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Echo Chambers
1 September 2014 Last updated at 12:45 ET

Should the US adopt a shorter working week?

Man in suit on the beach

Today is Labour Day, which means that many Americans, especially those who work a standard 9-5, Monday-to-Friday work week, have a rare three-day weekend.

But if some economists and social scientists get their way - to say nothing of lowly middle-managers and office drones - shorter workweeks will soon become the norm.

There is a growing body of evidence that shorter work weeks actually lead to more productive employees.

Right now, the US seems to value long work weeks for the sake of long work weeks. We put in more time at the office than other Western nations, but with less to show for it than one would hope.

According to Melissa Dahl, writing in New York Magazine, "The US is one of the most productive nations on the planet, second only to Luxembourg, but Americans work almost 20% more hours than individuals in Luxembourg. We're working longer days, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're achieving more."

An earlier report found that there was little correlation between hours worked, productivity, and wages. Writing in MarketWatch, Quentin Fortrell calculates that Germany works almost 45% fewer annual hours than Greece, but is 70% more productive, while annual German salaries are higher.

Reducing work hours has also reduced unemployment, he says, noting that "countries with the largest reduction in work hours had the largest increase in employment rates since the Great Recession".

The shorter work week is an idea that both corporate fat cats and tree-hugging environmentalists can love. Billionaires Carlos Slim and Larry Page have spoken publicly in support of shorter weeks, while CNBC cites a recent survey showing "that more than 69% of millionaires surveyed (those with investible assets of $1 million or more) said they believed the four-day work week is a 'valid idea'."

At the same time, closing down office car parks for an extra day a week has tremendous environmental impacts, according to Lynn Stuart Parramore writing in AlterNet, due to fewer commuting journeys. She also points out that less time in the office means less time sitting, which has been linked to health risks, and more time to tend to health problems that may go ignored in a typical 40-hour work week. "For many Americans, going to see a doctor involves sneaking off in the middle of the workday, because there's no time outside of work to do it. Ironically, they probably need the doctor more because they spend so much time in the office."

And of course, it's just better for overall morale, which is a boost to both employees and employers, who will have to deal with less turnover and a better motivated workforce.

So what's the catch? No one wants to be the first company to go dark one day a week when everyone else is still doing business. But Dahl, writing for New York Magazine, notes that the tide is turning - some companies offer summer hours, which could easily be transitioned to the rest of the year.

"Stretching the spirit of summer Fridays through all four seasons isn't an outlandish idea; it's already slowly starting to happen," she says, noting that 30% of US workers have some sort of flex-time scheduling. "This means that these workers are not stuck at work for a prescribed set of hours; they can create their own schedules in order to strike that mythical work-life balance."

For many the work week is already changing, and not for the better. According to the New York Times, those in the service economy are increasingly finding themselves beholden to efficency software that cuts down labour costs for companies while subjecting workers to ever-changing schedules and demands that they make themselves "on call" at all times.

And a report published today says workers are claiming an increase in wage theft - when employees are expected to show up early or stay after their scheduled shifts without any extra pay.

How a four-day work week would affect this trend has yet to broach the public conversation.

Gillibrand: Congressmen called me 'fat', 'porky'

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sits at a Senate committee hearing.

During her time as a congresswoman and senator in Washington, Kirsten Gillibrand has been called "porky", "chubby" and "fat" - and not by anonymous internet trolls, but by her fellow politicians.

These are some of the revelations Ms Gillibrand shares in her upcoming book, Off the Sidelines, as detailed in a New York Post article published on Wednesday.

The Post goes on to describe other instances in which the 47-year-old senator says she was harassed by her peers.

"Good thing you're working out, because you wouldn't want to get porky," she says she was told while exercising in the House gym.

Start Quote

We all had our stories of whom you'd not get in an elevator with and whom you'd protect your young female interns from”

End Quote Andrea Mitchell MSNBC

"You know, Kirsten, you're even pretty when you're fat," another allegedly informed her.

Ms Gillibrand served in the House from 2007 until she was named to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat in 2009. She says she struggled with her weight after giving birth to her second child in 2008, gaining and losing as much as 50 pounds.

According to the Post, one labour leader told her she used to be beautiful - and to win her Senate election in 2010 "you need to be beautiful again".

The initial response to Ms Gillibrand's revelations was one of shock and disgust - the Washington Post's Jamie Fuller called them "jaw-droppingly bad/offensive".

Ms Gillibrand's Senate colleagues seem to think she's "just another piece of meat", writes the Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi.

"There is, apparently, no position that a woman can hold that will protect her from men who want to talk to her like she is holding up a sign that says, 'TELL ME HOW I LOOK'."

New York Magazine's Annie Lowrey put together a flow chart to help men determine whether or not to comment about a women's physical appearance (spoiler - it's never a good idea).

Others came forward with their own stories of congressional harassment. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell said the worst Capitol Hill offenders are well known.

"We all had our stories of whom you'd not get in an elevator with and whom you'd protect your young female interns from," she said on her television programme.

Start Quote

I haven't seen anyone suggest Gillibrand's harassers have a 'responsibility' to come forward, apologise, atone”

End Quote Jamison Foser Media Matters

Within a day or two, however, the Gillibrand discussion turned from outrage to a parlour game of who, exactly, the senator was referring to in her anecdotes.

If there's one thing Washington won't abide, it's anonymity. Why wasn't the senator revealing her "sources"? It's time for her to name names, they cried.

"Shouldn't Gillibrand name these Senate guys who fat-shamed her?" asked the New York Times's Nick Confessore on Thursday. "Doesn't she kind of have a responsibility to name them?"

Politico's John Bresnahan tweeted that he straight-up didn't buy the senator's stories.

"I challenge this story," he wrote. "Sorry, I don't believe it."

After an ensuing uproar, he apologised for the tweet, calling it "moronic".

Republican strategist/pollster Frank Luntz speculated that Ms Gillibrand wasn't talking because the perpetrators were fellow Democrats.

Kirsten Gillibrand taking the oath of office as a senator in 2009. Kirsten Gillibrand takes the oath of office for Hillary Clinton's vacant Senate seat in 2009

Conservative consultant Rick Wilson agreed: "I suspect if the offending party in the Gillibrand story was a Republican, we'd know it by now."

All of this is too much for Slate's Amanda Marcotte:

"In the real world, when an anecdote shifts to an accusation, the accused immediately denies any wrongdoing and accuses his accuser of being crazy, slutty, or some combination thereof. And should she not be able to produce rock solid proof that the harassment happened, people will take sides and tempers will flare. The accused will likely get away with it, even if he's totally guilty, and the accuser's reputation will be seriously damaged."

Why would Ms Gillibrand want to through that, she asks.

The discussion should be focused on preventing sexual harassment, she says, not on a scandal hunt

"I haven't seen anyone suggest Gillibrand's harassers have a 'responsibility' to come forward, apologise, atone," tweets Jamison Foser of Media Matters. "Fascinating."

Fascinating indeed.

Message to kids: Parks bad, guns good

A still from the video of a 9-year-old girl shortly before she accidentally shot a man with an Uzi.

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

Today's must-read

The New Republic's Alec MacGillis has a simple observation. In today's US, it's illegal for 9-year-olds to play in a park by themselves, but it's perfectly permissible for them to fire Uzi machine guns.

He points to the recent tragic incident in Arizona in which a girl on a shooting range accidentally killed an instructor and contrasts it with the case a month earlier in which a mother was jailed for working at McDonald's while her daughter played in a nearby playground.

When historians of the future "try to capture the Zeitgeist of our age, they'll find some kind of larger truth in the conjunction of these two episodes," he writes.

The mom in the playground case, 46-year-old Debra Harrell, has undergone significant "societal scrutiny". Were her actions justified? What constitutes proper parental oversight? So far, MacGillis notes, the parents in the Arizona story have avoided such judgements.

After the shooting, he observes, the National Rifle Association even had the audacity to send out a bit of advice via Twitter: "Seven ways children can have fun at the shooting range". The promoted story offered advice such as using coloured, animal-shaped or exploding targets to keep the child's attention.

"Children have fun watching little chickens, rabbits or other shapes fall or spin," Mia Anstine writes. "It's also rewarding when they hear the 'tink' as they hit their metal targets."

"In all seriousness," McGillis asks, "if Harrell had dropped off [daughter] Regina at a shooting range instead of at the jungle gym, would she have been in the clear?"


Nato's promise to Ukraine - In the face of Russian belligerence, many Ukrainians believe that Nato should support their struggling nation not only with diplomatic assistance, but with military support, writes Marc Champion for Bloomberg View. He says that it is unlikely that the US and Europe will go to war on Ukraine's behalf, however.

"That may not be fair, but it is rational," says Champion. "Absent a willingness to go to war on the part of Nato, the most potent weapons against Putin's adventurism are economic and long-term."

Rather than sending troops and tanks to the Russian-Ukrainian border, Champion believes that sector-wide sanctions could have a greater impact.

"The US and Europe should give Putin every possible signal that they are prepared to ensure Ukraine's survival as a state, short of war," he concludes.


Facing the backlash of austerity - The New York Times's Paul Krugman, whose writing recently instigated a fair amount of political turmoil in France, is back at it.

In his most recent column, he says that French President Francois Hollande was elected on the promise of easing austerity measures but has "promptly folded, giving in completely to demands for even more austerity".

Mr Hollande has slipped into a "vicious circle" of promoting austerity measures that lead to stalled growth, which then becomes the rationale for greater austerity measures, Krugman says.

"In failing France, Mr Hollande is also failing Europe as a whole - and nobody knows how bad it might get," Krugman concludes.


Pakistan's torture report - A disturbing trend of torture among Pakistan's police has been revealed in a new report from researchers at Yale Law School, write Yale Law School students Kristine Beckerle, Deborah Francois and Babur Khwaja for the Baltimore Sun.

"Police in Faisalabad, Pakistan's third-largest city, tortured more than 1,400 people during a six-year period," they write.

"Pakistan's constitution, its domestic laws and the treaties it has ratified ban these cruel and inhumane practices, yet rarely have police officers been held accountable for the violence they've inflicted upon Pakistani citizens."

They warn that instead of holding the police accountable for the torture and abuse, Pakistan's parliament continues to pass laws giving the police more authority, despite the potential for greater human rights abuses.

Central African Republic

The 'gemocracy' behind the war - The French embassy in the Central African Republic is calling for an embargo on diamonds to be lifted, writes Le Monde's Cyril Bensimon (translated by Worldcrunch).

"The aim of the embargo decreed two months after the Muslim Seleka rebels took over power was to prevent armed groups from financing themselves by trading stones, but this measure led to a boom in smuggling," he says.

Although the stones cannot leave the country, writes Bensimon, UN experts have found that companies are continuing to purchase the gems, waiting for the sanctions to be lifted,

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

On Thursday, former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sworn in as the new president of Turkey. Turkish commentators discuss what the future holds.

"Erdogan's oath-taking was viewed with great interest... What everyone is curious about is whether he will keep the oath, which is based on principles and rules that, up to now, he has not respected." - Melih Asik in Millyet.

"In a way, Erdogan is claiming that he is the real successor to [modern Turkey's founding father] Ataturk. That is a subject open to debate since one of Ataturk's basic motivations was to make Turkey a part of secular Western civilisation, whereas Erdogan says this can be achieved by highlighting Islamic cultural ties as well." - Murat Yetkin in Hurriyet.‎

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

'No strategy' Obama reveals IS truth

President Barack Obama pauses during a press conference on 28 August.

"We don't have a strategy yet."

President Barack Obama spoke a great deal about Syria, Iraq and the Islamic State (IS) in Thursday's press conference, but these six words are dominating the non-beige-suit-related discussion among US politicians and pundits.

The line was part of the president's response to a question about whether he needs Congress's approval to "go into Syria". It seemed a frank admission that the administration is grappling with how to engage its military against rebel forces less than a year after it had all but decided to bomb the Syrian soldiers now fighting them.

Start Quote

There is just absolutely no reason to hand that kind of morale boost and public relations victory to all of your enemies”

End Quote Mollie Hemingway The Federalist

Frankness, however, is an unusual attribute in the Washington corridors of power.

Mr Obama's line is a textbook example of veteran journalist Michael Kinsley's definition of a political gaffe, which occurs when a politician tells an "obvious truth that he isn't supposed to say".

But is that "obvious truth" that the Islamic State situation is beyond an easy fix or that the president is blundering without a foreign policy vision? (Or both?)

It all depends on perspective.

The president's critics were quick to apply the line to what they see as the administration's lack of a detailed plan for confronting the IS threat throughout the region.

The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway says that the no-strategy phrase "perfectly encapsulates" what's wrong with the president's foreign policy.

Start Quote

I'm just not sure the severity of the problem has sunk in with the administration just yet”

End Quote Mike Rogers US Congressman

"The problem isn't just the lack of strategy for a situation that should not have caught us by surprise but the decision to be extremely public about being tentative," she writes. "There is just absolutely no reason to hand that kind of morale boost and public relations victory to all of your enemies."

Mr Obama refuses to accept the fact that we're at war, writes the Weekly Standard's William Kristol. Because of this reluctance, he continues, the president's moves in the Middle East are hesitant, defensive and haphazard.

"To organise for war, to articulate a strategy, to commit to victory - all of this would make the Obama presidency a war presidency," Kristol says. "But being a war president doesn't comport with Barack Obama's self-image."


Analysis: Jon Sopel, North America Editor

'We don't have a strategy yet', is one of those things you don't expect presidents to say out loud. But maybe it is a mark of the divisions that exist within the administration over how hawkish to be about Islamic State.

What this statement from the president does show is firstly just how complex the military options are in attacking Islamic State in Syria.

But most importantly it shows the extreme wariness of this president to unilaterally start military action when it's not clear where it will end.

So next week John Kerry will go on from the NATO summit in Wales to the Middle East to build support for US action in Syria.

But maybe the president was also sending a message to European leaders like Prime Minister David Cameron that says don't expect America to do all the heavy lifting on this by itself.

In return, maybe in his statement on raising the UK terror alert, Mr Cameron was signalling back: you won't have to.

But it is also worth just adding this: exactly this time a year ago, Mr Obama was preparing to attack targets of the Assad regime. Twelve months on he's looking to attack President Assad's opponents.

That is a mark of just how complex the politics is - and might explain why the president is still trying to define a strategy


Republican politicians also hurried to respond. With November's midterm elections looming, any foreign policy stumbles by the president could translate into political gain.

"President says 'we don't have a strategy yet' to deal with #ISIS," tweeted Congressman Tom Price. "That's obvious and increasingly unacceptable."

"I'm just not sure the severity of the problem has sunk in with the administration just yet," Congressman Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee, said on CNN. "It was an odd press conference at the very best."

The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin and Eli Lake say that behind the president's statement is a lack of consensus among the administration's foreign policy team.

Start Quote

Better to be tentative about strategy when there are no easy answers than claiming to have strategy when don't”

End Quote Lawrence Freedman Professor, King's College

While some officials advocate air strikes against IS inside Syrian territory, others counsel a more cautious approach focusing on Iraq. It was this approach that the president appeared to endorse on Thursday, as he pledged to "roll back" IS gains in Iraq.

"Those inside the administration advocating for going after IS in both Iraq and Syria were sorely disappointed - and lamented their boss's lack of urgency in rooting out a threat that only days before was being described in near-apocalyptic terms," Rogin and Lake write.

As the drumbeat of criticism grew, the administration attempted to push back. White House press secretary Josh Earnest tweeted: "In his remarks today, POTUS was explicit - as he has been in the past - about the comprehensive strategy we'll use to confront the IS threat."

Others defended the president's words, arguing that the US should not commit to military action without carefully considering the consequences.

"Better to be tentative about strategy when there are no easy answers than claiming to have strategy when don't," tweeted King's College war studies Prof Lawrence Freedman.

President Barack Obama talks during a press conference on 28 August. The Atlantic's Peter Beinart says the president is offering the minimalist Middle East strategy that the American public wants

The Atlantic's Peter Beinert says the president does have a strategy in the Middle East - a minimalist approach that limits intervention and focuses on counter-terrorism.

"President Obama's Mideast strategy is not grand," he writes. "It's not inspiring. It's not idealistic. But it's what the American people want and what their government knows how to do."

At presser, Obama's suit does the talking

President Obama at a press conference in the White House on 28 August, 2014.

On Thursday afternoon Barack Obama delivered some stern words toward the Islamic State and Russia. This meant, of course, that Twitter was abuzz with talk about the beige suit the president was sporting.

The last time tan togs were this discussed in Washington, Vice President Al Gore had started wearing earth tones after feminist author and political consultant Naomi Wolf reportedly told him it would make him look more like an "alpha male".

Start Quote

Obama's suit gets more attention than his words? Welcome to every day in the first lady's life”

End Quote Laura Basset The Huffington Post

Here is an unofficial list of the 10 best lines on Twitter during the president's speech:

"The emperor has no taste in suits." - Mark Hemmingway, the Weekly Standard.

"Who will have the first 'Potus Suit History' piece? Even money on BuzzFeed, but could also see Slate on it." - Josh Sternberg, the Washington Post.

"Obama vows to defeat whoever made him wear this suit." - Josh Barro, the New York Times.

"Missed Obama's remarks, but from the pictures I've seen, the main problems with his suit are the lapels and that it doesn't fit very well." - Brian Beutler, the New Republic.

Start Quote

Who gave President Obama that old church suit from my dad's closet?”

End Quote Wesley Lowery The Washington Post

"Obama's suit gets more attention than his words? Welcome to every day in the first lady's life." - Laura Basset, the Huffington Post.

"Obama hopes to frighten Vladimir Putin into submission with this suit choice." - Ben Shapiro, Truth Revolt.

"Denim or nothing, Mr President." - Tim Murphy, Mother Jones.

"Once again, sartorial policing falls to America's best dressed: Washington, DC-based journalists" - Evan McMorris-Santoro, Buzzfeed.

"Who gave President Obama that old church suit from my dad's closet?" - Wesley Lowery, the Washington Post.

Winning Twitter, however, is Congress's elder statesmen, the soon-to-be-retiring congressman from Michigan, John Dingell, who signalled his approval.

John Dingell tweets a picture of himself in a beige suit.

In October 2012, the president told Vanity Fair's Michael Lewis that there's a reason he only wears grey or blue suits.

"I'm trying to pare down decisions," he said. "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

President Obama leaves church on Easter Day 2014 wearing a beige suit. President Obama sports his beige suit on Easter Sunday, 2014

That doesn't mean this is the first time the beige suit has made it out of the president's closet, however. As many noted, he donned the light-colour duds this Easter.

Cue more church jokes, I suppose.

Vice President Al Gore takes the stage at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. Vice President Al Gore appears in all his earth-toned glory at the 2000 Democratic National Convention

Is Wisconsin's Scott Walker in trouble?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at a convention.

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

Today's must-read

It's been rough going recently for Republican 2016 presidential hopefuls.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, an early frontrunner, has been mired in his bridge-related scandal for months. Florida's Jeb Bush's support for Common Core education reform is increasingly alienating him from the conservative base. And Texas Governor Rick Perry - always a long shot, to be sure - looks even less likely to catch fire thanks to his recent indictment on abuse of power charges.

So far, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a favourite of the grass-roots conservative Tea Party movement, has maintained his standing as a top-tier presidential prospect. But he's running for re-election this fall, and recent polls indicate that he could be in trouble.

In a Marquette University survey released this week, Mr Walker's Democratic opponent, Mary Burke, has a 49%-47% lead over among likely voters.

Slate political correspondent John Dickerson writes that even if Mr Walker wins in November, the "Walker Hypothesis" - "that a politician who enacted conservative policies and didn't shrink from the resulting controversy would be rewarded by a wide range of voters" - is dead.

Mr Walker has governed Wisconsin as he promised - cracking down on teachers unions, lowering taxes, and cutting education and health care budgets - but it hasn't led to a surge in support among Wisconsin voters.

Although Mr Walker survived a recall effort led by liberal constituencies, Dickerson notes that the governor admitted that part of that win could be attributed to voters rejecting the drawn-out recall process.

Dickerson adds that deep pockets, an aggressive campaign and the benefits of incumbency may help Mr Walker pull out another win, but "the polls seem pretty conclusive that it will only be through a grinding and close political battle where he relies deeply on his base".

"That's not how the hypothesis was supposed to work," he says.

Mr Walker's pitch to Republican presidential primary voters across the country is that he can give full-throated support to core conservative principles and win over a majority of the public. That's a much harder sell if it's not working in his home state.


Is Islamic State now a real state? - The territory of Islamic State (IS) "tends to be described as 'swaths'", writes the Atlantic's Kathy Gilsinan, but is the group now solidifying their self-proclaimed caliphate into a state?

IS has continued to win their battles, and with increased military success, they have acquired the infrastructure and resources needed to develop and defend their newly claimed territory, she says.

She argues that IS looks more like Afghanistan's Taliban-led government, which terrorised civilians and controlled "defined territory", than al-Qaeda, which did not.

She concludes that IS may not be a full-fledged state yet, but it appears to be heading that way.


A quiet cholera epidemic - In the shadow of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a quiet cholera epidemic is growing in Ghana, with the death toll reaching more than 55 people, write the editors of the Ghana Chronicle.

"Given the degree of filth that often engulfs our homes, even at highbrow residential neighbourhoods, it is surprising that cholera outbreaks are periodic and not perennial," they write.

"What is appalling and humiliating, though, is the planlessness and impotence demonstrated by officialdom in tackling this current cholera incidence."


Behind the numbers on French IS support - A new poll by the state-run Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya contends that 15% of French citizens hold a positive view of IS. According to Adam Taylor of the Washington Post, however, this statistic does not add up.

"There's little doubt that there is a disturbing amount of support for Islamic State and other extremist groups in Europe and beyond," he writes.

But for this statistic to be true, Taylor has found that it would require "the vast majority, if not all, of the Muslim population of France" to support IS.

"There's clearly a depressing, disturbing level of alienation among many Western Islamic communities," he writes, but propagating this incorrect statistic "could help to alienate the West's best hope in the fight against Islamic extremists - Western Muslims".


Turkey's changing of the guards - Turkey's ruling party recently nominated Ahmed Davutoglu to become the nation's prime minister, taking over from Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan will likely maintain a strong grip on the country when he steps into a presidential role. How will this affect Turkey's political landscape?

"Mr Davutoglu believes that Turkey should look to the past and embrace Islamic values and institutions," writes Marmara University Prof Behlul Ozkan for the New York Times.

Mr Ozkan also views that the new prime minister may not be the best to deal with Turkey's current border issues.

"Mr Davutoglu, who has argued that Turkey should create an Islamic Union by abolishing borders, seems to have no idea how to deal with the jihadis in Syria and Iraq, who have made Turkey's own borders as porous as Swiss cheese," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

With the latest ceasefire in effect in Gaza, regional commentators are debating which side has prevailed in the conflict.

"Despite the cover from the air and hiding behind tanks, Israel lost more than 70 soldiers in ground skirmishes in which the Zionists were defeated. This means that Israel does not have a fighting army to wage ground battles but rather an army of mercenaries." - Commentary by Mahmud Za'luk in Palestinian al-Risalah.

"It is incomprehensible that Hamas has declared unprecedented victory. On the scale of gain and loss the results are not in their favour, unless they consider that their mere existence regardless of the heavy losses inflicted on the Palestinians, is a victory" - Salih al-Qallab in Jordan's al-Ra'y.

"The cease-fire agreed with Hamas leaves the Israeli public frustrated. The political echelon chose not to subdue Hamas militarily and was content with heavy pounding of their tunnel network and a massive aerial attack that hit the organization's infrastructure and caused great damage to the Gaza Strip... " - Commentary by former Shabak chief Yuval Diskin in Yedioth Aharonot.‎

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

Don't blame war correspondent victims

A still from a video of journalist Peter Theo Curtis taken during his imprisonment by al-Qaeda affiliates Peter Theo Curtis is now free from his al-Qaeda affiliated kidnappers

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

Today's must-read

The line between tragedy and rescue when a journalist is kidnapped is thin and random, writes Columbia University journalism school dean Steve Coll in the New Yorker.

James Foley's Islamic State captors chose to execute him for propaganda purposes. Another reporter, Peter Theo Curtis, was freed by an al-Qaeda affiliate group.

No matter the outcome, Coll says, the public and the media shouldn't second-guess the actions of war correspondents who put their lives on the line to cover the story. Asking whether Foley was "reckless", as NPR's Kelly McEvers did recently, is unjustified.

He writes:

"Kidnapped journalists are crime victims. In most fields of crime, we've learned not to blame the victim - although exceptions persist, often because of racism or sexism. Foreign correspondence is a risky business with a public purpose. It is not as if the seductions of travelling in hard places for low pay and the possibility of death or imprisonment presents some form of moral hazard, particularly not for American correspondents, whose government has made it quite clear that it will not bail them out, except possibly by a special-forces raid."

Coll recalls his work as a senior editor at the Washington Post, where he and his fellow managers prepared for the possibility that one of their Iraq War reporters could be captured. He says that while the US and UK governments have a policy of not negotiating with kidnappers, "corporations and families should be free to make their own decisions".

"If the Obama Administration or a successor believes that paying ransoms endangers the common good, let it try to pass a law banning the practice," he writes. "It won't be easy."

These days, he writes, it may be more dangerous for young reporters to cover war because most of them, like Foley, are freelancers, without the protection and training provided by full-time employers.

Coll says that war zones, however, "have always attracted young reporters who learn by doing, from their mistakes and from those of colleagues".

As long as there is war, there will be people who risk their lives to bring the stories to the public. And, sadly, there will likely be more lives lost.


Risk remains for Japan's nuclear reactors - More than three years after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, writes Arnie Gundersen for the Lebanon Daily Star, Japan's reactors remain vulnerable to a nuclear meltdown.

"Japan is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis," he writes. "Is reopening its nuclear plants worth the risk to its people and their homeland?"

Even after Japan's brush with disaster, the country continues to promote the nuclear industry, he says.

"Fukushima, and before it Chernobyl, shows us that nuclear technology will always be able to destroy the fabric of a country in the blink of an eye," Gundersen concludes.

Timor Leste

No longer a failed state - One of the world's youngest nations, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, is no longer the war-torn country it once was, says Timor-Leste President of the Council of Ministers Agio Pereira. It is now finding stability and even success.

"Over the years, more than a few armchair critics have prognosticated the demise of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste," he writes in Foreign Affairs. "But nation-builders do not indulge notions of failure."

The fledgling state not only boasts a democratically elected government, it also has the Pacific's fastest-growing economy with impressive oil and gas reserves, Pereira says.

"Rome was not built in a day or even in 12 years," he writes. "Those who remember the history of their own countries should be less hasty to issue premature judgement of another."


Bashar Assad's deadly trap - As talk of airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) grows in Washington, the US should be wary of Syrian President Bashar Assad's conniving ways, writes Fred Hof for the New Republic.

"Assad has pursued with single-minded discipline a very simple strategy - sell oneself as the fire brigade to help hose the flames of one's own arson," he says.

After Mr Assad released Islamist prisoners from jail, thus purposely creating violent sectarianism amongst his opponents, the president then hoped that the West would come back to his side to help fight the spread of terrorism, says Hof.

"Assad has every reason to believe his strategy will bear fruit," writes Hof. "Now, as the US contemplates an aerial campaign against IS targets in the east, Assad envisions a continuation of living large at the expense of others - Iran, Russia, IS and now America."


Electoral pessimism grows - Following the 13 August death of Socialist Party presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, the outlook for the Brazilian general election has changed, writes Beatriz Miranda Cortez for El Espectador (translated by WorldCrunch).

"The October election comes amid growing dissatisfaction with the political parties and their traditions of patronage, especially among the country's young voters," she says.

"There has been a vigorous campaign in favour of abstention or casting blank votes, and it seems as if the generation that fought the country's dictatorship in the 1970s and forged its transition to democracy has come to the end of the line."

For many voters, Campos represented the change the country needed, says Cortez, but now the country must choose from who remains.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Afghan media offer their views on allegations of fraud in the review of voting in Afghanistan's recent presidential election and candidate Abdullah Abdullah's decision to withdraw his observers from the process.

"Prolonging the process will cause serious problems for the country on the economic and security fronts." - Editorial in Hasht-e Sobh.

"The claims made by [Mr Abdullah's] camp regarding the cases of fraud in elections have been proved baseless and nonsense... However, no one can tolerate a delay in the election process... The Afghan people demand that the process ends immediately." - Editorial in Sarnawesht.‎

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

Death by cop: Invisible numbers

A protestor in Ferguson, Missouri is confronted by a police officer weilding a shotgun.

The protestors of Ferguson, Missouri, may be gradually leaving the streets following weeks of marching in the name of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by police, but critical questions remain.

One, in particular, seems to have no good answer. How many other Americans are shot and killed by law enforcement each year?

The US lacks a standardised process to track police killings across the nation's 17,000 law enforcement agencies, which ultimately paints an incomplete portrait of police use of force.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Supplementary Homicide Report, there have been about 400 "justifiable police homicides" each year since 2008. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Statistics have reported similar numbers.

Start Quote

It's extremely time-consuming for police to record the facts of every incident, and police departments simply lack those resources”

End Quote John Roman and Zach McDade The Huffington Post

These estimates may be wrong, however, writes Reuben Fischer-Baum a staff writer for the website FiveThirtyEight. "Efforts to keep track of 'justifiable police homicides' are beset by systemic problems."

For instance, a rather significant issue with the data is that it is self-reported. The FBI program that tallies "justifiable police homicides" depends on state and local police agencies to submit their own statistics.

Additionally, there is no official tracking of police killings that, while conducted in the line of duty, were not justified. So if Officer Darren Wilson were found to be at fault for Mr Brown's death, it would not be included in the official FBI statistics.

The lack of comprehensive data is likely not intentional, write the Urban Institute's John Roman and Zach McDade in the Huffington Post.

"It's extremely time-consuming for police to record the facts of every incident, and police departments simply lack those resources," they say.

Reno News & Review reporter D Brian Burghart counters that it's too convenient for government officials to say they are unable to produce data that could embarrass to law enforcement.

"No government - not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force - wants you to know how many people it kills and why," he writes in an opinion piece for Gawker.

A Baltimore police officer runs with his gun drawn. Crime writer Jim Fisher says there were at least 607 fatal police shootings in 2011

He says he's spent the last two years trying to compile information on police shooting, and he has been obstructed every step of the way.

As the technical prowess of police departments increases, however, calls for better data collection and analysis likely will grow.

"This data-driven society, in which retailers know the buying habits of their customers down to the last dollar and police use sophisticated software to target crime 'hot spots', apparently lacks solid and systematic information about police shootings," write the Washington Post's editors.

Start Quote

the US must mandate reporting of all such incidents, collecting and publishing detailed accounts of how, why and when these killings have occurred”

End Quote Richard Florida CityLab

"Right now, the United States is embroiled in a necessary, but at times emotional, debate about the use of deadly force by police against civilians. Precise, complete and reliable official information must inform that discussion."

Not only do the police lack the resources to conduct comprehensive data collection, police shooting data, like other crime data, are "notoriously problematic" and prone to underreporting, says Richard Florida, editor of the Atlantic magazine's CityLab website and research professor at New York University.

"The prospect of the state killing its own people is a very serious one," writes Florida. "And the US must mandate reporting of all such incidents, collecting and publishing detailed accounts of how, why and when these killings have occurred."

In fact, 20 years ago the US attempted to mandate a standardised data collection process.

As part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress required the US attorney general to gather statistics on excessive force by police and publish an annual report of the data.

But the act was somewhat vague about the details of the annual report, writes Michael Doyle for McClatchy, "including the definition of excessive force". Ultimately the Justice Department failed to produce the required reports.

In response to the lack of data, some people have developed new methods to find a more accurate total number of police shootings.

In 2011 crime writer Jim Fisher did an independent online news search each day for reports of police-involved shootings. Over the course of a year, he counted 1,146 police-involved shootings, 607 of them fatal.

Taking a page from Fisher's playbook, Deadspin writer Kyle Wagner has recently attempted a crowd-sourced approach to tallying police-involved shootings between 2011 - 2013. The final results have not yet been tabulated.

FiveThirtyEight's Reuben Fischer-Baum, using news reports compiled Facebook users on the privately run page Killed by Police, estimates the number of fatalities to be around 1,000 a year.

Reason magazine writer/producer Anthony Fisher says that considering how much data the US government takes from its citizens, it is "outrageous" that the press and public must struggle to recover important statistics like police shootings.

"Deadspin's efforts at providing transparency on police shootings are a great example of public volunteerism stepping up to fill a void deliberately created by the government, which would rather not have this conversation," writes Fisher.

(By Annie Waldman)

Burger King abdicates US citizenship

A Burger King sign stands next to one for Tim Hortons.

The King has fled the tax man, abandoning his native home.

Corporate tax inversion, in which a US company buys an oversees business and relocates its headquarters there to take advantage of lower tax rates, can be a rather dry topic. But when the company in question is fast food giant Burger King, and the foreign refuge is coffee shop chain Tim Hortons, in the very-much-not-overseas Canada, the story becomes much juicier - even if the truth behind the headlines is a bit more complicated.

The news has some commentators lamenting a golden era when US corporations were red-blooded American patriots.

"In the past, companies felt at least some obligation to do right by the American people, even if that meant forgoing some profits and hurting their shareholders," writes the New Republic's Danny Vinik. "That mindset no longer exists. Now, American firms seek out every loophole, so they can squeeze out every dime of after-tax profits."

Start Quote

Any of the fixes the White House comes up with will likely both enrage Republicans and drive up rhetoric that Obama is abusing the powers of his office”

End Quote Ben White CNBC

For those on the right, the current tax-loving administration - not corporations - is to blame. University of Maryland Prof Peter Morici says the move is a "direct result of President Obama's anti-business tax policies".

While Burger King is far from the first US company to attempt an inversion merger, it could be in greater danger of fallout from the move because it sells its products directly to the general public. And if Burger King's Facebook page is any indication, the US public isn't happy.

"If you attempt to buy Tim Horton's for the purposes of evading US taxes, I will NEVER step foot in another Burger King again," reads one post with more than 1,600 likes.

Another calls Congress to pass legislation closing all Burger King outlets on US military installations.

In Washington's power corridors, however, the news has been met with a "proverbial shrug", writes CNBC's Ben White.

Although Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown has endorsed a public boycott, most of Congress is preoccupied with the upcoming elections and simply passing legislation to keep the government running, he says. President Obama, who railed against corporate inversion as recently as last month, probably isn't interested in sticking his neck out at this point with unilateral action.

Start Quote

Now that Mr Buffett's involvement in a possible inversion has been made public, will Mr Obama and other Democrats take him to task?”

End Quote Damian Paletta The Wall Street Journal

"Any of the fixes the White House comes up with will likely both enrage Republicans and drive up rhetoric that Obama is abusing the powers of his office, helping lift GOP turnout in midterms in which the Democrats' Senate majority is at serious risk," White says.

Another reason for administration reluctance - at least according to conservative commentators - is the fact that the merger was financed in part by long-time Obama supporter and billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

"Now that Mr Buffett's involvement in a possible inversion has been made public, will Mr Obama and other Democrats take him to task?" asks the Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta. "That might be awkward, given how the Obama administration has named one of their top tax proposals after the 'Oracle of Omaha' himself."

The president's "Buffett rule" proposal would set a minimum income tax for millionaires, based on Mr Buffett's oft-repeated maxim that he should not pay a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Someone "familiar with the deal" tells the Journal that Mr Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway company will continue to pay US taxes for any profit it makes on the deal. It will be compensated by Burger King for the higher tax amount it contributes, however.

A woman orders at a Burger King counter Would you like US corporate taxes with that, ma'am?

And even Burger King itself won't be getting too much of a tax break, according to Business Insider's Myles Udland. In 2013 it paid a 27.5% effective rate, which was not much more than Tim Horton's 26.8% Canadian combined national and provincial rate.

Econospeak's ProGrowthLiberal blogger says there's more to the story than just these numbers, however. Because Canada doesn't have a repatriation tax, Burger King's relocation could lower its effective rate to less than 20%.

But conflicting tax numbers aside, at least Canadians are happy that they're landing one of the crown jewels (pardon the pun) of the US fast food industry, right? Uh, no.

A Canadian tweets about the Burger King-Tim Hortons merger.

The Toronto Globe and Mail asked its readers what they thought, and the message was clear: Burger King should keep its US hands off of a Canadian national treasure.

"Another fine example of how a piece of Canadian culture will be swallowed up and lost in an international 'deal'," went one message.

Nobody tell the Canadians that Tim Hortons was once owned by Wendy's, another US fast food enterprise. Oh, and the USA-forsaking Burger King is actually managed by a Brazilian investment firm, 3G Capital.

Welcome to the wonderful world of global corporate finance.

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal's Tom Gara put it best: "Burger King taking over Tim Hortons and becoming Canadian for tax purposes is interesting in that it equally humiliates Canada and America."

Golfing while the world burns?

President Barack Obama squats by a golf course green.

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

Today's must-read

President Barack Obama's passion for golf has long been a hobbyhorse for those on the right. The charge that the president is shirking his duty by relaxing on the links plays straight into the firmly held belief among conservatives that the president is both aloof and in over his head.

Such attacks on presidential vacations are far from new. President George W Bush received plenty of flak from the left over his frequent Crawford ranch trips. His golf course condemnation of terrorism followed by a "now watch this drive" boast was the subject of much derision. In 2003 Mr Bush gave up golfing for the rest of his presidency because he said it "just sends the wrong signal".

The president-golfs-while-the-world-burns view may be gaining some traction in the mainstream press. With the ongoing racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and the beheading of US journalist James Foley making headlines last week, the contrast with a president at play on Martha's Vineyard fairways was particularly stark.

Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd penned a scathing mock "Golf Address" by the president.

"Four! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago", she starts. She then has the president lament not being able to play for the rest of his presidency.

On Tuesday Politico's Roger Simon took a more traditional approach - but his critique was equally sharp. No one, he says, seems to be in control of the White House's message machine.

He writes:

"Was there anyone who said last week: 'Uh, the golf thing, Mr. President? Maybe delay it a couple of days? So it doesn't come minutes after you tell the nation how 'heartbroken' you are over a beheaded journalist. Maybe go hiking? Sit on a rock, commune with nature, that kind of thing?'"

The new Obama Doctrine, he concludes, could be summed up: "Speak softly and carry a Big Bertha." (That's a kind of golf club, for the uninitiated.)

"We are left with a president who seems wrapped in his aloofness as a protective blanket to keep the outside from getting in," he writes.

He says that this may not matter to the president as he approaches the final two years of his term, but it could be damaging for Hillary Clinton - the Democrat who seems likely to seek to succeed him. She has her own problems with aloofness, he says, and the public may be ready for a more visibly engaged president.

Elsewhere on Politico, former Obama White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton says that attacks on the president for his golf last week are misguided. Mr Obama, he says, is fully in charge wherever he is.

"In the end, it's not about the optics," he writes. "It's about doing your job. And if the president is doing his - which he is - we should all be able to appreciate the fact that he is taking the opportunity to be a dad, a husband and even a leader of the free world who can clear his head on the golf course."


In the turbulent wake of intervention - Following recent air strikes on militia positions in Tripoli, reportedly carried out by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, the Middle East Eye's Steve Fox warns that intervention may not quell the fighting in Libya - it could make it worse.

Libya's bombing "reinforces the suspicion that the country's worsening civil war is now the plaything of a struggle between two Gulf states, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates," Fox writes.

With a history of foreign interference, Libyans are "resistant to foreign meddling, from whatever source." Their resistance might not be enough to stop "the temptation of the Gulf states, however, and anyone else eyeing Libya's rich oil bounty" from meddling.


The Al Qaeda threat that isn't there - Could islamic militants be in Mexico? Texas Governor Rick Perry says that's a "very real possibility", even though both Mr Perry and the Pentagon have said there's "no clear evidence" to suggest this.

Following his remarks, "the Mexican government is expressing some irritation" with the governor, writes Joshua Keating for Slate.

"Again, it's not outside the realm of possibility that someone planning an attack could sneak over the border," he says.

"But the scant reports of terrorists trying to enter the US illegally are far outnumbered by the numerous well-documented plots by native-born Americans, naturalised citizens, and foreigners entering the country with valid passports and visas."


IS is an overrated enemy - While the Pentagon is touting the Islamic State (IS) as sophisticated and skilled "beyond anything we've seen", these official words should not be taken without a grain of salt, writes Jack Shafer for Reuters.

"When at war - or about to go to war - the state craves greater acquiescence from its citizens and greater powers, and granted that acquiescence and those new powers it grows ever larger," he writes.

Although the fast ascent of the extremist group should be taken seriously, it "does not necessarily make Islamic State strong and fearful as much as it showcases the relative weaknesses of the Syrian and Iraq governments".

In the wake of the US military involvement in the Middle East, Shafer emphasises that although enemies exist, "boogeymen don't".


National optimism fades - A quiet crisis is brewing in Venezuela, as the country reels from a shortage of food and pharmaceuticals, a skyrocketing inflation rate, and one of the highest murder rates in the world, writes Andres Hoyos for El Espectador (translated by Worldcrunch).

"The separation of powers disappeared long ago, turning Venezuelan democracy into a hollow shell," he says.

As the political landscape continues to fracture and the once-thriving independent press is slowly liquidated by President Nicolas Maduro, Hoyos says that "the last factor feeding a growing pessimism is that people backing the regime appear to have become used to crises".

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

A Chinese paper analyses Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's trip to Beijing to reportedly seek aid for his nation's ailing economy.

"The West should not slap sanctions on African countries who don't listen to them. If they do, they will be left behind by China in cooperation with Africa and it will not be because China chooses to take the lead, but because the West chooses to fall behind." - Editorial in Beijing's Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times)‎

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

Michael Brown 'no angel' controversy

A painting of Michael Brown is displayed in front of his coffin during his funeral on 25 August.

The New York Times is under fire for its profile of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri, on 9 August.

The article, which was published on Sunday, the day before Mr Brown's funeral, paints an intimate portrait of his life. It also reveals some of the personal struggles he faced in the days leading up to his death.

"Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life," writes John Eligon for the New York Times.

Although the piece by Eligon, who is black, is largely sympathetic to the family and memory of Mr Brown, the words "no angel" have stirred up a media frenzy, with some questioning and castigating the New York Times for using the expression.

"So I suppose that, when an undercover officer came upon me and two friends smoking cigarettes and drinking beer on a park bench that night, he could have shot us dead, and then the Times could have reported that we were no angels," writes Matthew Yglesias for Vox, recounting a story of his own teenage indiscretions.

Start Quote

It's as if a black person must be a perfect victim to escape being thuggified”

End Quote Toure The Washington Post

Some critics consider Mr Brown's illicit activities a normal part of being a teenager, and not an indictment on his character.

"Teenagers, white and black, rich and poor, are often emotionally volatile, dabble with drugs, listen to rap, attempt to rap and commit petty crimes. Does that mean they deserve to be shot?" asks Christopher Massie for the Columbia Journalism Review.

If that's the case, the argument goes, the use of the term 'no angel' takes on racial overtones.

"As with most mainstream media, when it comes to victims of colour, they continue to be victimised and criminalised even in their death," writes Yesha Callahan for the Root.

The controversy echoes remarks by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani following the 2000 police shooting of Patrick Dorismond, who was killed outside of a nightclub after shoving undercover officers. The mayor said the 26-year-old security guard was "no altar boy". It turned out that Dorismond had, in fact, been an altar boy.

A criticism of the New York Times posted on Twitter.

A frequent topic of debate is how the use of the term "no angel" plays into cultural stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

"It's as if a black person must be a perfect victim to escape being thuggified, an angel with an unblemished history in order to warrant justice," writes author Toure for the Washington Post. "The burden of the perfect victim suggests that only impeccable resumes may qualify for protection under the law and the support of the community."

A criticism of the New York Times posted on Twitter.

When asked about the "no angel" debacle, New York Times editor Alison Mitchell told the Washington Post: "I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that's where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way."

But after the hashtag #noangel had garnered nearly 3,000 mentions in less than a day, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in.

"In my view, the timing of the article (on the day of Mr Brown's funeral) was not ideal," she wrote on Monday afternoon. "And 'no angel' was a blunder."

Sullivan added that reporting, even in the aftermath of someone's death, should not hide details of someone's life.

"[Eligon] said he thought it was important to address parts of Mr Brown's background that are less positive, especially because doing so allowed those close to him to comment," Sullivan writes. "I came away from the profile with a deeper sense of who Michael Brown was, and an even greater sense of sorrow at the circumstances of his death."

(By Annie Waldman)

Did a US columnist sink the French?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a French tormentor

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

Today's must-read

Did Paul Krugman help topple the French government? According to Business Insider's Rob Wile, the New York Times columnist "deserves some of the blame".

The proximate cause of French President Francois Hollande's decision to call on PM Manuel Valls to form a new government was when two senior ministers criticised the nation's economic austerity policies. Mr Holland has requested that the prime minister form a new cabinet - certainly without the two offending officials - by Tuesday.

Wile notes that one of the officials - economic minister Arnaud Montebourg - directly quotes Krugman in his controversial comments to Le Monde. Here's Mr Montebourg's response after being asked whether Europe has tilted too far toward austerity:

That's not my observation, that's the diagnosis of financial institutions across the world, starting with the IMF which, whose director, Christine Lagarde, warned European leaders about an excess of budget consolidation. Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate, also wrote on Aug. 13, "The nightmare scenario in Europe is not a hypothetical. The news that industrial production has ground to a halt raises the prospect of a new recession in Europe - its primary cause, austerity." These warnings have also been sounded by other leaders of world powers including Barack Obama.

Krugman's full blog post condemns Europe's austerity drive and says that there is "good reason to fear yet another slide into recession" for the continent.

He goes on to compare the economic outlooks for Europe and the US, which underwent less budgetary belt-tightening. He also says Europe's "fundamentals are considerably worse", including an ageing population and inadequate capital investment.

The outlook for Europe, he concludes, "is quite scary".

At this point, it seems, at least some now-former French officials agree.


The money behind Hamas - Qatar is the most prominent supporter of the Palestinian group Hamas, writes Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Prosor. There will be no lasting peace in Gaza, he says, until the flow of financial support from this "Club Med for terrorists" is cut off.

"Qatar has spared no cost to dress up its country as a liberal, progressive society, yet at its core, the micro monarchy is aggressively financing radical Islamist movements," Mr Prosor writes in the New York Times.

He goes on to question the decision to award the Persian Gulf nation the 2022 World Cup. Qatar must be isolated until it changes its foreign policy, he concludes, even if that is an "uncomfortable prospect" for many Western nations.

South Korea

A culture of abuse - The recent death of a South Korean soldier, identified by the media as PFC Yoon, has led to calls for a review of bullying in the nation's armed forces. Yoon's fellow soldiers allegedly beat and demeaned him repeatedly for more than a month.

According to South Korean schoolteacher Choi Tae-hwan, writing in the Korea Times, the conditions in the military have their roots in the bullying culture that pervades Korean schools.

The solution, he writes, is for educating the nation's youth at an early age to be more considerate of others. A "suppressive crackdown" on bullying and stopgap remedies are not enough if the real causes - such as a lack of morality and humility - are not addressed, he argues.


A Chaldean genocide - The Christian population in Iraq, which once numbered more than 1.4 million is now down to fewer than 500,000. The nation's Chaldean population, writes John Paul Kuriakuz in the Wall Street Journal, is facing death or exile from its ancestral homeland.

The former executive director of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America says that while US airstrikes on militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have helped, they are not enough.

"Targeted by ISIS for their Christian faith, Chaldeans and Assyrians are the victims of an unabashed ethnic-cleansing campaign," he writes.

The fate of the Iraqi Christians is in the hands of Western leaders who seem reluctant to acknowledge a "genocide in the making", he concludes. That must change.


Time running out for kidnapped girls - It is only a matter of time before the more than 200 girls kidnapped in Nigeria succumb to Stockholm Syndrome and begin sympathising with their captors, writes Henry Onyekuru in the Vanguard.

"The government is acting too slowly in this situation and those girls are drifting far away from the values that they have been brought up with," he writes. The Nigerian government must do whatever it takes, including prisoner release, to free the girls before their minds are irrevocably twisted, he says.

Onyekuru goes on to write that the entire Nigerian population is, in a way, being held captive by a corrupt government that has created civil strife by neglecting basic education and care of their citizens.

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

On 24 August, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps claimed that it had shot down an Israeli reconnaissance drone over the Natanz nuclear facility in Esfahan Province.

"Iran, better than any other regional country, knows about its overt and covert enemies and their offensive policies, so its defence doctrine is based only on protecting its national interests... Iran does not have countless fighters, aircraft carriers with atomic ships or nuclear missiles, because it never thinks about going on the attack.

''During the past three decades, however, especially during the years of the [Iran-Iraq war] ... it has shown that wherever it faces threats its hand is always on the trigger." - Amir Hoseyn Yazdanpanahin in Khorasan. ‎

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

Assad and the US: New BFFs?

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey This week, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey discussed the need to defeat IS

The murder of US journalist James Foley has gruesomely illustrated just how dangerous the Islamic State (IS) has become. That's led some to wonder if the US must now ally with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

IS has strongholds in much of Syria and Iraq, and is one of the many groups in opposition to Mr Assad's regime.

Former UK chief of the general staff, Richard Dannatt, is one of those considering such an unholy alliance.

He told the BBC's Today programme: "The old saying, 'my enemy's enemy is my friend', has begun to have some resonance with our relationship in Iran, and I think it's going to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad."

It is an idea that has been circulated for several months, mostly theoretically. Writing in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet (as translated by WordCrunch) Verda Ozer posted an editorial earlier this month arguing that not only is Mr Assad motivated to fight IS, but the group's increasingly brutal presence in the region could give the Syrian president a certain legitimacy.

"With a growing fear of IS, people may settle for living under his rule. The Syrian opposition might also compromise as jihadists gain more and more power."

She also noted the precedent - Iran and the US, usually at odds, have worked together towards stability in Iraq.

Since her editorial was published, the conversation about what to do with IS has taken on a new seriousness in the US thanks to the beheading of Foley, and the revelation that another journalist, Steven Sotloff, is being held by IS and could also be killed.

In the Washington Post, Adam Taylor talked to several scholars about how IS was changing the rules in the Middle East.

"Americans are understandably reluctant to help Assad because he is a depraved dictator who responded to the Arab Awakening by turning his military against the Syrian population," he quotes Max Abrahams, a terrorism policy expert from Northeastern University, as saying.

Still, he says there's a political calculus at play when it comes to the safety of American citizens.

"Whereas Assad has never posed a direct threat to the US homeland, IS is actively scheming to carry out a mass casualty attack against us. From a US national security perspective, IS is the more immediate threat."

Or, as PJ Media's Walter Hudson writes:

"Anxiety over 'helping' Assad by undercutting his opposition in Isis [former name for IS] seems based primarily on concern over the death of innocents in Syria.

"But if Isis presents a threat to American citizens, then failure to neutralise the aggressive Islamic totalitarian horde potentially sacrifices Americans for the sake of Syrians. That's not a trade our government may properly make."

In Australia, former CIA counter-terrorist officer Patrick Skinner spoke to the World Today programme and argued that other options - such as strengthening moderate rebel groups - were not feasible.

"If there are extremists and moderates in the same fighting field, extremists will win and you don't want to just keep giving weapons to an uncontrollable situation," he said. "So practically, working with Assad might be the best way to pacify Isis."

However, there was one important caveat.

"Whether that is politically and diplomatically achievable, it's beyond me," he said.

Indeed, such an alliance, formal or otherwise, would not be an easy one. Writing in Buzzfeed, Rosie Grey notes that "taking sides with Assad would force the US to also seek co-operation from Syria patrons Iran and Russia, something that in Russia's case would not be easy".

Not to mention the grave moral concerns, says Brooklyn Middleton in al-Arabiya. Pairing with Mr Assad would only reward someone responsible for both crimes against humanity and strengthening IS in the first place.

"Noting the utter lack of humanity that is calling for security co-operation with a mass murderer after he's killed with impunity for years, it is also a policy recommendation that wholly ignores the fact that Assad - like using starvation as a weapon - cultivated IS' own rise as an effective strategy for remaining in power," he says.

Rachel Bronson, a senior fellow for global energy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, says in the New York Times that America's drive to root out IS does not mean that Mr Assad will suddenly fall into the good graces of the west.

"Bashar al-Assad should be under no illusions," she says. "Increased American presence on his border does not bode well for his long-term political survival.

"Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen Martin Dempsey made this clear Thursday when they agreed that Syria is 'probably the central core' of the Isis problem."

Getting rid of IS, she says, can be done without Mr Assad - and will show him that "no leader is indispensible".

The British government seems to agree. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC an alliance between the UK and President Assad was not an option, as it would not be "practical, sensible or helpful".

But the world just witnessed an American private citizen killed in a very public way at the hands of IS. With IS threatening to kill another US hostage, the US government may have little regard for what's considered sensible.

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

US Democrats rally around Rick Perry

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

Rick Perry's mugshot Perry puts the mug in mugshot
Today's must-read

Texas Governor Rick Perry went to the Travis County criminal justice centre this week to be processed on abuse of power charges recently brought against him.

Mr Perry is accused of trying to punish a political rival by vetoing the funding of an agency she heads. If convicted, the Republican faces up to 99 years in prison, but some are finding it hard to take the indictment seriously.

"Unfortunately, there has been a sad history of the Travis County District Attorney's Office engaging in politically-motivated prosecutions, and this latest indictment of the governor is extremely questionable," Republican Senator Ted Cruz, also of Texas, posted on his Facebook profile.

It's a sentiment that spans the political spectrum. In New York magazine, liberal blogger Jonathan Chait writes:

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a "misuse" of power or "coercion" of one's opponents. To describe the indictment as "frivolous" gives it far more credence than it deserves.

Even Democratic strategist and former senior advisor to President Barack Obama David Axlerod is sceptical, tweeting that, "Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy."

But Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro, also from Texas, called on Mr Perry to resign "for the sake of Texas."

And The Economist warns that until the facts are made public, it's too soon to write off the charges.

Yet the seeming flimsiness of the indictment may prove to be the most ominous aspect of the situation for the governor. It raises the possibility that the prosecutor's evidence, which has been presented to the grand jury but not to the general public, was convincing.


Quebec's lessons from Scottish separatists

Scottish voters will vote in less than a month on whether or not to move forward as an independent state. Some Quebecers might use that as inspiration to revive their own sovereignty movement, last seen in 1995.

But Peter McKenna writes for The Globe and Mail that the type of straightforward question used by the Scots in their referendum would not work in Quebec, where support for independence is waning.

"I wish it was otherwise, but I won't hold my breath waiting for the [Parti Quebecois] or the sovereignty movement to emulate the Scottish model," he writes. "If anything, the separatists are more likely to look upon the September 18 Scottish "McReferendum" as exhibit A in their case for pushing for a move convoluted question the next time around."


Playing games with Asian diplomacy

The most recent noticeable actions by the Russian government in Asia are military exercises in the Kuril Islands - an area which Japan recognises as its own. But those movements are just part of a much bigger push by Russia into the entire Asian continent, writes Jonathan Eyal for The Straits Times.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, he writes, is trying to find a foothold in the region, even though all evidence points to this being a waste of time that could create more instability across the continent.

"Ultimately, the biggest loser from this game will be Russia itself," he writes. "For although its Asian diplomacy is resourceful and often imaginative, it cannot produce what its wants most - a return to the status of a great power."


A disappointing end to a dynasty

Many in India are growing more and more frustrated by the incompetent leadership displayed by Indian National Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi, the son of National Congress Party President Sonia Ghandi and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, may even be unpopular enough to spell the end for the Gandhi name's reputation.

Rahul Gandhi is widely seen as an amateur politician, writes Sadanand Dhume for Foreign Policy. Beyond being unfit to rule, he is often absent - most notably in 2011 during anti-corruption protests across the country and in 2012 after a 23-year-old was gang raped, spurring another round of protests.

"The end of the Nehru-Gandhis has been predicted many times before," he writes. "But this time it may be true."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

The Turkish press is disenchanted by a German official calling the country an "ally" rather than a "friend" in an aftermath of reports that Germany spied on Turkish officials.

"For years, Germany has been defined as 'a friend and an ally' in Turkey, like many other NATO partners… However, a [German] government official, who was interviewed by the 'Frankfurter Allgemeine' after the 'wiretapping scandal' was exposed, said that Turkey is just an 'ally' but it is not categorised as a 'friend'. Thus, according to that 'logic', Germany wiretapping Turkey is something normal!" - Sami Kohen in Milliyet

"It is a well-known fact that the US and the EU member countries are openly reacting against the [Turkish] government's foreign policy, which speeds up its break up with Western values, alongside its anti-democratic practices inside the country. For that reason, one should not find it odd that Germany did not mention Turkey as a 'friend' country." - Lale Kemal in Zaman

"Germany sees Turkey as a bridge country to the Middle East and the Caucasus… When Turkey is wiretapped, information can be obtained not only on Turkey, but also on the USA's strategies for Iraq, Syria, ISIS and other organisations. In other words, Merkel, who could not wiretap the USA, might have done that through Turkey. - Beril Dedeoglu in Star

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

Critics of the US focus on Ferguson

Amnesty International has deployed within the US for the first time to monitor what it calls 'clear human rights violations'

Pictures coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, of masked protesters engulfed in clouds of tear gas and police armed with military-grade kit have sparked debates within the US. At the same time, many commentators abroad see the chaos in Ferguson as hypocritical.

Much of the criticism comes from those the US has taken to task for human rights violations. They say that while US has tried to position itself as a defender of human rights abroad, it seemingly cannot uphold the same standard within its own borders.

Indeed, Amnesty International, the international human rights watchdog group, has deployed a team to Ferguson to observe law enforcement and support the community. It's the first time the group has made such a move in the US, they said.

Such news contributed to a growing narrative abroad. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lashed out on Twitter at what he considered to be the US's crimes against its own people.

Law enforcement offical

"Today the world is a world of tyranny and lies. The flag of #HumanRights is borne by enemies of human rights w/US leading them! #Ferguson," he posted.

Qasem Ghafuri of the Iranian newspaper Siyasat-e Ruz agrees.

"Considering the developments in Ferguson, the question is how can America chant slogans about supporting people and security in the world at a time when the people's simple demands are suppressed inside the country and people do not even have the right to protest?" he writes.

A few Iranian papers and some agencies have chosen to highlight the story on their front pages, BBC Monitoring reports, including hardline conservative Hemayat's front page headline which reports incorrectly that reporters are banned from entering Ferguson.

Start Quote

America now stands on a similar precipice and must remember the lessons of Los Angeles and London”

End Quote Miles Godfrey Syndey Daily Telegraph

China's state-owned news agency, Xinhuanet, says that while the US has been trying to play the role of judge and jury around the world, Ferguson shows that there is still work to be done at home.

"Obviously, what the United States needs to do is to concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always pointing fingers at others," writes Li Li.

Another opinion piece in China's Global Times says that the unrest "tells us that racism still overshadows minorities in the US even while they have a black president".

And in Russia, which is suffering under the brunt of US sanctions, a state-owned paper was eager to call attention to the situation.

"Though the US portrays itself as a country of equal opportunities, it is too early to talk about the victory over racism and segregation there," writes Igor Dunayevskiy for Rossiskaya Gazeta.

And popular pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda says bluntly, "Not only are the police acting as the US Army does in Iraq (simply put, like occupation forces), but it is this model that the US exports to countries that seek help... in reforming their interior ministries." The paper cites US involvement in Georgia under Saakashvili.

Not all of the international coverage of Ferguson has pointed fingers at the US.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph's Miles Godfrey called for both sides to try and gain some perspective.

"What matters is a man has been shot dead in the prime of his life. The officer who shot him was just 28. One life has been lost, another changed forever," he writes.

Barack Obama gives a speech President Obama addressed the situations in Ferguson and Iraq in a press conference this week

Reminding readers of the 2011 UK riots and the violence following the beating of Rodney King in 1991, he urges protesters to not use Brown's death as an excuse to be destructive.

"America now stands on a similar precipice and must remember the lessons of Los Angeles and London," he writes.

After many people in Turkey compared the turbulence in Ferguson to last year's Gezi Park protests, Dogan Eskinat argued that the origins of the protests are different.

"It is perfectly understandable that some media outlets might rather translate old-school racial tensions into hipster language and make it about social media rather than race, but suggesting that Turkey's angry youth were motivated by the same reasons as the urban poor in the American Midwest does great disrespect to past generations who suffered the most grave violations of their human rights and were systematically deprived of human dignity," he writes.

Tim Stanley writes for The Telegraph that the White House will not be the driver behind the type of meaningful change in how the US deals with racism, inequality and violence. He says President Barack Obama has not claimed a meaningful leadership role within the country's racial narrative.

"He was never going to be someone who would confront racism head on or seek a substantial redistribution of power and money of the variety that many civil rights leaders feel is necessary to help the poor," he writes.

Mom arrested for swearing at children

A mom clutches her head in anger.

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

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According to WSPA television news, a South Carolina mother was arrested for swearing at her children while she shopped in a North Augusta grocery store.

A fellow shopper overheard the alleged abuse and informed a police officer, who issued a citation for disorderly conduct.

"He was like, 'You're under arrest' ... right in front of kids, in front of my husband, in front of customers," Danielle Wolf says she was told by the officer.

She goes on to say that her obscenity was directed at her husband, who had placed a frozen pizza on top of the bread in their cart.

Theresa Edwards of the Mommyish blog says this is just the latest example of parenting policing getting out of hand.

"I have a really filthy mouth, and so does my husband, and while I've made a halfhearted effort to improve my language, we often say profane things to each other that aren't even spoken in anger," she writes. "Our daughter may or not be present sometimes."

Did it do the children any good to witness their mother getting arrested, she asks.

"More and more, I feel like I have less to fear from the outside world than I do of getting in trouble when someone doesn't like the way I parent," she concludes. "I used to let my child walk to the park solo, but I haven't done that for a while, since that's apparently a criminal offense."

In case you're wondering, a North Augusta defines disorderly conduct, in part, as uttering "while in a state of anger, in the presence of another, any bawdy, lewd or obscene words or epithets".

"Annoying teachers" is also a violation - so, kids, your moms aren't the only ones who could end up on the wrong side of the law.


Behind the Russian facade - Will Russians have to eventually face real consequences for Vladimir Putin's "Ukraine adventure," asks Time's Simon Shuster.

"For most Russians, indeed nearly all of them, the crisis in Ukraine has had a distant, almost virtual quality," he writes. "It has been something they watched on TV, or debated in their kitchens, rooting for the pro-Russian rebel militias and cursing the Ukrainian government as though the war between them was hardly more than a gruesome sporting match."

Although many Russians feel strongly about the current conflict, their suffering is not personal, says Shuster. But as the conflict deepens, the Russian consensus on Ukraine could change.

"Russians have started asking themselves - or rather, they have been forced to ask themselves - whether they are prepared to make real sacrifices for the sake of their country's policy in Ukraine," he writes.


Planned consumption tax increase debated in Japan - The decrease of Japan's gross domestic product is attributed to a decline in consumer spending just before a recent increase in consumption tax, write the editors of Mainichi. The Japanese government plans to further raise the consumption tax to 10% in October.

"Whether consumer concern about livelihoods can be dispelled and consumer spending will grow is a key to supporting the economy after the consumption tax is to be raised to 10% in October 2015," the editors write.

They say the government must hold continued debate on the consumption tax increase.

"Such a hike would further increase the financial burden on households," they say. "Now is the time for the government to consider sufficient measures to support household budgets as part of its discussions on how to stabilise the social security system and help rehabilitate state finances."

North Korea

Kim Jong-un's dangerous intimidation - North Korea might be a small country in terms of population and territory, but it continues to remain "disproportionately important," partially because of anxiety that the nation's arsenal provokes, writes Christopher Lee for Real Clear Defense.

"While Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities still remain unknown, one thing is clear - Kim Jong-un is remarkably adept at 'manipulating global public opinion'," writes Lee.

The bellicosity of North Korea's leader also serves a domestic audience, intended to create anti-Western sentiment, he says.

"All things considered, starting a second Korean War would not serve any of Pyongyang's interests. But threatening one does," he concludes. "Kim Jong-un's behaviour may seem irrational, but he is not ready to sacrifice his power."

Latin America

Simmering anti-Semitism in Latin America - As the conflict between Gaza and Israel continues to reverberate across the world, global anti-Semitism stirs in its wake, including within the countries of Latin America, writes Enrique Krauze for the New York Times.

"Some Latin American governments have signalled their dissatisfaction with Israel's actions," he says.

"While such political rejection is not anti-Semitic, something new is emerging in Spanish-language social media, mostly among young people, where condemnation of Israel is often accompanied by anti-Semitic diatribes."

Following the most recent confrontation between Israel and Gaza, anger among the educated left has grown into an anti-Semitic movement, particularly among university circles, Krauze concludes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Regional commentators discuss the ongoing unrest in Gaza.

"Hamas dictates to us the way and rhythm of life and the weak, hesitant and flaccid government waits for its utterances." - Alex Fishman in Israel's Yedioth Aharonot.

"A battle has just broken out in Israel that will have the heads [of many officials] rolling on the ground... Meanwhile, at a time when the Israelis are increasingly divided, the Palestinians look more cohesive." - Talal Awkal in Palestinian Al-Ayyam.‎

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A new, complicated chapter in Ferguson

Surveillance stills allegedly showing Michael Brown robbing a convenience store.

Friday morning's revelation by Ferguson, Missouri, police Chief Thomas Jackson that Michael Brown was a suspect in a convenience store robbery hours before he was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson could change everything.

Or it changes nothing.

Shortly after Mr Wilson was identified as the officer involved in an apparent attempt to apprehend Mr Brown, the internet erupted in reaction - exposing a fault line in opinion that will be difficult to bridge.

First and foremost, however, comes the question of why it took so long for this new information to come out.

Start Quote

This seems like an attempt to poison the well, not clarify anything”

End Quote Charles Johnson Little Green Footballs

"This by no means justifies what happened to Brown," writes Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall. "But it seems to bring home in an entirely new way just how unprepared and frankly clueless the Ferguson police department is that they're only managing to mention this part of the story after days of war-zoning the city streets."

Ed Morrissey of Hot Air blog agrees: "If the Ferguson police had been more forthcoming about the incident up front, much of this week's drama might have been avoided, or at least somewhat mitigated."

For some, the information provided by the police is evidence of a rush to judgement on the part of protesters, activists and the media.

"Facts don't matter," tweets conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. "Media, pols report that every shooting by a white cop of a black unarmed suspect reflects generalised American racism."

"We still don't know what went down with cop and Michael Brown," he adds. "But we can say that the 'gentle giant' stuff seems over the top."

The Daily Caller's Jim Treacher tweets: "And yet another leftist narrative starts to unravel. But the important thing, for them, is to establish it in the first place."

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson reads his notes during a press conference. Ferguson police were unprepared and clueless, says Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall

Others say the St Louis County police are only muddying the waters by releasing information that has no direct bearing on whether Mr Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.

"Ferguson police chief gave the officer a week to clean up his internet history, then released a report unrelated to the shooting," tweets Charles Johnson of the Little Green Footballs blog. "This seems like an attempt to poison the well, not clarify anything."

"Thanks for the pics of alleged convenience store shoplifting," tweets Salon's Mary Beth Williams. "Where are the ones of the cop shooting an unarmed man, again?"

Start Quote

The Ferguson police and America are playing with fire if there is an attempt to justify the murder of Mike Brown”

End Quote Greg Carr Howard University

David Corn of Mother Jones tweets: "Bottom line: cops are supposed to use deadly force only when lives are at risk. You don't shoot robbery suspects."

Only that may not be the case according to Missouri law.

The Federalist's Sean Davis notes that the state's relevant statute allows law enforcement officers to use deadly force "when he reasonably believes that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested … has committed or attempted to commit a felony."

If Mr Wilson reasonably believed Mr Brown committed a strong-armed robbery felony, which is alleged in this case, it could give the officer legal cover.

If such a charge for swiping a box of cigars and shoving a store clerk seems extreme, it's not without precedent. In 2007 another Missouri man faced robbery charges and up to 30 years in prison for stealing a 50-cent doughnut and shoving a store employee. (The story made national headlines, and the perpetrator ended up receiving a five-year suspended sentence and 90 days in jail.)

As if there was any question, the Ferguson case - and the controversy surrounding it - is far from over. And it may be starting a new, highly charged chapter.

"Let me be very clear," tweets Greg Carr, chairman of the Howard University Department of Afro American Studies. "The Ferguson police and America are playing with fire if there is an attempt to justify the murder of Mike Brown."

Start of a 'libertarian moment'?

A St Louis police officer holds a sniper rifle.

Much of the commentary on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer has been dominated by liberal outrage over what some see as racial injustice.

There is, however, a growing chorus from the conservative movement's libertarian wing that connects the perceived overreaction by a militarised local law enforcement to their critique of the heavy-handed power of government.

"The state is big and powerful and violent and can hurt you, whether it's the FDA, the state prosecutor or the local police force," writes Hot Air blog's Mary Katharine Ham, concisely summarising the gist of this libertarian argument.

Representative Justin Amash tweets about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

Breitbart's John Nolte puts it a bit more sharply: "The media hate police but without them, who will ultimately force us to buy ObamaCare and confiscate our guns?"

On Wednesday night Congressman Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning Republican embraced by the grass-roots Tea Party movement, tweeted that the news from Ferguson was "frightening", asking: "Is this a war zone or a US city? Gov't escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics."

One of the leading figures in today's libertarian movement, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, offers his take in an opinion piece for Time magazine on Thursday afternoon:

Start Quote

Whether they look like it or not, cops will be an occupying force seeking compliance from local residents on behalf of democratically elected central authorities”

End Quote Ed Krayewski Reason magazine

"When you couple this militarisation of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury - national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture - we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands…

"Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country."

Reason magazine's Ed Krayewski builds on this theme of a militarised police force as the spear-point of an intrusive government, causing more harm than good:

"What's happening in Ferguson certainly looks like a counter-insurgency," he writes. "If cops keep it up long enough, some residents might respond with an insurgency. Around the world, insurgencies are fueled by unemployed young men with few prospects. It's the way things like this tend to work, actions and reactions, supply meeting demand, in this case residents filling roles cops seem to be waiting to have filled."

He continues by noting that much of the criticism of law enforcement abuses are instigated by laws that intrude on individual rights.

"Whether they look like it or not, cops will be an occupying force seeking compliance from local residents on behalf of democratically elected central authorities," he writes.

US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator Rand Paul says police have become "judge and jury"

Comments like these mark a sharp break from the previous conservative embrace of government authority when it comes to public safety issues.

"The modern GOP, the one that elected Richard Nixon and built its base in the South and the suburbs, established early on that it was the 'law and order' party," writes Slate's David Weigel. "Only recently, as violent crime rates have tumbled, has the libertarian tendency of the GOP reasserted itself."

In Sunday's New York Times magazine cover story, Robert Draper asks: "Has the 'libertarian moment' finally arrived?" He cited poll data showing young people embracing smaller, less intrusive government and concluded that the once sidelined ideology could be poised to take control of the Republican Party.

The piece started a debate over libertarianism's current influence within the conservative movement and was criticised from both the right and the left for being an "unsophisticated, laughable fantasy".

That was before Ferguson exploded, night after shocking night. Now, with a few exceptions, law-and-order conservatives are silent (look, for instance, at the front page of the conservative commentary site Town Hall, where Iraq and Hillary Clinton continue to dominate the conversation).

Perhaps the libertarian moment has arrived after all, borne in the ashes and smoke of Missouri riots.

Williams tweet prompts suicide concern

A tweet from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences following the death of Robin Williams

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Following the suicide of Robin Williams on Monday, fans poured their grief into cyberspace, filling Facebook and Twitter feeds with tributes, movie quotes and scenes.

One tweet from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - otherwise known as the Oscars - has sparked an online controversy, however.

The Academy tweeted, "Genie, you're free," alongside an iconic image from the animated Disney movie Aladdin. After more than 320,000 retweets, many commentators across the Internet are wondering if this viral tweet could cause more harm than good.

"It violates well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide," writes Caitlin Dewey for the Washington Post.

"Adolescents are most at risk of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like AFSP [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] have also become particularly attentive to the role the internet plays in romanticising notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid."

Although the Academy certainly had good intentions, the speed of social media often makes it difficult to communicate the subtle issues surrounding difficult topics such as suicide.

"Despite the Academy's sentiment, suicide is not freedom," writes Holly Thomas for the Independent. "It's a cry for help that always comes too late."

She continues:

"To intimate, however subtly or unintentionally that taking your own life is a liberating action, is irresponsible and dangerous. While someone who is not suicidal might look at the picture of the genie and find comfort, someone whose mind is weighed heavy by depression may see something dangerously different."

When dealing with suicide, our expressions of grief ultimately should not end up harming those who are still living, says Thomas.

"Messages of hope for the dead need to be categorically distinct from those we send to the living," she concludes. "Only the living read Twitter."


A bombing campaign with a different goal - President Barack Obama announced plans to increase military aid and airstrikes over Kurdistan on Monday, but his motives aren't about getting back into the Iraq War, according to Slate's Fred Kaplan.

The US president's announcement is about responding to the humanitarian crisis in Kurdistan, he says, and supporting a Kurdish population that is increasingly a valuable US ally in the region.

"It's become very clear that, if Iraq - whether as a centralised state or a loose federation - has any hopes of ever becoming stable, much less democratic, a thriving Kurdistan must be part of it, even a model for it," Kaplan writes.


State-controlled Christianity - China announced last Thursday that increasing efforts to nationalise Christianity will benefit the country economically and culturally, writes the Diplomat's Zachary Keck.

"The CCP has increasingly turned to Chinese nationalism as the ideational complement to economic growth and prosperity," he writes. "The 'Sinicisation of Christianity' would be consistent with its drive to push Chinese nationalism."

Keck says that possible reasons for China's boost for this programme are the growing number of Christians in the country, illegal and underground churches, and the threat of foreign influences.

"The fact that the Chinese leaders this week discussed the importance of nationalising the Christian faith suggests that anti-foreign sentiment is part of the motivation behind the campaign," he concludes.


Independence could be hazardous to Scottish health - Scotland votes on independence next month, but many citizens still don't know how it could affect healthcare and research, according to the Conversation's James Mittra, Gill Haddow, and Michele Mastroeni .

"The Scottish government's white paper on independence includes a relatively small section on health, social care and the NHS [National Health Service]," they write.

Ultimately, the self-governed healthcare system's success will revolve around ensuring that current levels of funding continue, say Mittra, Haddow and Mastroeni.

"Is Scottish independence bad for your health? It may seem like a dramatic question to ask, but it's fundamental to our future," they warn. "Citizens of Scotland should have the answer before they head to the polls in September."


A plea for freedom - Jason Rezaian, a US-Iranian journalist, and his wife and fellow journalist Yeganeh Salehi have been unjustly detained in Iran for three weeks, according to Mr Rezaian's mother, Mary Breme Rezaian.

"We do not know why they were taken, who took them and what charges - if any - they face," she writes in the Washington Post.

Her son and daughter-in-law are dedicated to showing the true Iran to the West, she says, and Iranian officials must release them.

"My son and daughter-in-law have committed themselves to dispelling many of these misconceptions through their nuanced and fair reporting. And, once released, they will continue to do so in a country they both call home," she writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Ukraine is currently refusing to allow aRussian aid convoy heading for the rebel-held eastern portion of the country from crossing the border over fears that it could be a pretext for invasion. The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] says it is still waiting for details of the supplies carried by the 280 trucks. Russian commentators offer their views.

"According to a Vedomosti source in the Russian Defence Ministry, the information campaign over a Russian invasion under the guise of humanitarian aid was initiated by the Ukrainian authorities in order to cover up a humanitarian disaster in Luhansk and Donetsk that they previously denied." - Aleksey Nikolskiy in Vedomosti.

"In fact, it is Russia who should have the biggest concern. Since no military escort was allowed for the convoy … there is a high probability that the humanitarian cargo intended for deprived people in Luhansk and Donetsk will be used to 'feed' the personnel of the anti-terrorist operation." - Yelena Gamayun in Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

"After the controversial accession of Crimea and because of the continued unofficial support for rebels fighting in the south-east of Ukraine, it is stupid [of Russia] to expect to be given complete credibility." - Pavel Aptekar in Vedomosti.‎

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Conservatives misguided after shooting

Protestors hold up signs calling for justice after the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

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There are sensible conservative responses to the ongoing violence in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Unfortunately, writes the National Review's Charles CW Cooke, many of his ideological brethren are going about choosing another route.

Instead of cautioning against a rush to judgment, denouncing the rioting as counterproductive or offering evidence that white-on-black violence is not prevalent, he writes, many seem eager to point out that black-on-black violence is the real problem.

"It is indisputably true that the United States has a problem with blacks killing blacks," Cooke writes. "And yet this has absolutely nothing to do with the question at hand, which is: 'Did a police officer unjustifiably kill an unarmed black man in Missouri?'"

He continues:

"It is feasible, is it not, to be worried about the internecine violence in America's inner cities and to want to get to the bottom of an allegedly unwarranted shooting? So why the conflation? After all, whether or not it is intentional, reacting to a community's grief by raising an entirely separate topic smacks largely of distraction - of reflexively throwing up a roadblock to what is a legitimate line of inquiry in the hope that the subject might swiftly be changed."

Police shootings like the one in Missouri "open old and real wounds", Cooke says. Conservatives should acknowledge that.

Moreover, he adds, police shootings have the "imprimatur of the state", which makes them more disturbing than civilian violence:

"Even if the United States did not boast a history in which blacks were routinely disfavoured, beaten, and even murdered by the governments that were ostensibly established to protect them, there would still be something distinct about being killed or hurt by a man in uniform."

With Cooke's criticism in mind, then, consider the following passage from an on-the-scene in East St Louis, Illinois, piece by National Review's Kevin Williamson that also currently appears the magazine's website:

"'Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!' The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he's more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom - I assume she's his mom - is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity and amusement, as though to say: 'Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?'"

New York magazine's Jonathan Chait offers his take on what he sees as the racist overtones of the piece:

"When the writer … decides the best comparison for a young black kid's behaviour is a monkey and to gratuitously question his parentage, there's really not much question, is there?"

North Korea

Kim Jong-un's martial arts campaign - North Korea is using theatrical martial arts videos to show that their army is "ready for any threat", writes Vice's Sascha Matuszak.

Viewers are treated "to that special North Korean mix of reverent-bordering-on-hysterical narration, alternate reality Communist hype track and stuntin' on your many imaginary foes", writes Matuszak.

The videos, he says, are meant to show North Koreans and the world that the country is resilient and durable.

"They can absorb all that the mighty imperialist enemy can throw at them, and still advance on to victory, utilising traditional martial arts techniques and the indomitable juchen (self-reliant) spirit … a message which speaks to the core of North Korean political and social ideology," he concludes.


Russian food import ban is a major setback for globalisation - At one point globalisation seemed inevitable and irreversible, says the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum. With Russia's ban of agricultural imports, however, the open world economy seems on the verge of coming undone.

"A large country that contains internationally traded companies has decided it prefers a territorial war with one of its neighbours to full membership in the international economic system," she writes.

The Russian government has decided that national honour is more important than having the lowest prices for food, she says. "If it can happen in Russia, it can happen elsewhere, too."


Turkey's new prime minister big plans - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected Turkey's president on Sunday, and he plans to create what he calls a "New Turkey", says the Hurriyet Daily News's Murat Yetkin.

"He wanted to consolidate all the executive power in his hands, and now he has the chance and capacity for that after taking the Presidential Palace on top of Cankaya Hill in Ankara from Abdullah Gul," Yetkin writes.

Mr Erdogan's victory means Turkey will shift from a "parliamentary to a strong presidential model ", Yetkin says. This will allow him to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy "at a time when the region Turkey is a part of is burning in flames".


Central bankers in Australia could sink the global economy - Australian central bankers may be too confident, according to Bloomberg's William Pesek, and their mistakes could have worldwide implications.

Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens is making some wrong moves, says Pesek, such as objecting to a decrease in interest rates, which was followed by an increase in the country's jobless numbers.

"Central bankers are the only ones doing anything to maintain growth these days," writes Pesek.

Overconfident central bankers have caused economic trouble throughout modern history, Pesek warns. Australians should take note.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

US President Barack Obama called China "a superpower that no one expects to intervene" during an interview with the New York Times. He added that China had been "free riders for the last 30 years". This comes after Mr Obama told the Economist in an interview published last week that the West must be "pretty firm" with China, as Beijing will "push as hard as they can until they meet resistance". Several Chinese commentators have responded to the statements.

"China's contribution to the world in the past 30 years is widely seen - it has provided the basic necessities for its population of 1.3 billion people without outputting any refugees to the world. This is China's single biggest contribution internationally.... As a head of state for Obama to casually accuse China of not having done anything', either he is ignorant or he has ulterior motives." - Wang Dehua in Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times).

"In the face of a China with an ever-increasing strength and given the fact that the US can neither defeat China in a war nor ignore China entirely, there is no doubt that the US can delay China's development by shifting some of its responsibilities to China." - Ling Shengli in Haiwai Wang.‎

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Johns prefer blondes (with degrees)

A Dutch prostitute looks out a brothel window.

The internet has disrupted commerce around the globe. It should be no surprise, then, that the business of prostitution also has been transformed.

Now, in an Economist cover briefing cheekily titled "More bang for your buck", we have some solid figures about what the information age has meant for the sex-for-money business:

"Specialist websites and apps are allowing information to flow between buyer and seller, making it easier to strike mutually satisfactory deals. The sex trade is becoming easier to enter and safer to work in: prostitutes can warn each other about violent clients, and do background and health checks before taking a booking. Personal web pages allow them to advertise and arrange meetings online; their clients' feedback on review sites helps others to proceed with confidence."

Some of the findings drawn from a review of 190,000 profiles on an international sex worker review site can be classified as profoundly unsurprising. For instance blonde, buxom, fit women are able to charge a premium for their services, as are those who offer what the magazine delicately describes as "niche services".

Start Quote

The unrealistic goal of ending the sex trade distracts the authorities from the genuine horrors of modern-day slavery”

End Quote Cover briefing The Economist

Others are more revelatory. Race matters. In major US cities and London, white workers charge higher hourly rates than blacks. In Kuala Lumpur, however, blacks are in greater demand.

"What counts as exotic and therefore desirable varies from place to place, and depends on many factors, such as population flows," the magazine writes.

The struggling global economy, the Economist reports, has led to a decline on prices across the board, as have global migration patterns. An influx of cheap labour from Eastern Europe, for instance, has pushed down rates in the EU.

Having a college degree also appears to make a difference:

"Although sex workers with degrees are less likely to work than others in any given week (suggesting that they are more likely to regard prostitution as a sideline), when they do work they see more clients and for longer. Their clients tend to be older men who seek longer sessions and intimacy, rather than a brief encounter."

While sex transactions conducted online and consummated in hotels and residences have flourished, more traditional brick-and-mortar and street-side prostitution is declining, the magazine reports. This has already had profound public policy implications:

"That shift will make the sex industry harder for all governments to control or regulate, whether they seek to do so for pragmatic or moralistic reasons, or out of concern that not all those in the industry are there by their own free will."

The reality, of course, is that the public policy drive has been in the opposite direction. The "Nordic model" of prosecuting clients and not sex workers has been adopted in France and is being considered by the UK. It is also on the verge of being implemented in Canada, after its Supreme Court struck down the nation's existing prostitution laws.

In the US, prostitution (outside of a small portion of Nevada) is illegal, and there have been recent highly publicised efforts to crack down on sex trafficking and shut down the kind of websites on which the Economist study relied for data.

In the end, however, the Economist's editors believe technology will lead to more lenient prostitution laws, as the anonymity and wealth of information available online increases the number of consumers.

In a separate editorial, the Economist calls for legalisation.

"The unrealistic goal of ending the sex trade distracts the authorities from the genuine horrors of modern-day slavery (which many activists conflate with illegal immigration for the aim of selling sex) and child prostitution (better described as money changing hands to facilitate the rape of a child)," the magazine writes. "Governments should focus on deterring and punishing such crimes—and leave consenting adults who wish to buy and sell sex to do so safely and privately online."

Tony Stewart, racetracks and tragedy

Nascar driver Tony Stewart sits at the wheel of a race car

Was three-time Nascar racing champion Tony Stewart responsible for the death of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr?

On a dark dirt track in upstate New York on Saturday night, sprint cars driven by Stewart and Ward collided, knocking Ward out of the race. The young driver jumped out of his vehicle and, clad in a black racing suit, walked onto the track in an apparent effort to confront Stewart in his still-speeding car.

What happened next has engulfed Stewart - and all of professional racing - in a controversy that shows no signs of abating.

The rear right section of Stewart's car struck Ward as it passed, pulling him under the tyre and flinging his body over 50ft (15m). Reports are that Ward died instantly.

Start Quote

Stewart is so confident and so cocky - and yes, so competitive - that I think he simply was trying to scare Kevin Ward Jr”

End Quote Bob McManaman Arizona Republic

Because the event was part of a small-time racing circuit - the only video recording currently available is from a spectator's camera phone - reports of the incident trickled out slowly. Social media exploded with the news, however, as fans and commentators argued over incomplete facts and looked to assign blame.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the 43-year-old Stewart is a highly successful driver with a net worth in the millions and a reputation as an aggressive competitor whose emotions can sometimes get the better of him.

Tyler Graves, a sprint-car racer and friend of Ward's, was quoted in the Sporting News:

"I know Tony could see him. I know how you can see out of these cars. When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle. When you hit a throttle on a sprint car, the car sets sideways."

Graves adds that Stewart "needs to be put in prison for life".

Stewart has been interviewed by local law enforcement representatives, who say he is co-operating with the investigation into Ward's death.

"At this very moment, there are no facts at hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge or indicate criminal intent on the part of any individual," Ontario County Sheriff Philip C Povero told the New York Times.

Some commentators said that even if Stewart did not intend to hit Ward, he acted irresponsibly.

"Stewart is so confident and so cocky - and yes, so competitive - that I think he simply was trying to scare Kevin Ward Jr," writes the Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman. "I think he wanted to send a message of his own that, 'Hey, who are you trying to challenge me on my race track?' So he opened up the throttle, which appears to be the case in the video, and ran a little too close to Ward. But it's that split-second shot of adrenaline that made the difference."

Tony Stewart's sprint car races in Iowa in 2013. Tony Stewart races his sprint car in Iowa in 2013

On Sunday Stewart issued a statement expressing his condolences and announcing that he would not compete in that day's Nascar race. The Greensboro News & Record's Ed Hardin says Stewart should be sidelined for as long as it takes to fully investigate the incident - or perhaps permanently:

"It's time for Stewart to stop racing. He's 43 and this isn't the first time he's been involved in a crash that he caused. For his own sake, someone needs to tell him it's over. This is about to get very ugly, and the last thing we need to see is Tony Stewart driving a race car right now."

Other writers contended that Ward's death was a tragic accident for which Stewart is not to blame.

"There is no doubt that Stewart can be a jerk. There is no doubt that he is a short-tempered competitor," writes Slate's John Swansburg. "But he's also a man with a deep understanding of racing and an abiding love for it. I can't imagine him jeopardising either the sport or his ability to compete in it by wilfully committing an unspeakably heinous act."

Start Quote

To believe that Tony Stewart intended to hit a pedestrian on a racetrack is to believe that Tony Stewart is violently unhinged”

End Quote Cathal Kelly The Toronto Globe and Mail

Motorsport's Steven Cole Smith agrees:

"The idea that any driver would purposely hit another over what was a comparatively minor, that's-racing incident is hard to swallow. That Tony Stewart would do it on purpose? That is unthinkable."

Just because Stewart has a reputation as having a temper, writes the Toronto Globe and Mail's Cathal Kelly, that doesn't make him homicidal.

"To believe that Tony Stewart intended to hit a pedestrian on a racetrack is to believe that Tony Stewart is violently unhinged," he writes. "Sometimes, terrible things happen. People get angry and do foolish things, like walking out onto a racetrack. People panic. They make small, fatal mistakes."

As the accusations and defences continue back and forth, a larger discussion is emerging about racetrack safety and whether the confrontational bravado that some drivers display, much to the delight of their fans, is jeopardising lives.

"I truly believed, given all the safety measures put in place over the last decade, the link between death and Nascar drivers was gone forever," writes the Dallas Morning News's Tim Cowlishaw. "Maybe if there is one good thing to come from this awful night it's that racers at all levels will learn that leaving a car to confront a rival still driving one is a terrible idea."

Could Iraq become Obama's war?

A child who is fleeing the violence in Kurdistan A child fleeing the violence

President Obama once said the US should not be fighting a war in Iraq. Now he has approved air strikes, trying to protect Americans and help minorities under threat from Sunni militants. So will the president find himself entangled in Iraq?

The New York Times' Peter Baker says Mr Obama did not want this war - but seems to feel he has no choice. "Hoping to end the war in Iraq, Mr Obama became the fourth president in a row to order military action in that graveyard of American ambition," writes Baker.

In the Wall Street Journal journalists Carol Lee and Felicia Schwartz explain that Mr Obama had once said he would scale back the role of the US in Iraq. He ran his presidential campaign on that promise.

But things have changed.

"The situation on the ground became untenable in recent days," write Lee and Schwartz, "pushing Mr. Obama to authorise air strikes".

Writing in Commentary Magazine, John Podhoretz says Mr Obama made a mistake when he said the US would pull back from Iraq. Former president George W Bush had created a situation in which Iraq was "on its way to a stable future", wrote Mr Podhoretz.

Unfortunately Mr Obama "assumed we had lost in Iraq", says Mr Podhoretz. Today Mr Obama is forced to reckon with his mistake. "And so we come full circle," writes Mr Podhoretz - with the US again playing a military role there.

Yale University's Emma Sky, who once served an adviser to Gen Raymond Odierno, the commanding general of US forces in Iraq, says Mr. Obama is doing the right thing.

"It was the morally correct intervention of the United States in 1991 to impose a no-fly zone and to drop humanitarian supplies that prevented Saddam's forces from massacring Kurds," she writes in the New York Times.

Americans also need to help those who are in danger in Iraq, she says.

Start Quote

Every time the US touches the Middle East, it makes things worse”

End Quote Stephen Walt Foreign Policy

Her view is shared by editorial writers for the Wall Street Journal. "His decision to withdraw all US troops in 2011 was a strategic and increasingly a moral disaster," they say.

"The president - which is to say the US - bears responsibility now for the humanitarian catastrophe occurring in Iraq, just as it did for the mass flight of Vietnam's boat people, some two million, after the Communist triumph in the 1970s."

Some say the president's decision is long overdue.

"Finally", writes a blogger for the Lonely Conservative, Mr Obama has authorised "limited airstrikes in Iraq against the murderous Islamic terrorists".

Not everyone agrees, however, that Mr Obama should continue the fight Mr Bush started.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Harvard's Stephen Walt says: "Every time the US touches the Middle East, it makes things worse. It's time to walk away and not look back."

Iraqi Christians in a church courtyard Iraqi Christians, including these in a church courtyard after leaving Erbil, are trying to escape from militants

His view is summarised in the headline of his column: "Let it bleed."

Mr Obama is certainly not the first president who has faced tough choices - or reversed an earlier position. Indeed lesons have emerged over time.

Historian Douglas Brinkley, co-author of The Nixon Tapes, says audiotapes recorded at the White House under President Nixon reveal important truths about foreign policy.

"I found listening to all these tapes that you do have to a have a sense of human rights - that democracy has to represent some kind of goodness," Brinkley tells the BBC.

Brinkley says: "Otherwise when you listen to what Nixon's trying to do, it's just, 'Bomb these people. Who cares how many dead. We'll achieve this.' It's very cold and callous."

Brinkley describes President Nixon as a 'diabolical pragmatist'

In contrast Mr Obama has tried to make moral decisions regarding foreign policy. He has also been willing at times to admit he has to change course.

While finding himself under fire from some quarters for not acting sooner, some Americans seem to appreciate his "willingness to grapple with moral complexity", wrote Ross Douthat last year in the New York Times.

But sometimes the decisions - even with a moral compass - are wrenching. Iraq is a test of the president's ability to navigate this terrain, and the story is now unfolding.

Iran, a regional superpower

President Hassan Rouhani Experts describe Iran under President Hassan Rouhani as a regional superpower

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

Iran "relishes the chance to secure a place as the region's superpower, a quest made all the easier by America's reluctance to get embroiled", according to the Economist.

Officially Iran does not have forces in Iraq. But they seem to have a presence. Last month, for example, they held a public funeral for "an Iranian pilot killed in Samarra".

US officials worry about the role Iran plays in Iraq. Still the Americans seem to think - or hope - Iran will eventually bail on Nuri al-Maliki and scale back their role in the Middle East.

Yet that is "wishful thinking", says Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert at a think-tank in Washington.

Meanwhile - at least according to Robert Joseph, a former undersecretary of state, writing in National Review - the US "has lost enormous credibility in the region with friends and adversaries alike".

As a result, he writes, Iran will continue to make gains in its efforts to build a nuclear weapon. US and Iranian officials are meeting in Geneva on Thursday for nuclear talks.

The Iranians, he says, will attempt to exploit gaps in an agreement to place limits on centrifuges.


In the Washington Post, opinion writer Harold Meyerson says Hungary is leaning toward Moscow - not Washington. He says Hungarians seem to view "Putin's Russia" as a "more attractive political model than the liberal democracies of the West".

As he points out, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oran is attacking the European Union - and saying good things about Russia and China.

Meyerson says Europeans should pay attention - and take action. "Creating and observing democratic laws and norms", he says, "is a prerequisite for EU membership."

He adds: "Why shouldn't dismantling such laws and norms be grounds for expulsion?"


Adewale Maja-Pearce, the author of a book entitled Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Other Essays, writes in the New York Times about Nigeria's National Electric Power Authority. It is widely known as "Never Expect Power Always", he says.

In his essay he describes how power is distributed unequally - and unfairly.

"Even though about 85% of Nigeria's urban areas and 30% of rural areas are on the power grid - the result of years of government monopoly and its attendant corruption - the supply is intermittent at best," he writes.

He concludes by saying the power shortages are a symbol of a bigger problem.

"Cutting corners has become a way of life for all Nigerians, great and small. We don't expect anything better, which is why we are so quiescent," he writes. "But power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and, in their own small way, so do power shortages."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Moscow officials are providing a list of US-and EU-imported fruits and vegetables that will be banned for up to a year. The ban is being imposed in response to Western-imposed economic sanctions.

"Agricultural producers and experts welcome the head of state's decision to introduce reciprocal measures in retaliation for the West's sanctions." -Izvestiya

"'Russia is ready for lawsuits under the WTO [World Trade Organization] framework and is prepared to respect the rulings of the organisation's arbitration mechanisms.'" -Kommersant

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'Torture report' stirs up row in US

President Obama President Obama signed an executive order that banned torture

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

Today's must-read

A retired major general in the US army, Antonio Taguba, says CIA officials are trying to undermine a report about the agency's interrogation programme. In a New York Times op-ed, he also says CIA officials have used extraordinary means to resist oversight of their activities.

"Agency officials, past and current, surely believe that by seeking to undermine the credibility of the report, they are acting in the best interests of the agency," he writes. "But when the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, has accused you of spying, you may want to reconsider your PR strategy."

A columnist for the National Review, Tom Rogan, however, writes in the Telegraph that "Democrats are pursuing a destructive publicity stunt against the CIA".

In addition, he says, the report is incomplete. "No relevant CIA officials were interviewed by senate investigator," he writes. "This begs the question, why are Democrats behaving with such disregard for objectivity? The answer: publicity."

William Taft IV, who served as legal adviser to the State Department from 2001 to 2005, disagrees with Mr Rogan's view - and says the report is valuable.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post that appeared several months ago, he describes the report as an "extensive review of the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation programme after 9/11".

He says the report should be released. He writes: "It is time for the CIA to open itself up to oversight and implement changes in order to emerge stronger."


Writing in Foreign Policy, Gal Luft says that studying World War I is important today, especially for those who are analysing the policies of President Vladimir Putin.

"Understanding Russia's strategic calculus at the time can help decode Moscow's recent behavior in Ukraine," Luft writes.

"As European and American leaders contemplate what to do next with Russia, it is worth remembering that Putin's takeover of Crimea has much more in common with Tsar Nicholas's concerns in the Black Sea in 1914 than Leonid Brezhnev's in Czechoslovakia in 1968," he writes.

"Putin's takeover was an act in defense of Russia's national interest, fully consistent with the country's geopolitical DNA, rather than one of sheer, blind aggression."


In an article for Foreign Affairs, Mitchell Orenstein looks at diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Russia. He describes how "European nations such as the Netherlands have long kept smiling as the Kremlin has continued to humiliate them".

In his piece he looks back at an incident in 2006 - when "Russia insisted that Royal Dutch Shell renegotiate the terms of its Sakhalin-2 project". Then he describes how the relationship between the Netherlands and Russia developed in the years that followed - and what the future holds.

In the piece he argues that the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has forced the Netherlands and other Europeans to "get real about Moscow".


Editorial writers at the Miami Herald say the US should take a hard line against some Venezuelan officials, imposing further sanctions on them because of the way they have violated human rights.

"The Obama administration's decision last week to impose visa sanctions against unnamed government officials in Venezuela is a step in the right direction, but it's nothing more than a slap on the wrist - and a mild one at that," they write.

Human Rights Watch has recorded "more than 40 deaths and 50 cases of torture, in addition to some 2,000 unjustified detentions" in Venezuela, they write, and "opposition leaders say Venezuela's jails hold more than 100 political prisoners".

The visa sanctions will help show Venezuelan officials that they must respect human rights, according to the editorial writers. But US officials should go further.

"The individuals who have been denied entry are not named, which limits the measure's political effectiveness," they write. "Freezing their assets and property in the United States, however, would really hit them where it hurts."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi has resigned from the UK government, describing the government's position on the crisis in Gaza as "morally indefensible".

"Warsi's resignation is not expected to change anything in British policy in the region, but it is a worrying sign of the way in which Israel splits British public opinion." - Ha'aretz, Israel

"The UK has failed to make serious efforts to protect the innocent people of Gaza against Israeli aggression, which made Sayeeda Warsi take the principled decision of quitting the government." Nawa-i-Waqt, Pakistan

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Canadians warned over China dealings

Flags in China

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

Today's must-read

Two Canadians have been accused of spying, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The couple, Kevin and Julia Garratt, ran a small coffeehouse in Dandong - and helped people plan tours of North Korea. But now the Garratts have been identified by Chinese authorities as suspects in espionage.

If found guilty, reports CBC News, the Garratts could be sentenced to death.

The espionage case highlights the tensions between China and Canada. Canadian officials said recently they believed that China had cyber-hacked one of their agencies, the National Research Council.

Chinese officials said the accusations are false.

Writing on Foreign Policy Blogs, Gary Sands, the director of a venture-capital company, says Chinese officials have a complicated past.

He writes: "China stands out not only for stealing information but technology, in a desperate bid to compete economically in green technologies, new information technologies, biology and high-end manufacturing with the likes of the US and Japan."

Writing in the Globe and Mail, David Mulroney, who has served as Canada's ambassador, says Canadians should be "clear-eyed" when dealing with China.

"China is not our best friend, any more than it is the sum of all fears," he writes.

"China is at the heart of changes that expose us to new levels of threat and uncertainty," he writes. "We need to respond with skill, purpose and confidence," he writes. "The only thing more dangerous than engaging China is not engaging it."


There has been a "global battle of regimes" between authoritarian capitalism and democratic capitalism across Africa in recent months, says the New York Times' David Brooks.

China has a strong economic presence across Africa, which adds to the economic repression of minorities and the illusion of power for elites, he says.

African leaders are gathering in Washington this week. But the US has a small presence throughout Africa compared to that of China, says Brooks.

"What happens in Africa will have global consequences in the battle of regimes," he writes. "If African nations succumb to the delusion of autocracy, we'll have Putins to deal with for decades to come."


Religious minorities in Sinjar are in danger, says The Daily Beast's Andrew Slater. "Without Western champions and sympathisers, the non-Christian religious minorities of Nineveh province are being slowly exterminated, driven off or forced into hiding," he writes.

Kurdish fighters are planning their defence, he says, but time is running out.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

A factory explosion in Kunshan, China, killed at least 68 people. Local media report an initial investigation has suggested the blast was ignited in a polishing workshop - and that local safety authorities had warned the factory about risks.

"Local authorities should comprehensively investigate the work environment of local companies and inform the public whether work conditions at the Zhangrong factory are indeed as bad as reported by its employees and whether similar work environments are widespread." - editorial in Youth Daily.

"It is worrying that against the background of a transforming economy and adjustments to [China's] industrial structure, more and more companies resort to heartless approach to business and turn their workers into machines." - editorial in Jinghua Shibao (Beijing Times).

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Why Ebola is hitting Africa hard

Woman preparing meat This small African restaurant has changed what kind of meat it serves to help stop the spread of Ebola

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

Today's must-read

Ebola is still in the headlines - and is now in the US. The disease has been wreaking havoc in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, and an Atlanta hospital began treating the first case of Ebola in the US this week.

The patient is a doctor who had been providing medical care in Africa; he has shown signs of improvement since his arrival in the US. A second US aid worker is set to be flown from Africa shortly, while a local ABC affiliate in New York City reports a possible case of Ebola at Mount Sinai hospital.

Most health experts agree that an outbreak in the US would be quickly managed, Vox's Stephen Hoffman and Julia Belluz say the disease is taking such a toll in Africa, however, because the global medical and research communities are not designed to treat diseases that affect the poor.

"Right now, more money goes into fighting baldness and erectile dysfunction than hemorrhagic fevers like dengue or Ebola," they write.

Most medical innovation is left to the private sector, which is profit-driven, they write, while aid organisations devoted to public health devote little of their budgets to research and development.

Government funding for diseases like Ebola are mostly doled out by the Department of Defense, and only if the disease has a threat of being weaponised.

"The result of this architecture of investments is that most health products that hit the market don't focus on sicknesses of the poor. Of the 850 health products approved by regulators between 2000 and 2011, only 37 focused on neglected diseases," they write.

"As long as we perpetuate this global system of R&D funding, outbreaks of neglected diseases like Ebola will keep happening. Sadly, it's a cause shared by many more diseases of the poor, some of which affect multiple times more people than the one that's currently making headlines."


Detainee denied - The Canadian government will not let a Toronto Star reporter interview a former child solider and Canadian citizen who was detained at Guantanamo Bay in 2002, according to the New York Times' editorial board.

"The Toronto Star thinks he should be allowed to tell his side of the story and respond to questions from one of its reporters, Michelle Shephard, who has been following his case for years," the editorial board writes.

But the Canadian government won't let the Toronto Star conduct an on-camera interview with Omar Khadr because doing so could cause trouble within the Canadian prison where Khadr is now detained. That's a mistake, says the Times.

"The Canadian government should allow the interview and let Mr Khadr, now an adult, share his perspective on his ordeal. The public has been kept waiting long enough," they write.


Departing diplomacy - Several Latin American countries are pulling their ambassadors out of Israel for consultation, according to the GlobalPost's Simeon Tegel, Alex Leff and Noga Tarnopolsky. It's a move designed to show the country's disapproval of Israel actions in Gaza prior to the latest ceasefire.

"Recalling an ambassador for consultation falls short of breaking off relations outright, but it can lead to that," Tegel, Leff and Tarnopolsky write.

So far, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador and Brazil have pulled their ambassadors out of Israel, the authors say. Many other Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela, do not currently have ambassadors in Israel, they add.

Some Latin American leaders say the recall is because of "foreign and domestic policies," while others are condemning Israeli forces for its "bombardment of Palestinian civilians."


Should America cut its losses? - The US should move on from efforts to improve its relationship with India because the country doesn't have much to offer it, according to the Daily Beast's Tunku Varadarajan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modii has offered little proof that he is the one who will improve the status of business in his country. That should be a deal breaker for the US, says Varadarajan.

"American private enterprise has always tread cautiously in India, and there is every indication that it will have to continue to tiptoe its way through, around, and over the cactus grove of Indian regulations," he writes.

Until India makes up its mind as to what they want their country to be, the US should discontinue efforts to build a relationship with the country, concludes Varadarajan.


Fighting rural flight - Japan's population is declining in rural areas, but some Japanese are creating possible solutions, according to the National Interest's John W Traphagan.

"While the challenges are significant, there are also a variety of innovative programmess being developed to help people cope and, perhaps, even keep younger members of the population from moving to the cities," writes Traphagan.

For instance, Panorama Farms is a new business that helps rice farmers with high industry costs and provides labour, says Traphagan.

"Panorama Farms hopes that by using organic techniques, their products will appeal to Japanese consumers and also provide a more sustainable approach to farming in the long run," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian commentators implicate the West in violence that broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, in recent days. Some that the conflict's escalation is in the interests of the West, which is unhappy about Armenia joining Russian President Vladimir Putin's integration project, the Eurasian Economic Union, in October.

"Since Yerevan set a course for Eurasian Economic Union membership, it has come under systemic pressure from the West - and the rising tension over Nagornyy Karabakh is a component of these systemic efforts, especially since public blame will be shifted to Moscow." - South Caucasus expert Andrey Areshev in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"It would be advantageous for the West to portray Armenia as the weak link in Eurasian integration." - Director of the Centre for Political Studies Andrey Fedorov in Kommersant.

"Had this happened six months ago, we could have said confidently that the current escalation would not lead to any more serious bloodshed. But now, unfortunately, given the situation in Ukraine, this cannot be said with confidence." - Carnegie Moscow Centre research fellow Aleksey Malashenko in Novyye Izvestiya,

"I don't rule out the possibility of other conflicts around Russia's perimeter flaring up as well - in the Dniester region, for example - in order to create as difficult a situation as possible for Moscow, so it would have to tackle several 'fronts' at once, with the ring of conflicts around Russia's borders becoming increasingly apparent." - South Caucasus expert Andrey Areshev in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. ‎

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

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.


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