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Echo Chambers
28 July 2014 Last updated at 16:19 ET

Blaming Obama for a messy world

US President Barack Obama

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

Today's must-read

The world was a mess long before President Barack Obama first took the oath of office, writes the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman.

To lay the blame for the crises of varying magnitudes in Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iran and China at the feet of the current US president, he argues, requires a fairly concerted effort to ignore history.

Recall the so-called halcyon days of the Ronald Reagan presidency, the libertarian columnist writes:

"There was endless strife hither and yon: civil wars in Central America; Americans taken hostage in Lebanon; a US military barracks blown up in Beirut; and Libyan terrorists bombing a Pan Am plane. The Soviets shot down a South Korean passenger jet. South Africa's minority white government tried to suppress a black revolt."

And things didn't get any better after Reagan left office. Once communism collapsed, Iraq invaded Kuwait , a civil war consumed the Balkans and multiple African nations, and conflict sparked between Pakistan and India.

Since the turn of the century, everyone remembers 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Chapman writes. But the world also saw Russia's invasion of Georgia, Islamic militants in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and fighting in Lebanon and Sudan.

"When was this era of harmony that Obama has somehow forfeited?" he asks. "It never happened. And it's not likely to emerge under his successor. Even at the height of our post-Cold War power and influence, nasty events happened all the time, and we couldn't stop them."

The world is often destined for dismal results whether the US intervenes or not, Chapman concludes. "If there are two ways to get a dismal result, maybe we should choose the one that doesn't cost us thousands of lives or billions of dollars."

The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt offers the counter-argument, writing that the current troubles in the world have been exacerbated by Mr Obama's decision to gradually withdraw from Europe and the Middle East.

If the US had stayed engaged, he argues, it could have better shaped the fallout from the Arab Spring and kept Russian ambitions in check. The Syrian civil war could have been resolved and the Islamic militant uprising in Iraq avoided.

"Obama thought he could engineer a cautious, modulated retreat from US leadership," he argues. "What we have gotten is a far more dangerous world."


The schoolgirls left behind - The world is forgetting about the Nigerian girls who were abducted three months ago by Boko Haram, according to Mohammed Adam in the Ottawa Citizen.

"Western governments talked tough, promised big, but in the end did precious little to help save the girls," he writes.

He says that the Nigerian government is also to blame for letting the tragedy fade from the front pages. President Goodluck Jonathan, he says, didn't even meet with the parents of the kidnapped until Pakistani child advocate Malala Yousafzai pressured him.

"What's happening in Nigeria is symptomatic of government in many parts of Africa: self-serving, uncaring and clueless," Adam concludes.


A nation still under the shadow of World War One - A week from today marks the 100-year anniversary of British empire's entrance into World War One. It was a decision that changed Australia forever, says University of Queensland Prof John Quiggin.

World War One represented the real birth of Australia as an independent nation, he writes in the New York Times. It took its place on the world stage, with nearly 40% of the country's fighting-age male population enlisting.

"But what a price," he continues. "Even the smallest Australian country town has, at its centre, a memorial listing those who served in the Great War, and noting the many who did not return." In total, 60,000 Australians died.

Even though Australia recovered since the war, he argues, the country's wartime death toll gave rise to a strong antiwar sentiment and moved the country away from British influence and closer to the US politically.


Court battles over MH17 are looming - Countries like Malaysia may be able to hold those responsible for the downing of MH17 accountable in their domestic courts, says lawyer Roger Tan in the Malaysia Star.

It will be difficult to prosecute those responsible in the International Criminal Court, he writes, so domestic courts may be the only place for justice.

"The biggest hurdle will still be to get the perpetrators deported or extradited to the relevant states," he says.

Another option is to bring charges against Russia in the International Court of Justice. The challenge there, he writes, is that Russia must be proven to have been responsible for the tragedy.

"Indeed, the road ahead in securing justice for MH17 victims is a long and arduous one, but we must never give up at whatever cost," Mr Tan concludes.


Siding with Hamas over Israel - Brazil has a history of sympathising with military dictators and human rights violators, says the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer, and this trend continues as it takes up the Hamas cause on the world stage.

Brazil's government recently expressed its condemnation of Israel for killing civilians in the Gaza Strip and recalled its ambassador to Israel.

"Israel can be blamed for failing to prevent civilian deaths in specific cases during the Gaza conflict, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government can also be blamed for not doing enough to speed up the much-needed creation of a Palestinian state," writes Oppenheimer, "but Israel cannot be blamed for defending itself."

If Brazil continues to side with human rights violators and dictators, he concludes, it will never be taken seriously as a modern democracy.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian commentators react to talk of European economic sanctions following the downing of MH17.

"The actions of our now-erstwhile European allies are only making the situation worse, forcing Russia to take countermeasures across all fields of co-operation" - Yevgeny Shestakov in state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"I do not think I have ever seen such a dense stream of hatred aimed at our country. Russia is being widely described as a 'rogue state'... I don't believe we can beat the myths any time soon - the myths that are poisoning, killing and dragging Europe into an abyss." - Mikhail Rostovsky Moskovsky Komsomolets.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that the White House is getting public opinion ready for active US participation in the fighting in Ukraine." - Vladimir Skosyrev 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)

Indian or American: Congressman's 'oops'

Representative Curt Clawson speaks during a congressional hearing on US-India relations.

Last Thursday US Representative Curt Clawson mistook two senior US officials testifying at a congressional hearing for representatives of the government of India.

In an awkward exchange that quickly went viral, the Florida Republican boasted of attending school in India and his love of Indian films to Nisha Biswal of the state department and Arun Kumar of the commerce department.

"I am familiar with your country," he told the two assistant secretaries. "I love your country."

Start Quote

Sadly, it's becoming extremely uncommon for members of Congress to actually know what they're talking about”

End Quote Jonathan Capehart The Washington Post

He then went on to request that India open itself to increased US investment.

"I ask co-operation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing," he said. "Can I have that?"

A confused Ms Biswal responded, "I think your question is to the Indian government, and we certainly share your sentiments, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the US government."

Foreign Policy's John Hudson first covered the howler in his magazine's the Cable blog.

"It's extremely uncommon for foreign officials to testify before Congress under oath," he writes. "Even so, it's unclear if at any point Clawson realised his mistake, despite the existence of a witness list distributed to the various members detailing Biswal and Kumar's positions."

The story made the rounds on Twitter and the liberal blogosphere, with many commentators taking shots at the recently elected conservative Tea Party-backed candidate's error.

"Note to the rookie (and, naturally, Tea Party) member of Congress: The name does not define the person, let alone the nationality," writes the Los Angeles Times's Scott Martelle.

US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal. Nisha Biswal serves as US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs

"Mr Clawson won a special election to replace fellow Republican Trey Radel, who quit after getting caught buying cocaine," he continues. "Clawson ran as 'the outsider for Congress.' Voters should have asked him, 'outside of what?'"

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart says that Mr Clawson provided a "cringe-worthy moment in race that was gobsmackingly bad - even for Congress."

"Sadly, it's becoming extremely uncommon for members of Congress to actually know what they're talking about," he concludes.

The story also got play in the Indian media, as the Times of India called it "a really awkward 'oops' moment".

Start Quote

I'm a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball”

End Quote Curt Clawson US Representative

"The joke goes that many Americans know little about their own country and its growing diversity, let alone their own neighbours - not to even mention countries far away," Chidanand Rajghatta writes.

The Atlantic's Peter Beinart contends that the incident isn't just a reflection of the US's lack of foreign awareness, however. He says it has more to do with acknowledging the American-ness of non-whites:

"It's worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany."

Mr Clawson, a former college basketball player, issued a sport-themed apology on Friday evening:

"I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed, and I apologise," he wrote in a statement to Gannett's Ledyard King. "I'm a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball."

Given Mr Clawson's professed love of all things Indian, perhaps he should have said he was caught playing on a sticky wicket.

Ivy League miseducation

Harvard graduates celebrate at the 2013 commencement ceremonies.

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be Ivy League students.

In a lengthy article in the latest issue of the New Republic, former Yale associate professor (and Columbia graduate) William Deresiewicz says that the prestigious private colleges dotting the US, particularly in the Northeast, are creating a class of entitled "zombies".

The author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to Meaningful Life, writes:

"Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they're doing but with no idea why they're doing it."

Start Quote

The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them”

End Quote William Deresiewicz The New Republic

Ivy League colleges and their ilk, says Deresiewicz, have created an education-industrial complex that processes the children of privilege from cradle to diploma and beyond.

Private and affluent public primary education, test-prep courses, "enrichment" programmes, volunteer service projects, international travel, music lessons, sports activities - all the high-cost building blocks of the perfect college application - put crushing pressure on the upper middle class and their offspring.

The ones who successfully navigate the college winnowing process are near perfect - or at least think they are. He says he observed the results in the students he taught.

"The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them," he writes. "The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk."

College shouldn't be this way, Deresiewicz writes. Instead of four years of career training, it should be preparation for a thoughtful, well-examined life.

The door to the Harvard Office of Admissions and Financial Aid Few elite university students have had to deal with failure or real adversity, William Deresiewicz writes

What of attempts by admissions officials to achieve classroom diversity? While some colleges may give preference to minority applicants, Deresiewicz says, ethnic diversity only covers up socio-economic homogeneity.

"Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian and Latino businesspeople and professionals," he says.

His solution is to democratise higher education, freeing it from the stranglehold of elite colleges and the crushing debt that such degrees often bring.

Start Quote

To believe that a college - Ivy or otherwise - can confer intellectual benefits in four years that you won't be able to attain at some point over the course of the next 60 is to believe in magic”

End Quote Osita Nwanevu Slate

"High-quality public education, financed with public money, for the benefit of all: the exact commitment that drove the growth of public higher education in the postwar years," he writes.

In the meantime, he says, parents should consider sending their kids to public universities or small religious or liberal arts colleges where they can be challenged by a more authentic diversity of experiences.

Deresiewicz's article has provoked a fair amount of discussion and debate, even within the pages of the New Republic (which, many commentators have enjoyed pointing out, is staffed predominantly by Ivy League graduates).

In an article on the New Republic's website, JD Chapman, an academic director of a Roanoke, Virginia high school, says that most admissions offices he deals with are keen on identifying and admitting the unconventional students Deresiewicz says they ignore.

In addition, he says, Deresiewicz relies too much on his own anecdotal evidence for taking the pulse of today's youth.

"My own experience suggests that thoughtful, curious people in this age group are widely prone to confused self-loathing no matter where they are."

The website IvyGate solicited comments from current Columbia students and, needless to say, they weren't particularly thrilled with the article.

"Deresiewicz does a fantastic job of ignoring the reason why security (not wealth, not fame, SECURITY) has displaced cultivating the mind as the number one takeaway Kids These Days want from college," Alison Herman says. "The Great Recession ripped away the mental, and often material, safety net that's necessary to prioritise Learning to Think over, say, learning C++."

Start Quote

Deresiewicz is unable to wean himself from the care and feeding of our self-anointed intellectual elite”

End Quote Chris Lehmann In These Times

Osita Nwanevu, a University of Chicago senior interning at Slate, writes that Deresiewicz places too much emphasis on the transformative power of higher education.

"To believe that a college - Ivy or otherwise - can confer intellectual benefits in four years that you won't be able to attain at some point over the course of the next 60 is to believe in magic," he writes.

The problem, writes Chris Lehmann in In These Times, is that Deresiewicz doesn't go far enough in his recommendations.

"Deresiewicz is unable to wean himself from the care and feeding of our self-anointed intellectual elite, nor from the bedrock conviction that all schemes of social improvement must be about them," he writes.

Lehmann advocates nationalising higher education and slashing tuition. He admits it's a long-shot, but so is Deresiewicz's "expectation that better-trained meritocrats somehow will rescue the rest of us".

This don't-send-your-kids-to-Ivies plan only works if everyone buys into it, writes the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri. In a tongue-in-cheek column, she notes the conundrum facing well-meaning parents:

"If some people don't get the memo about Massive Structural Shifts in How We Are Educated, their kids will get into Ivy League schools in your kids' place, and all the employers who did not read the article will keep assuming that going to an Ivy League school is a mark of quality and hire them instead."

And that, as they say in the hallowed halls of Yale, would stink.

'Eight suspensions for my children'

Children play in a preschool classroom.

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

Today's must-read

While black children are 18% of the US preschool population, they account for 48% of the preschool children who have been suspended from school more than once.

That was one of the headlines from a March report from the US education department's Office of Civil Rights, which found that black children were suspended at a rate three times higher than their white counterparts.

In Friday's Washington Post, Tunette Powell writes that these statistics are more than just abstract numbers - they've been an everyday reality in her life.

Ms Powell - the founder the Truth Heals, a non-profit support group for families affected by absent fathers - says her two preschool-age sons have received full-day suspensions a total of eight times so far this year.

She says her four-year-old had to stay home twice for chair-throwing incidents and once for spitting on a classmate. One of the five times her three-year-old was suspended was for hitting a teacher in the arm.

At home Ms Powell disciplined her children and blamed herself for their behaviour.

"What was I doing wrong?" she asks. "My children are living a comfortable life. My husband is an amazing father to JJ and Joah. At home, they have given us very few problems; the same goes for time with babysitters."

It was only later, when she began talking to other parents, that she says a different, more disturbing explanation emerged.

"One after another, white mothers confessed the trouble their children had gotten into. Some of the behaviour was similar to JJ's; some was much worse.

"Most startling: None of their children had been suspended."

There are different standards for disciplining white and black children, Ms Powell asserts, and it's causing problems that stay with the affected children for the rest of their lives.

The solution, she says, is diversity training for early education teachers.

"Authority figures strip black boys of their innocence at younger ages than white children," she says.

"Diversity training for teachers and administrators would raise their awareness of how subconscious prejudices can drive racial discrepancies in disciplinary action."

Ms Powell recalls her own experiences being suspended as a child, and the shame and doubt it caused her.

"I cannot go back and undo what was done to me, but I refuse to let it be done to my children," she concludes.


New risks in the wake of Kenya's tech boom - The recent hacking of the Twitter accounts of Kenya's defence forces and its military spokesman have illuminated the need for greater technological security, writes Matunda Nyanchama for the Daily Nation.

With the rise of social media, mobile phones and mobile banking in Kenya, the country needs to realise that an increased reliance on technology comes with new risks, he says.

"Unmitigated risks obviously lead to losses, which can be material as in the cases of banks," writes Nyanchama. "It could also be harmful to the reputation, leading to loss of confidence and trust."

In order to face the new risks, Nyanchama says that Kenya should invest in local talent and challenge them to improve security.

South Korea

From secretary general to president? - With the UN secretary general's second term ending in 2016, commentators are wondering whether Ban Ki-moon will throw his hat into the South Korean presidential race in 2017.

"True, it's not rare for former heads of international organisations to emerge as powerful figures in domestic politics thanks to his or her enhanced recognition while serving for the organisations," writes Sah Dong-seok for the Korea Times.

Mr Ban could face electoral obstacles, however, such as his lack of a domestic political base and his age - in 2017, he will be 73 years old, says Sah.

"Ban has never talked about his running for presidency, and it's generally said that that's not what he wants, especially in light of the fact that he is not a politician but a diplomat," Sah concludes. "But it's also true nothing is impossible in the subtle political world."


The impact of Scottish independence on Nato - If Scotland achieves independence with their upcoming referendum vote, their new statehood could have significant implications for Nato, writes Leo Michel for the Los Angeles Times.

Notably, the pro-independence leaders driving the referendum have pledged to end arrangements that allow the British to base their ballistic missile submarines and nuclear warheads on Scotland's west coast.

"That would be a tough blow for Britain's two nuclear allies and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as a whole," Michel writes.


John Oliver, a threat to monarchy and juntas - Television host John Oliver's viral comedic rants have landed him on the Thai junta's threat list, writes Andrew MacGregor Marshall for Vice News.

An official document leaked to the media organisation shows that the Thai junta that took over the government in May felt threatened by Mr Oliver's sarcastic diatribes, particularly his derision of the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

"While comical, the paranoia of Thailand's military dictators about seemingly innocuous satire is well founded," writes Marshall. When people start laughing at their dictators, he notes, revolution is often not far behind the laughter, he says,

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Middle East commentators address the chances that a Gaza ceasefire talks will achieve a lasting peace.

"Hamas and Islamic Jihad … are fighting a life-or-death battle in which there is no room for retreat until their main objective is achieved - lifting the siege on Gaza. Anything short of that is defeat." - Randa Haydar in Lebanon's al-Nahar.

"The unrelenting Kerry has devised a ceasefire proposal that totters between the Egyptian proposal, which humiliated Hamas, and the Qatari proposal, which gave Hamas a victory feeling… This is bitter pill for Israel." - Nahum Barnea in Israel's Yedioth Aharonot.

"The battle in Gaza will not liberate Palestine, but it will liberate our minds from misconceptions and delusions… It will remind the Jews of something they often forget - that the Palestinians have not surrendered and will not raise the white flag." - Hilmi al-Asmar in Jordan's al-Dustur.‎

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

The perils of sexy Facebook pictures

A woman in a bikini poses during Spring Break in Cancun, Mexico.

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

Today's must-read

Maybe you should think twice before uploading your beach vacation pictures to Facebook. A new study found that people with sexy photos on their social media profiles are often judged as less competent than those who post more conservative snapshots of themselves.

Oregon State University researchers asked 118 young women to judge two nearly identical Facebook pages that hosted different profile pictures - and unsurprisingly, the page with a sexy profile picture was condemned.

"The message here is that to be on social media, you must present yourself for objectification, but you can't objectify yourself - or go too far with your social media persona," writes SE Smith for the Daily Dot.

Of course, the online sphere is only reflecting what has been omnipresent in our non-digital society for years, Smith says:

"Women can't get ahead no matter what they do, and this is a society where women who are sexual (or present themselves sexually) are judged. But on the flip side, women who don't take enough care in their appearance, who dress sloppily, who don't fit the required metric of how women should look, are also criticized".

Although this study may be unsurprising, it does show that simple social media choices can have consequences.

"The study authors suggest that women and girls should select images that speak to their identities, such as pictures of them engaged in activities they like doing," Smith writes. "But is that really the answer?"

There's a larger issue at play here that goes beyond bullying and unkind judgements, she contends. "Women and girls are being judged on how they look, not who they are."

In the long run, having more conversations with young women about judgemental attitudes might be the way to go, writes Claire Hannum for the Frisky.

"Double standards aren't fun to talk about, but it may help girls to better understand why the world seems so hung up on their appearance," she says.

Young women should be taught to be aware of the implications of posting sexy photos on social media, but at the same time they should be wary of enforcing the double standard, writes Jihan Forbes for the Fashion Spot.

"Yes, it is important for girls to present themselves in ways that don't spotlight their sexuality, but from a feminist perspective, it is equally important for young ladies to not see overt displays of sexuality as a sign of a deviant personality," says Forbes.


Nigerian schoolgirls still missing, amidst fears of sexual abuse - One hundred days have passed since Boko Haram kidnapped the Chibok schoolgirls, and now some fear that they may have been raped while under the custody of the northern Nigerian militants.

"They carted them off to unknown forest locations where they are still being held," writes Evelyn Leopold for the Huffington Post. "Some who escaped told of gang rapes. So much for religion."

Although religion is at the core of Boko Haram's ideology, Leopold says that the militant group continues to commit human rights violations.

"Whether you call the girl a 'wife' or an 'infidel', abducting and molesting her is still rape with religion used as a cover to justify carnal assault," she writes.


Focus on solving the humanitarian crisis, not only the political one - With the intensity of conflict in the Middle East rising in recent weeks, "the humanitarian crisis in Syria threatens to become a sideshow", write former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President of International Rescue Committee David Miliband in Foreign Policy magazine.

The political complexity of the Syrian crisis should not be the excuse for inaction, they say.

"For too long, a focus on the humanitarian situation was seen as a diversion from the political track," Ms Albright and Mr Miliband write. "In fact, progress on the humanitarian front needs to be the first step toward political progress."

Focusing on the humanitarian crisis, they conclude, could create a foundation for political negotiations.


Election success about more than religion - The results of Indonesia's election are reason to celebrate, but they should not be seen as a lesson for Muslim democracy, says Quartz's Bobby Ghosh.

"That view is highly patronising, of Indonesians, of Arabs and of Muslims in general. It is also just plain wrong," he writes.

The country's democratic success has little to do with what its dominant religion is, Ghosh continues. The democratic victory is more a reflection of the determination the nation's citizens, he adds.

Muslims don't need evidence that Islam and democracy can coexist because they already do in the Koran, the Hadith and in the words of the Prophet Muhammad, he concludes.


Carbon tax is a victim of thin wallets - Australia rescinded its carbon tax last week because voters are more worried about finances than the environment right now, says the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente.

"During the 2007 election, both major parties promised tough action on the climate. Then came the recession, and people's worries shifted elsewhere," she writes.

Despite environmentalists' worries about the consequences of the repeal, it all comes down to the present voter priorities, Wente adds.

"In the ideal world of economic models, carbon taxes might be great," she concludes. "But in the real world, they're a loser."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Palestinian and Israeli commentators do not see the current hostilities in Gaza coming to an end anytime soon.

"Israel has blocked all roads leading to a political breakthrough in the West Bank, and it has breached all moral values in Gaza." - Editorial in Palestinian Al-Quds.

"Israel's strategy of prolonging the war by another 17 days or more... in order to put pressure on the Palestinian public to move against the resistance and erode its power will end in failure." - Munir Shafiq in Palestinian Al-Risalah.

"The Israeli demand to demilitarise the Gaza Strip of offensive weapons on and under the ground, which is backed by EU foreign ministers, is justified. On the other hand, Israel must free its long, punishing grip and set the strip free." - Amnon Abramovitch in Israeli Yedioth Aharonot.

"Have we already reached the point when Hamas is so damaged that the organisation will be willing to preserve the calm for a significant period of time?" - Yoav Limor in Israel's Israel Hayom.‎

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

Plagiarism charge rocks US Senate race

US Senator John Walsh of Montana walks through the US Capitol building.

On Wednesday the New York Times reported that Senator John Walsh of Montana plagiarised significant portions of a paper written in 2007 while completing a master's programme at the US Army War College.

The Times investigation compared the former adjutant general of the Montana National Guard's 14-page thesis with several previously published scholarly works. One 800-word section of Mr Walsh's paper appears to have been taken directly from a 2002 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report on Middle East democracy and US foreign policy.

Start Quote

I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor”

End Quote John Walsh US Senator

(The paper provides a line-by-line interactive analysis here).

These allegations created particularly keen interest in the US political world - and not just because it appears that 14 pages is an acceptable length for a War College master's degree thesis.

Mr Walsh, a Democrat appointed to the Senate in February to replace now-US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, is running for election in November, and his seat is very much at risk.

Republicans need a net change of six Senate seats in this fall's balloting to take control of Congress's upper chamber, so any scandal that hurts a Democratic incumbent is bad news for the party.

Although polls show Mr Walsh behind his Republican opponent, Representative Steve Daines, he had appeared to have been closing the gap recently. According to a July 21 Public Policy Polling survey, the Democrat trails Mr Daines by seven points, down from 17 last November.

US Senator Rand Paul. US Senator Rand Paul faced plagiarism accusations last November

Mr Walsh initially told the Times he did not believe he plagiarised, but later said he committed an unintentional mistake. He said he was taking anti-depressant medications at the time due in part to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a year-long tour of duty in Iraq in 2005 and a fellow veteran's recent suicide.

"I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor," Mr Walsh told the Associated Press. "My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."

Start Quote

Running as an ex-military candidate means running on a military tradition of honour”

End Quote Chris Weigant The Huffington Post

Plagiarism scandals are nothing new in the media-political world of Washington, DC, of course, and they're not always career-threatening.

Last November Buzzfeed reported that portions of Republican Senator Rand Paul's 2012 book appeared to be lifted from previously published sources.

The Kentucky senator's office told the website it "will implement a new 'approval process' to ensure proper citation in the future," and the Kentucky Senator continues to be considered a top-tier contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

In 1987 then-Senator Joseph Biden's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was derailed by the revelation that he had been disciplined for academic fraud while in law school and had incorporated lines by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock into his speeches without attribution.

Mr Biden, of course, is now the US vice-president - something conservative wags on Twitter enjoyed joking about on Wednesday.

Many commentators have been quick to write off Mr Walsh's chances to hold onto his Senate seat, however.

The senator, writes the Huffington Post's Chris Weigant, is "toast". While some politicians can overcome plagiarism scandals, he says, this one is electorally fatal.

"Running as an ex-military candidate means running on a military tradition of honour," he says, "but when that honour is tarnished it can cut even deeper than with non-military politicians, in the eyes of the public."

Don Pogreba of Intelligent Discontent, a Montana-based progressive website, isn't willing to give up quite yet, though.

He says Mr Walsh's plagiarism is "the work of someone who probably didn't entirely understand the conventions of attribution in an academic paper."

One episode shouldn't overshadow Mr Walsh's career of service and heroism, he continues.

"I think most Montana voters will see the ethics of a man who put his life at risk in Iraq during a lifetime of military service and give little credence to a matter of appropriate footnotes," he writes.

Conservatives reacted to the Times report with optimism that a Senate pickup was all but assured - although Breitbart's John Nolte took opportunity to take a swipe the New York paper for what he says is continued liberal bias.

"You think if Walsh was ahead or close, NYT woulda' run this now with control of the Senate on the line?" he tweets. "Please."

Others objected to Mr Walsh's mention of PTSD in his defence.

"Not only is it a factually inaccurate statement since PTSD does not cause lying or cheating," writes "Uncle Jimbo" on his Blackfive military blog, "but now you have smeared all the people fighting their PTSD who do not use it as an excuse to cover up some sad character flaws."

If anything, this story should serve as a cautionary tale to politicians and those who aspire to office. Ethical lapses, no matter the reason, can have a long shelf life. What's buried in the past, particularly in the modern digital world, doesn't always stay there.

Study: Uninformed consumers waste money on name brands

A man stares at shelves in a grocery store.

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

Today's must-read

A new study, writes Harvard behavioral economics Prof Cass Sunstein, shows that "the more informed you are, the more likely you are to choose store brands".

Tilburg University Prof Bart Bronnenberg analysed data from more than 77 million shopping trips from 2004-2011, matching the items purchased with the consumers' occupations.

For example, pharmacists were more likely to choose store brands of headache meds over national brands, and chefs often selected non-name-brands of salt and sugar compared with non-chefs.

Consumers without a college degree were more likely to purchase national brands.

"If all consumers were better-informed, then, consumer markets would look very different," says Sunstein, who co-wrote a 2008 book arguing that poor choices are often the product of unaddressed biases.

The report found that by sticking to generic products instead of national brands, consumers could save as much as $44b (£26b).

"It is the least informed consumers who are the most likely to waste their money. Unfortunately, many of them have little money to waste," says Sunstein, who served as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012. "One implication is clear - stores ought to be doing a lot more to help people recognise their potential savings."

Notably, younger generations also have an appreciation for non-name brands. Recent research shows that few millennials will spend the large sums of money needed to sport high-end brands.

"The millennial definition of cool does not correlate with high-end," writes Jeff Fromm for Forbes. "This is a wildly important distinction that many marketers miss."


Billboards featuring women spark cultural debate - In Istanbul billboards showing women's bodies have been spray-painted to make them appear more conservatively dressed, raising questions about the public display of the female form.

"Men of all political persuasions feel free to lecture women on how to dress and how to live," writes Elif Shafak for the New York Times.

With Turkey's past headscarf bans overturned, many women are increasingly feeling social pressure to cover up their bodies, she says.

"Those who once felt pushed to the edges of society have now created an environment where modern women like the shop clerk and many others feel more and more squeezed," she writes. "An atmosphere of social inequality and intolerance persists. In cultural battles, women suffer more than men."

Central America

US border crisis is the bitter fruit of gang deportations - As waves of children continue to cross the US-Mexico border, American politicians and journalists are grappling with the regional violence behind the crisis. Americans should realise that this violence stems from their own country's foreign policy, writes Georgetown University PhD candidate Michael Paarlberg for the Guardian's website.

"The current wave is neither new nor terribly mystifying," he writes. "The factors that push and pull them - extreme violence, extortion, forced gang recruitment and a desire to reunite with family - are rooted in the US's heavy hand in the region."

The US exported the gang epidemic to the region with its deportations of criminals and "undesirable" immigrants, Paarlberg contends.

"With each planeload of deportees, the gangs grew stronger, expanding their activities and recruiting younger members by force," he writes. "And it is precisely those children they target who await processing in our border detention facilities today."


The unraveling of a fragile state - In the past week nearly 50 people have been killed at Tripoli's airport as rival political parties and militias wrestle for control of the Libyan capital. It may be connected to the nation's recent parliamentary election, writes Mohamed Eljarh for Foreign Policy.

"The Islamist forces faced a devastating loss at the ballot box and now face a genuine existential threat," writes Eljarh.

Following the announcement of the election results, Islamist militias attacked the airport in hopes of stopping the new parliament from meeting, he says.

"Islamists have now opted for more extreme and unorthodox tactics in an attempt to reach some sort of bargain that would guarantee them a role in Libya's future."


Employment is the answer to the refugee crisis - The real crisis in Jordan is not the threat of Islamic extremists, writes the Atlantic's Alice Su. It's the country's increasing refugee population.

"From a humanitarian perspective, the refugee crisis is one of survival. From a human perspective, it's one of purpose," she says. "But what happens when immediate relief morphs into long-term sustenance, spilling out of the camps and into the cities?"

Providing refugees with employment would help them support themselves and their families, Su writes, rather than relying on resources from refugee camps. Jordan is unlikely to do that, she contends, "largely because the kingdom survives off international funding it receives for hosting refugees."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Regional commentators react to reports that forces allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have expelled Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul.

"This is painful not just for the Christians of Mosul but for anyone appreciating the value of this deep-rooted and major component." - Batir Mohammad Ali Wurdum in Jordan's Al-Dustur.

"The kind of Islam that now exists in Mosul will be used by the West against us. The expulsion of Christians allows the West to verify that we marginalise the 'other', love bloodshed and crave violence." - Abdul-Hadi Raji al-Mijali in Jordan's Al-Ra'y.‎

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

A life-saving cure with an $84,000 price tag

A photo of a form in Chinese with the positive results of a child's hepatitis C test A Chinese child is diagnosed with hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is one of the deadliest virus infections in the world, affecting more than 150 million people. The good news is a recently developed cure could save thousands of lives.

There's a catch, however. In the US, patients will be required to pay $84,000 (£49,000) for a 12-week treatment, which may limit the cure to only those who can afford it.

Without treatment, hepatitis C can induce chronic fatigue and fever, and eventually lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or even death.

In the past, a patient with advanced hepatitis C would have had to endure long-term treatments with intense side effects. In some cases, a liver transplant would be necessary, costing nearly $600,000.

Sovaldi, the new oral hepatitis C cure produced by pharma giant Gilead, is much simpler and easier to administer than previous treatments, leading many to call it a "wonder drug".

Start Quote

It's remarkable that some large insurers have the chutzpah to complain that curing 3 million Americans of hepatitis C will bankrupt healthcare systems”

End Quote Peter J Pitts The New York Post

Many critics question why a drug as important as Sovaldi should have such a high price, however, raising questions on the ethics of pharmaceutical pricing. If Sovaldi can easily save lives, should its price remain low in order to have the greatest reach?

"This pricing, which Gilead attempts to justify as the cost of medical advancement, will have a tsunami effect across our entire healthcare system," writes Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, for CNN.

She calculates that if everyone with hepatitis C were treated with the new drug, at the current price the total cost would exceed $268b - more than what Americans spent on all prescription drugs in 2012.

"We cannot have sustainable medical innovation in America without prices that the health care system can sustain," says Ms Ignagni.

"Just think, could we have eradicated polio or smallpox if the treatments were priced like hepatitis C?" she asks.

Many, including the new drug's manufacturer, argue that the high cost of research and development justifies the high price tag. Critics counter that Gilead appears to be making enough to maybe reconsider its pricing strategy.

"Gilead, which had $2.3b (£1.35b) in sales for Sovaldi in its first full quarter alone, and the rest of the industry can well afford to show a little restraint," write the editors of USA Today.

"If they don't, they should expect more clamour for restraint to be imposed upon them."

Not all commentators agree that the treatment should be less expensive, however.

Start Quote

At the end of the day, insurers and Medicaid agencies have the final trump card here”

End Quote Sarah Kliff Vox

"It's remarkable that some large insurers have the chutzpah to complain that curing three million Americans of hepatitis C will bankrupt healthcare systems," writes Peter J Pitts for the New York Post.

"New treatments are a bargain. Disease is always much more costly," he says, citing the high price of a liver transplant.

In the long run, Pitts says that unburdened innovation will lead to lower total costs.

"Breakthrough drugs could generate huge new savings in the US economy - but only if federal regulators don't smother them in the womb with expensive and unnecessary legal hurdles," he writes.

Pitts argues that permitting pharmaceutical companies to charge a hefty price for breakthrough treatments encourages them to tackle complex (and expensive) medical quandaries.

Following a surge of criticism of the drug's high price, the US Senate Finance Committee initiated an investigation into Sovaldi in early July.

In a letter to Gilead chief executive John Martin, the committee questioned why the drug's price "appears to be higher than expected given the costs of development and production and the steep discounts offered in other countries". For example, in Egypt, the cost of the new treatment is only $900.

Ultimately Sovaldi's price may only shift if pressure mounts within the insurance industry, who will have to bear most of the weight of the high price.

"At the end of the day, insurers and Medicaid agencies have the final trump card here," writes Sarah Kliff for Vox.

"They could put their foot down, deny coverage for the drug and let massive protests from patients' ensue. But they haven't done that. While many publicly oppose the high price, they have also decided it's something they need to offer patients. And, even though they don't like the high price for Sovaldi, at the end of the day, they're willing to pay for the value it provides."

(By Annie Waldman)

Partisan primaries must go

US Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Charles Schumer thinks the way the US chooses political candidates is broken

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

Today's must-read

US Senator Charles Schumer is known as a bare-knuckle political brawler. The third-ranking Democrat in the Senate and former chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose job it was to help his party win Senate seats, he has never been known to shy away from a partisan fight.

So the senator from New York turned heads when he took to the pages of the New York Times on Wednesday to endorse a major overhauling of the way US political parties choose their candidates.

Instead of the current primary system used in most states, in which each party holds separate elections to pick their nominees, Mr Schumer says candidates should be chosen in an open primary process.

In such a setup, candidates compete on one ballot, and the top two vote-getters - irrespective of their political affiliation - face off in a general election.

It's a system Louisiana has used for decades and has been implemented recently in Washington and California. Mr Schumer says it is a way to keep the extreme elements within political parties from dominating the candidate-selection process.

"While there are no guarantees, it seems likely that a top-two primary system would encourage more participation in primaries and undo tendencies toward default extremism," he writes. "It would remove the incentive that pushes our politicians to kowtow to the factions of their party that are most driven by fear and anger."

Voters in Colorado and Oregon will have the opportunity to heed Mr Schumer's call this fall, as proposals to implement open primaries in those states are on the November ballot.


Smart money knows no Chinese home - North American cities are working to create thriving offshore trading relations with China, as leaders on both sides of the Pacific talk up the strength of the Chinese currency.

At the same time, Jason Kirby of MacLean's Magazine writes, some wealthy Chinese are looking for the exit. While they may just want a greater return on investments or a means of hiding income from corrupt sources, there's a more disturbing possibility, he says.

These Chinese insiders might "know a swath of the country's stellar economic growth has been a mirage, fuelled by debt and wasteful investment," he says.

A debt crisis could be looming, Kirby writes - one that will "shake China's economy and seriously undermine faith in its currency".


European anti-Semitism hiding in plain sight - Pro-Gaza protests are revealing the presence of anti-Semitism and the tolerance of it in Germany and other European nations, according to Die Welt's Filipp Piatov (translated by WorldCrunch).

"It's absolutely fine to support the people of Gaza," he writes. "It's also OK to lay massive criticism on Israel. Freedom of speech and opinion takes precedence over objectivity. But when criticism of Israel turns into anti-Semitic heckling, that's stepping over the line."

Many pro-Gaza protests in Germany have escalated into violence, and there has been little mediation from police, Piatov continues.

"You think that anti-Semitism is a disease of the past, adequately dealt with in history class? That hostility to Jews is still very widespread and indeed even quite open in other countries but not in Germany?" he asks. "Then attend the next pro-Gaza demonstration, and head for the people yelling 'Jews to the Gas Chamber'."


Echoes of Sarajevo in 1914 - To understand the implications of the downing of MH17, writes the National Interest's Robert W Merry, one must look 100 years back.

The assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand was a localised occurrence that set in motion a chain of events that led to World War One. Merry contends that a similar out-of-control spiral, in which Russian President Vladimir Putin is faced with few good options, could be unfolding now.

World opinion is turning against Moscow, he says, pushing Ukraine toward closer ties with the West. Although the crisis centres on just one part of the globe, it will have implications for the entire international order.

"There will be hardly any prospect at all of US diplomacy enlisting Russia's help in the pursuit of American goals in Iran, in the rest of the Middle East, in US efforts to deal with a rising China, in our efforts to maintain stability in the Caucasus or in global energy," he says.


Democracy on the brink - If the right person is elected in Indonesia's presidential elections, the nation's democracy will improve greatly, says Desi Anwar of Indonesia's Metro TV.

"For the first time each and every one of us realises the importance of taking part in the election, that every vote counts and everybody's involvement makes a difference," she writes in the Jakarta Globe.

True democracy requires balance, however, and this is not a simple task in Indonesia, she says. The country's new president must serve all Indonesians, not just those who voted for him.

"The pain of politics is never permanent," Anwar writes. "Soon we, too, will wake up to the fact that this has been nothing but one hairy roller coaster ride."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Pakistani commentators react to the US decision to resume drone strikes on militants in the North Waziristan tribal region.

"A military operation against terrorists in North Waziristan is playing out successfully. In this situation, the resumption of US drone strikes is totally unjustified… it makes the USA's [stated] intentions about peace in the region doubtful." - Editorial in Jang.

"It would be best if the US handed over the list of wanted people to the Pakistan army, if they have information about them." - Editorial in Daily Express.

"The US wants to create confrontation between the Pakistan army and the people. Chaos is being created through drone attacks. The government should take effective steps beyond mere words to stop the US strikes." - Editorial in Islam.‎

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Waiting in the (West) Wing

Vice-President Joe Biden.

Vice-President Joe Biden, a man who has already run for the presidency twice, may have one more campaign left in him.

That's the near-inescapable conclusion one draws from the wide-ranging profile of the 71-year-old vice-president by the New Yorker's Evan Osnos.

According to friends and colleagues, Mr Biden wants to run - and he himself references a possible campaign to Osnos multiple times. There's just one problem - Hillary Clinton.

"Joe happens to be standing in the way of history," former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell tells Osnos, referencing the possibility of the first female US president.

If Ms Clinton were to bow out, however, Mr Biden would join the race "in a New York minute", Senator John McCain, a Biden friend, says.

In his 13,000-word portrait of the vice-president, Osnos describes the life of the son of a Pennsylvania car salesman.

Start Quote

He has seen the job up close, he knows what the job entails”

End Quote Barack Obama US President

He recounts Mr Biden's battle with a childhood stutter, his 1972 election to the US Senate at the age of 30 and the tragedy of losing his wife and daughter in an auto accident shortly before he took office.

Then there's Mr Biden's legacy in the Senate, including his chairing of Clarence Thomas's controversial 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the instrumental role he played in passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.

As vice-president, Mr Biden has generated a reputation as a blue-collar, garrulous counterweight to US President Barack Obama's cool leadership style - an image that has teetered between cultivated average-guy folksiness and outright parody.

Osnos recalls the "shirtless Joe washing his Trans Am" headline from the Onion, a spoof website:

"The full package - the Ray-Ban aviators, the shameless schmalz, the echoes of the Fonz - has never endeared him to the establishment, but it lends him an air of authenticity that is rare in his profession."

Vice-President Joe Biden stands behind President Barack Obama. Over the last 50 years, every sitting vice-president who has sought his party's nomination has won

A former British official who has met with Mr Biden tells Osnos that the vice-president is "a bit like a spigot that you can turn on and can't turn off".

He says: "For all of the genuine charm, it is frustrating that you do feel as if he doesn't leave enough oxygen in the room to get your points across, particularly for those who are polite and don't interrupt."

But the jokes and the back-slapping persona belie a prominent role the vice-president has taken in the Obama White House. He was tasked with important domestic and foreign administration priorities, such as monitoring spending of the $787b (£461b) domestic stimulus bill and overseeing the US military drawdown in Iraq.

The vice-president took part in discussions over the war in Afghanistan, often conflicting with more hawkish administration officials who wanted to increase US military involvement. He has also taken a leading role in dealings with Ukraine.

Start Quote

Even if Biden cannot yet see a viable candidacy, leaving that prospect on the table keeps him in the deal”

End Quote Evan Osnos The New Yorker

President Obama tells Osnos he thinks Mr Biden would make a "superb president".

"He has seen the job up close, he knows what the job entails," the president says. "He understands how to separate what's really important from what's less important. I think he's got great people skills. He enjoys politics, and he's got important relationships up on [Capitol] Hill that would serve him well."

This kind of inside experience and connections are why vice-presidents make formidable candidates for their party's presidential nominations. Al Gore, George HW Bush, Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon all prevailed.

None of those past candidates have had anything like the looming spectre of a Hillary Clinton campaign before them, however.

According to a recent NBC News/Marist survey of early primary states, Ms Clinton leads Mr Biden 70% to 20% in Iowa, and 74% to 18% in New Hampshire.

Mr Biden's age could also be a factor. If he won, he would be 74 - the oldest first-term president in US history.

"I think it's totally legitimate for people to raise it," he tells Osnos. "And I'll just say, 'Look at me. Decide.'"

He adds: "How I measure somebody, whether it's playing sports, running a company or in public life, is how much passion they still have, How much they tackle the job."

Vice-president Joe Biden puts on sunglasses. Evan Osnos says that Joe Biden's "shameless schmalz" has earned him an air of authenticity

Bill Scher of Real Clear Politics even pens what he imagines could be Mr Biden's opening speech in a campaign against the former first lady:

"After working with nearly every major world leader, helping shape the Supreme Court and spearheading the implementation of the Recovery Act that prevented a 21st century Great Depression, I have a knowledge, expertise, and vision shaped by experience that almost no one has. I feel an obligation to share that hard-earned wisdom with you, and let you decide if I belong in the Oval Office, and not just tuck all I have learned in between the covers of a memoir."

There is, of course, the possibility, that all the presidential talk may just be Mr Biden's way of staying relevant in US politics.

"Even if Biden cannot yet see a viable candidacy, leaving that prospect on the table keeps him in the deal," Osnos writes.

As Vox's Ezra Klein notes, at this point in the run-up to the 2008 presidential contest, Ms Clinton was the prohibitive favourite and Mr Obama wasn't even on the radar.

The first presidential primaries are still more than a year and a half away, a lifetime in politics.

Joe Biden must know this. He has been in politics a very long time.

Driverless cars could change everything

The rear bumper of a Google self-driving car.

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

Today's must-read

For now, it seems like a novelty - cars that can operate independently of human control, safely cruising down streets thanks to an array of sensors and pinpoint GPS navigation.

But if the technology avoids getting crushed by government regulators and product liability lawsuits, writes the Federalist's Dan McLaughlin, it could prompt a cultural shift similar to the early 20th century move away from horses as the primary means of transportation.

First and foremost, he writes, the spread of driverless cars will likely greatly reduce the number of traffic accidents - which currently cost Americans $871b (£510b) a year.

"A truly driverless road would not be accident-free, given the number of accidents that would still be caused by mechanical and computer errors, weather conditions, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and sheer random chance," he says. "But it would make the now-routine loss of life and limb on the roads far rarer."

Computer-operated cars would eventually reshape car design, he says, as things like windshields - "a large and vulnerable piece of glass" - become less necessary. Drivers will be able to sit wherever they'd like in their cars, which could make car interiors more like mobile lounges than like cockpits.

The age required to operate a driverless car is likely to drop, he says. There could be an impact on the legal drinking age, as well, as preventing drunk driving was one of the prime justifications for the US-wide setting minimum age to purchase alcohol at 21 years old.

There's other possible economic fallout, McLaughlin contends, such as a restructuring of the auto insurance industry, the obsolescence of taxi drivers and lower ratings for drive-time radio programmes.

The high-tech security state will also get boost, he writes, as GPS-tagged cars will be easier to track, making life difficult for fugitives and car thieves. Police will also be able to move resources away from operations like traffic enforcement.

Of course, he writes, the towns that rely on speed traps to fund their government services will be facing budget shortfalls. Privacy advocates could also get an unexpected boost, he notes, since traffic stops are one of the main justifications for police vehicle searches.

Finally, there's the prospect of the as-yet-unrealised futurist dream of flying cars. With computer-controlled vehicles that strictly follow traffic rules, McLaughlin says, "the potential for three-dimensional roads becomes a lot less scary and more a matter of simply solving the technological challenge".

Where we're going, we may not need roads after all.


Canadian government buries prostitution poll - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is withholding results from a $175,000 poll that reveals the true attitude that Canadians have towards prostitution, says Liberal MP Sean Casey.

"[Minister of Justice] Peter MacKay has steadfastly opposed releasing the contents of that poll, despite the fact that the information contained might have been helpful to the Justice Committee's deliberations" on legislation that would make prostitution illegal, he writes in the Huffington Post.

The poll was leaked last week, however, and it reveals that Canadians are actually split on the prostitution issue. This runs counter to what Casey calls an "amazingly unscientific an online survey" on which Conservatives had relied.

"Deliberately, almost gleefully, withholding key evidence from the Committee should trouble Canadians who value honesty and integrity - regardless of what side of the prostitution debate they may fall on," writes Casey.


A national political sickness - The unlawful incarceration of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is a sign that the country is unwell and that world leaders need to take action, says Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori.

"No one should doubt why Leopoldo is in prison: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is afraid of him, and he has great reason to be," she writes in the Washington Post. "[Former President Hugo] Chavez did not deliver and Maduro has not delivered on their promises, and they have systematically dismantled our fundamental freedoms - free speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom to vote for candidates of our choosing."

If world leaders do not intervene, she warns, Venezuelan economic, political and social suffering will persist.

"Government officials may have locked up his body, but they can't lock up his mind, nor can it silence the millions of Venezuelans who yearn to be free," she concludes.


A sharp divide over women's rights - Sexual violence in Egypt has been exacerbated by the influence of Wahhabi strictures on men's view of women in the country, says writes Alaa Al Aswany in the New York Times.

"At the end of the '70s, millions of Egyptians started migrating to the Gulf states for work," he says. "They returned heavily influenced by the Wahhabi reading of Islam, which forbids the wearing of swimsuits and obliges women to wear the hijab and keep their bodies covered."

Since then, he says, politically charged sexual violence has been intensified in Egypt.

Egyptian men's opinions on women are divided, Asmany continues. Some believe women should be regarded as nothing more than bodies, while others think women deserve the same civil rights as men.


The truth behind the Israel-Palestine debate in the US - The "not-so-secret subtext" beneath the US political debate over the current conflict in Gaza is that it is really a debate over the US role in the world, writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

"The current invasion of Gaza involves American guns, American money and the unswerving support of the American political elite and the mainstream media," he writes. Support for the Israeli invasion of Gaza is support for an activist, aggressive US foreign policy. Opposition, he says, is an assertion that the US, itself, is "sliding toward fascism".

He concludes by saying that Israel is the US's "Frankenstein's monster" - "a morally dubious and arguably unnatural creation that was stitched together with the noblest of intentions but not much foresight, and that produced a painful litany of unintended consequences".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

The Russian media commentators continue to react to the downing of MH17.

"Americans always keep everybody under surveillance. And here, they've seen the launch of the rocket and do not know who launched it and from where. It is strange. Had they had evidence against the rebels, they would have already presented it." - Vitaliy Tretyakov in state-owned daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"There is practically no doubt that the airliner was shot down by the separatists. First of all, they themselves announced it proudly, and the Ukrainian side has already released a transcript of their intercepted conversations… What happened was a consequence of the sense of utter impunity provided by the PR war." - Yuliya Latynina in Novaya Gazeta.

"After some 300 European citizens died, Western leaders will have to react to questions of their voters, and their attitude towards Russia could turn from complicated (political differences on the one hand, economic partnership on another) into a simple negative." - Nikolay Epple in Vedomosti.

"The plane was downed by the Ukrainian military on US orders. Americans had no other choice but to commit a crime. And because this disgusting act was done so carelessly, the naked eye can see who did it." - Anatoliy Vasserman in Komsomolskaya Pravda.‎

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Could a child sex robot treat paedophilia?

A child-sized robot in a Japanese laboratory. Robots are becoming increasingly lifelike

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

Today's must-read

During a robotics conference last week, ethicists discussed the moral implications of using childlike-robots to help treat paedophiles.

The theory is that these machines would help provide a non-harmful outlet for an individual's sexual inclinations as part of a treatment programme. It's like providing methadone to heroin addicts, the reasoning goes.

Ronald Arkin, the mobile robot lab director at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was one of the participants at the conference who is in favour of pursing the idea. He told Forbes magazine's Kashmir Hill:

"There are no presumptions that this will assuredly yield positive results - I only believe it is worth investigating in a controlled way to possibly provide better protection to society from recidivism in sex offenders. If we can save some children, I think it's a worthwhile project."

Vice's Arielle Pardes says the logic of such arguments is straightforward:

"We realise that paedophilia isn't going anywhere, so we ought to find a way to deal with the lust for children in a way that keeps actual kids out of the equation. Hence, robots. It's child molestation, without the children."

But just because the idea may be good in theory, she writes, doesn't mean it could ever be implemented. First of all, current technology just isn't sophisticated enough to create a robot that "would be a passable substitute for real children".

Next is the concern that a child sex robot could encourage paedophiles to act on their impulses instead of serving as a safe outlet for them.

"If science fiction has taught us anything, it's that robots can be evil, but they don't have to be," she concludes. "People with deviant sexual desires are the same way. But we're not going to get anywhere with rehabilitating paedophiles if we treat them like monsters by encouraging them to go at it with weird, childlike sex bots."

Other commentators are less philosophical about the idea.

"As a mom and a woman I find nothing more vile than child predators and rapists, and even the idea of using metal and silicone computer humans to reform paedophiles upsets me," writes Eve Vawter for the Mommyish blog. "I'm not sure anything can be used to reform these people, and I have been known to say we should send them all to rat island where they can victimize each other and eat rats."

North Korea

Death of a general, birth of new nuclear era? - The death last week of Gen Jon Pyong-ho, North Korea's nuclear mastermind, prompted many to question the isolated nation's atomic future. Will the changing of the nuclear guards lead to a more energetic program?

According to Rod Lyon of the National Interest, we should expect to see more of the same - "a North Korean nuclear programme that limps rather than runs," he writes.

North Korea not only faces fissile material shortages, Lyon says, its nuclear facility is also too small to permit greater production. But in the long run, that won't block their atomic goals.

"It isn't about to turn over a new leaf," he writes. "But its nuclear programme still lives on Struggle Street - and will for some years yet. That certainly doesn't make it irrelevant; further testing, for example, could help North Korea miniaturise its weapons."


Kerry's diplomatic victory in Afghanistan - Just as the world was expecting Afghanistan's election stalemate to turn into a coup, US Secretary of State John Kerry used his diplomatic skills to achieve success by forging a fragile, yet notable, peace.

"His deal-making salvaged the possibility that, almost 13 years after the United States and its allies installed Hamid Karzai in power, there would be a manageable political transition in Kabul," writes Steve Coll for the New Yorker.

Despite this recent diplomatic victory, the deal remains tenuous and the spectre of conflict lingers on the horizon. "If Kerry's deal collapses, Afghanistan faces the prospect of a sudden and violent civil war, one that would destabilise Pakistan and other neighbours, and renew the country's attractiveness as a haven for international militants," says Coll.

If Kerry's deal works, however, Coll believes that Mr Karzai "may yet live and die there peacefully, acknowledged as a constructive if idiosyncratic architect of national recovery."


Malala visit is a reminder of what has not been done - Although Malala Yousafzai's visit to Nigeria this past week was intended to draw attention to the kidnapped schoolgirls, the trip also shed light on President Goodluck Jonathan's failures, writes Wale Ajetunmobi for the Nation.

"The unintended message is its exposure of the hypocrisy of President Goodluck Jonathan and his coven of political jobbers camouflaging as ministers and also the overzealousness of the security agencies," he says.

With the schoolgirls now missing for over two months, many Nigerians are beginning to question Mr Jonathan's priorities.

"We know the president is only concerned about his re-election in 2015 and nothing more," writes Ajetunmobi. "This is what he lives for, not minding whether people were abducted or killed by terrorists on daily basis."


Rethinking Iran as a potential ally - The US and Iran may seem to share a common interest in stopping the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (Isis), but all is not what it seems. "What is missed is that Tehran and Washington have incompatible strategic objectives," write former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former US Senator Evan Bayh for the Wall Street Journal.

"The US needs a stable and inclusive Iraq, while Iran's ambitions lie in preserving a Shiite-dominated state that relies on Tehran for its survival," they say. "If we are not careful, the clerical regime will seek to leverage the chaos in Mesopotamia to extract nuclear concessions from us."

Even with the opposing goals, there is still hope that the US and Iran may forge a common approach for Iraq and Syria.

"But abandoning the chimera of Iranian cooperation is a precondition," they conclude. "To paraphrase the tribal proverb, while the enemy of my enemy may appear to be America's friend, with the Iranian regime, that is an illusion. Their enmity trumps all."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Ukrainian and Russian media react to the crash of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine.

"From now on this is an international conflict and whatever Russia says now, its propaganda will no longer work." - Article in Ukraine's Segodnya.

"[The downing] can become a turning point in the situation in Ukraine and even in world history" - Article in Ukraine's Vesti.

"Representatives of Novorossiya ["New Russia" claimed by separatists in Ukraine] say the destruction of the airliner was a planned act of provocation by Kiev aimed at portraying the militia as terrorists who kill civilians and pose a threat to the whole global community." - Article in Russia's Izvestiya.

"It is known that Ukrainian military officers have previously redeployed a battalion of the Buk self-propelled anti-aircraft systems in Donetsk Region, where the accident happened... Militiamen do not have such arms in possession." - Article in Russia's Tvoy Den.‎

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Buzz Aldrin's one-way trip to Mars

Buzz Aldrin stands near a US flag on the surface of the moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin calls the lunar surface "harsh, desolate, yet magnificent terrain"

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Neil Armstrong's "one small step" onto the moon 45 years ago Sunday was a landmark achievement for humankind, says astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Now, asserts the man who followed Armstrong onto the lunar surface, "more steps are needed to fuel and assure America's leadership role in deep space exploration".

Writing for, Mr Aldrin recalls the "harsh, desolate, yet magnificent terrain" he observed during his lunar journey:

"The airlessness. Brilliant sunlight illuminated the dust, which was everywhere. And the horizon, visibly curving away in the distance, was so clear because no pollution obscured it."

He says that he was struck how he and his fellow astronauts were embraced by the world when they returned to earth. Now, he says, the US must recapture that global spirit by entering a new era of space exploration.

"We could as a country sit around and do nothing," he says. "On the other hand, we could accept the role of space leadership that we carved out for ourselves in the 1960s and 1970s."

The US objective, he says, shouldn't be a return to the moon. Although such missions have been mentioned by Chinese and Russian officials, "we have blazed that trail", Mr Aldrin writes.

Buzz Aldrin in Orlando, Florida Buzz Aldrin commemorates the 45th anniversary of the lunar landing

"For America, another destination is calling," he says. "America's longer-term goal should be permanent human presence on Mars."

Mr Aldrin's CNN piece is part of the astronaut's promotion tour for his new book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, in which he expands on his interplanetary goal.

In the book, Mr Aldrin says trip to Mars should be one-way. Humans must travel to the red planet to permanently settle and live out their natural lives - like the Pilgrims, Mr Aldrin tells the Washington Post's Joel Achenbach.

It can't be a "flags-and-footprints stunt", Achenbach writes.

"If we go and come back, and go and come back, I'm sure Congress will say, 'Oh, we know how to do that, let's spend the money somewhere else'," Aldrin tells Achenbach. "And everything we will have invested will be sloughed aside." he said.

By the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, Aldrin writes, the US should be on a path toward Mars.

"The Apollo moon program provided one small step," Mr Aldrin concludes. "Other steps lay ahead, strides that take us to the surface of Mars."


Thailand's military is working to repair its image - Thai generals insist that the military coup that began on 22 May is not an unusual event in the nation's history. Real Clear World's Robert Amsterdam says that world leaders should not accept this claim.

"The junta's transition plan must be rejected and understood for what it is: a blatant attempt by one minority to dominate the majority," says Amsterdam.

Military coups have been a recurring fact of life since Thailand moved away from an absolute monarchy in 1932. Real democracy will never be able to take root in the nation, he says, until world leaders emphatically state that such actions must stop - and take action to back up their words.


Bashar Assad manoeuvres for an alliance with the US - Syrian President Bashar Assad is using the devil's gambit strategy on the US, according to the Atlantic's Dominic Tierney.

"Embattled tyrants like Assad can't usually win international allies with a charm offensive," he writes. "Instead, their best hope for gaining foreign support is to rely on that old adage: the enemy of my enemy is my friend," says Tierney.

Before the US sides with Assad, Tierney cautions, the Obama administration must question what this alliance could mean the long run.

"The devil's gambit provides another argument for early action to prevent civil wars from breaking out or escalating," he says. "Otherwise, we may find that the enemy of our enemy is a fiend."


School-choice advocates should learn from Sweden's failures - A new study indicates that education levels in Sweden have dropped over the past decade, says Columbia Business School Prof Ray Fisman, and indications are it's due to the country's school-choice voucher reforms.

"The hope was that schools would have clear financial incentives to provide a better education and could be more responsive to customer (ie, parental) needs and wants when freed from the burden imposed by a centralised bureaucracy," he writes in Slate.

But schools didn't improve the quality of their education, he says, they just were more lenient when grading the national tests by which they were judged.

Fisman argues that Americans must take a lesson from Sweden's education failures before they push any further for school choice.


The return of the Janjaweed - Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has rebuilt the destructive Janjaweed militias as his personal army, writes Columbia University's Ahmed Hussain Adam in the New York Times. Renamed the Rapid Support Forces, Mr Bashir is using these militias to enhance his power in the country.

"In contrast to the army, the Janjaweed has proved a reliable machine of terror with little capacity or ambition to rule," Adam says. "It has no prominent political leaders or educated cadres; it remains mostly a group of fighters for hire, unlikely to challenge Mr Bashir's leadership."

It's time for Sudan's neighbours to step in, Adams writes.

"This means addressing the grievances of Sudan's periphery and ending Khartoum's piecemeal approach to the country's conflicts," he says. "It also means insisting upon the decade-old Security Council resolution that the janjaweed be disarmed, once and for all."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

At least 21 passengers died in a crash on Moscow's Metro on 15 July and more than 150 were injured in the accident in which three carriages derailed on a train during the morning rush hour. Some Russian press commentators suggest the whole Metro system should be looked at to find the reason for the crash.

"In complex technological systems, the cause of failures most often lies in the fact that the work safety zone disappears. It includes keeping machinery in working order, conducting maintenance on time and of an appropriate quality, having highly qualified administrative and maintenance personnel. If there is not enough money for these purposes, or the spending is not controlled, disasters are inevitable."- Bela Lyauv in Vedomosti.

"The most overloaded of all Moscow transportation systems must undergo a comprehensive and open audit... The statements that are being made today about perpetrators going to be fired or face criminal proceedings reflect the fleeting political significance of safety issues on the metro." - Nikolay Epple in Vedmosti.‎

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A man with a plan for six Californias

Clockwise from top left: San Diego, palm trees, Sacramento, Fresno farming, Hollywood and Google HQ California's not all sun-drenched beaches

Everyone loves California. The state has given us dancing raisins, the Beach Boys and mass-produced Sriracha sauce. So why stop at one California when you can have six?

So goes the thinking of Silicon Valley millionaire Timothy Draper, who announced on Monday that he has collected enough signatures to place his "Six Californias" initiative on the 2016 November election ballot.

Start Quote

This is the single most American political proposal in more than 100 years.”

End Quote Mark Noonan Blogs for Victory

Over the past few months, Mr Draper has spent over $2m (£1.17m) of his own money to promote the bill, hoping to convince enough voters to make his secessionist dream a reality.

Should the drive succeed, California would be broken up into six new states, each with its own governor, legislature, congressional representation and votes in the electoral college to determine the US president. Mr Draper would then become a resident of the state of Silicon Valley, which would become the wealthiest in the nation.

The plan has a long way to go before becoming a reality. If Mr Draper has indeed collected enough signatures and the measure passes in November 2016, an approval by the US Congress would still be necessary. Then the complex, contentious break-up process begins in earnest.

Although Mr Draper says that his plan is a way to give a fresh start to the various regions of the state, "from a new crowd-sourced state flower to a more relevant constitution", many critics feel that the tech baron has more selfish motivations.

A proposed map of the six new California states The six new California states, as proposed by Timothy Draper

"This entire plan is really about creating Silicon Valley as its own state," writes Philip Bump for the Washington Post. "Therefore Silicon Valley gets to be a state called 'Silicon Valley', and it gets to make its politics and its money more dense, and everyone in the idyllic dream of Silicon Valley gets to be happy. And have two senators."

Along with its own representation, Silicon Valley's tax dollars would likely be reinvested within its borders, rather than directed to the financially lagging regions around it.

"A state of Silicon Valley - home to Google, Facebook and Apple - would be an economic dynamo freed from meddling legislators in Sacramento and liberated from sharing its immense wealth with poorer parts of the old, unified California," writes David Horsey for the Los Angeles Times.

A chart breaking down the population of the six California states.

"It's emblematic of the feeling that many of the 'tech-ers' have - if they didn't have to deal with the rest of the bozos in the world, the world would be a better place," Stanford political scientist Bruce Cain tells the BBC.

Though this proposal may have stemmed from a sense of regional privilege, it would not have been possible without California's initiative system that favours the wealthy.

"In California, there are endless numbers of people with a lot of money who can launch personal crusades, and the initiative system gives them the perfect opportunity to exercise their whims," Mr Cain says. "This is also a story about how ironically the initiative system has become the instrument of plutocracy."

But segregating California's tech goldmine may not bode well for the other newly created states.

Start Quote

The overweening self-confidence of some Silicon Valley billionaires is not always grounded in reality”

End Quote Chuck McFadden CalBuzz

"The plan's most dramatic implications would be for wealth distribution and inequality," writes Andrew Prokop for Vox.

Although Silicon Valley would become the wealthiest state, boasting one of the highest standards of living, its eastern neighbour, Central California, would become one of the nation's poorest, according to a recent legislative report.

Some commentators say the potential for economic inequity isn't even the biggest problem with the proposal, however.

Bold Italic's Jules Suzdeltsev says the real problem with the proposal is the bland names. North California? Central California? Boring!

Instead, the states should boast more unique names, like Hollywoodland instead of West California and Xanadu instead of Silicon Valley, he writes.

"Why not name it for the ultra-wealthy kingdom it would rapidly turn into?"

But not all pundits oppose the break-up of the Golden State.

Multi-millionaire Timothy Draper turns in signatures to put his Six California measure on the state ballot. Multi-millionaire Draper says he has enough signatures to get his proposal on the state ballot in November

"This is the single most American political proposal in more than 100 years. After all, the Founders were secessionists," writes Mark Noonan for Blogs for Victory. "Ultimately, I think it would strengthen the union if there were more parts to it - and that is why I praise this effort in California and hope that it will grow and spread over the next few decades."

"Splitting California is not in itself a bad idea," says Neil Stevens for Red State. He believes that new boundaries could better fit the cultural contours of the regions - but Mr Draper's plan has the state lines all wrong.

The California break-up would create three Democrat states (North California, Silicon Valley and West California), one Republican state (Central California) and two swing states (South California and Jefferson), thus shaking up the fragile political nature of the region.

"It's too much of a partisan power grab, but at the same time it doesn't even respect the partisan power base the Democrats have in the state," writes Stevens.

With polls showing that 59% of Californians oppose the proposal, Six Californias is likely to remain a Silicon Valley fantasy.

"The overweening self-confidence of some Silicon Valley billionaires is not always grounded in reality," writes Chuck McFadden for CalBuzz. "Draper is merely the latest in a series of Silicon Valley types who apparently think that if they can come up with a terrific app, they can do anything."

Reporting by Annie Waldman

Can genetics explain political partisanship?

Supporters hold up signs at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

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New research published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences shows growing support for the theory that nurture may not be as powerful as nature when it comes to partisanship.

"A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics," writes Chris Mooney for Mother Jones.

The debate took the scientific limelight this month when University of Nebraska political scientist John Hibbing published a paper arguing that political conservatives have a "negativity bias". He found that conservative thinkers are more physiologically sensitive to negative stimuli, such as the image of a frightened woman with a large spider on her face.

Through experiments with monitoring devices such as eye trackers, Mr Hibbing measured the various involuntary responses of liberals and conservatives to certain imagery. He found that conservatives have faster responses to threatening stimuli than their liberal counterparts.

Findings such as these, says Mooney, challenge our very understanding of political opinion. It alters "the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests", and it calls into question "the notion that in politics, we can really change".

The interesting revelation from Mr Hibbing's research on what divides us is that his results are not that divisive.

The peer review process of Behavioral and Brain Sciences allows for the scientific community to publicly share their opinions on published material. Although these written responses often illustrate the divisiveness of a topic, in the case of Mr Hibbing's research about 23 peer reviewers accepted his general premise, whereas only three appeared to reject it.

Mooney says that research like this could potentially help Americans transcend the current political impasses.

"We still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best-honed arguments, the most compelling facts," writes Mooney. "And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science".


Iron Dome in Israel hindering solution between Israel and Palestine - Gaza missiles are becoming less threatening for Israelis due to what the Israeli Army says is a 90% success rate of their anti-missile system.

Iron Dome, which protects Israelis from Palestinian rockets, could be giving citizens of Israel a false sense of security, according to historian Yoav Fromer.

"Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace," he writes in the Washington Post.

If Israel continues to rely on the Iron Dome as a long-term solution, they could eventually face a threat technology won't protect them from, Fromer warns.


Germans celebrate more than just a football revival - Germany's World Cup win is in tune with the country's resurgence as a whole, according to Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky.

"Germans are meticulous in most things they do, so they have a training programme for bureaucrats who want to win EU posts," he writes. "That's how they won at the World Cup, too, patiently building up a training and management system that eventually bore fruit."

Diverse football fans across Germany celebrated the World Cup win on Sunday, but Bershidsky suspects the victory signifies a much larger triumph for Germany.

The win was a sign of "a new, non-threatening pride and confidence that Germany has allowed itself to feel now that it is finally one strong country again," writes Bershidsky.


Political life after football defeat - Brazil's World Cup loss against Germany has sparked dissatisfaction towards the country's leader, Dilma Rousseff, but despite dour forecasts the defeat has not extinguished her chances of re-election, says Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer. For instance, she has several coming opportunities to look presidential and cast herself as a world leader.

"First, Rousseff was scheduled to host at least 15 heads of state - including the leaders of China, Russia, Germany, South Africa and several Latin American countries - for the World Cup final and an ensuing 15 July summit of the Bric countries, the group of emerging powers made up of China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil."

The Brazilian president will also have twice as much television time as her rivals, is politically connected to former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and has the backing of supporters of her Bosla Familia subsidies, a programme that helps millions of Brazil's poorest families, according to Oppenheimer.

"My opinion: If Rousseff's chances to win re-election were of 60% or 70% before last week's soccer debacle, I would put them at 51% now. It's going to be a much tighter election than it looked before the World Cup, but - for now - I still expect her to win by a hair," writes Oppenheimer.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve military - India is strengthening its military by increasing its defence spending by 14% and its foreign investment limits on the domestic arms industry by 23%, says the America Interest's Walter Russell Mead.

"To remain competitive, India needs to replace its Cold War era, Soviet-made hardware with modern weapons, including ships, planes and guns."

They are also improving their military because of concerns about China's military and economic presence in India, as well as the domestic disorder in neighbouring Pakistan.

He says there are a couple of caveats, however:

"India's increased military budget, at just under $40b (£23.3b), is still less than a third of China's. So while India continues to play catch-up, it still has a long way to go. Also, the expansion of the military budget certainly won't ease relations between India and Pakistan, which already share one of the most militarised borders on earth."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian media speculate on growing doubts over Russia's participation in the world's biggest aerospace industry event after the country's deputy prime minister urged its delegates to pack up and go home.

"If someone buys our products, they will continue to do so regardless of the problems that Russian participants are facing at Farnborough.'' - Editor in chief of the Air Transportation Review Aleksey Sinitskiy in Novyye Izvestiya.

"Russia has never been a welcome guest there. We have practically no buyers at the forum and never had. Malaysia and India are more important to us - our customers are there, while at Farnborough the key players are only Airbus and Boeing.'' - Olga Bozhyeva in Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

"Moscow-London flights are full. There are enough visitors at Russian stands at Farnborough.'' - Igor Chernyak in state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta.‎

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Debunking the Myers-Briggs personality test

Students take a test in a classroom.

The popular Myers-Briggs personality test is a joke, writes Vox's Joseph Stromberg. While it might be a fun way to pass the time, he says, it has about as much insight and validity as a Buzzfeed quiz.

The test, taken by an estimated 2 million people each year, has been around since the 1940s and is based on the observations of psychologist Carl Jung. Through a battery of 93 questions, it classifies test-takers into one of 16 personality types based on four sets of binary characteristics: introvert/extrovert, intuitive/sensory, feeling/thinking and judging/perceiving.

Start Quote

Let's stop using this outdated measure - which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign”

End Quote Joseph Stromberg Vox

"Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people's success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time," Stromberg writes.

Stromberg says one of the key flaws to the test is that it relies on "limited binaries". Most humans, he says, fall along a spectrum and are not easily classified into opposite choices. People aren't exclusively extroverts or introverts - and where they fall on the spectrum can fluctuate widely based on how they are feeling at the moment.

Most psychologists have long since abandoned Myers-Briggs, if they ever gave it any credence at all, Stromberg continues.

Instead, he says, Myers-Briggs lives on as a revenue generator for CPP, the company that owns the rights to the test. It makes an estimated $20m (£11.6m) a year by charging people $15 to $40 to take the survey and certifying test administrators for $1,700.

Stromberg explains why people are willing to pay such a steep fee to get the official Myers-Briggs imprimatur:

"Once you have that title, you can sell your services as a career coach to both people looking for work and the thousands of major companies - such as McKinsey & Co., General Motors, and a reported 89 of the Fortune 100 - that use the test to separate employees and potential hires into 'types' and assign them appropriate training programs and responsibilities."

Start Quote

If it didn't do what it's supposed to do, or if it lacked a solid research-based foundation, it wouldn't be used by the world's top organization”

End Quote Rich Thompson Director of Research, CPP

Even the US government, including the state department and the Central Intelligence Agency, uses Myers-Briggs - a waste of taxpayer money, Stromberg says.

He concludes:

"It's 2014. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let's stop using this outdated measure - which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign - and move on to something else."

In a statement provided to the BBC, CPP president Jeffrey Hayes defends the test's validity.

"It's the world's most popular personality assessment largely because people find it useful and empowering, and much criticism of it stems from misunderstanding regarding its purpose and design," he says. "It is not, and was never intended to be predictive, and should never be used for hiring, screening or to dictate life decisions."

He says that organisations rely on the test "for its practical benefits in career development, conflict-handling, team building and leadership development".

Perry-Paul row reveals Republican divide

Texas Governor Rick Perry. Senator Rand Paul mocks Texas Governor Rick Perry's new glasses in a Politico Magazine opinion piece

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Two Republican presidential hopefuls are waging a very public war of words over competing foreign policy visions for their party.

It all started on 19 June, when US Senator Rand Paul penned a scathing critique in the Wall Street Journal of increased military involvement in Iraq.

Not all politicians were pleased with Mr Paul's preaching of non-interventionism, most notably Texas Governor Rick Perry.

"Many people are tired of war, and the urge to pull back is a natural, human reaction," Mr Perry responded a few weeks later in the Washington Post. "Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further."

Such isolationism, Mr Perry writes, ignores the menacing rise of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis). "This represents a real threat to our national security - to which Paul seems curiously blind."

Mr Perry does not stop there, however. He questions Mr Paul's interpretation of former President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy - fighting words for any Republican politician.

"Paul conveniently omitted Reagan's long internationalist record of leading the world with moral and strategic clarity," Mr Perry says. "Unlike the noninterventionists of today, Reagan believed that our security and economic prosperity require persistent engagement and leadership abroad."

It didn't take Mr Paul long to return fire, penning a heated response in the Monday issue of Politico Magazine (headline: "Rick Perry is dead wrong").

"Governor Perry writes a fictionalised account of my foreign policy so mischaracterising my views that I wonder if he's even really read any of my policy papers," he says.

While defending his ideas of non-interventionism, Mr Paul paints the Texan governor as a war-hungry hawk whose newly adopted glasses "haven't altered his perception of the world or allowed him to see it any more clearly".

"The let's-intervene-and-consider-the-consequences-later crowd left us with more than 4,000 Americans dead, over 2 million refugees and over trillions of dollars in debt," he says.

"Tough talk like Perry's might inspire some for the moment, but when bombast becomes policy it can have long and disastrous consequences."

Mr Paul also writes off Mr Perry's Reagan critique: "Reagan was stern, but he wasn't stupid. Reagan hated war, particularly the spectre of nuclear war."

Mr Rand says that US foreign policy architects have to assess what has worked and what hasn't.

"This basic, common sense precondition is something leaders in both parties have habitually failed to meet," he concludes. "The governor of Texas insists on proving he's no different."

Although the 2016 presidential election is still a long way off, the back-and-forth over foreign policy between Mr Paul's libertarian wing of the Republican Party and Mr Perry's internationalists reveals an ideological fault line that likely will be on full display in the days ahead.


Balance of power in the South China Seas - With China and Vietnam continuing to wrestle over territorial power in the South China Seas, sociologist Tuong Lai believes that Vietnam needs to build better strategic alliances to combat Chinese encroachment.

"Political isolation in a globalised world is tantamount to committing political suicide for Vietnam," Mr Lai writes. "And the key ally for Vietnam today is the United States."

If Vietnam is unable to develop better alliances, Mr Lai says that his country's island territories could be "gobbled up by China."

"Vietnamese leaders need to move decisively by taking claims against China before international courts and once and for all relegating the idea of an ideological bond with China to the dustbin of history," he concludes.


The comparison of Nigeria and the US - Why is Nigeria poor and the US rich? In the Vanguard, Alex Akpodiete recalls the obvious answers that he saw when he travelled to the US. In the ensuing months, he says, the situation may have gotten worse.

There are four key reasons why Nigeria's economic state falls behind that of the US, Akpodiete writes. First, Nigeria's sense of federalism pales in comparison to the US.

Nigeria also lacks accountable leadership as well as accountable followership. "Concerning the elections, I have stated in the past that the Nigerian electorate has a responsibility to make sure elections are not 'do or die'," he writes.

And finally, Nigeria continues to export its raw materials, rather than processing them and selling them for a profit.


Standing in the dark on climate change - As global leaders prepare to convene in 2015 to develop a new climate change treaty, Australian politician Bill Shorten cautions that his nation must step up and contribute to the effort or face embarrassment.

"Our world is moving forward on climate change," he writes for the Guardian. "If Australia goes backwards, we will be going alone."

Mr Shorten warns that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is "sleepwalking his way to a major climate policy disaster."

To properly address climate change, he says that Australians "deserve a government that represents their moderate, informed views on climate change - not one that delivers pre-Enlightenment, science-sledging nonsense."


Brazil's beautiful game turned ugly - In the aftermath of Brazil's devastating loss to Germany in the World Cup, politicians could face repercussions, writes Antonio Sampaio for Foreign Policy.

"The beautiful game is at the centre of an agonised national rethink, a mass, middle-class movement against outdated infrastructure and failing services," he says. "And the crushing 8 July defeat is giving new momentum to the demands for reform."

Although the World Cup defeat will not necessarily disturb the political status quo, it could accelerate the current dissatisfaction already brewing within the Brazilian middle class.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Afghan commentators react to the agreement reached by the nation's two presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, to recount the ballots and form a unity government regardless of the outcome.

"A government of national unity will involve all sides in the political scene. They will consider themselves responsible. In this way we can overcome all future problems.'' - Editorial in state-run Anis.

''Taking into consideration the acute tension created between the electoral camps, the agreement is regarded as a significant breakthrough." - Editorial in the Daily Afghanistan.

"We praise John Kerry's efforts in breaking the election deadlock and welcome the decision that all votes will be re-counted in the presence of international observers and observers of the two candidates, and that the two candidates will happily accept the election results." - Editorial in state-run Hewad.‎

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Mealtime mobiles prompt Craigslist rant

A group of people at a bar using their smartphones.

This weekend, an anonymous poster on the New York Craigslist's "rants & raves" section shared the results of an study he says his Midtown Manhattan restaurant conducted to determine why their "service just seems super slow".

The poster says they compared security recordings from 2004 and 2014 and came to the conclusion that smartphone-obsessed customers were to blame. Where an average mealtime in 2004 was 65 minutes, 10 years later it had increased to 115 minutes.

Patrons were spending too much time playing with their phones and taking pictures of each other and their meals, the rant continues.

"We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there," the poster concludes. "But can you please be a bit more considerate?"

Start Quote

Going out with a bunch of friends only to ignore them in favour of your phone kind of defeats the whole purpose of the outing in a first place”

End Quote Lucia Peters Bustle

By Monday the Craigslist diatribe had been flagged for removal and was no longer available on the site - but not before the entire thing had been copied by Distractify's Maia McCann, where it was shared on Facebook by more than half a million people and liked by over 755,000.

The post seems like the sort of apocryphal urban legend that sweeps through the internet with some regularity, but the subject of mobile phone etiquette at restaurants has obviously touched a nerve.

"I'd bet real, actual, non-digital money that it was a well-worded, carefully thought-out piece of creative writing by either a frustrated restaurant employee or a fed-up customer," writes Bustle's Lucia Peters.

Nevertheless, she says, "it's generally true that we're all chained to our phones these days".

"Going out with a bunch of friends only to ignore them in favour of your phone kind of defeats the whole purpose of the outing in a first place," she writes.

She cites a recent study from Essex University that finds just the presence of a smartphone diminishes the quality of conversation.

Researchers found that a phone placed on a table during dining decreased trust shared by the mealtime study participants.

"We found evidence mobiles can have negative effects on closeness, connection and conversation quality," Essex researcher Andrew Przybylski told the Telegraph.

A cellphone takes a picture of a pancake breakfast. Why eat your food before you share the "food porn" with your friends who aren't there?

"The presence of a mobile phone may orient individuals to thinking of other people and events outside their immediate social context. In doing so, they divert attention away from a presently occurring interpersonal experience to focus on a multitude of other concerns and interests."

A team from Virginia Tech University confirmed the Essex lab-based research in a follow-up study conducted in real-world situations.

Boston Herald food blogger Kerry J Byrne admits that she takes pictures of almost every meal she eats in restaurants.

"The obsession with so-called 'food porn' runs through society, with photos of virtually every meal in America instantly uploaded to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter," she writes. "Some future society will uncover Instagram's servers and be shocked to learn of a strange people from the past that took and shared photos of everything they ate."

Start Quote

Mealtimes should be about savouring food and enjoying the company you're with, not sending e-mails, texts and checking Facebook”

End Quote Richard Turner Turner's restaurant

Gothamist's Rebecca Fishbein says that "phone zombies" are taking over New York City - "in our streets, on our sidewalks, in our park" and in restaurants.

Although the posting may be made up, writes Kitchenette's CA Pinkham, there's more than enough truth in the message it conveys:

"I can't count the number of times I had customers not eat their food for the first five minutes after it was at the table, then complain that it was cold. People bumping into other tables because they were looking at their phones is also ringing a familiar bell. Also, I swear to God every time I see someone take a picture of their food in a restaurant, I want to brain them with their plate."

Blogger Mark Maynard says that smartphones, "the advent of the selfie and the rapid proliferation of food review sites" are changing the restaurant business. That, however, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"People who own restaurants now have more of an insight as to how their customers are thinking," he writes. "Also, I wouldn't imagine that it hurts to have people sharing images of your food."

It's obviously an issue restaurants are grappling with - and not solely by venting on Craigslist. A spate of restaurants - in Israel, Lebanon and Los Angeles - made news recently when they offered discounts to patrons who handed over their mobile phones before sitting down to a meal.

For some restaurants, however, that's just not good enough. In 2012, Turner's restaurant in Birmingham announced it was instituting an outright ban on smartphone use.

"Mealtimes should be about savouring food and enjoying the company you're with, not sending e-mails, texts and checking Facebook," restaurant owner Richard Turner told the Mirror.

Bucato, a Los Angeles-area restaurant, did the same in 2013.

But why stop at mobile phones? Eat, a restaurant in New York City, has designated the first Sunday of every month as a "silent dinner", where patrons are forbidden to speak at all.

A bit overboard, perhaps. But fans of the restaurant's service say it is a welcome balm to the information and sonic overload of life in the big city.

A full four-course selfie/texting/chatter-free meal clocks in at just 90 minutes.

Esquire: 42-year-old women are still sexy

Actress Jennifer Garner poses for cameras before the 2014 Oscar Awards show. Fear not, Jennifer Garner, Esquire thinks you've still got it

Attention all "women of a certain age" - Esquire magazine has decided that you're still sexy, as long as that "certain age" falls below 42.

In an illuminating article, Esquire writer Tom Junod pronounces 42 as the most alluring age of 2014.

Start Quote

A few generations ago, a woman turning 42 was expected to voluntarily accept the shackles of biology and convention”

End Quote Tom Junod Esquire magazine

In the past when women left their 30s, Junod says, they could break out the funeral pyre for both their looks and their entire sense of womanhood.

"Let's face it: There used to be something tragic about even the most beautiful 42-year-old woman," Junod writes.

"With half her life still ahead of her, she was deemed to be at the end of something - namely, everything society valued in her, other than her success as a mother."

According to Junod, if a woman refused to retire her sexual prowess at age 42, then "she was either predatory or desperate". And if she remained beautiful, her beauty only derived from the fact that it was fleeting.

If she were single, "well, then God help her," prays Junod.

But now that we've reached the modern era, Junod says it's time to rethink the relationship between age and sexual appeal.

Why? Because of science, he says.

"In a society in which the median age keeps advancing, we have no choice but to keep redefining youth," he writes.

Part of this change may even stem from feminism:

Start Quote

The only thing more ludicrous than Tom Junod's feelings about 42-year-olds are the misguided assumptions that lurk beneath them”

End Quote Tracy Moore Jezebel

A few generations ago, a woman turning 42 was expected to voluntarily accept the shackles of biology and convention; now it seems there is no one in our society quite so determined to be free. Conservatives still attack feminism with the absurd notion that it makes its adherents less attractive to men; in truth, it is feminism that has made 42-year-old women so desirable.

This newfound attractiveness does not come easy. "Of course, they have to work for their advantage; they have armoured themselves with yoga and Pilates even as they joke about the spectacle," Junod writes.

Although the Esquire article may have started as a sincere attempt to describe a new trend in male sexual attraction, it has unleashed a deluge of criticism across the internet.

"The only thing more ludicrous than Tom Junod's feelings about 42-year-olds are the misguided assumptions that lurk beneath them," writes Tracy Moore for Jezebel.

"[They are] like a 42-year-old woman clawing at the icy surface above her, desperate to escape the tomb of her old age and fading beauty, trapped in part because she acknowledges that icy cold water could significantly invigorate her appearance."

Actress Cameron Diaz smiles before a film premiere in London. Like many 42-year-olds, writes Tom Junod, Cameron Diaz "entices with the promise of lust with laughs"

Other commentators have pointed out that this article is less about the older women themselves and more about congratulating men on their attraction to them.

"It's very nice and all that writers are catching on that women of all ages can be sexy, but framing that as an amazing new discovery makes it more about men than it is about us (which feels about par for the course)," writes Jessica Valenti for the Guardian.

Critics say this new appeal may not necessarily derive from feminism's success, but in spite of it.

Actress Jennifer Connelly smiles for the press before a film premiere in London Sorry, Jennifer Connelly, at 43 you might as well call it a day

"The rise of the hot 42-year-old is a reflection of two strains in our culture, one born out of a resistance to women's growing power and another that has convinced women that aging is unsightly," writes Elissa Strauss for the Week.

For some, Junod's perspective, which he seems to interpret as edgy or possibly even revolutionary, is merely more of the same old trope - and one that not only men promote, but women as well.

"It is his article that explains why we so very much want pole-dancing to be empowering and burlesque to be the feminist revolution," writes Meghan Murphy for Rabble. "We think that the male gaze gives us power. But it doesn't. Because it is a gaze that dehumanises us. And we want to be human, guys. We want it so bad."

(By Annie Waldman)

Underage 'invasion': Spinning the immigration crisis

President Obama waves from the stage at a speech in Austin, Texas on 10 July

As tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America stream across the southern US border, a debate rages over whether US President Barack Obama should get a first-hand look at the situation.

Mr Obama was in Texas on Wednesday and Thursday to deliver a speech on the economy, participate in a roundtable immigration discussion and attend several big-money fundraisers. Given his proximity to the border, calls for a presidential visit reached a crescendo.

Critics said it was the president's "Katrina moment" - a reference to President George W Bush's delay in travelling to New Orleans to view the extensive flooding following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Start Quote

If Obama goes to the border, he owns the problem”

End Quote James Oliphant and George E Condon Jr The National Journal

"It's shocking that the president would avoid visiting ground zero of what essentially constitutes an invasion of America," writes conservative strategist Ed Rogers in the Washington Post. "How can President Obama get away with not standing with the citizens and government officials on the front line?"

George Washington University Prof Lara Brown says that a border visit would be good politics for the president:

How exactly did Obama's advisers ever gain a reputation for political savvy? How is it that they missed that if Obama wants movement on immigration reform - something more than executive actions - then, plain and simple, he needs to put congressional Republicans in a corner?

How best to do that? Go to the border. Talk about the dire need for immigration reform.

A child holds up a sign telling President Obama not to deport children detained at the US southern border. A 2008 anti-human-trafficking law delays deportation for minors who enter the US without immigration documents

Others aren't so sure. The National Journal's James Oliphant and George E Condon Jr say that the president is in a lose-lose situation.

"If Obama goes to the border, he owns the problem," they write. "If he doesn't, he's blasted for a lack of leadership."

According to the Atlantic's Noah Gordon, presidential on-site visits can serve two purposes: to gather information and to serve as an "emotional figurehead" in times of crises. But Mr Obama's administration already has plenty of data on the scope of the immigration problem, he says, and the situation doesn't lend itself to the morale-boosting duties of a comforter-in-chief:

Start Quote

I'm not interested in photo-ops; I'm interested in solving a problem”

End Quote Barack Obama US President

Rebuilding homes, or supporting the troops, is universally popular, and it's easy to strike a pose of resolve in the wake of a storm. How to adjust immigration policy is more divisive and complicated. Does Obama embrace the illegal migrants whom Speaker John Boehner wants to dispatch the National Guard to stop? Or stand in the doorway, hands on hips, reminding these children there's likely no safe haven here? Does he hand out water bottles or Notices to Appear?

On Wednesday Mr Obama addressed the situation during a stop in Dallas:

This isn't theatre. This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo-ops; I'm interested in solving a problem. And those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what should we be doing, they're giving us suggestions that are embodied in legislation that I've already sent to Congress. So it's not as if they're making suggestions that we're not listening to. In fact, the suggestions of those who work at the border, who visited the border, are incorporated in legislation that we're already prepared to sign the minute it hits my desk.

In classic media style, "I'm not interested in photo-ops" was reduced to "I don't do photo ops", which sparked a renewed burst of outrage on the right, since Mr Obama has never been one to shy away from staged events.

Anti-immigration protestors demonstrated outside a detention facility in California on 7 July. Anti-immigration protestors demonstrate at US detention sites

This makes him no different than any of his predecessors, of course, dating back to the invention of the daguerreotype.

The president is back in the White House now, and the talk of border visits will likely trail away. Such is the nature of the controversy-of-the-day culture that has gripped Washington, in which every story is analysed in terms of what it means for the president's favourability ratings.

"The news cycle spins so fast that controversies become trivia within weeks," writes Slate's Dave Weigel. "Remember the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner deal? Remember the VA scandal? One was a fascinating story about a troubled soldier and his angry, betrayed comrades. One was a vast public health story with a high body count. Neither is getting any political coverage now, but at the time the Story was what they meant for Obama."

Just because the press has stopped talking about the Veteran's Administration, the problem hasn't gone away. And whether or not Mr Obama ever visits the border, the current immigration crisis will continue.

So focus now turns to Congress, which the president has asked to approve a $3.7b (£2.16b) bill to provide immediate support for the children who are being held in government detention centres, increase border patrols and help Central American governments staunch the migrant exodus.

While prospects for passage of the bill seem good, a bipartisan agreement could come apart when talk turns to long-term solutions - whether it's amending a 2008 human-trafficking law that delays deportations for minors or providing a permanent home for the detained children.

Kurdish statehood: a dream realised?

Pro-nationhood demonstrators outside the Kurdish Parliament building on 3 July, 2014.

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

Today's must-read

As political stability in Baghdad crumbles, the Iraqi region of Kurdistan is becoming more politically autonomous. It may be just a matter of time before a new nation is born.

In the past several weeks Kurdish Regional Government leader Massoud Barzani initiated the official process toward statehood, urging the Kurdish Parliament to prepare a referendum on independence.

Firas Al-Atraqchi writes in Al Jazeera that Mr Barzani is going through the time-consuming, formal process of a referendum for two reasons.

First, he is aware that Kurdish independence is inevitable. And second, in order to ensure a successful and stable breakaway from Iraq, the Kurdish government will require Turkey's support to survive.

"The most crucial question, however, is whether Turkey - once a fierce opponent to Kurdish independence - will now become its greatest enabler," writes Al-Atraqchi. Not only has Turkey opposed the possibility of Kurdish independence for decades, it also has fought the separatist dreams of its own Kurdish minority.

With the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), however, many regional powers are forced to redefine who they consider an ally.

"The debacle in Syria has also contributed in creating a domino effect of shifting alliances and undercurrents so dramatic that age-old prejudices have fallen to the wayside in the face of new geopolitical realities," says Al-Atraqchi.

Other commentators view that independence will happen sooner than we think.

"Kurdish independence is happening," writes Timothy William Waters for the Los Angeles Times. "Kurds see their moment for exit, and they are unwilling to commit lives and treasure to maintain an Iraqi state to which they feel only the heavy bonds of painful, past entanglements."

Additionally, Kurdistan has laid the groundwork for independence for years by developing their regional economy and investing in infrastructure.

"In autonomous Kurdistan, things have never been better," writes Rebecca Collard for Time. "Kurds have managed an entity that looks more like a functional state than many long-established nations in the region."


The shackles of sovereign debt - Although their World Cup team has made it to the finals, not everyone in Argentina has reason to celebrate. In mid-June, the US Supreme Court refused to hear Argentina's appeal related to a dispute with a group of hedge funds over sovereign debt, pushing the South American country to the brink of default.

"Regardless of how the current impasse is resolved, the ruling raises many questions for issuers and holders of sovereign debt," writes former World Bank chief economist Anne Kreuger. "If creditors now believe that holding out makes it more likely that they will receive full value at a later date, restructuring sovereign debt and restoring a debtor economy's normal functioning will be more difficult," she says.

Argentina's debt situation aside, this ruling ultimately forces creditors to reassess sovereign risk in non-emerging markets, Ms Kreuger writes.

"The US Supreme Court's decision on Argentina adds a new wrinkle, and may well further increase the risk attached to holding sovereign debt - and this to the cost of issuing it," she concludes.


Moving past the past - The recently created Truth and Dignity Commission represents a "a turning point in Tunisia's transition," writes David Tolbert in AllAfrica.

"One of the key elements that informed Tunisia's approach has been a broad and inclusive consultation process," Tolbert says. The commission consulted not just elites from the nation's capital, but have also reached out across the spectrum of civil society.

Although the creation of the commission is a step in the right direction, he says that its implementation may be challenging.

"Coordination, consensus, dialogue and public participation in all processes will be a crucial element for the success of this challenging path," Tolbert writes. "Should Tunisia successfully move its process forward, taking into account the rights of victims, it will become a model for the rest of the region and the world at large."


Questioning Scottish Exceptionalism - As Scotland gears up for a referendum on independence, commentators are questioning how different the region really is from the rest of the UK.

"This assertion of Scottish exceptionalism, which comfortingly casts Scotland as a fundamentally more progressive, more egalitarian and more social democratic place than the rest of Britain, is an important and familiar theme of the independence debate," writes Martin Kettle for the Guardian.

He says that though there is some truth in that description, "it is often exaggerated, too often allowed to pass unchallenged".

Regardless of the outcome of the vote for independence, Kettle says that the accentuation of Scotland's exceptionalism is more "romantic radical imagination than a piece of practical and sustainable modern politics".


The quiet after the intervention - Before French troops landed in Mali, commentators predicted chaos and a prolonged insurgency. More than a year later, however, a tenuous but legitimate stability reigns. Did intervention work?

"It almost certainly prevented the collapse of Mali's central government, and the consequent imposition of strict Islamic law on most of Mali's population," writes Simon Allison for This Is Africa. "It also staved off the probability of even more conflict between the various Islamist groups jostling for power and ensured access for aid agencies working to alleviate the humanitarian crisis."

The current stability could devolve into chaos again, Allison cautions. The Malian government must find a way to integrate northern groups into its political system.

"Until then, the French probably aren't going anywhere," he concludes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Israeli and Palestinian commentators write aboutthe escalating violence in the Gaza Strip.

"Netanyahu is now declaring a third war on the Gaza Strip, but it will fail just like the first and second ones. Gaza will not capitulate and will retaliate with the weapons it has at its disposal." - Yasir al-Za'atirah in Filastin Online.

"The lesson must be learned - this time it is not enough to 'restore the calm'. This time the situation in which a terror organisation rains rockets on the population of a strong state like Israel must be changed." - Uzi Dayan in Yisrael Hayom.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought he could maintain stability without a peace process and without alliance with the moderate Palestinians? Benjamin Netanyahu erred." - Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz. ‎

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

Teen sexting prosecution prompts outrage

Three teen boys hold cellphones.

On Wednesday the Washington Post reported on the case of a 17-year-old from Manassas, Virginia, who is facing felony charges for manufacturing and possessing child pornography after he allegedly texted nude images of himself to his 15-year-old girlfriend.

According to the boy's defence attorney, Jessica Harbeson Foster, prosecutors in the Washington-area Prince William County want to bolster their case by taking photos of the suspect's aroused penis and comparing it to the texted image using "special software".

She says the prosecutors have plans if the teen does not willingly comply.

Start Quote

The prosecutor's job is to seek justice. What is just about this?”

End Quote Jessica Harbeson Foster Defence attorney

"We just take him down to the hospital, give him a shot and then take the pictures that we need," Ms Foster says she was told.

She added that the police had already taken a photo of her client's flaccid penis, obtained despite his objections.

"The prosecutor's job is to seek justice," the attorney told the Post. "What is just about this? How does this advance the interest of the Commonwealth?"

It didn't take long for the Post story to go viral.

The case raises a number of challenging questions. Why was the girl, who allegedly started the string of explicit texted images, not also charged with child pornography? Should child pornography laws be applicable in cases of teenage sexting? Is it appropriate that, if convicted, the teen will have to register as a sex offender for life?

The forced-erection angle generated the most media outrage, however. Could a prosecutor really demand such an intrusive search? And could a judge really go along with it?

"Law enforcement officials in Prince William County, Va. have come up with a truly creative way to combat the dissemination of child pornography: create more child pornography for comparison!" writes Salon's Jenny Kutner.

Mediaite's Tina Nguyen says the story sounds like a bad television comedy sketch. "Yes," she writes, "this is real life."

Start Quote

This is the tale of a police force and prosecutors who allegedly want to do the unspeakable in order to fight what some might describe as, well, teens being teens”

End Quote Chris Matyszczyk CNET

Dan Savage, a love advice columnist, took to Twitter to encourage his 192,000 followers to send pictures of their own engorged genitalia to the Manassas police.

On Wednesday night, the police issued a written response to the media firestorm. Although the department declined to comment on the details of the case, it stated:

It is not the policy of the Manassas City Police or the Commonwealth Attorney's Office to authorise invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature and no such procedures have been conducted in this case.

After the initial shock headlines involving shots and photographs, some writers took a look at the bigger picture.

"This is the tale of a police force and prosecutors who allegedly want to do the unspeakable in order to fight what some might describe as, well, teens being teens," writes CNET's Chris Matyszczyk.

He says that criminalising sexting is the wrong way to address what should be considered a lapse of judgement on the part of youth.

"It's not as if technology has suddenly caused teenagers to behave in questionable ways," he writes. "The only difference is that now it can be much more widely disseminated.

"It's true that once something is digitally transmitted, it will likely live forever, at least in some dark virtual corner," he continues. "Education is, perhaps, the best way to warn teens of the dangers."

Slate's Emily Bazelon says that consent is the key issue here. Were both the boy and the girl willing participants in the text exchange? State legislatures, which have widely divergent ways of addressing teen sexting, need to come up with clearer laws.

"What they should do is distinguish between consensual sexting, and (especially) sending out an image of someone who would not want that picture or video to circulate, or to someone who does not wish to receive it."

Those with good memories may recall that Manassas was also the home of Lorena Bobbitt, who made international headlines in 1993 when she was charged with cutting off her husband's penis while he slept.

The case created a media circus and was the butt of late-night jokes for years afterward.

The next scheduled court date in the sexting case is set for July 15. It looks like the circus is coming back to town.

UPDATE (14:43 EDT): On Thursday afternoon the Associated Press reported that the Manassas City Police will no longer proceed with plans to take new photographs of the teen "and will let a search warrant authorising the photos expire".

US teens trail global peers in money matters

Three teens hold up hundred dollar bills.

A study released Wednesday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that US 15-year-olds are in the middle of the pack when it comes to basic knowledge of finances and wealth-building.

For the first time, the OECD tested more than 29,000 teens around the world on basic financial literacy as part of its 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which measures academic achievement in 18 participating nations (the UK did not participate).

Start Quote

It's an unfair battle against the prowess of the financial-services industry that annually spends about $54 per person on financial marketing”

End Quote Nancy Cook National Journal

"Finance is a part of everyday life for many 15-year-olds - they are already consumers of financial services such as bank accounts with access to online payment facilities," write the study's authors. "As they near the end of compulsory education, students will also face complex and challenging financial choices."

The test presented questions about simple monetary transactions using bank cards, cheques and currencies, planning and managing income, interest rates, credit agreements, investing products and the larger economic forces.

For instance, it asked participants to analyse and identify relevant numbers on an employee pay slip, an invoice and a loan offer. (You can try your hand at the test here.)

Chinese teens finished first, with a score of 602 - well above the mean score of 500 for all participants. Coming in a distant second was Flemish Belgium (541), followed by Estonia, Australia, New Zealand and the Czech Republic. The US was ninth with a score of 492, just ahead of Russia. Italy (466) and Colombia (379) finished at the bottom of the group.

According to the survey, 17.8% of US test-takers did not reach a baseline level of proficiency in financial literacy. For China, that number was 1.6%

The Atlantic's Emily Richmond explains why these findings matter:

With money management the buzz phrase of post-recession America, there's an increasing push from both the public and private sector to make sure the nation's young people are taught the fiscal smarts to make wise decisions for themselves on everything from living within a budget to savings accounts to college loans.

A sample question from the OECD financial literacy test A sample question from the OECD financial literacy test

The National Journal's Nancy Cook says US teens face an uphill battle in learning about responsible money management:

Although the US alone boasts roughly 800 different financial-literacy curricula, no academic, institutional or personal-finance expert has yet uncovered the most effective method for teaching these key money skills. In many ways, it's an unfair battle against the prowess of the financial-services industry that annually spends about $54 per person on financial marketing versus the roughly $2 per person spent in the US on financial education.

The US performance shouldn't be surprising, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Maureen Downey.

"Most of us learn about money from making mistakes with it in our 20s and 30s," she writes. Better financial education at an early age, she continues, would help Americans own homes sooner and better endure financial difficulties, such as job losses.

Start Quote

In our country, where education is highly valued as a means to a better life, failing to teach our children about financial matters is unacceptable”

End Quote Richard Cordray US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

In addition to the nation-by-nation rankings, the OECD breaks down the results of the test and comes up with some other interesting findings.

Some nations that did well on the test, such as Australia, the Czech Republic and Estonia, performed better in financial literacy than their maths-test results would suggest. Others that fared poorly, such as France and Italy, did worse.

Students from wealthier backgrounds generally did better on the test than less-advantaged teens. Those with bank accounts scored higher than those without.

There was little measurable difference between the performance of male and female test-takers.

Only 10% of test-takers could answer the most challenging questions, such as determining a bank statement balance that includes transfer fees and understanding income tax brackets.

"In our country, where education is highly valued as a means to a better life, failing to teach our children about financial matters is unacceptable," Richard Cordray, director of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in a statement. "A free market economy like ours is only as strong as its consumers, and we each need to be able to take responsibility for making sound and sustainable financial choices."

As the Pisa results show, US leaders like Cordray have their work cut out for them.

Could this be the end of the Grand Canyon?

A view of the Grand Canyon

The Los Angeles Times's Julie Cart reported on Sunday of plans to build "restaurants, hotels and shops" on Navajo Indian land adjacent to the eastern portion of the Grand Canyon.

The 420-acre Grand Canyon Escalade proposal would also feature an eight-person gondola that would take tourists on a 10-minute ride to the canyon floor, she writes, "where they would stroll along an elevated riverside walkway to a restaurant at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers".

Start Quote

The average person can't ride a mule to the bottom of the canyon”

End Quote R Lamar Whitmer Managing Partner, Confluence Partners LLC

The canyon, called one of the seven natural wonders of the world, attracts more than 5 million visitors annually. Confluence Partners, the company behind the proposal, estimates the development could draw as many as 3 million visitors.

Prospects for this new construction have officials from the US Park Service worried that the project - located two miles from the park - may have an adverse impact on the area's scenic vistas.

"They are serious threats to the future of the park," Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga tells the Times. "When you have that size and scope of potential development that close to the park, it will impact our visitor experience."

The Grand Canyon Skywalk The Grand Canyon Skywalk generated criticism when it opened in 2007

The Escalade project developer, R Lamar Whitmer, counters that the construction would enhance a Grand Canyon visit, as the gondola ride would allow visitors to see the park from a different perspective:

The park service offers nothing more than "a drive-by wilderness experience," Whitmer says. "The average person can't ride a mule to the bottom of the canyon. We want them to feel the canyon from the bottom."

Several members of Confluence Partners are members of the Navajo tribe. The group also consulted Navajo elders while formulating the plans.

The development will bring in new revenue for the Navajo people, they wrote in a letter to the Associated Press, as well "create jobs for young people and bring them closer to home".

Start Quote

Escalade would cheapen the canyon's grandeur”

End Quote Janene Yazzie Letter to Navajo Times

Critics have been quick to voice concern that "the Grand Canyon is doomed", as one headline put it.

Gawker's Hamilton Nolan writes:

When blessed with one of the most moving natural vistas on the face of the earth, the entrepreneurial heroes of America can be relied upon to do the right thing: build a bunch of crap around it to ruin the view. For $$$!

In a letter to the Navajo Times, Lupton, Arizona resident Janene Yazzie said the Escalade gondola will scar the wall of the canyon.

"Escalade is a graffiti-like profanity that will mar a sacred place, sacred not just to us, but to America and much of the world," she writes.

"People come to see the Grand Canyon for what it is," she continues. "They can go to Las Vegas for the profane. Escalade would cheapen the canyon's grandeur."

A portion of the website The Grand Canyon Escalade promotional website depicts a portion of the planned riverside walkway

Carolyn Hopper writes in the High Country News that for those taking a rafting trip down the Colorado River, the proposed complex would interrupt the natural beauty of the surroundings.

"At Mile 62, several days into a river trip, it would be like encountering Las Vegas-style entertainment and crowds of people," she says.

Members of the neighbouring Hopi tribe have also raised concerns about the project. They consider the land around the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers to be sacred.

"The solace and relationship with the environment as you're doing these religious ceremonies requires a lot of emotional well-being to feel good about it. I feel that that is what is going to be taken away," Hopi Cultural Preservation Office director Leigh Kuwanwisiwma tells Indian Country Today.

The developers, on the other hand, say the proposed area would help tribe members "monitor and protect sacred sites that will alleviate desecration of sites currently made by river rafters and hikers in the Canyon".

This is not the first time that a Grand Canyon development has been the source of controversy. In 2007 the Hualapai tribe opened a glass skywalk that allows visitors to venture over the western portion of the landmark.

A cable car near the Masada National Park in Israel. A similar cable-car system carries tourists to the Masada fortress in Israel

Mr Whitmar was also involved in that project.

The next step for the Grand Canyon Escalade is a vote by the Navajo tribal government. If it gives the green light, US government officials have said they will provide their official response. A legal dispute could be in the offing, based on where federal jurisdiction around the Colorado ends and Navajo land begins.

The developers argue that they can build anywhere above the river's high water mark, while the government asserts that they block development up to a quarter mile from either bank.

So whether a trip to the canyon floor is a day's hike or a few minutes' ride away could end up decided the way most controversial land-use disputes are these days - by a judge.

Mein Kampf emerging from Germany's shadows

A first edition of Mein Kampf and photos of the Adolf Hitler,

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

Today's must-read

Adolf Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), has not been published in Germany since the end of World War Two. This may change when the book's copyright - currently held by the state of Bavaria - expires at the end of 2015, however.

The prospect has led Germans to debate whether the book should become more readily available to the public or continue to exist only on the internet and the black market.

Last month interior ministers of 16 German states pledged to do all they could to prevent anyone from printing the work. They said they will ask the federal prosecutor general to investigate whether they could charge publishers with violating the nation's sedition laws.

According to Peter Ross Range, former diplomatic correspondent for US News & World Report, such a strategy is misguided.

"The inoculation of a younger generation against the Nazi bacillus is better served by open confrontation with Hitler's words than by keeping his reviled tract in the shadows of illegality," he writes in the New York Times.

While circulating copies of Hitler's work within Germany would be "sensational", he says, it would also remove the mystique created by the book's suppression.

"This publishing event will shape contemporary politics and feed Germany's deep-rooted postwar pacifism," he argues.

Fears in Germany that publication will be a boon to the nation's pseudo-Nazis are misguided, he says, as their party only polls around 1%, compared to nearly 25% in neighbouring France (where the work can be purchased).

The book should be available and studied in its historical context, he concludes, serving as a cautionary document for the German people.


President Obama writes op-ed for Haaretz - "Peace is possible", says US President Barack Obama in an opinion piece published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He writes that it will require "difficult choices" on the part of Israelis and Palestinians, however.

"The only solution is a democratic, Jewish state living side-by-side in peace and security with a viable, independent Palestinian state," he continues.

Without "a true and living peace that exists not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of all Israelis and Palestinians", Israel will never be secure, he says. Throughout the negotiating process, he concludes, the US will continue to be Israel's first, oldest and strongest friend.


Obama's second chance - Thanks to Chinese President Xi Jingping's "ham-handed" efforts to project power in Asia, writes Bloomberg View's William Pesek, the US has another opportunity to complete its Asian pivot and strengthen its alliances in the region.

In Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and even Hong Kong, he writes, "Xi's overbearing ways are giving Obama a second wind".

The US must dedicate more resources to Asia to capitalise on this situation, he says. "What Asian nations really want to see from the US are signs of commitment to Asia's long-term growth and development," he writes.


An improving army - Recent successful operations by the Ukrainian military are a sign that the prospects for the nation's long-term stability could be improving, writes Walter Russell Mead in the American Interest.

"War is the mother of states, and the efforts required to create and sustain a winning army deepen the capabilities that Ukraine's authorities will need if they are serious about state-building," he writes.

He cautions that Ukraine is not out of danger yet, however. The country still relies heavily on privately sponsored militias, which could undermine centralised national authority.


Debt and Wall Street politics - The recent Argentine debt crisis didn't occur because the nation refused to heed the advice of the International Monetary Fund, writes Farid Kahhat in America Economia (translated by WorldCrunch).

The trouble, he says, is the result of a US judicial system that relies on "legal norms" that favour the country's finance and insurance industries. He implies that this is why the US Supreme Court ruled on 16 June that the Argentine government must pay $1.3b (£760,000) to US bondholders who had refused to agree to a debt restructuring plan.

US financial and insurance corporations have growing influence on US legislative policy thanks to their lobbying efforts, he contends, and "Argentina may be paying the price".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Afghanistan newspaper editors weigh in as tensions remain high after the Independent Election Commission announced the preliminary results of the presidential election second round.

"If the [election] commission fails to make the electoral process transparent and in the end declares the final results in favour of one of the candidates, there will be unpleasant situation in the country."- Editorial in Afghan daily Arman-e Melli.

"We have repeatedly said that the separation of clean votes from dirty votes can save democracy in the country." - Editorial in Hasht-e Sobh.

"The announcement of the election results has changed the situation and further complicated the electoral deadlock." - Editorial in Mandegar.‎

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Boehner: Obama lawsuit not a 'stunt'

Speaker of the House John Boehner.

When Speaker of the House John Boehner announced on 25 June that he was planning on spearheading a congressional lawsuit against President Barack Obama for exceeding executive powers, he was met by derision from the left.

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart called it a "huge waste of time".

Start Quote

In my view, the President has not faithfully executed the laws when it comes to a range of issues”

End Quote John Boehner Speaker of the House of Representatives

While some on the right embraced the decision, others were not as enthusiastic.

Even Mr Obama joined in, calling the lawsuit a "stunt".

"Middle class families can't wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff," he said in a speech on 1 July. "So sue me."

On Sunday Mr Boehner fired back at the president and critics in an opinion piece for

"What's disappointing is the president's flippant dismissal of the Constitution we are both sworn to defend," he writes. "It is utterly beneath the dignity of the office."

He says he doesn't take suing the president lightly, but Mr Obama is not fulfilling the duties of office. The goal of the lawsuit, he continues, is to hold the president accountable.

"In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws when it comes to a range of issues, including his health care law, energy regulations, foreign policy and education," he writes.

He concludes by saying that it is his responsibility as one of the leaders of the legislative branch to push back against an overreaching executive:

US President Barack Obama gives a speech. President Barack Obama offers a reply to House Speaker John Boehner: "So sue me"

The legislative branch has an obligation to defend the rights and responsibilities of the American people, and America's constitutional balance of powers - before it is too late.

It wasn't long before Mr Boehner once again took fire from a chorus of critics.

"John Boehner's lawsuit is nothing more than political theatre and a further Republican waste of taxpayer dollars," says conservative RedState blog's Erick Erickson. "If the Republican leaders in the House are too chicken to use their constitutional powers to rein in the president, they should just call it a day and go home."

He argues that conservatives in Congress should use their spending authority to limit the president's ability to finance his executive actions.

In the strange bedfellows file, Erickson's piece was cited by deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz in a tweet about the administration's response to lawsuit questions.

Start Quote

Suing the president just because you don't like him is irresponsible partisan petulance”

End Quote Sally Kohn's Sally Kohn came at Mr Boehner from the left, accusing him of being irrational:

House Republicans are using taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit against a president who has literally done not only what every president before him has done but has done it less often and is doing so now only because House Republicans repeatedly refuse to even vote on legislation, let alone pass anything.

If House Republicans don't like the solutions Mr Obama is coming up with to address the nation's problems, she continues, they should take legislative action.

"Passing laws that our nation wants and needs is doing your job," she writes. "Suing the president just because you don't like him is irresponsible partisan petulance."

One of the key questions regarding Mr Boehner's lawsuit - which will have to be approved by Congress - is what it would accomplish. If congressional Republicans truly believe that Mr Obama is violating his oath of office, one possible constitutional procedure to follow would be impeachment and removal from office.

Such a pursuit is risky politics, however - a bridge too far, perhaps, for a cautious leader like Mr Boehner.

Instead, the speaker has issued clear condemnations of Mr Obama's presidency, but has yet to outline exactly which specific executive actions he will challenge and what judicial remedies he will seek.

Such details, if and when they emerge, will go a long way toward revealing the seriousness of his case.

Bill Clinton's conservative legacy?

Ronald Reagan presents Bill Clinton with a jar of jelly beans in 1992.

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

Today's must-read

The Federalist's David Harsanyi takes a look at the recent Quinnipiac poll, which asked respondents to rate the post-World War Two US presidents.

The top two vote-getters were Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of modern conservatism, and Bill Clinton - the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

While Harsanyi is not surprised by Reagan's high ranking - his "conservative message changed American politics for decades", he writes - he's interested in what Mr Clinton's high ranking says about the US political climate.

Although he is a Democrat, he contends, Mr Clinton was one of the most conservative modern presidents.

"Despite bringing some big liberal ideas, earthy debauchery and all manner of corruption to the Oval Office," Harsanyi writes, Mr Clinton "presided over a thriving economy, declared the era of big government over and signed more consequential conservative legislative than any president since - and perhaps, anyone before him".

He offers a list of the 42nd president's "conservative" legislative achievements to bolster his case - the Defense of Marriage Act, welfare reform, massive trade deals like Nafta and Gatt, financial and telecommunications deregulation, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which served as the basis for last week's Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision.

Harsanyi contends that those who are arguing that the Republican Party has veered to the far right politically are misguided. They are, in fact, defending Mr Clinton's legacy.

"This isn't particularly constructive for the GOP, but it's certainly not as radical as you've been led to believe," he says. "We love Bill Clinton, right?"

Everyone, it seems, loves Bill Clinton these days. The question is - is some of this love misplaced?


Coalition government is wishful thinking - the Obama administration is pinning much of its hope for stability in Iraq on the prospect of a coalition government that will be able to overcome sectarian conflict, writes the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl. He says prospects for the success of such a government are dim, however.

After speaking with several leaders of Iraq's Kurdish population, Diehl writes, he has come to the conclusion that there are few circumstances where the Kurdish people can be coaxed back into a unity government - and even if such a government were formed, it would be incapable of defeating the militant Islamic uprising overtake portions of the region.

"If the Kurds are right, the Middle East will be coping with an aggressive al-Qaeda state in its midst for the foreseeable future," he says. "Kurdistan will consolidate its position as a de facto, if not de jure, independent state."


Don't send your tired, your poor, your huddled masses - As the debate heats up over the fate of thousands of undocumented minors stuck in limbo at the US-Mexico border, advocates and politicians both question what motivated the recent rise in youth migrants.

"Escaping violence is a motivation," writes Paul Willcocks for Honduras Weekly. "The gangs in the cities - imports from the US - kill casually. But mostly, the young migrants are looking for a chance."

Although the stories behind these children's journeys are often heartbreaking, Willcocks says these narratives also demonstrate an inspiring hopefulness that the US should embrace.

"We should welcome new citizens, not people brought here to be cheap labour and then sent home," he concludes. "The kids flooding the US border are risking everything for a chance at a new life. And we're locking them up and sending them back where they came from."


In the midst of Saba Saba - Thousands of Kenyans gathered in Nairobi on Monday to mark the historic Saba Saba day (or 7/7 for 7 July) to protest about the current government and domestic insecurity, sparking fear within the government, writes Patrick Gathara for Al Jazeera.

"Why would something as mundane in a democracy as an opposition political rally cause such uproar and fear?" he asks. "The problem is not with the rally, but with the shaky democracy."

Neither the government nor the opposition have worked toward solving the current domestic problems, including the rise of domestic terror attacks, he views. Instead, the "ruling elite is rather determined to hype ethnic differences as a cover for its thieving ways".

"The truth is the shenanigans and fear-mongering surrounding the Saba Saba rally have nothing to do with improving the welfare of Kenyans," he concludes. "On the contrary, they are about distracting us from the farmhouse window and from seeing that the Liberation has been stolen."


A constitution, reinterpreted - The administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently decided to "reinterpret" its nation's constitution to allow use of military force to support an ally if under domestic threat.

Although Mr Abe's decision is far off from Japan's historical pacifism, it does not represent a resurgence in militarism, but rather protectionism, writes Bard College Prof Ian Buruma for Project Syndicate.

"In fact, what appears to be driving Abe's endeavors even more than the desire to revise the postwar order in Japan is a widely shared fear of China's increasing regional dominance," Buruma says.

China's increasing aggression in the South China Sea appears to be at the heart of this decision.

"Japan's main worry is that the US may not wish to risk a war with China over territorial disputes," he says. "What is feared most, in addition to the rise of China, is the possible decline of the US."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

The killing of three Israeli youths by Palestinians and the subsequent brutal death of a Palestinian teenager - thought to be a revenge killing - has stirred up anger in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, which has been reflected in Israeli and Palestinian press commentary.

"While what we have here are the contaminated margins of society, which denounces its criminals and wishes them all the nasty things in the world, at our neighbours the murderers of Jewish babies win admiration, squares are named after them, school books glorify their mission and there is no denunciation, barring the vague: 'We denounce every murder of innocent people'." - Dror Eydar in Israel's Yisrael Hayom

"True, Israel does not go in for the celebration of the commemoration of despicable murderers as national heroes, but this does not say that it itself equally relates to terrorists from both sides. Last week the house of the Hamas man suspected of murdering police officer Baruch Mizrahi was demolished. No one will demolish the houses of the families of the suspects of murdering Abu Khadir, before or after their trial, and no one will suggest closing the religious institutions in which they were educated." - Amos Harel in Israel's Ha'aretz.

"The fanatics who committed the murder were the direct perpetrators. But the question remains: What about the flagrant instigation atmosphere and the frank calls for revenge and killing that were made by Israeli ministers and Knesset members that preceded the murder?" - Editorial in Palestinian Al-Quds.

"The West Bank and its young people are rising up in response to the martyrdom of child Muhammad Abu-Khudayr, who was burnt by settlers while still alive. Had it not been for the security coordination that allowed the settlers to wreak havoc in the land with the PNA's permit, this crime would never have happened." - Isma'il Muhammad Amir in Palestinian Filastin.‎

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A Romney sequel?

Mitt Romney speaks at a conservative convention.

A recent poll that contained some disturbing news for President Barack Obama concerning low approval ratings had a nugget that might provide a smile for his 2012 opponent.

According to a Quinnipiac University survey, 44% of Americans think the country "would be better off than it is today" if Mitt Romney were president today, versus 38% who say the nation would be in worse shape.

These numbers have stoked speculation on whether Mr Romney could be considering another try for the presidency in 2016.

It would be an unusual move, as most defeated candidates in the general election tend to disappear from the national political scene - or at least give up on their presidential aspirations.

Start Quote

Romney, like Nixon, will have a massive legacy infrastructure at his disposal to seize the opportunity”

End Quote Emil Henry Politico Magazine

"Romney recognises well the historical odds against becoming a repeat nominee," writes former Romney campaign lawyer Emil Henry in Politico magazine. "In the film Mitt, which documents his two presidential campaigns, he is captured at a fundraiser making an 'L' on his forehead to depict how a failed nominee becomes 'a loser for life.'"

Henry - a former George W Bush administration treasury department official - argues, however, that Mr Romney's situation is more like that of Richard Nixon, who was defeated by John Kennedy in 1960 only to turn around and win the top job in 1968.

He says both politicians were "mighty warriors" who lacked an easy appeal on television. Nixon shook off his critics, however, and persevered. Could Mr Romney be cut from similar cloth?

There are three factors that could contribute to a Romney resurgence similar to Nixon's, Henry writes. Mr Romney has emerged as the de facto leader of an otherwise rudderless Republican party. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie - two possible competitors - both have political baggage that makes them less appealing, Henry asserts.

This dearth of leadership is matched by a lack of appealing presidential candidates, Henry says. The nomination was wide open for Nixon in 1968, and the same could be said for Mr Romney.

"Romney, like Nixon, will have a massive legacy infrastructure at his disposal to seize the opportunity," he writes. "Impressively, Romney is the only Republican who can roll into any major money centre like New York, Los Angeles or Houston and mobilise his fundraisers on demand, and he is doing so with regularity."

Start Quote

The field of possible 2016 candidates is far more dynamic and in line with the party's emerging identity than the 2012 field”

End Quote Philip Klein The Washington Examiner

Finally, Henry says, Mr Romney is not a career politician. His appeal is that he is a competent executive and manager, which is something Americans could value come 2016.

While Henry isn't alone in speculating on a possible Romney run, other commentators have downplayed his chances.

Henry's piece "reflects the same sort of disillusion thinking that lead many in the Romney camp to argue he would beat President Obama in 2012, despite a flood of polls in key swing states that suggested otherwise," writes the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein.

The difference between Nixon and Mr Romney is Nixon lost a very narrow election to Kennedy, Klein continues.

Mr Romney, on the other hand, was soundly beaten.

Klein also downplays the role Mr Romney plays in the current Republican party, asking: "When was the last time an elected Republican, GOP candidate or conservative activist said to themselves: 'I wonder what Mitt Romney thinks on this issue' before taking a position?"

Commentary Magazine's Seth Mandel writes that Henry is wrong about the state of the Republican presidential field. Although it is fractured, that's a result of its strength, not weakness:

The field of possible 2016 candidates is far more dynamic and in line with the party's emerging identity than the 2012 field. Romney was preferable even to many conservatives over Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. It's doubtful the same would be said for Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Pence or Bobby Jindal.

He says that the recent Quinnipiac poll is reflection of "buyer's remorse" about Mr Obama and not evidence of a groundswell of Romney support.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama shake hands after a debate. Have Mitt Romney's presidential ambitions survived his loss to Barack Obama in 2012?

"Just because they wish someone else had won in 2012 doesn't mean they would prefer Romney to someone who isn't Obama in a future election," he says. "Buyer's remorse doesn't really work that way."

Mr Romney has denied any interest in another campaign, which is exactly why the Romney speculation has gained steam, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes.

"Remember how Al Gore suddenly became a figure of maximum intrigue in the political world just a few years removed from losing an ultra-winnable presidential race in 2000?" he asks. "He did it by making clear he didn't want to run. Works every time."

As soon as Mr Romney throws his hat into the ring, Cillizza argues, all his old critics would emerge - with the added ammunition provided by his failed 2012 campaign.

So what to make of the Romney boomlet? Whether it's because of the field's strength or its weakness, the truth is that there is no heir apparent to the Republican nomination - a situation the party hasn't found itself in for decades.

Until a candidate breaks from the pack, Mr Romney's two key strengths - name recognition and money - are enough to keep his name in play.

Could he be the next Richard Nixon?

If nothing else, it's a remarkable commentary on our political times that "being the next Richard Nixon" has become a mantle any politician might want to claim.

A Dutch plea for US World Cup support

Dutch National Team striker Arjen Robben.

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

Today's must-read

Wall Street Journal executive editor Almar Latour has a message for Americans who are looking for a new team to adopt now that the US side has been knocked out of the World Cup. Give the Netherlands a chance.

First of all, the Dutchman says, the flags of both nations are red, white and blue - so there's no wardrobe change necessary for US fans.

He also says both the US and Holland have fought losing battles against Belgium.

"Granted, ours was in the 1830s while yours was just Tuesday," he writes. "But we both had great defenders who ultimately could not save us from losing."

For the US that is, of course, goalkeeper Tim Howard. The Dutch have naval officer Jan van Speijk, who blew up his ship - and much of his crew, including himself - rather than let it fall into Belgian hands.

His list continues. The Mayflower began its journey to Plymouth Rock from the Netherlands. Several US states seem to be embracing Holland's liberalised drug laws. Most Dutch people speak English.

Even the word "Yankee" likely comes from a Dutch word, he says:

Some say the word stems from "Janke", or little Jan, once a common name in the Netherlands and in New Amsterdam. Others say it derived from "Jan-Kees", a common first name. Either way, if you're a Yankee, you're practically Dutch already.

So, "Hup, Holland, hup", he implores.

The Dutch national team plays its next game on Saturday. Its opponent? Costa Rica, which of course has nothing in common with the US.

Except the same continent. And the same football association. And the same flag colours. And it has the kind of underdog story Americans love.



Has Assad won? - The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has members of the Obama administration debating whether the US must forge an unhappy alliance with President Bashar Assad's Syria, writes the Daily Beast's Josh Rogin.

"Some officials inside the administration are proposing that the drive to remove Assad from power, which Obama announced as US policy in 2012, be set aside," he writes.

The US started down this path when it decided to negotiate with Syria over the destruction of its chemical weapons stocks, Rogin writes.

"The US, Russian, and Syrian governments made a deal last September to destroy Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons - and relied on Damascus to account for and transport those weapons, in effect legitimising his claim to continued power," he says.


A nation of tolerance - Canada's worldwide reputation for tolerance is an "accident of geography and history", writes John Ibbitson.

"It's easier to be tolerant when you don't have millions of people next door, desperate to get in, as the United States and Europe do," he writes.

Thanks to its duel French and English colonial identities, he continues, Canada has a great deal of cultural openness, as well.

"Happy circumstance made Canada the vibrant, cosmopolitan, peaceful, creative and delightful hodge-podge of languages and cultures it has become," he writes. "It's our job to keep it that way."


Product placements in new Transformers film - US audiences have long gotten used to seeing commercial items prominently promoted in Hollywood films. As Economic Observer's Tong Mu notes, however, the latest Transformers film features an unprecedented number of Chinese products on display.

"This is naturally very understandable - implanting 'Chinese elements' is the trend these days to cater to a booming audience for foreign films in China," he writes (translated by WorldCrunch). "More than 10 Chinese brands are highlighted in this movie including liquor, milk, bottled water, cars, television sets and bank cards."

China is the world's second-largest film market, Mu notes, and its Chinese appeal has helped Transformers 4 exceed $300m (£175m) in global ticket sales so far.


War in Waziristan - The Pakistan army's recent incursion into the lawless territory of the North Waziristan Tribal Agency "risks spreading the terrorist threat to other parts of Pakistan", writes former Pakistan Finance Minister Shahid Javed Burki for Project Syndicate.

The violence could even spread to the Pakistan capital Karachi, he warns, as waves of refugees head south.

"They will be in no mood to lay down their arms if the municipal authorities fail to develop inclusive political institutions that give minority ethnic groups a fair political voice," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russia commentators react to the resumption of fighting in Ukraine after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko suspends his nation's unilateral ceasefire.

"The political manoeuvres of the Ukrainian president smell of madness. But this madness has its own stern logic... EU politicians felt uncomfortable to sign the association agreement with Ukraine to the sound of artillery." - Mikhail Rostovskiy in Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

"In effect, the ceasefire from the very start was doomed to failure because it ran counter to the fundamental interests of the Kiev authorities." - Dmitriy Kamyshev in Vedomosti.

"Bloodshed must be stopped immediately, however difficult it may be from the military and political points of view for all the sides in the conflict. It is necessary to move from optional consultations to serious and responsible talks on a peaceful settlement. " - Editorial in Novaya Gazeta.‎

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John Kerry's football diplomacy

US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The World Cup is over, as far as the US is concerned. But in the game of international diplomacy, team America is still struggling to stay alive.

The lines between the World Cup and diplomacy have always been blurry.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post about the need to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, as the 20 July deadline to reach a final agreement rapidly draws near.

Start Quote

Everybody's got a team they follow passionately. So it is a universal language in many ways.”

End Quote John Kerry via Sports Illustrated

Perhaps with sport on his mind, he wrote: "There may be pressure to put more time on the clock."

The metaphor wasn't lost on former Israeli diplomat Lenny Ben-David, who tweeted: "Yeah, in World Cup soccer, putting more time on the clock is called 'injury time'. Fitting application?"

Sources have told the BBC that talks in Vienna will most likely continue past the deadline. The interim deal reached on 24 November, 2013 has a clause that allows for a six-month extension. In other words, to the football diplomacy commentators on Twitter, we're heading for stoppage time.

All this sport talk drives home the point that football is far from an apolitical game.

Knowledge of football is practically a requirement for Kerry, America's chief diplomat. He keeps a ball onboard his plane as he criss-crosses the globe, kicking it around at fuel stops.

"Leaders all over the world are up on [the World Cup]," Kerry said in an interview with Sports Illustrated this week. "Everybody's got a team they follow passionately. So [sport] is a universal language in many ways. And it depends where you are and what sport it is, but almost everywhere soccer qualifies."

The power of sport should not be undervalued as a relationship-building tool, he says.

"It's a way to communicate with people, one way or the other. Breaks down the barriers, proves commonality, takes away any of the sense of 'We're different' or 'You're different' and makes people the same with the same common passions. It's a very strong language."

The football pitch has long been analysed as a diplomatic battleground, notably in regard to US-Iran relations. In the 1998 World Cup in France, the two countries faced off.

"I think all of us know the implications of this game," US forward Eric Wynalda said to the Washington Post before the match.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for soccer to bring two nations together," he added. "There have been obvious political differences between the two countries, but we as diplomats of sport can go out there and show there are more important things - like human relations."

The US fell to Iran 2-1, but the game made the front page of papers across America, a nation normally known for its football apathy.

"We did more in 90 minutes than the politicians did in 20 years," said US defender Jeff Agoos said.

World Cup 2014 has been exceptional in a number of ways - from the big upsets to the Oscar-worthy dives. Almost every game in the round of 16 has gone into extra time.

As we've seen in the World Cup, extra time ups the ante - it's where the magic happens and the real goals are made.

Unlike World Cup competition, however, politics and diplomacy can have a win-win outcome. A golden goal in soccer is not sudden death to diplomacy. And both sides have a common sentiment: no one wants to end with penalties.

Blackwater official threatens murder

Blackwater employees in a helicopter over Iraq in February 2005

On Monday New York Times reporter James Risen published a 2,000-word article on Blackwater Worldwide, a private security company that received more than a billion dollars in government contracts to provide protection to US personnel in Iraq.

He paints a portrait of a company whose employees, from the top down, considered themselves above the law - engaging in reckless, threatening behaviour with a disregard for written procedures and civilian safety.

Although Blackwater has since been sold, renamed and merged with a competitor, the company's actions during the US occupation of Iraq have been in the news lately, as four employees are standing trial in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square on 16 September, 2007.

Start Quote

Mr Carroll said 'that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq'”

End Quote Jean C Richter US state department investigator

Risen's article was based on a report written by a US state department investigator sent to Iraq several weeks before the Baghdad incident to look into allegations of abuses and reckless behaviour by Blackwater guards.

According to Risen, the investigators observed numerous violation of government rules, including reducing the number of guards assigned to missions, storing weapons in unsafe locations, using unauthorised firearms, poorly maintained vehicles, providing poor work conditions for foreign contract workers, drinking heavily and "partying with frequent female visitors".

On 21 August, 2007, the two state department investigators - Jean C Richter and Donald Thomas Jr - met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater's Iraq project manager, and a US embassy official to discuss their findings.

The meeting turned acrimonious. Mr Richter described what happened next:

Mr Carroll said "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq," Mr Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.

"Mr Carroll's statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine," Mr Richter stated in his memo. "I took Mr Carroll's threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract."

Former Blackwater Worldwide employee  Nicholas Slatten gets out of a car outside a Washington, DC courthouse Nicholas Slatten is one of four Blackwater former employees accused of killing Iraqi civilians in 2007

Following the confrontation, US embassy officials ordered Mr Richter and Mr Thomas to return to the US and terminated their investigation:

On Aug. 23, Ricardo Colon, the acting regional security officer at the embassy, wrote in an email that Mr Richter and Mr Thomas had become "unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel."

In his article, Risen details Blackwater's history and rise to prominence as a company founded by former US Navy Seal Erik Prince.

Mr Prince, Risen writes, contributed to a company culture characterised by hubris and a disregard of authority. At one point, he says, the Blackwater founder ordered his employees to take an "oath of allegiance" to the company.

The response to Risen's article has been one of outrage and amazement.

"Blackwater operated during the Iraq War with a sense that they were untouchable because - well, because they were," writes the Daily Beast's Tim Mak.

Start Quote

These swaggering, heavily armed goons were disturbingly reminiscent of colonial police forces”

End Quote Ryan Cooper The Week

MSNBC's Steve Benen is incredulous:

The state department wanted to get a better sense of Blackwater's operations in Iraq, which led a Blackwater manager to not only resist but to actually threaten the life of a State Department investigator - and the US Embassy sided with Blackwater?

"It's a scene that sounds like it was written for a corny TV show about war," writes Vanity Fair's Kia Makarechi.

The Week's Ryan Cooper says the Blackwater allegations are just another example of the "drunken colonialism" that typified the US experience in Iraq.

"These swaggering, heavily armed goons were disturbingly reminiscent of colonial police forces," he writes.

The US-run Coalition Provisional Authority was like a colonial government, he said, and the occupying forces played rival militias off each other in a strategy that was "straight out of the colonial handbook".

He concludes:

Of course, the war in Iraq wasn't intended as a colonialist project. But the lesson here is that any effort to rule another nation by force, no matter how noble those intentions might be, will increasingly develop a colonialist character. And like many a colonialist effort, the invasion of Iraq was doomed from the start.

As Vox's Dara Lind writes, Blackwater's operations in Iraq, and the Nisour Square shootings in particular, cast a dark shadow on negotiations over a status of forces agreement for maintaining a US troop presence in Iraq as it began to withdraw the bulk of its forces.

The four employees accused of killing Iraqi civilians were granted immunity from Iraqi law - and the Iraq government wanted to rescind that privilege for any remaining US soldiers.

"That's particularly relevant today, as the Iraqi government is struggling to fight an insurgency led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis)," she writes.

Corporations 'are (religious) people too'

Pro-life protestors celebrate the Hobby Lobby decision outside the Supreme Court on 30 June, 2014

Conservatives loved it but thought it could have been better, while liberals hated it but admitted it could have been worse.

Such was the gist of the reaction to the US Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision to grant companies owned by families or small groups an exemption to the federal requirement that they provide insurance with free contraceptive care to their employees.

"Americans don't surrender their freedom by opening a family business," Alliance Defending Freedom's David Cortman said. "In its decision today, the Supreme Court affirmed that all Americans, including family business owners, must be free to live and work consistently with their beliefs without fear of punishment by the government."

Meanwhile, Debra L Ness of National Partnership for Women & Families took the opposite view:

Today's US Supreme Court rulings in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. cases are deeply troubling - even shocking, in that the Court is allowing some bosses to deny women coverage for something as basic as birth control.

Start Quote

At a time when we should be putting more checks and balances in place for corporate America, the Supreme Court is loosening the reins”

End Quote Sally Kohn The Daily Beast

Several commentators have latched on to a key portion of the decision - construing corporations as "people" under the definition of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The law, passed in 1993, requires the government to have a "compelling interest" when enacting laws that "substantially burden" a person's free exercise of religion.

The court, in effect, ruled that corporations are indeed covered by the RFRA and - in regards to "closely held" corporations, at least - the contraception mandate was a substantial burden.

The Daily Beast's Sally Kohn says the court's decision reflects the latest in a series of cases in which a majority of the justices give "more and more power and privilege to already powerful and privileged corporations".

"At a time when we should be putting more checks and balances in place for corporate America, the Supreme Court is loosening the reins," she writes.

Bloomberg View's Noah Feldman notes that just because the court ruled that closely held corporations could have religious beliefs, that doesn't apply to all corporations.

"It was a much easier case to make that closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby are in essence proxies for their owners - and the precedent from today stretches no further," he writes.

Of course, as the financial website Inc. writes, more than 90% of US businesses qualify as closely held. They also employ 52% of US workers.

Start Quote

Complying with the contraception requirement would have violated the religious beliefs of the individuals in the small family that owns Hobby Lobby”

End Quote Peter Suderman Reason magazine

Reason magazine's Peter Suderman, on the other hand, says the court's decision isn't about corporations, it's about the religious beliefs of people who found them.

"It's pretty clear that complying with the contraception requirement would have violated the religious beliefs of the individuals in the small family that owns Hobby Lobby," he writes.

Now the Obama administration will have to decide how - or whether - to provide contraceptive coverage to the employees whose companies choose to exercise the religious exemption. In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that the government could have the insurance companies themselves cover the costs - a model similar to a government-constructed workaround offered for religious-affiliated nonprofits.

The New Republic's Danny Vinik says that while such a solution may be a way out for supporters of the contraception mandate, there are some problems with this option. Insurance companies could balk at the additional costs, and the owners of for-profit companies could voice similar objections as some of their non-profit counterparts.

"Insurers, they argue, will just increase premiums in order to cover the free contraception, meaning that the religious institutions will be effectively paying for contraceptive coverage anyways," he writes.

Then there is the political fallout from the decision.

Salon's Jim Newell says that while today's ruling may be a boost for conservatives, it could come back to haunt them in the midterm congressional elections in November.

"The battle over access to women's health care, with Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a 'slut' being its avatar, has proven to have remarkable political resonance in turning out the vote against 'social conservatives'," he writes.

The Federalists' Ben Domenech writes that this ruling shows that the "culture wars" in the US are just getting started.

The Hobby Lobby decision, he says, did nothing to staunch the liberal drive to impose their views via government policies.

"We've moved from a point where corporations providing benefits to employees was considered a good thing to a point where corporations which provide some benefits but not all must be made to suffer," he writes.

Internet billionaire: Revolution is coming

An Occupy Wall Street protestor holds up a sign that reads, "99% will rule".

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

Today's must-read

Nick Hanauer, internet entrepreneur, has a message for his fellow "zillionaires": the revolution is coming.

Mr Hanauer, an early investor in internet retail giant Amazon, says like many of his fellow one-percenters, he owns his own yacht, multiple homes and private jet. He says he acquired all his wealth by seeing the potential of the internet and acting on it.

Now, he writes in Politico magazine, he sees a different kind of future, and the outlook for people like him is not a bright one:

If we don't do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn't eventually come out.

Do you think the US is special or different, he asks. You're wrong. No nation is immune, he says - just ask the Russian tsars or the French aristocracy.

Things are going to change, he says, and when they do it will happen quickly - but it doesn't have to be this way.

Mr Hanauer endorses what he calls "middle-out" economics. He advocates raising the minimum wage and endorses Seattle's recent move to raise the lowest hourly wage for an employee in the city jurisdiction to $15 (£8.80).

By paying Americans a "living wage", he writes, it will relieve some of the burden on the federal government to provide programs like food stamps, rent assistance and medical-care subsidies. That will help conservatives get their wish of trimming government spending.

He concludes that while the public is starting to view the capitalist system as broken, it can still work as long as it is regulated.

"It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term," he writes. "The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter."

Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance thinks Mr Hanauer is getting a bit too worked up, however.

"The rich ought to chill out," he writes. "While the masses may envy their wealth, there's no evidence of a revolution brewing, or even a well-behaved civil disturbance."

He agrees that Mr Hanauer has identified some disturbing trends and that steps should be taken to address income inequality.

"It's nearly inevitable there will be government spending cuts and, yes, tax hikes, when the government's finances become unsustainable, which could take a decade or more," he says. "When it happens, the politicians in Washington will find ways to spread the pain around, and America will muddle through."

Pitchforks or muddling. It seems these are the choices.


Sympathy for Saddam - Although Iraqi political groups continue to pressure Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to step down, replacing him will not necessarily bring change to Iraq, writes Hussain Abdul-Hussain for Now.

"Whether through American military power, a la Iraq, or through popular revolts such as those in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, the removal of dictators shakes things up," he says. He argues that democracy rarely prevails in post-dictatorial states.

In hindsight, Abdul-Hussain contends that rulers like Saddam Hussein and even Mr Maliki are not anomalies, but are products of society, its ethics and expectations. In that light, he writes that the ouster and killing of Hussein did little to bring democracy or stability to the region.

Abdul-Hussain argues that to create real change, solutions must be developed from the bottom up. "People who oversee solutions should have a deep understanding of the socio-economic constructs of Arab societies and an awareness of their histories," he concludes.

United Kingdom

Standing in the face of defeat - Despite his opposition to the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has affirmed that he "will now work with him".

"When we encounter setbacks, we don't throw in the towel: we redouble our resolve," Mr Cameron penned in an opinion piece for the Telegraph. "The task of reforming Europe and securing Britain's place in a reformed Europe was always going to be a long and tough campaign - and this is just one battle in that campaign."

Mr Cameron had contended that rather than the European Parliament, the European Council, which is composed of elected heads of states, should have selected the candidates for the commission, as was done in the past.

"There was no need to depart from that practice this time, even if the relevant treaties permitted a majority vote," he writes. "The approach I took wasn't just my position, or a Conservative position - it was, and is, a British position, shared by Labour and the Liberal Democrats."


Jordan and the Isis threat - As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) continues to gain control of the northern territory of Iraq and the surrounding region, Jordan's military and special operations forces have been able to stop the militant group's advance so far, writes Theodore Karasik of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis for Al Arabiya.

"There were concerns that Isis' momentum, plus sleeper cells and admirers of the terrorist group in eastern Jordan, would help to create a back door for the fighters to slip into the country," Mr Karasik says.

But in recent weeks, he writes, Jordan has increased its military strength along its borders and in Iraq. The government is also preparing a "counter-narrative campaign", with powerful domestic clerics. "These men will need to be watched carefully by all for what they say next to counter Isis' discourse," he concludes.


Russian opposition to fracking - Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently said that Russia is backing anti-fracking movements throughout the continent in an attempt to reinforce its energy eminence in Europe.

Keith Johnson for Foreign Policy magazine agrees, writing:

It is part of Russia's broader use of soft power and covert means to complement its more overt efforts to reassert influence in Europe and keep countries there from developing alternatives to an energy addiction worth $100m [£58.5m] a day to Moscow.

According to Johnson, if fracking in Europe were to increase, it could boost the continent's energy independence, weakening its reliance on Russian gas.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Regional commentators respond to President Barack Obama's request for $500m (£294m) to support "moderate" rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad's government in the Syrian civil war.

"This is at the moment the whole contribution the president is willing to make to demonstrate that he is clinging to the policy of toppling Assad - no military intervention, no no-fly zones and no anti-aircraft weapons." - Zvi Barel in Israel's Ha'aretz.

"Allocating $500m to aid terrorists in Syria shows that the Syrian people are under direct US attack, especially when America's lackeys in the region have given terrorists who claim to be the opposition in Syria tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars, to burn all the values held dear by Syrian citizens and to destroy everything Syrians have built over the past decades." - Muhi al-Din al-Muhammad in Syria's Tishrin.

"The only way to deal with terrorist groups that have flourished in a climate of chaos is through the use of force, and that primarily requires the presence of powers ready to use force in the right manner, focusing on one enemy instead of fighting various groups. Such is the case of the Free [Syrian] Army in Syria, viewed as moderate opposition by the US administration." - Editorial in Saudi Arabia's Al-Watan.‎

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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