in the Daily Beast. "The United States was, after all, the occupier of Iraq and had assumed the country's sovereign responsibilities as a signatory to the convention… But 'it was all for nothing; Rove wanted the issue buried,' Wurmser said."

At the end of the day, Lake says, the White House behaviour at the time was not a cover-up, as was implied in the Times story. "I would just say they simply didn't want to discuss it."

Canada

A higher minimum wage in practice - Christopher Flavelle of Bloomberg View argues a $10.10 [£6.27] minimum hourly wage would neither change America for the better nor destroy a million jobs, based on the case study that is Canada.

In 2014 every province in Canada had set its minimum wage at $10 Canadian an hour or higher. British Columbia, which had the biggest increase of any province, saw its unemployment rate fall by almost a full point over the same period, to 6.7 %.

On the other hand, the share of people with low incomes fell just 0.4% in four years, even as the minimum wage increased 16% in real terms during the same period.

"The link with poverty and the minimum wage is almost zero," Stephen Gordon, an economics professor at the University of Laval in Quebec City, tells Flavelle. "Lots of people who earn the minimum wage are not in poverty, and a lot in poverty don't earn the minimum wage - the problem is they're not working, or the number of hours they get.

Belize

US pot movement has southern implications - It's time to legalise, or at the very least decriminalise, marijuana in Belize, argues G Michael Reid of the Belize Times. After all, he says, the country's stringent enforcement laws were precipitated by pressure from the US, where many states have already altered existing penalties for marijuana possession. To illustrate the international contradiction, Reid shares a bit of the US/Belize history on the marijuana prohibition.

"As early as 1973, but yet as late as 1984, [Belize] gave [the US] permission to destroy marijuana fields in Belize," he writes. "The destruction of the fields was carried about by the spraying of a deadly chemical known as paraquat. Interestingly enough, in 1983, the year before they came to spray in Belize, the US had banned the use of Paraquat in its own national forests, citing serious environmental concerns."

Reid explains that marijuana growers in Belize salvaged what they could of the destroyed fields and sold the toxic substance both at home and, ironically, to markets in the US.

"What has been proven and what makes much more sense is that the easing of marijuana laws would save the country a lot of money in enforcement expense and would free up the police to address the real and more serious crimes," he concludes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Palestinian commentators review efforts to rebuild Gaza after battles between Israeli forces and Hamas left much of the territory in ruins.

"The slow speed in dealing with the needs of thousands of displaced people will turn the entire Gaza Strip into a huge refugee camp with tens of thousands of tents. This is a violation of the dignity of the people and a denial of their steadfastness. It will also create dangerous social, humanitarian and health problems." - Ayman Abu-Nahiyah in Filastin Online.

"Let everyone rest assured that Gaza will be rebuilt and the resistance will continue strengthening and preparing itself ahead of any new act of aggression. Attempts to blackmail our people and link the reconstruction to disarmament will be to no avail." - Ibrahim al-Madhun in Al-Risalah.‎

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.


Obama, Katrina and the politics of Ebola

President Barack Obama talks with his Ebola Response Team on 16 October.

Ebola the virus has infected only a handful of Americans. Ebola the political crisis, however, is reaching epidemic proportions.

As with most major stories, pundits and politicians are quick to ask what it means for President Barack Obama. Is he up? Is he down? That's even more the case now, with mid-term elections looming that could shape the nation's political agenda for the next two years.

Justin Sink, of the Washington newspaper The Hill, calls the story "an anchor threatening to sink the Obama presidency".

He contends that by not stepping in earlier to take control of treating the infected away from the local Dallas hospital, the president re-enforced existing criticisms of his ability - and could endanger his fellow Democrats running for office.

Start Quote

The government's response to the outbreak has exposed the weakness of the modern administrative state”

End Quote John Daniel Davidson The Federalist

"Democrats are expected to lose significant ground in those contests, in no small part due to public dissatisfaction with Obama and resilient questions about the president's competency," he writes.

Sink becomes the latest to invoke the K-word, Katrina, comparing Mr Obama's political situation with that of his predecessor, George W Bush, whose approval ratings cratered following botched recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005.

"The former president, doomed by a series of political and policy missteps, became quickly viewed as incompetent, limiting his ability to govern effectively," he writes.

Although there hasn't been a "major error" like Katrina, he says, "the cumulative effect of careening through an unrelenting two years of crises, from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Secret Service, has had a similar effect on perceptions of the president."

The problem, writes the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, is the administration's response, particularly at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been "marked by double talk, runaround and gobbledygook".

"It is my impression that everyone who speaks for the government on this issue has been instructed to imagine his audience as anxious children," she writes. "It feels like how the paediatrician talks to the child, not the parents."

President George Bush speaks about post-Hurricane Katrina disaster response in New Orleans. President Bush's much-criticised handling of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is considered a turning point in his presidency

Like many other conservative critics, she wants the president to impose a US travel ban on citizens of affected African nations. It's a move the administration has so far resisted, arguing that it could be circumvented by people fleeing to ban-free countries, increasing the odds that the virus spreads in Africa.

While the Obama-is-incompetent line plays itself out in expected fashion, other conservatives are expanding their critique.

"The government's response to the outbreak has exposed the weakness of the modern administrative state in general," says the Texas Public Policy Foundation analyst John Daniel Davidson.

Start Quote

If President Obama found a cure for cancer, these would be the people who would blame him for putting doctors out of work”

End Quote LZ Granderson CNN

History, he writes in the Federalist, has shown that faith in government bureaucracies is misplaced and that better funding for agencies doesn't mean they're any more competent at their responsibilities.

"Perhaps it's time for officials at the CDC and the White House to admit that we're not entirely sure how easy it is to spread Ebola, stop blaming funding shortages, and unleash the power of private innovation to combat the virus," he concludes.

National Review's Yuval Levin takes that argument a step further.

"Do we really expect (or even want) our government to have the power and ability to smooth all of life's edges and be ready in an instant to address the consequences of, say, a major hurricane or massive oil spill or deadly disease outbreak?" he asks. "What do we think that government would be doing with that power the rest of the time?"

The ferocity of the attacks has some on the left shaking their heads.

"If President Obama found a cure for cancer, these would be the people who would blame him for putting doctors out of work," writes CNN's LZ Granderson.

"How can President Obama's response be characterised as negligent when his administration began directing resources - including more than $21m (£13m) from the US Agency for International Development - to areas hit with the virus within days of the first Ebola diagnosis?" he asks.

While the CDC and the Dallas hospital have made their share of mistakes, writes Talking Points Memo's Dylan Scott, the criticism of Mr Obama is overblown.

"Other legacy-defining crises - Obama's Katrinas, if you will, and that's been used now with Ebola, too - have come and gone," he writes. "The media have hyped those as well. Now Americans need level-headed information so that they know that their lives aren't imminently at risk because of Ebola."

It would be nice if conservatives could cool their rhetoric, writes the National Memo's Joe Conason.

"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when the country faced what felt like an existential crisis, many public figures, especially Republicans, urged everyone to put national unity and cooperation ahead of partisan bickering," he says. "It would be good if, just this once, they would follow their own advice."

Of course such advice could also be applied to the left-leaning group that was quick to blame Republican budget decisions for the Ebola outbreak in a television advert with the tagline "Republican cuts kill".

As a Bloomberg View editorial notes, neither side is covering itself with glory here.

"Instead there is the tiresome back-and-forth that both minimizes and exaggerates the government's role," they write. "Not only does it fail on its own terms, but it also represents a cramped and parochial response to what is, after all, a global crisis."

At this point the jury's still out on whether the US government's handling of the Ebola crisis will - at last, for real this time! - be Mr Obama's Katrina, tanking his poll ratings and adversely affecting Democrats on the ballot this November.

Meanwhile thousands in Africa continue to die. The only thing that seems clear in the US is that the word "Katrina" has become established political shorthand for toxic government incompetence, just as any noteworthy scandal gets a "-gate" suffix.

Hmmm. Ebola-gate. How has that not caught on yet? With 18 days to the elections, there's still time.

Someone call Peggy Noonan.


Is the oil crash a secret US war on Russia?

A woman pumps petrol into her car.

Lower oil prices, reflected in falling petrol prices at the pump, have been a boon for Western consumers. Are they also a potent US weapon against Russia and Iran?

That's the conclusion drawn by New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman, who says the US and Saudi Arabia, whether by accident or design, could be pumping Russia and Iran to brink of economic collapse.

Despite turmoil in many of the world's oil-producing countries - Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria - prices are hitting lows not seen in years, Friedman writes.

Start Quote

This is business, but it also has the feel of war by other means: oil”

End Quote Thomas Friedman New York Times

Analysts identify a number of possible reasons for the steep drop - increased US production, slowing economies in Europe and China and steady production from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec).

Rather than look at the causes, however, Friedman says to look at the result - budget shortfalls in Russia and Iran - and what it means.

Who benefits? He asks. The US wants its Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia to have more bite. Both the Saudis and the US are fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria.

"This is business, but it also has the feel of war by other means: oil," he writes.

Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times agrees that both Russia and Iran are starting to feel the squeeze of lower prices, although he doesn't go as far as Friedman in speculating about a secret war.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says it's tough going for petro-dictators

"The economic pressure isn't expected to change Putin's aggressive efforts to retain strong influence over Ukraine, which he considers non-negotiable," Richter writes. "But they are causing strains in his relations with the Russian elite and business establishment, two pillars of his political support."

As for Iran, he writes, an oil price of anything less than $100 [£62.41] a barrel will create onerous budget deficits and undermine the nation's position in ongoing nuclear negotiations with the West. The closing price on Wednesday was $81.40.

Start Quote

One can only hope that the oil sheikhs will come to their senses, curtail production and stabilize prices at least at $90 per barrel”

End Quote Nikolay Makeyev and Konstantin Smirnov Moskovskiy Komsomolets

"Iran's economic resurgence had enabled Iranian officials to claim they could get by even if the talks collapsed without providing further relief from tough international sanctions," he writes.

In Russia, the media have taken notice.

"The Russian economy's dependence on energy resources, gas and oil first and foremost, is often compared to drug addiction; people say that it is 'on the oil needle'," write the editors of Nezavisimaya Gazeta (translated by BBC Monitoring).

"In this case, dealings to decrease oil prices on the global market can justifiably be compared to triggering agonies that are no less painful than withdrawal from a drug. And this is being done with obvious geopolitical aims to undermine the country's economy and its influence on the global arena."

Nikolay Makeyev and Konstantin Smirnov write in Moskovskiy Komsomolets that they fear a more severe replay of the 2008-09 economic crisis: "One can only hope that the oil sheikhs will come to their senses, curtail production and stabilise prices at least at $90 per barrel."

Friedman's neo-Cold War theories aren't the only speculation making the rounds at the moment, however. For some analysts, the oil drop has everything to do with increased US production threatening Saudi Arabia's standing as the pre-eminent oil-producing nation.

Russia and Iran, in this formulation, are just not-so-innocent bystanders.

"The Saudis have seen the oil price stable through international geopolitical crises, first by increasing production to accommodate Iran, Syria and Sudan's decreasing production and then by accommodating Iraq's rising production," writes Akhil Handa of the Indian Republic.

That's changed, however, with the 70% increase in US production over the last six years.

"In a bid to restore balance Saudi could be playing its cost advantage against the higher-cost shale oil producers," he continues. "Saudi will perhaps have to let oil prices slide to $75-80 and let it stay there for a while for some US drillers to move out of the businesses and hence pricing power to get restored back with Saudi."

What's clear is that the sharp drop in oil prices is creating very distinct winners and losers on the world stage. What's not so clear is who, if anyone, is pulling the strings.

It's human nature to speculate about the schemes of behind-the-scenes players when the stakes are so high. It can also be comforting - a much preferable alternative to a system where the health of nations is determined by the random permutations of fate and the chaotic fluctuations of an uncontrollable market.


US reaction to UK Palestine vote

A protestor waves a Palestinian flag during August 2014 demonstrations in Pakistan.

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

It was a symbolic action, but symbols can be powerful.

On Monday the British House of Commons voted 274 to 12 to recommend that the UK recognise Palestine as a state alongside Israel (half the body's members were absent or abstained).

Labour MP Grahame Morris, who presented the motion, told the BBC it is the "right thing to do".

"There's a huge feeling in the country that this is the time," he said.

The action in the UK comes on the heels of a 3 October announcement by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven that his would be the first major Western European nation to formally recognise a Palestine state.

In the US, where prospects of any similar recognition - either by President Barack Obama or the US Congress - are slim to none, reaction has been mixed.

The New York Times editorial board says the UK has sent a message to Israel and its allies.

"The vote is one more sign of the frustration many people in Europe feel about the failure to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement despite years of promises," the editors write.

Labour MP Grahame Morris says Palestine recognition is the "right thing to do"

John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker that while Israel's supporters may be quick to dismiss the UK vote as "animated by prejudice", a statement during the debate made by conservative MP Sir Richard Ottaway should be a wake-up call.

"Ottaway is a military veteran, and he represents an affluent constituency south of London," Cassidy writes. "He voted for the Iraq War and has long been regarded as a staunch ally of Israel."

Mr Ottaway said "Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion".

"The annexation of 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, " he said, "mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent."

In the Huffington Post, Arab American Institute president James Zogby writes that while the UK's action may generate an uproar among Israel's supporters in Washington, these politicians may find themselves increasingly isolated.

"This could have the salutary effect of producing a much needed American debate on Palestinian rights," he says.

Meanwhile, Commentary's Jonathan S Tobin dismisses what he calls a "farce" vote.

"This says a lot more about the willingness of Europeans to pressure and even demonise Israel than it does about their supposed support for peace," he writes.

There are two governments operating in the Palestinian territories, he writes. Which one do the UK MPs think should be recognised? "The weak, corrupt and undemocratic Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or the terrorist Hamas state in Gaza? Or both?"

(For reaction in the Israeli media, see the BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day, below.)

Bolivia

A socialist success story - Socialist Evo Morales was re-elected to serve a third term as president of Bolivia Tuesday after eight years of extraordinary socio-economic reforms, writes Ellie Mae O'Hagan for the Guardian.

According to a report by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research(CEPR), "Bolivia has grown much faster over the last eight years than in any period over the past three and a half decades."

O'Hagan says that Morales has made enemies in the White House, possibly because of his calls for the international legalisation of the coca leaf, which is chewed as part of Bolivian culture but can also be refined into cocaine.

"However Morales uses his third term, it's clear that what he's done already has been remarkable," she concludes. "He has defied the conventional wisdom that says left-wing policies damage economic growth, that working-class people can't run successful economies and that politics can't be transformative - and he's done all of this in the face of enormous political pressure from the IMF, the international business community and the US government."

Haiti

A tragic legacy - Haiti's former leader Jean-Claude Duvalier is dead, but Duvalierism lives on, reports Amy Wilentz in the Nation.

"The corruption he and his father encouraged, and their political toolbox - authoritarianism, trumped up elections, distrust of free speech, corruption of the forces of order, and no justice - are the methods by which Haiti's ruler still controls the country," she writes.

The US continues to support Haitian President Michel Martelly, she says, despite his efforts to block real democracy.

"Only yesterday [US Ambassador to the UN] Samantha Power attacked the Haitian opposition for standing in the way of elections," she writes. "But the opposition has had good reasons for putting obstacles in Martelly's way, not least the concern that the elections he hopes to organise will not include all parties, and will be overseen by an electoral council that is neither honest nor objective."

China

History behind global ambitions - Chinese President Xi Jinping is appealing to political leaders throughout Europe and Asia to build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, a foreign-policy initiative aimed at boosting international cooperation and joint development throughout Eurasia, writes Indian MP Shashi Tharoor

"Xi has emphasized that the goal of the Silk Road economic initiative is to revive ancient ties of friendship in the contemporary globalised world," he writes for Project Syndicate. "But he undoubtedly has a domestic motive as well, rooted in the growing prosperity gap between eastern and western China."

Xi may face political resistance - especially with regard to the maritime route, Tharoor says. Memories of Imperial Japan's "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere", built through conquest, linger.

"Might China be on a similar - albeit less openly aggressive - path?" he asks.

Syria

An endgame after the Islamic State - Michael Bell of Toronto's Globe and Mail wonders what Iraq and Syria will look like when and if the power of IS is broken by air and ground offensives.

"In the search for some kind of power balance that satisfies minorities and majorities alike, the Lebanese model of consociational power sharing - despite its flaws - may just offer a realistic way out, ensuring a relatively stable political order in the presently anarchic states of Iraq and Syria," he writes.

The alternatives are stark, Bell says. In the case of Syria, the allies are caught between radical Islam, a badly splintered moderate opposition and the Assad regime.

"The latter, however much we might be loath to admit it, did provide security and stability, for most who kept their heads down," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Israeli commentators react to the vote in the UK House of Commons to endorse recognition of a Palestinian state.

"The very fact that a major Western European nation's parliament has granted Palestine diplomatic recognition could result in a snowball effect - passage of the motion legitimates the position that Israel is to blame for the conflict." - Editorial in the Jerusalem Post.

"What we have here is a private proposal of backbenchers of the kind that generally a small number of MPs vote on it, and the participation of 286 MPs in the vote is almost unprecedented… The fact that so many MPs felt the need to participate in the discussion and vote, should light a red warning light in Israel." - Anshel Pfeffer in Ha'aretz.

"England, it seems, will never forgive a small group of Jewish freedom fighters, members of the pre state underground movements, who contributed with their courage and strong spirits to the shrinking of the empire on which the sun never set." - Haim Shain in Yisrael Hayom.‎

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.


Girl meets Hillary Clinton, freaks out

Macy Friday shakes the hand of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Call it Exhibit A for those touting Hillary Clinton's political star power.

During a stop in Denver, Colorado, on Tuesday to support Democratic Senator Mark Udall's re-election campaign, the former first lady took a moment to meet bystander Macy Friday and her family.

The 10-year-old's ecstatic reaction, captured by an Associated Press photographer, has made headlines in a mid-term campaign season that is quickly entering its dispiriting go-negative-or-go-home final weeks.

Start Quote

Hillary Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, now elicits a stronger reaction from children than Santa Claus does”

End Quote Lulu Chang Busle

"That right there is a genuine 'I got a puppy, no, TWO puppies!' face," observes Wonkette's Doktor Zoom.

The Washington Post's Jamie Fuller writes that Friday's expression would be quite familiar to fathers "chaperoning a minivan full of teenagers at a One Direction concert". She goes on to note that other 2016 presidential contender elicit much less enthusiastic reactions from youngsters.

Almost as fun as Friday's expression, says PolicyMic's Gregory Krieg, is Ms Clinton's look of amused surprise at the reaction.

"She knows from fanboys and girls," he writes, "but she's clearly, well, taken aback by this one. Extra points for keeping a firm grip on that cup and cap."

For those jaded by the day-in, day-out churn of politics, it's easy to forget that the former secretary of state is more than just another politician to many Americans. Love her or hate her, at the moment she is the leading candidate to be the first female US president - a role model for girls like Friday.

The Friday family take a group selfie with former First Lady Hillary Clinton. No meeting with the former first lady is complete without a group selfie

"Hillary Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, now elicits a stronger reaction from children than Santa Claus does," writes Bustle's Lulu Chang. "Better yet, she's not fictional, which must've contributed to Macy's intense excitement - after all, it's not every day that you run into a legend at your local coffee shop."

Putting aside partisan politics, Macy Friday's pure, unadulterated joy is refreshing to see.

Now back to the mud-slinging.


Is Amazon a failure of capitalism?

Boxes are piled inside of an Amazon warehouse. According to Franklin Foer, Amazon's massive size allows it to intimidate suppliers

According to the New Republic's Franklin Foer, internet retailer Amazon is a 21st Century monopoly, quietly squashing public interests and edging out important competition.

He writes that even if Amazon isn't breaking the letter of antitrust laws, which attempt to regulate industry to promote an atmosphere of equal competition, it is violating them in spirit.

Start Quote

Amazon has left a trail of destruction - competitors undercut, suppliers squeezed - some of it necessary, and some of it highly worrisome.”

End Quote Franklin Foer The New Republic

"In effect, we've been thrust back 100 years to a time when the law was not up to the task of protecting the threats to democracy posed by monopoly; a time when the new nature of the corporation demanded a significant revision of government," he writes.

His evidence? First, there's the abusive way the company treats its workers. He cites the incident in which Amazon hired paramedics to revive workers suffering from heat-related problems rather than buy air conditioners.

And then, he says, there's the brutal way Amazon deals with suppliers. He references the ongoing fight between the company and the publisher Hachette over the pricing of e-books.

Amazon holds about 65% of the e-book market, according to the New Yorker. After the company tried to level the pricing of e-books across the board to $9.99 (£6.28), Hachette, backed up by authors such as JK Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson, objected.

Amazon squeezed the publisher by delaying delivery of its books - sometimes by weeks.

Foer says Amazon's customers are complicit in these types of corporate abuses because they are opting for cheaper goods and faster deliveries.

Amazon's logo.

Today's monopolies, he says, have very different strategies then the bygone companies of JP Morgan's US Steel. Instead, they use their profits and dominance to seemingly work for the consumer by driving down prices - but at a high cost to workers and competitors.

New York Magazine's Annie Lowrey disagrees with Foer's assertion that Amazon is even a monopoly in the first place.

"What Foer is describing is not the nefarious actions of a monopolist but the normal actions of a big, well-funded firm in a spirited market," she writes. "Businesses compete. Very often the bigger one wins."

Lowrey says the company is fighting to gain the upper hand just as every other company in the world does. Amazon shouldn't be allowed to get away with treating its workers badly or harassing suppliers, she says, but the company also does some good.

"Amazon relentlessly drives down prices for goods and services and delivers them fast and cheap. It ploughs its profits into price cuts and innovation rather than putting them in the hands of its investors. That benefits millions of families - full stop," she writes.

Start Quote

To say that Amazon has to be stopped because it is giving people what they want is to misunderstand the nature of capitalism”

End Quote Joe Nocera The New York Times

Amazon still faces stiff competition from physical stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot and Ikea, Vox's Matthew Yglesias writes, and also jostles with online stores like Apple and Google.

"Everyone gets their e-books from Amazon because they're just as cheap as Apple's e-books, but they work on a much broader range of devices," he writes. "But if Amazon starting offering an inferior e-book product to Apple's, then customers could and would switch."

Amazon may be the dominant player in the book market, writes Derek Thompson in the Atlantic, but it's struggling to keep up in many other markets. He calls Amazon a "behemoth fighting for its life in a world of giants".

The working conditions of Amazon employees are a separate issue, Thompson says. But the decision by consumers to use or not use Amazon is no indication of the company's status as a monopoly.

"If the government thinks warehouse workers deserve higher wages and better conditions, we don't have to go through the Justice Department's anti-trust squad to improve their lot," he says. "We can just pass new laws. Don't ask consumers to boycott a good deal."

When it comes to competition, says Joe Nocera of the New York Times, Amazon has crushed its counterparts fair and square.

"Does Amazon have a dark side?" he asks. "Yes, it does - primarily in the way it has historically treated its warehouse workers. But to say that Amazon has to be stopped because it is giving people what they want is to misunderstand the nature of capitalism."

Foer says Amazon is "the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly" - and it must be stopped.

"In its pursuit of bigness, Amazon has left a trail of destruction - competitors undercut, suppliers squeezed - some of it necessary, and some of it highly worrisome," he writes.

Judging from many of the responses to his article, however, as long as the books are cheap and the deliveries are prompt (and the workers are treated with a modest amount of human decency, of course), why worry? The system seems to be working - golden monopoly or not.

(By Kierran Petersen)


Ranking black America as a separate nation

A man holds up a sign reading "black lives matter" at a protest in Ferguson, Missouri.

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

When talk show host Larry Elder declared that racism is not a major problem and that black Americans are thriving economically, he added: "If black America were a country, it'd be the 15th wealthiest nation in the world."

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times's PunditFact blog, "Elder referred us to an annual report by Target Market News called 'The Buying Power of Black America', which publishes the only estimate we could find of the total earned income of African-Americans. In 2011, the report he provided us, Target Market News put the income spent by African-Americans at $836bn [£524bn]."

But as author Theodore R Johnson of the Atlantic points out, the stats do not support Elder's presumed monolithic black America.

"Nearly all the sources of black America's attributes are grounded in America's history, economy, geography and government structures," he says.

As NYU economics Prof Gian Luca Clementi tells the Tampa Bay Times, "factors like government expenditure and private investment mean that buying power and [the total income produced in a country] aren't comparable."

Even so, statistics published in the Atlantic paint a picture of two countries:

"The first is of a strong nation with considerable manpower and purchasing power. The second is of a troubled, fragile state suffering from socioeconomic disparities and structural subjugation in ways that degrade life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

According to the US Census and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, the median wealth per black American adult is $4,955 (£3,100), below the median wealth per adult in Mexico, China and Brazil. And in the United States, the average poverty rate is 15.1% overall, versus 27.4% in the black community.

"Black household wealth is just over the median wealth of an adult in Palestine," writes Johnson.

WEB Du Bois, founder of the NAACP, outlined a similar concept in his address A Negro Nation Within a Nation.

"As for the belief that black America is an immense, multifaceted asset to the United States, his instincts were right," writes Johnson. "Black Americans boast enormous capital that has been exploited over the course of the nation's history and has yet to be fairly and fully employed to increase prosperity for all Americans."

North Korea

The rise of capitalism in Pyongyang - State socialism "is as dead in North Korea as it is in China", according to Bloomberg's Andrei Lankov.

The north is now home to a large and growing private economy whose existence is not officially recognised. The regime, Lankov says, has largely chosen not to enforce the Stalinist regulations banning almost all private economic activities.

"Though these changes have prompted a partial economic recovery - largely eliminating outright starvation - they have also had dangerous side effects," he writes. "Left unchecked, they've encouraged corruption and levels of income inequality that are high even by Asian standards. In fashionable restaurants, crooked officials and Pyongyang's nouveau riche now splurge on $50 dinners - about as much as the average rural family makes in a month."

Venezuela

Misplaced priorities - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seems to be more concerned with the academics who discuss the country's debt than the debt problem itself, write Harvard Profs Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

Mr Maduro recently called for "action" against the Venezuelan economists Ricardo Hausmann and Miguel Angel Santos for, in the words of Reinhart and Rogoff, asking whether "defaulting on every conceivable kind of domestic debt, Venezuela should invite foreign investors to the party and default on its debt to them as well".

"Maduro's absurd threat against Hausmann and Santos smacks of a search for a scapegoat," they write. "They were not giving a political speech, but were simply summarizing deeply troubling and unpleasant facts."

Irish Republic

Economic rebound brings false hope -The government of Ireland is taking too much credit for an economic rebound that was inevitable, writes Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times. The actions the government took, he continues, did more harm than good.

"Was it really wise to spend vast sums paying off bank bondholders whose gambles had gone wrong?" he writes. "Was it wise to allow such a sharp increase in child poverty when we know how enormously costly that condition is? Did these policies really make us more fiscally stable?"

O'Toole also points to the $252bn (£158bn) of public debt passed on to the next generation. "These things don't cause recovery - they limit it for years to come. People know this too well to be impressed by those who crow about it."

Pakistan

A tale of two Nobel laureates - Seventeen-year-old Malala Yousafzai is the second Pakistani to win a Nobel Prize. Abdus Salam was the first - and like her he lived outside of Pakistan because of persecution at home.

In 1979 Salam and two other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for pioneering work in subatomic particles (anticipating the discovery of the Higgs Boson).

As the Washington Post reports, Mr Salam belonged to the Ahmadi sect, whose adherents are considered heretics by some Muslims because they don't believe Mohammad was the last prophet. This year alone at least 13 Ahmadis have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan.

"Per his own instructions, Salam's body was taken back to Pakistan [from Oxford, England] and buried next to the graves of his parents," writes author Ishaan Tharoor. "His gravestone epitaph read, 'First Muslim Nobel Laureate.' But a local magistrate ordered the word "Muslim" to be obscured - much like Salam's larger legacy in Pakistan."

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

A Russian commentator responds to the ongoing economic sanctions imposed by Western nations.

"The Western sanctions are very serious. This is a monumental, long-term and multifaceted challenge to the Russian Federation - a challenge our country must meet... American strategists intend the sanctions to act as a toxin, slowly but surely poisoning our economic system… The West, itself responsible for the 'hellish brew' of the Ukraine crisis, is always shifting the burden of its guilt to us, both consciously and unconsciously. The US and the EU are projecting onto Russia their own hang-ups, fears and disappointments - and ending up with the image of an aggressor nation that must be crushed with sanctions at all costs." - Mikhail Rostovskiy in Moskovskiy Komsomolet.‎

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.


Campaign advert politicises Ebola

A man in protective clothing walks near the apartment of a second Dallas-area Ebola victim.

With the Ebola outbreak in Africa and subsequent appearance of the disease on US soil coming in the middle of US congressional campaigns, it was only a matter of time before the subject became a topic of political discussion.

Debate has centred around whether recent reductions to US public health funding have had an adverse effect on the government's ability to respond to the disease and, if so, who deserves the blame.

Last week former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US response to the Ebola crisis has been at least partially hampered by budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved by Congress.

"They're working heroically, but they don't have the resources they used to have," she said.

Start Quote

Emergency preparedness is an easy budget to cut when there aren't any emergencies happening”

End Quote Sarah Kliff Vox

On Friday Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), also lamented a shrinking public health budget.

"Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready," he told the Huffington Post.

Judy Stone, an infectious disease specialist, explains what the cuts have looked like for Scientific American's medicine blog:

"NIH's budget was reduced by $446m [£278m] from 2010 to 2014, and subjected to inappropriate politically motivated interference in its decision-making. The CDC's discretionary funding was cut by $585m during this same period. Shockingly, annual funding for the CDC's public health preparedness and response efforts were $1b lower for 2013 fiscal year than for 2002. These funding decreases have resulted in more than 45,700 job losses at state and local health departments since 2008."

Vox's Sarah Kliff calls these numbers "disturbing".

"Emergency preparedness is an easy budget to cut when there aren't any emergencies happening," she writes. "But the decision has consequences: we're learning with the current outbreak that our public health systems - both in the United States, and globally - simply are not prepared to handle an Outbreak of a dangerous disease like Ebola."

On Monday the liberal independent political group Agenda Project Action Fund, unveiled a highly charged television advert on the subject, which it plans to air in states with competitive Senate races, such as Kentucky, North Carolina, South Dakota and Kansas.

The minute-long video mixes footage of Ebola victims and healthcare workers in protective garb with Republicans calling for budget cuts and news reports on how those cuts have affected public health funding.

The advert's closing line: "Republican cuts kill."

"Our goal is for every single American citizen to understand the role Republican anti-government fanatics played in the Ebola panic and in the death of literally thousands of people around the world," Erica Payne, the advert's producer, told McClatchy News.

Erick Erickson, founder of the conservative Red State blog, says the advert "reeks of desperation.

Start Quote

The CDC and NIH are swimming in money, just like every other appendage of this ridiculously overpriced, painfully mis-managed government”

End Quote John Hayward Human Events

"At a time when more and more Americans, including millennials, are concluding government just doesn't work, it probably won't be effective," he writes.

Human Events's John Hayward says government incompetence - the "Ineptocracy" - is to blame:

"The CDC and NIH are swimming in money, just like every other appendage of this ridiculously overpriced, painfully mis-managed government. Like every other agency, they fritter away their money on silly distractions and naked attempts to extend their power."

Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal writes in Politico that the CDC has received $3bn (£1.87bn) in transfers from a Prevention and Public Health Fund set up by President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, but only 6% of that amount has gone toward "epidemiology and laboratory capacity".

Instead, he says, the CDC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on parks, sidewalks, bike lanes and farmer's markets.

"When that same government prioritises funding for jungle gyms and bike paths over steps to protect our nation from possible pandemics, citizens have every right to question the decisions that got us to this point," he write

Reason magazine's Nick Gillespie looks at the funding for the CDC over the past four years and finds overall agency funding has been relatively stable. As for the NIH, its 2014 budget of $30.1bn (£18.75bn) is down from $31bn in 2010 but a sharp increase over $23bn it received in 2002 and roughly equivalent to its $30.2bn for 2009.

NIH Director Francis Collins speaks at the White House. NIH director Francis Collins says agency budget cuts have hindered the development of an Ebola vaccine

He says that dismissing these top-line numbers and focusing on individual programmes means "you're really talking about the ways in which bureaucracies, especially in the budget sector, misallocate resources".

"The one thing you really can't do is say that the federal government, which is not actually controlled by the Republicans (just saying), has been slashing its spending on anything," he concludes.

It's less than a month until the mid-term congressional elections, and as long as the Ebola story stays in the headlines, there is the possibility that candidates and causes will attempt to use it for political advantage.

As the New Yorker's Michael Specter writes, however, it's what happens when the headlines fade, political rhetoric dies down and life returns to normal that makes a difference.

"Our response to pandemics - whether SARS, avian influenza, MERS, or Ebola - has become predictable," he says. "First, there is the panic. Then, as the pandemic ebbs, we forget. We can't afford to do either."

A debate over responsible levels of funding for infectious disease control would be welcomed by many in the healthcare world. That is not a discussion the US political establishment is capable of having over the next few weeks, however.

Will the attention last beyond election day?


Microsoft advice: 'Deplorable and incorrect'

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said women should rely on "karma" for pay rises

When you're a speaker at a "celebration of women in computing", it's probably not a good idea to make off-the-cuff remarks about how women should trust "the system" to give them the pay they deserve.

This is the lesson Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella learned the hard way on Thursday.

"It's not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along," Nadella said during an on-stage interview.

Start Quote

That system that Nadella wants women to put all their blind trust in only provides them with 78 cents to the dollar of what men earn”

End Quote Laura Stampler Time magazine

"Because that's good karma. It'll come back because somebody's going to know that's the kind of person that I want to trust," he said.

Given that this was a tech industry conference, Mr Nadella's controversial remarks appeared on Twitter and other social media sites practically the moment they were spoken. By morning they were making national headlines.

The resulting commentary is the stuff of Microsoft public relations nightmares.

"Nadella achieved this emotional engagement by offering up the most deplorable and incorrect advice to women in the workplace since Joan Holloway told Peggy Olson to wear something that showed off her darling ankles," writes Nitasha Tiku on the tech blog ValleyWag, referring to the television programme Mad Men, which depicts office culture in the 1960s.

At Time, Laura Stampler writes: "Gender pay gap got you down? Take a crash course from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's Etiquette Academy For Polite Young Ladies: Smile pretty and don't be so unbecoming as to ask for a salary bump. After all, a raise is a lot like a male suitor, and if you pursue it, you might just drive it away."

Although the "karma" portion of Nadella's speech gained the most attention, Stampler reserves her sharpest words for "the system" that Mr Nadella says will take care of female workers.

"Unfortunately, that system that Nadella wants women to put all their blind trust in only provides them with 78 cents to the dollar of what men earn. And if we look closer at the women Nadella was specifically addressing, the reality is fairly grim: a gender pay gap exists on every level of Stem [science, technology and maths] jobs. In Silicon Valley, men with bachelor's degrees earn 40% more than their female educational counterparts,"

A woman walks in front of a Microsoft sign on the company's Washington campus. According to Microsoft, only 30% of its employees are female

She goes on to say that some technology companies have even taken advantage of the assumption that women are paid less. She tells the story of start-up founder Evan Thornley, who said earlier this year that a perk of hiring women is that their salary is still "relatively cheap compared to what we would've had to pay someone less good of a different gender".

As the outrage grew, Mr Nadella backtracked late Thursday afternoon, tweeting: "Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias."

Start Quote

I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap”

End Quote Satya Nadella CEO, Microsoft

He reiterated the idea an hour later in an email to employees, saying he believes men and women should get equal pay for equal work.

"I answered that question completely wrong," he writes. "Without a doubt, I wholeheartedly support programmes at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work."

That doesn't fly for Nicole Kobie of the PC Pro Blog, however. She points that Mr Nadella, as CEO of one of the 10 biggest technology companies in the world, has a unique ability within the industry to close the gap - and it's not by tweeting about it.

"Want to close the pay gap? Here's what to do: examine the salaries of women and men at Microsoft in comparable jobs," she writes. "Does there seem to be a gap? No. Awesome; issue a press release about how wonderful you are. But if there is a pay gap? Fix it. Pay them more."

In fact, just days before the keynote address, Microsoft released data about its staff diversity. Time magazine's Charlotte Alter uses those numbers to show that at Microsoft, like many tech companies, a pay gap is not the only discrepancy between men and women.

"Microsoft's leadership is only 17.3% female," she writes. At the same time, "women make up less than 30% of the entire company as a whole."

Thanks to its CEO's remarks, Microsoft suddenly has become the poster child for what critics see as a larger issue of disparate pay in the technology sector and beyond. With the spotlight fixed on the computing giant, we'll see if it has any good karma left.

(By Micah Luxen)


A cancer patient's decision to die

Brittany Maynard poses with a dog.

Brittany Maynard says 1 November is the day she will die.

The 29-year-old was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January, after suffering from debilitating headaches for more than a year. Following months of treatment, and a progressively worsening prognosis, Ms Maynard decided she had to change course.

"After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: there is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left," she writes in an opinion piece for CNN.com.

She adds that as her cancer progresses, it could lead to excruciating pain, despite the strongest palliative medication.

Start Quote

Her legacy will be a crucial contribution to the conversation about how we live - and end - our lives”

End Quote Meghan Dawn Los Angeles Times

"I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind," she writes.

"Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that."

She and her husband moved from California to Oregon, one of five US states where physician-assisted suicide is permissible. Once she had established residency and proved that she had less than six months to live, she obtained a prescription for life-ending medication.

She says she plans on using it on 1 November, two days after her husband's birthday.

Ms Maynard has shared her story with Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organisation advocating the passage of euthanasia laws, and began a media campaign, including a YouTube video in which she and her family explain her situation.

At one point in the video, Ms Maynard reaches in to her purse and removes two prescription bottles, presumably for life-ending drugs.

Brittany Maynard delivers a message about her cancer on YouTube. Brittany Maynard says in a YouTube video that she plans to die on her own terms

"I know that it's there when I need it," she says.

The video has been viewed more than 5.6 million times.

She says that she feels relief knowing that she has the option to die "on my own terms" - and wants others in her situation to have the same options.

Ms Maynard's campaign has once again stirred debate over the morality of physician-assisted suicide and its prospects for further legalisation in the US.

"Maynard may not go through with her plans on 1 November (statistically, most of those who get end-of-life prescriptions don't use them, though nearly all report feeling peace of mind with the pills in hand)," writes Meghan Dawn in the Los Angeles Times. "But because she shared her decision, all of it, with the world, her legacy will be a crucial contribution to the conversation about how we live - and end - our lives."

Bioethicist Arthur L Caplan says that Ms Maynard's story has the potential to change the way many people - particularly younger Americans - view the issue.

Start Quote

I am terrified to think that my children will grow up in a culture that openly venerates suicide with this much unyielding passion”

End Quote Matt Walsh The Blaze

"A whole new generation is now looking at Brittany and wondering why their state does not permit physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to the dying," he writes for NBC News. "Brittany is having and will have a big impact on the movement to get measures before voters or legislators."

The ground on which the physician-assisted suicide debate rests could quickly shift, he says, much as it did on the gay marriage.

Matt Walsh, writing in the Blaze, agrees that Ms Maynard is "a very compelling spokeswoman for suicide". He says, however, that he is concerned by the almost universal praise she has received in the press and social media for her bravery and poise.

"I am terrified to think that my children will grow up in a culture that openly venerates suicide with this much unyielding passion," he writes. "If you are saying that it is dignified and brave for a cancer patient to kill themselves, what are you saying about cancer patients who don't?"

Several people with terminal diagnoses have also come forward to offer a critical take on Ms Maynard's decision.

"The hardest part of a terminal diagnosis is not knowing the timeline," writes Maggie Karner, who has also been diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer.

She says, however, that public policy on physician-assisted suicide shouldn't be centred around "hard" cases like hers and Ms Maynard's. The power of life and death should remain in God's hands, she writes.

"Death sucks," she says. "And while this leads many to attempt to calm their fears by grasping for personal control over the situation, as a Christian with a Savior who loves me dearly and who has redeemed me from a dying world, I have a higher calling. God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way."

Kara Tippetts, who has written a book and blogged about her experience with terminal breast cancer, penned an open letter to Maynard in which she asks her to reconsider her decision.

"Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known," she writes. "You have been told a lie. A horrible lie, that your dying will not be beautiful. That the suffering will be too great."

She says that doctors who prescribe life-ending medication "walk away from the Hippocratic oath that says 'first, do no harm'."

She concludes: "I get to partner with my doctor in my dying, and it's going to be a beautiful and painful journey for us all. But, hear me - it is not a mistake - beauty will meet us in that last breath."

Under Oregon's 1997 Death with Dignity Act, 1,173 people have requested prescriptions for life-ending drugs, and 752 have used them, according to state records.

Ms Maynard says she plans to record video testimony for the California legislature, which is considering a similar physician-assisted suicide law.

If events transpire as planned, her message to the lawmakers likely will be delivered posthumously.


Will 'yes means yes' laws change the rules of sex?

Two New Yorkers attend a cuddle party.

Could sex on university campuses soon require a lot more talking?

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the country's first affirmative consent law last week, which requires that both partners give ongoing consent during sexual activity.

Following suit, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last week ordered all of state-run universities to include an affirmative consent policy in their sexual assault investigation guidelines.

The law defines affirmative consent as a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Under the law, lack of protest, silence or previous sexual history do not count as consent.

This "yes means yes" law is designed to make consent the responsibilities of both sexual partners, not just the woman - but not everyone is on board with the new law.

Start Quote

The first time a girl has her 'affirmative consent' used to shame her in public, expect backlash from the same people who pushed this”

End Quote Amy Otto The Federalist

"Most of us know what this kind of consent looks like in practice, but as a legal standard, it's hard to imagine how it would be implemented," writes the Nation's Michelle Goldberg. "Do moans count as consent? How about a nod, or a smile, or meaningful eye contact?"

Goldberg says that the main weaknesses in the law are the preconceived notion that sexual assault stems from a lack of communication and the blurring of the line between assault and consensual sex.

While the law may do some good by encouraging partners to have a dialogue about what they want or don't want to happen, Goldberg says it may be too vague.

Amy Otto writes in The Federalist that the push to obtain clear consent can lead down a path that could hurt women.

She cites the Good2Go app which was designed to record who you are sleeping with, when you are sleeping with them and how intoxicated you were at the time. The app was designed to increase communication and avoid "he said, she said" situations, but it was recently removed from the Apple app store following intense criticism.

Although Good2Go is gone, Otto says that the future implications of this law will look a lot like this kind of public documentation of sex, which could backfire.

"The first time a girl has her 'affirmative consent' used to shame her in public, expect backlash from the same people who pushed this in the first place while mocking anyone questioning the unintended consequences of regulating what used to be a private act," she writes.

At the heart of the affirmative consent debate is a fundamental misunderstanding of how human sexuality works, writes Shikha Dalmia for the Week. What's more, it might just ruin good sex.

She says that both partners during sex are rarely on exactly the same page in terms of desire, but this shouldn't mean that what happens is necessarily a criminal act.

"The reality is that much of sex is not consensual - but it is also not non-consensual. It resides in a gray area in-between, where sexual experimentation and discovery happen," she says.

"Affirmative consent" means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent. - California SB-967 Student safety: sexual assault

Writing for the Cut, Ann Friedman argues otherwise.

"There's a long history of women - especially young, straight women - having sex that's consensual but not really much fun. And an equally long history of their male partners walking home the next morning thinking, 'Nailed it'," she writes.

This law will force students in consenting sexual relationships to be more open - and thus, have better sex.

"Most young men, it bears repeating, aren't rapists. Even in the absence of a university policy, they are worried about inadvertently doing something in bed that their partner doesn't welcome. And most men are actively thinking about whether their partner is enjoying herself. The new law makes life easier for both them and the women they sleep with, because it creates a compelling reason for both parties to speak up and talk about what they like," she says.

The affirmative consent movement's defenders also say confusion and unfounded hysteria surround California's efforts.

Yes the law is imperfect, Slate's Jenny Kutner writes, but it does not mean that men will suddenly face a rash of unfair accusations.

"Innocent men are not routinely convicted as rapists, and they will not routinely be convicted as rapists under affirmative consent laws," she says.

Start Quote

Innocent men are not routinely convicted as rapists, and they will not routinely be convicted as rapists under affirmative consent laws”

End Quote Jenny Kutner Slate

While this law will make it easier to convict those who have committed sexual assault, it could also lead to a positive change in the overall culture.

"Instead of pushing ahead when a young woman says she 'isn't sure' she wants to have sex, there will be a young man who pursues a direct, enthusiastic 'yes' before moving forward. There will be college students thinking twice about their actions, talking about sex and then, one hopes, having it consensually."

Townhall's Conn Carroll agrees.

"All this law does is alter one element required for a sexual assault charge and shift the burden of proof to a 'preponderance of the evidence' standard," he writes, which will make it easier for schools to punish bad actors. Yes, that might result in more men being expelled or suspended, but he doesn't see that as a problem. After all, just because schools are notoriously bad at punishing those accused of sexual assault, it doesn't mean that the accused haven't committed an offence.

"I do not care if these behaviours 'typically' are not punished now," he says. "Many of them should be."

(By Kierran Petersen)


Wal-Mart's insurance move reveals Obamacare truth

An employee stands outside of Walmart store.

As the 800-pound gorilla of retailers, Wal-Mart made national headlines when it announced on Tuesday that it was cutting the health benefits for its 30,000 employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week.

A company blog post put the move down to rising healthcare costs, but the 30-hour cut-off gives a clue as to the real cause - President Barack Obama's healthcare reform.

Under the Affordable Care Act, large companies are required, starting this January, to provide subsidised healthcare for every employee who works 30-hours a week or more.

Start Quote

If a retail empire built on low prices can't find a way around ObamaCare's added costs, we are all doomed”

End Quote Editorial Investor's Business Daily

As the Atlantic's David A Graham notes, many of the law's critics said the result would be that large companies cut the hours worked by their employees to fewer than 30 a week. Instead what appears to be happening is that big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot and Walgreens are simply doing away with the health benefits of their part-time workers entirely.

The part-time Wal-Mart employees - only 2% of the company's 1.3 million-person workforce - aren't without recourse, however. They can now enrol in the state and national healthcare insurance exchanges and are likely to receive government subsidies to help pay their premiums.

Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends a great deal on one's view of Mr Obama's healthcare reform and the quality of the private plans offered through the exchanges.

Three Wal-Mart employees stand in the clothing department of an Ohio store. Wal-Mart is raising insurance premium payments for its full-time employees by $3.50 a pay period

The editors of the conservative Investor's Business Daily are quick to assign blame, observing that Wal-Mart also announced it was raising the amount its full-time employees pay for their healthcare packages by 19% (an additional $3.50 (£2.18) a pay period, which still keeps their rates lower than the national average for retail employees).

"If a retail empire built on low prices can't find a way around Obamacare's added costs, we are all doomed," they write.

The Wall Street Journal's editors, also a conservative lot, say Wal-Mart's decision to "jettison" its part-time workers onto the exchanges is a rational response to the healthcare law's incentives.

"With a subsidized government alternative now open for business, and since corporations aren't liable for a penalty for not covering people who work fewer than 30 hours a week on average, cost-control logic says to send such coverage ballast over the side," they write. "The only question now is how many and how fast other companies partake of the new all-you-can-eat entitlement buffet. Get whatever you like, the bill's on taxpayers."

It wouldn't be surprising, writes Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle, if in a few years there were no companies offering healthcare to part-time employees.

Start Quote

Whether you have coverage is no longer dependent on the generosity of your employer”

End Quote Paul Waldman The Washington Post

She says it's difficult to figure whether the employees will be better off or not on the exchanges, however.

Here's how she breaks it down:

"Wal-Mart's insurance appears to be pretty cheap, and while it has a high deductible, that deductible is comparable to, or better than, many of Obamacare's [lowest-level]'bronze' plans. The out-of-pocket maximum is higher, but the Wal-Mart plan seems to have included a variant of a health savings account, which workers won't get on the exchanges, and most workers won't approach the out-of-pocket maximum. If the part-time workers are earning very little, they'll get a nice big subsidy. But how many people are supporting themselves entirely on part-time work at Wal-Mart? If they have other family income, this may turn out to be a substantially worse deal."

While Obamacare is being tagged as responsible for Wal-Mart's action, it also could end up being main beneficiary. As more and more workers move into the government exchanges, the pool of healthy enrolees grows, keeping costs down. For proponents of the reform efforts, developing a stable, quality source of health insurance that's independent of employers is an achievement worth celebrating.

"Whether you have coverage is no longer dependent on the generosity of your employer, and if you lose your job, change jobs, or set out to start your own business, you can still get covered even if you have pre-existing conditions," writes the Washington Post's Paul Waldman. "Now that everyone can get insurance through the government (if you're eligible for Medicaid) or through an exchange, there's no reason to keep the middleman of the employer."

The Atlantic's Graham calls the US system of employer-provided health insurance a "historical accident" - a result of post-World War 2 wage controls.

"As more and more American workers leave employer-based insurance plans, for one reason or another, the end of this anomalous system seems closer and closer," he writes.

So pop the Champagne. Or batten down the hatches. Change is coming.


White woman defends black man from US police

A Washington Metro Police car.

Perhaps it's a reflection of our high-tech society. Every day seems to bring new videos of alleged police brutality, where law enforcement officers employ questionable tactics when dealing with black suspects.

According to Washington Post columnist Clinton Yates, what occurred on the afternoon of 1 October isn't one of those cases - but perhaps it could have been under different circumstances.

Two Washington Metro Police officers - both black - were responding to a household burglary alarm in a posh District of Columbia neighbourhood and encountered a 64-year-old black man carrying two bags. When they questioned him, they say he became "loud and boisterous". They ordered him to the ground.

Start Quote

Just because he's black, doesn't mean he's here to rob a house”

End Quote Jody Westby Washington, DC, resident

At that point, a local resident - a middle-aged white woman named Jody Westby - came out from her house and confronted the police.

She instructed her housekeeper to record the events. She said she knew the man - a local worker - and that the police had no right to detain him. She told the officers that she was a lawyer and, upon learning the address of the burglary report, that they weren't even on the right street.

She grabbed the detained man's hand and said she was leaving, telling the police to "please leave our neighbourhood".

The officer reluctantly let Ms Westby and the man go.

As she walked away, Ms Westby said: "Just because he's black doesn't mean he's here to rob a house. He works for us. He's been in this neighbourhood for 30 years."

Yates writes that the situation likely would have been much different if the incident had occurred in a less affluent neighbourhood or Ms Westby hadn't been white.

"The level of comfort with which she communicates with the officers due to her knowledge of the law and lack of fear of retribution offers a lesson about how the intersection of race, class and privilege can impact the interactions between police officers and some residents," he says.

Yates contends that many residents of Washington would never be willing or able to exercise their rights the way Ms Westby does in the video, "for fear of being hurt, arrested or killed".

Ms Westby tells the Post that the police actions were "shameful" and they were treating the man "just like a dog". A police spokesperson responds that there was no officer misconduct.

US citizens have constitutionally protected rights - but they're only paper protections if they can't be freely exercised.

Would the incident have gone differently if Westby hadn't been there - or hadn't been white? Or if the whole incident hadn't been recorded?

Yates seems to think so. And there's plenty of video evidence of police confrontations gone horribly wrong from across the US to lend credence to his belief.

As for the original burglary report, the Post says that the alarm was due to a wrong code entered by the home's occupant.


How the Supreme Court non-decided gay marriage

Two women emerge from a Virginia courthouse after getting married on 6 October, 2014. The US Supreme Court opens the door to gay marriages in Virginia and 10 other states

The Supreme Court decision not to consider any of the seven pending gay marriage cases on Monday morning came as an unexpected jolt to supporters on both sides of the issue.

After the initial surprise had worn off, however, the perceived logic behind the court's decision emerged.

The court justices didn't get involved because they didn't have to. All of the lower court decisions so far have pointed in one direction - towards endorsing constitutionally protected right for same-sex couples to marry.

Start Quote

Do the people in the five states whose petitions were denied today have no right even to have their arguments heard?”

End Quote Matthew J Franck The National Review

If there had been a split between the appellate courts - where gay marriage bans were upheld in some regions and struck down in others - the justices likely would have felt compelled to act. Resolving lower-court disagreements is one of the Supreme Court's central tasks.

Moreover, the court justices didn't get involved because they didn't want to. They still could have decided to hear the case even without a lower-court difference of opinion. The bottom line is at least six of the nine justices decided to ignore the calls of activists on both sides and let inaction be their action.

The non-decision prompted howls of outrage from gay-marriage ban supporters, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz from Texas.

"This is judicial activism at its worst," he said in a statement. "The Constitution entrusts state legislatures, elected by the people, to define marriage consistent with the values and mores of their citizens. Unelected judges should not be imposing their policy preferences to subvert the considered judgments of democratically elected legislatures."

Others expressed shock that the court would take a pass on such a high-profile legal issue.

"It's mind-boggling that lower court judges would be allowed to impose the redefinition of marriage in these states, and our highest court would have nothing to say about it," writes National Organization for Marriage president Brian S Brown on his group's blog.

A man waves a gay pride flag in front of the US Supreme Court building.

Matthew J Franck, writing for the National Review, says the court's action displays "a deep disrespect for the rule of law, for the Constitution and for the people's right of self-government".

"Do the people in the five states whose petitions were denied today have no right even to have their arguments heard?" he asks, calling the lower-court decisions "rhetorical twaddle" that doesn't clarify the issue.

"What is the ground of the right to same-sex marriage?"he asks "Is it the equal protection clause (as the Seventh Circuit seems to believe)? Or the due process clause (which the Fourth appears to lean toward)? Or some penumbras-from-emanations 'fundamental right' that partakes equally of both (which seems to be the view of the Tenth)? Who knows?

Many on the left mocked Mr Cruz's "judicial activism" line.

"For those scoring at home, 'judicial activism' is when a court issues a ruling you don't like," writes the Washington Post's Paul Waldman.

Others celebrated the non-decision decision, which adds 11 more states to the 19 that already allow same-sex marriages.

"What we have right now in America is the moral majority for the dignity of every person's capacity to love and be loved," writes blogger Andrew Sullivan, a long-time advocate of gay marriage. "What we have right now is the defeat of fear and fundamentalism - the two most dangerous sirens of our time."

Sullivan goes on to praise the court's "extraordinary decision" for allowing the change to come from a groundswell of support and not by judicial fiat:

"Marriage equality will not have been prematurely foisted on the country by one single decision; it will have emerged and taken root because it slowly gained democratic legitimacy, from state to state, because the legal and constitutional arguments slowly won in the court of public opinion, and because an experiment in one state, Massachusetts, and then others, helped persuade the sincere sceptics that the consequences were, in fact, the strengthening of families, not their weakening."

Start Quote

This whole conversation around the instant of national readiness for same-sex marriage strikes me as unseemly”

End Quote Dahlia Lithwick Slate

Other liberals weren't so happy with the half-finished nature of the court's action, leaving marriage bans in place in areas where appellate courts have yet to rule - and may, in fact, uphold them.

"This is a happy moment in time, to be sure, but not a great turning point in the history of American jurisprudence," writes Jamie Stiehm in US News & World Report. "The court did not speak, as it has in other sweeping social questions facing it, such as school desegregation and voting rights."

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick calls the decision a "big win" that was achieved "in a small way, and possibly for very wrong reasons".

When the court ruled abortion was a legal right in Roe v Wade, she writes, it set off a fierce public debate that has yet to die down more than 40 years later. Could the Roe legacy be casting a dark shadow over the court's gay marriage considerations, making the justices afraid to get ahead of public sentiment?

"This whole conversation around the instant of national readiness for same-sex marriage strikes me as unseemly," Lithwick writes. "For the court to imagine that there will be an ideal moment, next month or in January, when it believes the nation is fully ready to accede to gay marriage, suggests that the court isn't merely aware of public opinion, but hostage to it."

Some actions, however - even limited ones- are difficult to reverse. You can't unsqueeze a tube of toothpaste, as the saying goes.

That is the reality of the court's action. Today more states are allowing gay marriage than they were on Sunday. And the longer these marriages are allowed to take place, the harder it will be for the court to roll back.

The Atlantic's Garret Epps says he refuses to believe that the court will "allow thousands of couples nationwide to celebrate marriages, change names, jointly adopt children, become legally one family - and then, in an opinion later in the term, baldly announce that their marriages are in jeopardy or even void".

Moreover, he says, any subsequent appeals court considering gay-marriage challenges will face a "huge weight of federal authority" from existing court rulings and the Supreme Court's decision to let them stand.

This, then, could be how the battle for gay marriage in the US is finally resolved. Not with a bang, but with a whisper.


Why Obama gets no credit for job growth

President Barack Obama.

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

During the 2010 US mid-term campaign, the leader of the House of Representatives Republicans, John Boehner, demanded of Present Barack Obama, "Where are the jobs?"

Four years later the nation's unemployment rate is the lowest in six years. Republicans aren't asking about jobs anymore - but Democrats aren't bragging, either.

On Monday the Washington Post's E J Dionne explained why Mr Obama and his fellow Democrats aren't getting - or taking - credit for the economy.

"President Obama, for one, is clearly frustrated that having inherited an economy that was at death's door, he is getting remarkably little credit for getting it back on its feet," writes Dionne.

On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest job numbers, reporting that in September 248,000 jobs were added to the economy and unemployment fell to 5.9%, the lowest since July 2008.

Dionne points to another set of numbers, however. He writes that in February 2009 86% of Americans listed an economic issue as their central concern. In the most recent Gallup survey, only 41% did.

"Better times mean different worries," he concludes.

"Voters who are still concerned about the economy tend to be focused not on its successes but on what it is failing to do for them," he writes. "That's the Democrats' other problem. The unemployment rate is way down, but it's still not low enough to create rapid and widespread wage growth. Many of the forces that have been driving up inequality since the 1980s are still with us."

According to Dionne, solving inequality has always been a Democratic goal, so the failure to do so takes a toll on the Democratic president's public approval,

For his part, Mr Obama gave a speech at Northwestern University last Thursday, in which he stressed proposals on education, job training, college loans, a minimum wage increase, infrastructure investment, equal pay and work-family balance, to ease inequality.

"All would help matters, if only they could get by Republicans in Congress," Dionne says.

Cuba

A never-ending embargo - In an interview this summer, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "we should advocate for the end of the embargo" against Cuba. As the Atlantic points out, however, her husband former President Bill Clinton put into place the law that makes ending the embargo nearly impossible

The article by Peter Kornbluh and William M Leogrande chronicles Mr Clinton's efforts to ease the embargo. Congress pushed back against the president, however, and the 1996 downing of two civilian aircraft by the Cuban air force forced Mr Clinton to act.

Mr Clinton declared that he would "move promptly" to reach an agreement with Congress to write the embargo into law.

"No longer would it be a presidential prerogative to lift sanctions against Cuba; now it would take majority votes in Congress. The Clinton team put up no objections."

And the embargo has remained firmly in place ever since.

Qatar

A tenuous friendship - Qatar is not a true ally of the United States, writes Lori Plotkin Boghardt in the New Republic, though it plays host to America's largest military base in the Middle East.

Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita and has developed a wide range of working relationships with governments and groups, from Hezbollah to the Taliban, Boghardt writes, allowing for private fundraising for American adversaries al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

Ironically, the Islamist politics that the country has championed in the broader region are illegal in Qatar, she writes.

"Politics in Qatar are reserved for an elite circle of ruling family members and their appointees," she writes. "Political parties and associations are forbidden. The most remote forms of political expression by Qataris with regard to their own government are not tolerated."

Brazil

Election brings a new reality - For the past three months, the Brazilian political campaign has been a roller coaster, writes Deutche Welle's Astrid Prange De Oliveira.

The predictions were of a duel between the two female candidates, President Dilma Rousseff and her rival, Marina Silva. Instead, Social Democrat candidate Aecio Neves, whom the opinion polls had already declared dead in the water, was able to celebrate his political resurrection.

"This new political constellation means that all bets are off," De Oliveira writes. "Only one thing is certain: the Brazilian Workers' Party, the PT, will be part of the government, even if the majority of people vote against President Rousseff on 26 October."

The reason for this political continuity, writes De Oliveira, is the overwhelming presence of the PT in Brazil's public institutions.

Germany

A failure to commit - Germany is not maintaining its responsibilities to Nato, according to James Joyner in Outside the Beltway.

New German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has promised a more robust role, he writes, but lacks the ability to back her words with action.

"The problems extend far beyond unreliable transport aircraft," says Joyner. "Reporting to parliament last month, inspectors said that only a fraction of Germany's helicopters, submarines and tanks are fit to be deployed."

The question remains whether in a crisis Germany could meet its obligations to Nato. With Russia's aggression in Ukraine on their minds at their summit in Wales last month, the 28 allies renewed their pledge to commit at least 2% of GDP to their armed forces.

Germany has steadily cut its defence budget, however. It spends only 1.3%, putting it 14th among alliance countries.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Commentators in Iran and Turkey react to comments by US Vice-President Joe Biden taken to blame Middle East nations for enabling the growth of Syrian and Iraqi militant group Islamic State. Mr Biden would later apologise for his remarks.

"The importance of what Mr Biden said does not lie in the fact that the man has revealed a secret, because what he said is known to everybody. It lies in having the second-most-senior official in the US administration personally and publicly admitting that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other US allies were behind [IS], al-Qaeda and other takfiri organisations, and that it was they who sparked the sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis." - Majid Hatimi in al-Vefagh, the Arabic-language newspaper of the Iranian government.

"If Mr Biden, who is one of the most competent names in the Obama administration about the Iraq and Syria files, says that he sees some of the Sunni allies including Turkey as 'the biggest problem', one should take this seriously." - Ali H Aslan in Turkey's Zaman.

"Biden's apology has increased suspicions in Ankara that Washington has neither a consistent strategy against Isis nor a strong political perspective about the future of Iraq and Syria... The developments legitimise those who have been saying since the very beginning that Turkey should stay away from war and especially should not get into the Middle East quagmire any more." - Murat Yetkin in Turkey's Radikal.‎

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.


What difference would a Republican Senate make?

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell is in line to become Senate majority leader if his party wins enough seats this November

It's simple electoral maths that the Republican Party has a good chance to control a majority in the US Senate after November's mid-term elections.

Six seats have to change hands for this to happen, and three - South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia - are almost certain to be Republican pickups. Out of the remaining 33 races, 10 are currently considered close, with Democrats defending seven of them.

Start Quote

the president would be the only centre of power representing the progressive point of view”

End Quote Charles CW Cooke The National Review

As most experts predict conservatives will easily maintain their edge in the House of Representatives, the "battle for the Senate" has dominated discussion. As election day draws near, however, a quiet debate is simmering over what Republican control of Congress actually would mean.

At first blush the answer seems to be that it would matter a great deal. Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a talented parliamentarian who has long been a thorn in conservative sides, would be out as majority leader. He would be replaced by a Republican, likely Mitch McConnell - assuming the Kentucky senator wins his re-election (one of the 10 aforementioned close races).

Once fully in power Republicans would be able to embed policy changes into larger budget bills. President Barack Obama would no longer have a Democratic Senate to block conservative legislation on border security, energy policy, healthcare and financial regulation from reaching his desk.

"During budget negotiations, when setting the legislative agenda and when discussing Obamacare, the president would be the only centre of power representing the progressive point of view," writes the National Review's Charles CW Cooke.

While Mr Obama could veto stand-alone bills, he may be more reluctant to strike down a larger bill that keeps the government funded.

"Government shutdowns have generally hurt Republicans in recent years, and the party has tended to fold in the end," writes David Leonhardt of the New York Times. "But the politics could be different if the forcing mechanism were Mr Obama's veto."

At the very least it could make the president more willing to accede to Republican demands on topics like construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The Senate also is responsible for confirming presidential nominees to the executive branch and the courts. Thanks to a change in Senate rules in late 2013, most of Mr Obama's selections have been able to be confirmed by a simple majority. With Republicans in control, Leonhardt says, this process could grind to a halt.

A Supreme Court nominee still requires 60 votes to be seated, but he or she will face additional procedural hurdles if Republicans have a majority in the Senate.

House Speaker John Boehner watches as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks. House Speaker John Boehner may find it difficult getting his chamber to co-operate with a Republican-controlled Senate

The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer says a conservative takeover also has less direct benefits. It allows the party to more clearly set out its agenda. Up until now Republicans have been defined by their opposition to Mr Obama. While that was a necessary role for the minority party, he says, Republicans have to change their focus if they aspire to govern.

"Winning control of the Senate would allow Republicans to pass a whole range of measures now being held up by Reid, often at the behest of the White House," he writes.

Congress could lay out a framework for the 2016 presidential race by advancing a programme of tax reform, energy policy, border security and healthcare, he says.

"If the president signs any of it, good," he writes. "If he vetoes, it will be clarifying."

Salon's Elias Isquith worries that Republican control of the Senate will embolden far-right conservatives in the House to step up their pressure on Speaker John Boehner, giving a more aggressive bent to a chamber that's already solidly conservative.

Start Quote

The inconvenient truth for the Republican Party is that it's not ready for prime time”

End Quote Bill Scher Campaign for America's Future

"If Boehner was willing to drift into the abyss less than a year after the GOP's disappointing performance in the 2012 elections, when Obama's approval rating was considerably higher than it is today and when the Senate was in the Democrats' control, what might he do next year, with a Republican Senate and a triumphant, cocky GOP base?" he asks.

There is, however, a contrarian belief that Republican control of the Senate is exactly what Democrats need going into a presidential election cycle.

The Washington Post's Paul Waldman sees a more radicalised House as a boon to Democrats if its members sharply break from a more practical Senate.

"The House, still dominated by extremely conservative Republicans for whom any hint of compromise is considered the highest treason, could continue to pass one doomed bill after another, while the Senate tries to write bills that have at least some chance of ever becoming law," he writes.

Bill Scher of Campaign for America's Future says that conservatives will tear themselves apart trying to devise an agenda that satisfies its grassroots Tea Party base and its big-business, establishment interests.

"The inconvenient truth for the Republican Party is that it's not ready for prime time, yet it's on the verge of fully sharing with the president the responsibility of running the country," he writes for Politico.

In the two years since Mr Obama's re-election, Republicans haven't been able to come up with a political agenda, he says, and there's no reason to think control of the Senate will change that.

"To tackle any issue head-on with the slightest bit of specifics risks alienating either the pragmatists or the purists," he writes. "That tells you all you need to know about how tenuous the Republican governing coalition will be."

The Boston Globe's Michael A Cohen says a Republican victory would be a "poisoned chalice" that would fracture the Senate Republican caucus.

"There will always be at least one Republican senator from the right (and likely more) who will see some political benefit in opposing whatever McConnell wants to do," he writes. "Ideally, Republicans would be working to pass reasonable legislation like immigration reform to improve the GOP's image with Hispanic voters, but that's simply not going to happen."

A switch in Senate control, beneficial for Republicans or not, may be short-lived. In 2016 conservatives will have to contend with a much more formidable set of Senate contests, the result of upset wins in 2010 mid-term races.

"Winning control of the Senate for the next two years isn't going to be a 'poisoned chalice' for the party because they will likely have control for such a short time that it won't matter," the American Conservative's Daniel Larison writes. "It will be something for them to enjoy briefly before handing it back to the other side."

A win is a win, however. Fleeting power is still power. A Republican controlled Congress may be fraught with danger, but putting enough wins on the board to hold a congressional majority is something to build on two years after Republicans were soundly defeated in a presidential election.

Even a poisoned chalice can look nice in the trophy case.


US Ebola 'blunder' stokes anger

Man in protective suit in Dallas Mr Duncan's apartment was cleaned on Friday, three days after his admission to hospital

Until Tuesday the US plan for responding to the presence of the Ebola virus on its soil existed only on paper. When Thomas Eric Duncan ended his journey from Liberia in Dallas, Texas, last week that hypothetical situation became a reality.

What happened next has left many US commentators wondering if there are glaring holes in the government's game-planning and outbreak preparedness.

"More than six months after an outbreak of Ebola began its rampage through West Africa, local and federal health officials have displayed an uneven and flawed response to the first case diagnosed in the United States," write Kevin Sack and Manny Fernandez for the New York Times.

Much of the controversy has centred around the chain of events after Mr Duncan first displayed symptoms after his arrival in the US.

Start Quote

If I were to write a script for how to build slow, mass panic, it would unfold a lot like this”

End Quote Tod Robberson Dallas Morning News

He visited a local hospital and was sent home with antibiotics, despite informing health care practitioners that he had recently returned from an Ebola "hot zone".

Given all the recent attention the Ebola outbreak in western Africa has garnered, the fact that a medical facility in a major US city did not appear vigilant for signs of the disease - including flagging the results of background screening for patients displaying Ebola-like symptoms - has many commentators concerned.

"If Texas medical facilities truly were on top of this, as were the Centers for Disease Control, then asking the recent travel history of every patient should have been as routine for all medical personnel as taking blood pressure or asking whether the patient is allergic to penicillin," writes Tod Robberson of the Dallas Morning News.

"When the world is on high alert, this is no time to be learning from mistakes on the fly."

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins speaks to the media during a press conference on the status of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, Texas, 2 October 2014 Are Texas and US officials paying attention now that there has been an Ebola case in the US?

He says that government handling of the situation so far has people in Dallas worried:

"Thousands of parents are no doubt freaking out and wondering whether their children are safe. Thousands more Dallas residents are probably nervously looking around them and wondering what's going to happen next. This is no way to stop people from panicking. In fact, if I were to write a script for how to build slow, mass panic, it would unfold a lot like this."

Mr Duncan's case presented "everything hospitals have been warned to watch for", write the editors of USA Today.

Start Quote

The fact is that CDC has been preparing for this day...”

End Quote Dr Tom Frieden CDC director

Although the "breathtaking blunder" in this case has been now been remedied, they write, the US public health system needs to learn from these mistakes - and fast.

"Impressive-sounding federal strategies to fight Ebola won't mean much if front-line health professionals don't follow them," they write. They warn that public trust in medical authorities will waver if there are further lapses.

"The US healthcare system is the most sophisticated in the world," writes Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, for Reuters. "It is also byzantine and inefficient, and those systemic flaws may have allowed a patient with a deadly virus to slip through the cracks."

She says one of these flaws is that modern healthcare practitioners are enamoured with technology and don't take the time to talk with their patients or conduct basic physical exams.

A man passes a bag, delivered by the Red Cross and the North Texas Food Bank, in to the apartment unit at The Ivy Apartments complex where a man diagnosed with the Ebola virus was staying in Dallas, Texas 2 October2014 Food and other supplies have been delivered to the apartment, where four people have been ordered to stay indoors until 19 October

Criticism of the response to the first US case of Ebola hasn't stopped at the hospital doors, either.

As Sack and Fernandez note in the Times, four days after Mr Duncan was quarantined in a hospital, the apartment where he stayed when he first became ill still had not been properly sanitised and the possibly contaminated sheets and towels from his bed had yet to be disposed of.

"County officials visited the apartment without protection Wednesday night," they note.

Texas public health officers said they were having difficultly finding contractors willing to perform the cleanup tasks - the sort of task that would seem an essential part of any emergency response plan.

"The failure to sanitise his sheets and towels also revealed a broader problem in handling materials possible infected with the virus," they write.

"Hospitals say they face a major challenge disposing of waste generated in the care of Ebola patients because two federal agencies have issued conflicting guidance on what they should do."

On Thursday the Times website published a series of short opinion pieces detailing what the US could be doing better to confront the potentially deadly disease. Advice ranged from a thorough screening of all individuals entering the country from at-risk areas to an outright ban on entry for all such non-US citizens.

Meanwhile Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, took to the pages of CNN.com to assure Americans that there is no need to panic.

A haz-mat clean-up crew arrives at The Ivy Apartments, where the confirmed Ebola virus patient was staying, on October 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas A hazardous materials crew arrived on Thursday

The US government anticipated that an infected patient would eventual make it to US soil, he says.

"The fact is that CDC has been preparing for this day, working around the clock with local and state health departments to enhance surveillance and laboratory testing capacity, provide recommendations for healthcare infection control and other measures to prevent disease spread, and deliver guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations," he writes.

While the CDC may not be able to contain this outbreak at just one case, he says, the US will "stop Ebola in its tracks".

Recent commentary indicates it may be too late to prevent at least some damage to public confidence in the adequacy of the US preparedness, however.


'American royalty': Clinton baby gets astrology chart

Bill and Hillary Clinton hold their granddaughter, Charlotte.

Typically seen as a source of news for politically obsessed wonks, the Washington, DC, newspaper Politico found itself the butt of jokes this week when it published an article featuring predictions for the future of Chelsea Clinton's newborn daughter, according to "leading astrologers".

Kendall Breitman writes that according to the astrologers, Clinton's daughter - born last Friday - may not be involved in politics, but will find a way to get involved in activism and social justice. One expert said she is likely to lean toward issues of finance rather than just bare-bones politics.

Start Quote

Readers could most likely figure out without the help of an astrologer that baby Charlotte would enter the professional world in a position of power and money”

End Quote Catherine Thompson Talking Points Memo

The astrologers also said that the little Libra's relationships with her famous grandparents would be affected by the time, date and place of her birth.

Ophira Edut, an astrologer quoted in the article, said baby Charlotte's relationship with Bill Clinton will likely be very playful, while her relationship with Hillary Clinton will be very powerful, emotional and possibly spiritual.

"She really will be 'Billary', because she is going to have his charm and likability and Hillary's sort of focus and intensity and desire to make things happen, so it's going to be an interesting combo," Edut says.

Joan McCarter, writing for the Daily Kos, that Politico reached "peak vapidity" with the article:

"Apparently Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinksy, the actual, you know parents here, were merely the vessels through which the real Clintons spawned the next generation of female Clintons," she writes.

Mediaite's Evan McMurry says that while this was a welcome change from the typical over-politicisation of the birth of the newest Clinton, it doesn't provide much insight.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was criticised for consulting astrologers when Ronald Reagan was president

"The best moment came when one astrologer momentarily realised that Charlotte's familial wealth and connections will have more of an impact on her than her sign. The fourth wall was quickly repaired," McMurry jokes.

Catherine Thompson, writing for Talking Points Memo, says that Politico had lost its edge - "jumped the shark" - with the story.

"Readers could most likely figure out without the help of an astrologer that baby Charlotte would enter the professional world in a position of power and money, but there you go," she writes.

Start Quote

In times long past, when royalty was born, the king and queen often asked superstitious member of the court to read the stars”

End Quote John Nolte Breitbart

She says this article is in the same vein as another recent story in which Politico acknowledged the absurdity of speculating about the baby's effect on a potential Hillary Clinton presidential run while simultaneously listing out what baby names would play well in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Breitbart's John Nolte was quick to chime in.

After offering congratulations to the Clinton family, he asks readers not to let their criticisms of Politico detract from the happy occasion. But, he writes, this article is another example of Politico "slobbering over powerful Democrats".

"In times long past, when royalty was born, the king and queen often asked superstitious member of the court to read the stars," he says. "It's good to know Politico is keeping tradition alive."

But Allahpundit, the founder of the conservative blog Hot Air, sees the article in another light.

The authors of articles like this know what they're writing is "goofy", he says, but they also know that there's an audience for this type of information.

Beyond that, he says, this type of coverage is typical on the occasion of royal births. In the US, the Clintons are as close to royalty as they can be.

"Americans pride themselves on their egalitarian heritage in rejecting monarchy, and yet they palpably crave a noble class of celebrities, political and otherwise, on whom power and riches naturally devolve," he writes. "What's wrong with a 'political news' magazine catering to that interest by inviting soothsayers to say what's in store for the future queen?"

Salon's Luke Brinker also sees some measure of justification for the piece.

He points out that while it might seem silly, Politico's core mission includes proving that there's a "robust and profitable future for tough, fair and fun coverage of politics and government".

Technically, he says, this article is in line with their mission.

Still, he managed to poke fun at the article, recalling when the press took then-First Lady Nancy Reagan to task for consulting with astrologists. The assassination attempt on her husband's life had apparently awakened an interest in the occult.

"True to form, Politico took care to consult 'leading astrologers' for its story," writes Brinker. "The competition might speak to the dime-store variety; Politico talks to the high-quality kind Nancy Reagan might have hired to arrange her husband's schedule."

Politico may have gotten a lot of attention for its article, but it seems critical praise was not in the stars.

(By Kierran Petersen)


Republican advert: Women voters are blushing brides

"Brittany" loves the Republican candidate dress

The College Republican National Committee is trying to convince young women to vote conservative by comparing candidates to stylish wedding dresses.

This is not a joke.

In the minute-long internet adverts, a young blonde woman named Brittany stands in a bridal store weighing which dress (er, candidate) to choose. The million-dollar campaign is running in 16 states and targeting six competitive governor elections

The spot, titled Say Yes to the Candidate, is a play on a long-running US cable television reality show, Say Yes to the Dress, in which women deal with the trials and tribulations of wedding-dress shopping.

Start Quote

It's sort of difficult to be outraged while you're busy laughing at how pathetic these Republican get-out-the-vote ads have become”

End Quote Jessica Valenti The Guardian

Hence in Florida, Brittany describes Republican Governor Rick Scott as "the trusted brand" with "new ideas that don't break your budget".

"The Rick Scott is perfect," she says.

The bride's screechy liberal mother, however, has other ideas. She likes the Democrat: "It's expensive and a little outdated, but I know best."

Brittany's eyes widen in horror.

A store clerk notes that the Democrat comes with "additional costs", as she hands the bride-to-be a puffy veil, a garish sash and a long string of pearls.

"There's higher taxes, double-digit unemployment and increased government spending," she says of the Democratic candidate in Michigan.

"We cannot let her walk out of the voting booth like that," one of Brittany's friends says.

A mum sneers in a Republican campaign advert. Brittany's mum likes the Democrat and says she knows best

The advert ends with Brittany confronting her mother.

"Mom, this is my decision," she says, adding that she sees a better future with the Republican candidate. (At this point it almost seems like the Republican is the groom, not the dress, but maybe the College Republicans thought that would be a bit too blunt.)

Everyone but the mum celebrates Brittany's choice by popping Champagne.

With both the female and the youth vote trending Democratic in recent elections, Republicans have been trying to find a way to connect with these key demographic segments.

Critics on the left, however, think the strategy is going to backfire. Time magazine calls the spot the most sexist Republican advert of the year.

Start Quote

It's our goal to start the conversation by presenting ourselves in a culturally relevant way”

End Quote Alex Smith President, College Republican National Commmittee

"At this point, it's hard not to wonder if the people being hired to do outreach to women on behalf of Republican candidates aren't all a bunch of Democratic moles," quips Slate's Amanda Marcotte.

The segments pander to "presumably dumb millennial women" by "recasting tired tropes in a political context," writes New York magazine's Jessica Roy.

The Guardian's Jessica Valenti compares Republicans to a "love-struck guy who can't take the hint" that young women just aren't into them.

"It's sort of difficult to be outraged while you're busy laughing at how pathetic these Republican get-out-the-vote ads have become," she writes.

College Republican National Committee president Alex Smith defended the adverts, saying that she and the committee's four other female staff members came up with the idea.

"How do you reach the generation that has their earbuds in and their minds turned off to traditional advertising?" she tells the Wall Street Journal. "It's our goal to start the conversation by presenting ourselves in a culturally relevant way."

She tells Politico that the adverts were tested in Florida and North Carolina and received positive responses.

There's risk in this sort of mass-produced, one-size-fits-all-campaigns strategy, however. As the Denver Post's Joey Bunch notes, in Colorado the ad mispronounces the name of Republican candidate Bob Beauprez.

"It's BOW-pray, not BOO-pray, kids," he writes.

He says the advert also didn't escape the notice of the College Democrats of America. On Wednesday they sent out a statement thanking their ideological counterparts for showing America "just how out-of-touch Republicans are with young people".

"While Democrats are fighting to make sure young women can afford a good education, have access to healthcare including affordable birth control, get paid equally and much more, Republicans are treating women as if all they care about are dresses and reality shows," they write.

On Thursday conservative journalist Tucker Carlson suggested that maybe it'd be better if the undecided young women targeted by Republicans with these adverts just didn't vote.

Now there's a winning strategy.


Could the US start sending its oil overseas?

Two men operate an oil rig in Illinois.

Americans enjoy some of the cheapest petrol prices in the world, due in large part to relatively low federal taxes on fuel and a four-decade-old ban on the export of crude petroleum.

But a US oil drilling boom has some people calling for the ban to be lifted so that US oil can flow onto the world market.

First time visitors to the United States are often shocked to see just how cheap petrol is in the US. While prices vary by region and state-by-state, the cost for a litre of petrol in Washington, DC, is about $0.93 (£0.57 ). Compare that to $2.07 in London, $2.11 in Paris, $2.15 in Hong Kong, $1.53 in Tokyo and $1.39 in Rio de Janeiro, according to the research and consulting firm AIRINC.

All of this makes cross-country road trips in the US quite a bargain, relatively speaking.

Start Quote

Surging US production has created thousands of jobs, helped stabilise global oil markets and curbed our import dependence”

End Quote Robert J Samuelson The Washington Post

The current policy dates back to the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974, when Opec countries reduced production to punish the US for giving aid to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. In order to protect itself from future volatility, the US instituted the export ban (exceptions were made for oil from Alaska and parts of California).

The ban's opponents say that leaving it in place could stifle future growth in the booming US oil industry by driving up domestic supply, lowering costs.

Jake Dweck, a Washington-based lawyer who is campaigning against the ban, told NPR that "the results would be reduced production, possibly shutting productions over time and reduced economic activity for the US economy as a whole".

Lifting the ban would allow US producers to sell their crude oil on global markets, providing a greater incentive to develop new technologies, seek out new sources of petroleum and boost the economy.

"The benefits are huge," writes Robert J Samuelson in the Washington Post. "Surging US production has created thousands of jobs, helped stabilise global oil markets and curbed our import dependence."

Ironically, much of the support for the present policy comes from oil refiners in the United States who are not covered by the ban. If it is lifted, they would be exposed to competition from cheaper overseas refining firms.

Environmentalists are also voicing long-running worries about the health and climate-change effects of the increased drilling a change could prompt.

"Only 20% to 25% percent of global proven oil reserves can be consumed between now and 2050 if we are to have an 80% chance of avoiding devastating climatic changes that would destroy the global economy," writes Oilchange International's Lorne Stockman in an October 2013 report. "Therefore, allowing US crude oil exports specifically to enable exploitation of oil that is currently not included in those reserves is a recipe for disaster. We are in a hole, and we need to stop digging."

Public-safety issues are also a concern. Trains, often used to transport oil, have shown a penchant for wrecking and blowing up in recent years.

Start Quote

Favouring environmental concerns by maintaining the crude oil export ban would likely keep oil prices low in the United States, at least for now”

End Quote Timothy Noah MSNBC

Some skeptics warn that the impact that lifting the ban will have on US petrol prices is overestimated. Although it may be less expensive to refine oil abroad, the ban could raise the price of unrefined crude oil domestically.

"Traditionally, US crude sells for several dollars per barrel cheaper than does oil on the world market," Politico's Elana Schor writes. "Opponents fear that allowing exports would make the domestic oil price rise, triggering a similar spike for gasoline at the pump."

Timothy Noah writes on MSNBC.com that all this makes lifting the ban right now an unnecessary risk.

"Policymakers often have to choose between addressing climate change and acting to lower the price of oil," he says. "In this instance, though, favouring environmental concerns by maintaining the crude oil export ban would likely keep oil prices low in the United States, at least for now."

The debate seems to be graduating from oil industry squabbling to the broader political arena and is gaining political traction as November's mid-term congressional elections approach. Republicans, who could win a majority in the Senate and thus control both houses of Congress, are split on the issue.

While they are the party that traditionally champions free markets and increased drilling, Republicans may fear that the blame for any spikes in oil prices could be laid at their feet.

Democrats aren't united on the issue, either. Hoping to squeak by with just enough seats to maintain their majority in the Senate, Democrats are loath to alienate their environmentalist supporters.

Some prominent liberals have come out in favour of ending the ban, however.

"I believe that the question of whether the United States should have a substantially more permissive policy with respect to the export of crude oil and with respect to the export of natural gas is easy," President Barack Obama's former chief economic aide, Larry Summers said at a Brookings Institution event. "There is no environmental argument for a policy that distinguishes between oil produced in the United States for domestic consumption and oil produced in the United States for foreign consumption."

While prices at American pumps are relatively low, a price spike can quickly become a highly contentious political issue - as was the case prior to the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Despite recent turmoil in oil-producing regions around the world, Americans have enjoyed relatively stable prices at the filling stations.

Members of Congress, currently on recess to campaign in their home districts, probably aren't hearing much from their constituents on the issue right now. One wrong step, however, and that would certainly change.


Game show thinks it knows 'what women want'

Host Alex Trebek stands on the set of the game show Jeopardy. Alex Trebek has hosted the game show Jeopardy for 30 years

What do women want? According to answers in a category on the syndicated television game show Jeopardy Monday night, they're longing for things like jeans that fit, herbal tea, time to do crossword puzzles and exercise, and a husband who vacuums.

The segment caught the attention of Claire Schlissel of the website the Jane Doze, who tweeted a screen shot of one of the Jeopardy prompts. "Are you serious, @Jeopardy?" she asked.

Actress/activist Sophia Bush retweeted Schlissel's message to more more than a million followers shortly thereafter, adding: "For a 'smart' show, you just got seriously stupid."

The outrage kicked into high gear.

Claire Schlissel tweets a picture of a provocative Jeopardy question.

Mashable's Neha Prakash published screen shots of all the jeopardy questions and provided her own commentary.

"Unfortunately, the category was not a cute play on words and was, instead, a series of clues spotlighting female stereotypes," she writes.

She concludes:

"The small silver lining to the episode was that a woman, Elisa Korn, took home the win for the evening. Hopefully the $26,400 will be enough money to buy Elisa all the Levi's, tea and Pilates classes she wants."

Start Quote

It's time to say goodbye to ridiculously outdated stereotypes”

End Quote Lucia Peters Bustle

Jeopardy's segment trafficked in worn stereotypes worthy of a 1980s Cathy comic strip or an old stand-up routine by comedian Tim Allen, writes Maggie Serota of Death and Taxes blog.

She adds:

"Things like 'the feeling of safety while walking alone at night' and 'access to affordable birth control and reproductive services' didn't figure into this narrowly defined and reductionist catalogue of female desire."

Bustle's Lucia Peters says that there's nothing wrong with liking or supporting any of the things listed in the Jeopardy category - plenty of women drink tea and love crossword puzzles.

"So do many men, for that matter - as do all people, no matter where they rest on the gender spectrum," she writes. "Which brings us to the point. Jeopardy writers? You should know better than to try to make sweeping generalisations about any sizeable population. Not cool - and, in fact, as harmful as it is insulting."

She goes on to list possible follow-up for the game show that features stereotypical things men like to do, like watch football and pro wrestling, wear steel-toed boots and drink beer.

"It's time to say goodbye to ridiculously outdated stereotypes," she says. "They're not doing anyone any favours."

What do real women want? The BBC speaks to women in Colorado about what issues matter to them.

The average age of a Jeopardy viewer is 64, notes Jezebel's Tracy Moore, so the show's target demographic may have been just fine with a category that seemed more representative of 1950s domestic tropes.

"Hey, it's possible that if you were born in 1950 that the 'What Women Want' category doesn't seem especially sexist; it is simply How Things Are/Were," she writes. "Not so much now."

This latest incident isn't the first time Jeopardy has been criticised for a sexist slant in its subject matter. Exactly one year before the controversial episode aired, Salon's Deborah Sosin wrote about pro-male bias in the game show's category choices.

She studied 18 episodes of the show and found that of the 251 possible answers in categories that could include questions about men or women, 75% were male.

"Now, one could argue that there are simply more famous men than women," she writes. "Maybe I should accept that for centuries women were in the kitchen, whereas men were free to create stuff, explore places and build things."

But she reports that even in categories such as "music legends", which could lend themselves to equal representation for women, the answers still tilted disproportionately toward men.

With prominent product placement in all of the controversial questions on Monday night, maybe this was a synergistic marketing campaign gone horribly wrong.

Did Levi jeans, Celestial Seasonings' Sleepytime tea, Bissell vacuums and the New York Times pay for these plugs?

If so, given the controversy, can they ask for their money back?


Obama and Modi talk Mars

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Barack Obama shake hands in the White House.

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

In September 1962 President John F Kennedy set out to reach the Moon to assert America's dominance in the world.

Fifty-two years later, the space race to Mars is considered an opportunity for unprecedented international co-operation.

In keeping with a message of going forward together - "Chalein Saath Saath" - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama penned a joint opinion piece in the Washington Post on Tuesday after meeting for the first time the evening before in the White House.

"The exploration of space will continue to fire our imaginations and challenge us to raise our ambitions," they write. "That we both have satellites orbiting Mars tells its own story. The promise of a better tomorrow is not solely for Indians and Americans - it also beckons us to move forward together for a better world."

It's unclear whether the better world beckoning the leaders is our own or the uncorrupted Red Planet, but Mars received honourable mention twice in the 11-paragraph joint statement.

The success of the partnership, write Mr Obama and Mr Modi, is "the truest reflection of the vitality of our people, the value of America's open society and the strength of what we can do when we join together".

Of course, as the Moscow Times pointed out in June, co-operation in the heavens does not mean peace on Earth:

"Even as the US-Russian bilateral relationship tears at the seams, Nasa and the Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos, are pooling their resources and launching new joint projects aboard the International Space Station, or ISS, in a drive to make the most of the crucial project while it lasts, Russian and US space officials close to the agencies said."

The Obama-Modi op-ed offered more than space ambition, however. The agenda they outlined in the Post promised "mutually rewarding ways to expand our collaboration in trade, investment and technology that harmonise with India's ambitious development agenda, while sustaining the United States as the global engine of growth".

Prior to his rise to power in 2014, Mr Modi had been denied entry to the United States in 2005 for his alleged role in riots in Gujarat state in India. This week, the prime minister was welcomed in New York, where he spoke at the UN General Assembly, and then to the White House, where he joined Mr Obama for dinner (although The Wall Street Journal reports he did not partake of food, observing a nine-day religious fast).

"The advent of a new government in India is a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship," the two leaders write. "With a reinvigorated level of ambition and greater confidence, we can go beyond modest and conventional goals. It is time to set a new agenda, one that realizes concrete benefits for our citizens."

China

Is the Umbrella Revolution the next Tiananmen? - Tens of thousands are occupying public space in Hong Kong, writes Brendon Hong in the Daily Beast, but Beijing doesn't believe the people are intelligent enough to find their own way.

He says that the Chinese leaders are mistaken. Hong Kong grew into what it is because it is made up of savvy, diligent people who put effort into their future.

Hong Kong "is the only Chinese city that commemorates the tragedy of Tiananmen by holding a candlelight vigil every year," he writes, "not to embarrass Beijing but to remember that the struggle for a better future can come with a heavy human cost."

Mainland China's heavy-handed involvement has inspired Hong Kong student activists, Hong writes. While China isn't on the verge of a Tiananmen-style crackdown, he concludes, the crisis shows no sign of abating.

Nepal

Going digital would save everyone a big headache - The Nepal Times has picked up on what is already obvious to a great many people, namely that keeping e-records is more efficient and saves a great deal of time.

Puja Tandon writes that a Nepalese person may find himself on a three-day bus trip before he arrives at the distant office to apply for his passport, which would be unnecessary should the application be available online. Already countries such as India, Ghana and Sierra Leone have set up electronic records systems, she notes.

At the very least, Tandon notes, going electronic would require IT infrastructure improvements and a qualified labour force to run the system.

"However, more than physical infrastructure, transforming the habits and makeup of the current bureaucracy will perhaps be the biggest challenge for Nepal. Government officials will most likely resist change because it will close many of the existing loopholes that make corruption and tardiness an epidemic in the country."

Brazil

Artist's photo exhibit prompts indigenous indignation - Indigenous people are protesting that photographer Jimmy Nelson's work, displayed at London's Atlas Gallery, is not an accurate portrayal of tribal peoples.

Brazzil magazine reports that representatives of indigenous tribes are taking issue with the inconsistencies in the exhibit, including calling the Dani of West Papua headhunters (which they argue has never been a part of their history) and showing pictures of traditional Waorani girls from Ecuador sans clothes, even though the Waorani regularly wear clothes.

"I saw the photos, and I didn't like them," says Davi Kopenawa, spokesman of the Yanomami tribe in Brazil. "This man only wants to force his own ideas on the photos, to publish them in books and to show them to everyone so that people will think he's a great photographer."

Malaysia

Looking to the New York police to stamp out corruption - Government officials in Malaysia are looking at best practices adopted by the New York Police Department (NYPD) to eradicate corruption and improve the public image of police personnel.

Mergawati Zulfakar writes in the Star that Malaysian officials have already met several times with the NYPD, and could learn from the American group, as "their problems with corruption some 20 years ago is worse than ours."

She describes the local corruption to include refusing to take reports or misusing work hours.

Hopefully the Malaysians are aware the NYPD still have some of their own issues to address.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Turkish commentators offer their thoughts as the nation's parliament considers whether to join coalition airstrikes on Islamic State targets inside Syria.

"As long as the aim is not to repulse the attacks or to bring in humanitarian aid through an international decision, Turkish troops should not get into Iraq or Syria. We should not allow Turkey to get pulled deeper into the Middle Eastern quagmire." - Murat Yetkin in Radikal.

"If Turkey stays out of the coalition, it will be isolated; its influence will decrease. Government foreign policy always aims to have a regional and even a global role. Turkish diplomacy can present this role and influence only if it is in the coalition." - Sami Kohen in Milliyet.‎

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.


Tapes pull back curtain on Goldman Sachs

A sign near the Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock exchange.

In 2009 the Federal Reserve Bank of New York set out to investigate why US government officials were so blind to the Wall Street crash of 2008. Why were they unable to forecast the oncoming financial crisis? Why did the economic contagion nearly topple the whole global financial system?

The fault, according to an independent review by Columbia University Prof David Beim, was that the government regulators were too deferential to the banks they were supposed to oversee. Within the New York Fed, employees were urged by their supervisors to look the other way when they found violations and to temper critical reports.

Start Quote

Even the best set of rules is totally insufficient if paired with an enforcement system that applies them inconsistently or not at all”

End Quote Dylan Matthews Vox

For many this isn't exactly news. What would be news, however, is evidence that shows that even after the financial collapse, and even after congressional attempts to institute more stringent oversight, nothing has changed. And there are secret recordings - made by a former New York Fed employee - that many are claiming provide first-hand evidence of continued government neglect.

These allegations are contained in an investigative report published on Friday by ProPublica in partnership with the radio programme This American Life. The author, Pulitzer Prize winner Jake Bernstein, spoke with former New York Fed employee Carmen Segarra, who was originally hired to boost oversight efforts following the 2008 collapse.

She was fired seven months later after clashes with her supervisors - but not before she secretly recorded more than 46 hours of meetings to support her claims that she was terminated because she wouldn't tone down her criticism of Goldman practices.

She sued the New York Fed alleging wrongful termination, but a judge dismissed her case in April. She is currently appealing the decision.

Traders stand on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Michael Lewis says that Wall Street regulators are too deferential to the banks they oversee

In her recordings a Goldman employee says that "consumer laws don't apply" to their wealthiest clients, for instance, and that she should pretend she didn't hear incriminating statements.

Bernstein recounts one of the recorded confrontations with a supervisor, Kim, which he cites as evidence that Ms Segarra was told to back down from sharp criticism of her Goldman colleagues:

Kim said that she needed to make changes quickly in order to succeed.

"You mean, not fired?" Segarra said.

"I don't want to even get there," Kim responded.

It would be unfair to fire her, Segarra offered, since she was doing a good job.

"I'm here to change the definition of what a good job is," Kim said. "There are two parts to it: Actually producing the results, which I think you're very capable of producing the results. But also be mindful of enfolding people and defusing situations, making sure that people feel like they're heard and respected."

Segarra had thought her job was simple: follow the evidence wherever it led. Now she was being told she had to "enfold" business-line specialists and "defuse" their objections.

"What does this have to do with bank examinations," Segarra wondered to herself, "or Goldman Sachs?"

The ProPublica report has prompted a renewed round of criticism of New York Federal Reserve practices and Goldman Sachs's behaviour.

Author Michael Lewis, a former Wall Street trader turned outspoken critic, penned a column for Bloomberg View arguing that the Goldman Sachs tapes should shock the public in a similar way to the video of NFL star Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in a New Jersey elevator.

He says the recordings reveal the "breathtaking wussiness" of government employees.

"Wall Street's regulators are people who are paid by Wall Street to accept Wall Street's explanations of itself, and who have little ability to defend themselves from those explanations," he writes.

Start Quote

To think that the New York Fed exists for any other reason than to advance the commercial and regulatory interests of Wall Street is simply fantasy”

End Quote William D Cohen Politico Magazine

Vox's Dylan Matthews writes that Goldman has been found to have committed far worse actions than are outlined in ProPublica's investigation. The real scandal, he says, is "the Fed's inability or unwillingness to uphold the rule of law".

"Reasonable people can debate whether specific regulations are necessary, but even the best set of rules is totally insufficient if paired with an enforcement system that applies them inconsistently or not at all," he writes.

It's not enough to read about the tapes, writes the Washington Post's Matt O'Brien. Hearing them first-hand is what really drives the message home.

"You have to hear how obsequious the supervisors sound when they talk to Goldman's executives, almost apologetic for not-quite doing their jobs," he says.

"The bad news is there's no easy answer here, because culture is a lot harder to change than regulations," he continues. "And that's why we need regulations that don't depend - or at least depend less - on uninhibited regulators. Things like tougher capital requirements might be smarter policy.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank has responded to the allegations with a statement that reads, in part:

"The decision to terminate Ms Segarra's employment with the New York Fed was based entirely on performance grounds, not because she raised concerns as a member of an examination team about any institution."

Goldman Sachs told Bernstein that Ms Segarra unsuccessfully applied for jobs at the investment bank on three occasions and that her supervisors contradicted her claims.

According to financial author William D Cohen, the system - created by big banks, for big banks - is working just as designed.

"The Segarra Tapes actually reveal little or nothing that was not already known, assuming you have a shred of understanding how the Federal Reserve banks actually work," he writes for Politico Magazine.

"To think that the New York Fed exists for any other reason than to advance the commercial and regulatory interests of Wall Street is simply fantasy," he writes. "Clearly Segarra did not get that message when she joined the bank as one of Goldman's regulators. So she learned the lesson the hard way and got fired."

In his Bloomberg column Michael Lewis concludes with a challenge.

"So what are you going to do about it?" he asks. "At this moment the Fed is probably telling itself that, like the financial crisis, this, too, will blow over. It shouldn't."

Perhaps it shouldn't. And perhaps the importance of what is contained in the Segurra tapes is a thousand of times greater than a sport league looking the other way when a football player assaults his future wife. But even in the NFL case, the powers that be are still in power.

And the NFL is small beans compared to Goldman Sachs and the might of the Wall Street establishment.


For Eric Holder, race was the defining issue

Attorney General Eric Holder.

Over his nearly six years in office, US Attorney General Eric Holder - who on Thursday announced he plans to resign - had become a regular target of conservative ire.

The attorney general was the subject of a torrent of allegations, including obstruction of justice in investigations over the ill-conceived "Fast and Furious" gun-running operation, supporting a trial for al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York and a perceived failure to enforce immigration, welfare and healthcare laws.

While these issues garnered a great deal of attention in the conservative press, it was perhaps inevitable that the real debate over Mr Holder would centre around one issue - race.

Start Quote

He's been after an agenda, and if the constitution was in the way, he trampled on the constitution”

End Quote Charles Krauthammer Fox News

"Someday, another black president may name another black attorney to run the Department of Justice, and their shared identity may not matter so much," writes NPR's Ron Elving. "But for Holder and Obama, breaking the racial barrier as the nation's top two law enforcement officers meant living with the consequences."

While Barack Obama has conscientiously tried to avoid the race issue in public whenever possible, Mr Holder has often confronted it head on.

In 2009, for instance, he said the US was "a nation of cowards" on racial issues. In 2013 he called statistics showing longer prison sentences for black males compared to whites who committed similar crimes "shameful".

"It's unworthy of our great country, and our great legal tradition," he said.

Mr Holder's actions have come with the president's implicit authorisation, according to Politico's Glenn Thrush. "Holder has been willing to say the things Obama couldn't or wouldn't say about race," he writes.

For conservatives, Mr Holder has pursed a racial agenda that favoured chosen minorities over the public at large. As evidence, they cite his decision not to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party who had been accused of voter intimidation in 2008 and the justice department-led challenges to voter identification laws in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas.

"He's been after an agenda, and if the constitution was in the way, he trampled on the constitution," columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox's Special Report.

President Barack Obama hugs Attorney General Eric Holder. The political legacies of Barack Obama and Eric Holder are bound together

The editors of the National Review write that Mr Holder's resignation is "an act of mercy toward the American public". The attorney general, they say, engaged in "rank partisanship" on racial issues then hid behind his skin colour when criticised.

"Holder dismissed his critics as racists, eager to destroy him and the president because 'we're both African American'," they add.

"Holder has transformed the US Department of Justice into a racial grievance incubator, an intensive care unit for kooky, authoritarian ideas that should have died after the 1960s," writes Frontpage Mag's Matthew Vadum.

One columnist compared the attorney general to segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama.

"Like a modern-day George Wallace, Holder has called for racial preference now, racial preferences tomorrow, racial preferences forever," says the Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro in a piece that was removed shortly after it was published on the think tank's website (but is cached here).

Start Quote

Holder's real legacy lies in his refusal to be a coward on matters of race”

End Quote David Cole The New Yorker

For liberals Mr Holder actions weren't faults, they were his crowning achievement. He was the first attorney general to seriously address institutionalised racism in US society and within the justice system specifically.

"As Holder departs, he leaves behind a civil rights legacy that includes some of the broadest steps in recent decades to dismantle - or at least lessen - the racial disparities in America's criminal justice system," writes Vox's German Lopez.

"The reforms tackled major issues within the US justice system such as mass incarceration, the war on drugs and harsh local policing," he continues. "These issues had gone largely unquestioned by Holder's tough-on-crime predecessors, despite some of the deep racial disparities they helped create."

The New Yorker's David Cole calls Republican criticism of Mr Holder for things like the gun-running scandal or terrorist prosecutions "blips on the horizon".

"Holder's real legacy lies in his refusal to be a coward on matters of race, and his courage in using the power and influence of his office to press the arc of our criminal law a little closer toward justice," he concludes.

Mr Holder's legacy is inextricably intertwined with that of Mr Obama. He is one of the president's longest-serving cabinet members and, by all accounts, a close friend and confidant.

The sharp words over the outgoing attorney general have been, in effect, a proxy fight over the political epitaph that will be written for the president in two years. And when that day comes, the race issue will again be unavoidable.


Should Hope Solo be benched?

Hope Solo Hope Solo suited up to play on 18 September in Mexico

The dust is settling around National Football League (NFL) players Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy after each man was arrested for separate cases of domestic abuse. Now another prominent athlete is making headlines for similar reasons - female football star Hope Solo.

In June, the US national women's team's star goalkeeper was arrested and charged with two counts of domestic abuse in connection with an assault on her sister and 17-year-old nephew.

She has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial in November.

Rice is suspended from the NFL indefinitely and Peterson and Hardy have been benched. But Solo continues to play for two teams, including the US national side.

Nike has publicly ended ties with Rice and Peterson, but nearly three months after Solo's arrest, the company has not said a word about its sponsorship deal with her.

This summer, the US Soccer Federation issued this gentle statement:

"We are aware that Hope is handling a personal situation at the moment," US Soccer spokesman Neil Bluethe told USA Today.

"At the same time, she has an opportunity to set a significant record that speaks to her hard work and dedication over the years with the national team. While considering all factors involved, we believe that we should recognise that in the proper way."

Start Quote

There is a reason why we call it the 'Violence Against Women Act' and not the 'Brawling With Families Act'”

End Quote Ta-Nehisi Coates The Atlantic

Since then, Solo broke the record to which Mr Bluethe referred - the women's national team record for shutouts.

Some commentators say she should have been sent off the field months ago.

"Solving the problem in the NFL while ignoring the issue elsewhere would accomplish little as a whole," writes John Smallwood for the Philadelphia Daily News. "If we are going to address domestic abuse, let's address it, regardless of the status of the accused perpetrator."

Thousands of young girls flock to stadiums to watch Solo play, he notes.

"How is it OK to showcase Solo to those girl fans - some of whom unfortunately will become victims of the same domestic abuse she is accused of?" he asks.

ESPN's Kate Fagan came out in favour of a strong punishment for Solo. "The issue is about anger and power, about controlling relationships with violence, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator," she wrote. "The US women's national team is sending the wrong message by allowing Solo to continue playing."

But as if to demonstrate the complicated nature of this case, Fagan felt compelled to follow up days later. While she stands firm in her desire to see Solo benched, she says she was uncomfortable with how many people were using Solo's actions as a way to neutralise the discussion of domestic violence within the NFL.

NFL running back Adrian Peterson NFL running back Adrian Peterson has been banned from team activities until his legal issues are resolved

"See?" she wrote, summarising the arguments that troubled her. "Women commit domestic violence, too, so let's just call it even and get back to watching some football!"

That approach, she writes, is a mistake.

"The reason the 'NFL and domestic violence' story is so important is because it's holding up a mirror to the rest of society," she writes. "We can get somewhere better by examining the NFL's failures. Every minute we spend talking about Hope Solo is a minute spent walking down a dead end."

On MSNBC's Morning Joe chat show, BBC World News America presenter Katty Kay emphasised that Solo's case, while serious, was not representative of the norm.

"Let's not try and use that as an example to suggest that women are as guilty of domestic violence against their partners, because it is overwhelmingly men who beat their wives," she said.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic agrees, citing the main US anti-domestic violence law.

"There is a reason why we call it the 'Violence Against Women Act' and not the 'Brawling With Families Act'," he writes.

For Slate's Amanda Hess, the differences between the NFL and the US Soccer Federation make them difficult to compare.

"Isn't it more likely that the lack of public pressure in Solo's case simply represents the relative lack of attention that women's soccer receives as compared with pro football?"

And unlike the NFL, she writes, US Soccer is not burdened with "a systematic, decades-long history of ignoring the fact that certain players abuse their partners."

Solo herself posted on Facebook and Twitter saying, "Once all the facts come to light and the legal process is concluded, I am confident that I will be fully exonerated."

Officials are waiting to see what the court decides.

"Abuse in all forms is unacceptable," US Olympic Committee chief officer Scott Blackmun said in a recent email to USA Today.

"The allegations involving Ms Solo are disturbing and are inconsistent with our expectations of Olympians. We have had discussions with US Soccer and fully expect them to take action if it is determined that the allegations are true."

While they wait, fans are forming their own opinions - and women's football, never as popular in the US as the NFL, is getting attention for all the wrong reasons.

Written by Kierran Petersen


US pundits question Syria air strikes

President Obama makes a speech about the fight against IS Obama: "We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists."

The US and Arab allies are waging a military campaign against IS in Syria. US pundits weigh in on President Obama's decision to lead the campaign.

Some commentators in the US wonder whether the air campaign makes sense.

"Given that it will be months before the Free Syrian Army receives any training, the evidence from the Iraq campaign does not bode well for any immediate success in Syria," writes Tufts University's Daniel W Drezner in the Washington Post.

He uses a pollster-style approach, the kind usually seen during election campaigns, in his analysis of the US-led military campaign.

He says: "I'm 70% certain that there will be no fundamental change in the Islamic State's hold on territory in Syria and Iraq for the rest of this calendar year."

Protester in Washington Hearings in Washington have been disrupted by protesters

Meanwhile on Twitter Robert Wright, a senior fellow at New America Foundation, casts doubt on US claims that the strikes have broad support around the world. President Obama has said: "This is not America's fight alone."

Yet Wright wonders whether the US really does have broad support around the world. He worries that the president's attempt to destroy enemies in the Middle East could inadvertently create new ones.

Wright tweets: "If anyone thinks allying w these arab states makes US attack on ISIS *less* an asset for jihadist recruiters, I have bad news for you."

Some pundits in the US applaud the military action, though.

Writing in the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg says: "President Obama has taken the first, significant steps to at least slow, and possibly reverse, Isis's expansion."

Goldberg says it is clear who is leading the fight - and also who will be held responsible.

"Obama has spread around the risk, but make no mistake, this is an American fight," Goldberg writes. "If President Obama wasn't convinced that the US is - and should be - the world's sole remaining superpower, he is now."

Meanwhile Fox News host and commentator Howard Kurtz ‏writes admiringly about the president's forthright manner.

During the president's speech about the military campaign, Kurtz tweets: "Obama, on the [White House] lawn, seems more forceful about fighting Isis, less discursive, more like a war president."

A Syrian refugee who has fled to Turkey US-led forces attack IS - meanwhile many Syrians, such as this individual, are fleeing to Turkey

As these commentators show, presidents usually have broad domestic support during wartime, even from those who usually complain about them, at least in the beginning of their military campaigns.

Obama's supporters acknowledge - and even celebrate - that the campaign is led by the US. Harvard's Nicholas Burns, writing in the Boston Globe, applauds the president's decision to launch the air strikes in Syria.

Burns, who is a former US ambassador, uses the collective "we" in his column about the president's actions.

He writes: "Americans should expect this to be a long, dangerous, and often frustrating mission. But we would be derelict in strategic and even moral terms if we left unopposed a vicious and predatory terrorist group that could ignite an even more bloody regional war engulfing not only Iraq and Syria, but also neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, and even Turkey."

He adds: "Obama has launched a new and necessary phase in the battle against Isis. It is a fight we did not seek but must now pursue."

Well, the bombs have fallen. People in the US and in other countries - both those who support the president and those who condemn him - are wondering what will happen next.

Follow Tara McKelvey on Twitter.


Climate protest: Big deal or big dud?

Climate-change activists march through the streets of New York City on 21 September, 2014.

Protesters took to the streets of Manhattan on Sunday to call for global action to address climate change. The event's organisers estimated that turnout exceeded 300,000, making it one of the largest environmental-related protests in US history.

The event's success has many on the left heralding a new dawn for climate-change activism. After stalled efforts to pass limits on greenhouse gas in 2009, the issue had been pushed to the political margins. President Barack Obama made moves to strengthen regulation of greenhouse gases through administrative action and there have been numerous battles in the courts, but the public as a whole has been unengaged.

CNN's John D Sutter says he was starting to wonder if the Americans would ever really care about climate change, but Sunday's protest "put those doubts completely to rest".

Start Quote

Mobilisation and activism around the issue are at unprecedented levels”

End Quote Rebecca Leber The New Republic

He says he saw marchers calling for "quick, assured action".

"I met people from China, Tibet, West Virginia, Arizona - all of whom want the world to act," he writes.

Tim McDonnell and James West of Mother Jones write that "passions were sky-high" during the protests:

"Aside from the powerful message about climate change and fossil fuel dependence, fracking stood out as a key focal point of the march. Young people also dominated the crowd - teenagers sang and danced, tweeting and Facebooking all the way."

The New Republic's Rebecca Leber calls the demonstrations "genuinely a big deal".

"Mobilisation and activism around the issue are at unprecedented levels," she says.

Conservative commentators, on the other hand, were not impressed.

A shirtless man holds a peace flag during protests in New York City on 21 September, 2014. Byron York says Sunday's protests was the latest incarnation of the left-wing protest culture

The National Review's John Fund says the protests smacked of desperation.

"There was a tone of fatalism in the comments of many with whom I spoke; they despair that the kind of radical change they advocate probably won't result from the normal democratic process," he writes. "It's no surprise then that the rhetoric of climate-change activists has become increasingly hysterical."

According to the Washington Examiner's Byron York, the massive street protest was just another hodgepodge of liberal issues and protest culture.

"When People's Climate is the banner, any sort of lefty cause can be subsumed underneath it," he writes. "Thus the 'DECOLONIZATION COOLS THE PLANET' people, and the 'CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HEALTH CARE CRISIS' people and the 'VEGANISM SAVES THE PLANET' guy all march together."

Start Quote

The People's Climate March was one long, loud, loosely organised demand that vast sums of money be taken from the wealthy”

End Quote Byron York The Washington Examiner

He contends that the spirit of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street financial protests infusing the climate march meant that the main theme was less about addressing the environmental issue and more about "climate justice" - that is, making corporations, conservative billionaires and the rest of the 1% pay.

York concludes:

"Put it all together - all the justice demanders, the tax Wall Streeters and the spirit of Occupy symbolized by the angry pacifist - and the People's Climate March was one long, loud, loosely organised demand that vast sums of money be taken from the wealthy and given to the clients of the coalitions and alliances and networks and task forces that make up today's environmental justice movement. They've had enough of debating climate models. They want to start taking - now."

Even on the left there has been some dissatisfaction with the march's broad vision and lack of a clear action plan. It is, in effect, "a massive photo-op", writes author and activist Quincy Saul for Truthout.

"The People's Climate March has a powerful slogan," he says. "It has world-class publicity. But the desire to bring the biggest possible number of people to the march has trumped all other considerations."

"No target, no demands, no timing, no unity, no history and no integrity amounts to one thing: no politics," he continues. "The whole will be far less than the sum of its parts."

Whatever the motivation, and however disparate the interests, it's hard to get 200,000-plus Americans to gather together for anything that doesn't involve sport or outdoor music festivals.

The question, then, becomes what the march can accomplish. The Occupy Wall Street protests came and went, and Wall Street hasn't missed a beat. If the People's Climate March is to be any different, the participants will have to take the slogans and chants of a balmy New York Sunday and translate them into political action.

That, as we've seen, is a difficult task. Although the marchers's goal was to influence the international climate talks hosted by the UN this week, the reality is - barring some sort of clever negotiating maneouvre on the part of the Obama administration - any deal will have to get through Congress.

Unless Congress changes - and, it's worth noting, there is an election a few months away - hopes for significant action on climate change will likely die there.


About this Blog:

Echo Chambers unscrambles the noise of the global debate, from social media to scholarly journals, Kansas City to Kathmandu.

About the Editor:

Anthony Zurcher is a senior writer with the BBC and editor of Echo Chambers, where he gathers and analyses the best in US and world opinion. He previously edited political columnists of all stripes – left and right, right and wrong.

Tweets

Follow Us

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.