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Echo Chambers
16 September 2014 Last updated at 20:16 ET

The growing outcry over police confiscation

A police officer in front of his car door.

Ming Tong Liu had a suitcase with $75,195 (£46,000) he was going to use to buy a restaurant. For Mandrel Stuart it was $17,550 in proceeds from a barbecue restaurant. Benjamin Molina was going to use $18,000 to buy a car. Jose Jeronimo Sorto had $28,500 in church funds for a land purchase in El Salvador and a new trailer in North Carolina.

Each of these men was driving in the US with sizable amounts of cash when they were pulled over by police for minor traffic infractions. Mr Liu, for instance, was going 10 miles over the speed limit. Mr Stuart's car's windows were too dark.

Each of these men had the money in their possession confiscated by police despite not being charged with a crime. It was enough that the officers suspected the money was tied to an illegal activity.

Start Quote

If your find yourself embroiled in a forfeiture case and you can't afford a lawyer, you have no recourse”

End Quote Editorial The Deseret News

It's a process called civil forfeiture, and it is the subject of a recent three-part series in the Washington Post, which looked at these four cases and hundreds of others in which law enforcement confiscated property based solely on reasonable suspicion. The owners are then presented with an often long, difficult legal process to go about reclaiming what was taken.

The numbers, the Post reports, are truly astounding. In 2012 around $4.6bn (£2.8bn) in cash and property were confiscated. The practice has prompted a closet industry of businesses with names like Desert Snow that specialise in advising law enforcement on how to most effectively conduct roadside seizures.

Although drawn from British admiralty law, where ships could be confiscated to pay for damages, civil forfeiture in the US only really became an issue in the last 30 years as the government ramped up its efforts to combat drug trafficking.

Federal law, as well as the laws in 42 states, was written to allow law enforcement to confiscate property - cars, planes, houses, businesses, currency - suspected to be tied to illegal activity. They could then use the assets for… well, pretty much whatever they want.

According to the Institute for Justice, which is leading a class-action suit against the city of Philadelphia's forfeiture programme, police have used the money for "better equipment, nicer offices, newer vehicles, trips to law enforcement conventions and even police salaries, bonuses or overtime pay".

It creates a perverse incentive, they say, for law enforcement to confiscate first and ask questions later.

"This pecuniary interest and the other advantages granted to the government under civil forfeiture laws have distorted law enforcement priorities, altered officer and prosecutor behaviour and led to a number of police and prosecutorial abuses," writes Scott Bullock in the foreword of the institute's 2010 report on the practice, Policing for Profit.

Start Quote

From a political standpoint there's something for everyone to hate about the practise”

End Quote Christopher Ingraham The Washington Post

Civil forfeiture law is based on the premise that inanimate objects can be held responsible for crimes. A robbery getaway car, for example, can be confiscated by the government even if the perpetrators are never caught or even identified.

As the Deseret News editors note, this leads to "strange cases with titles like 'State of Texas v one 2004 Chevrolet Silverado'".

The legal standards in cases like these is substantially less stringent, as well. An individual can be criminally convicted only if guilt is proven "beyond a reasonable doubt". For a piece of property all that is required is a "preponderance of the evidence".

More than that, however, the burden of proof lies with the owner, not the government. Once the government has confiscated property, it's up to the individual to convince a court to give it back - often requiring time and costly legal representation to successfully do so.

"If your find yourself embroiled in a forfeiture case and you can't afford a lawyer, you have no recourse," the Deseret News editors write. "You're also very likely to lose."

According to the Post's report, only one-sixth of seizures studied since 2001 were challenged in court:

"In 41 percent of cases- 4,455 - where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40% of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures."

The federal government also often teams up with state law enforcement through a process called equitable sharing. Local police use federal law to confiscate property, then they give 20% of the proceeds to the federal government and keep the rest for themselves.

Start Quote

We should not accept a system in which Americans must live in fear that their property could be seized by those whose chief mission should be to serve and protect”

End Quote Tim Walberg US Congressman

Government officials have a decidedly different view, of course.

George D Mosee Jr, Philadelphia's deputy district attorney, tells Slate's David Weigel that critics don't think of the crime that's prevented through the civil forfeiture process.

"Pimps who could have climbed back into their cars watched those cars be sold off," Weigel writes. "Drug dealers who otherwise could have re-established home bases were deprived of them."

"One of the things I've heard is that they believe that these are victimless crimes," Mosee tells Weigel.

"I would point out that there are always victims. They are just not readily identifiable victims. If you live next door to a crack house, or a house that's being used as a weed store, then they're victims."

But stories about civil forfeiture have been popping up in the mainstream media for years now. In August 2013, the New Yorker's Sarah Stillman wrote an 11,000-word article with its own collection of angry, frustrated citizens who were battling the government for return of the property and money.

She interviewed an elderly couple in West Philadelphia who were threatened with eviction from their home because their son made several $20 drug sales to a police informant from their front porch.

What's different now, however, is that a growing chorus from both the left and the libertarian right are calling for change.

"With the generally pro-government power Washington Post and the consistently pro-liberty Institute for Justice both attacking civil asset forfeiture, perhaps we're at a turning point," writes George Leef in Forbes.

Following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, libertarians and liberals expressed outrage at what they saw as an overly militarised police force abusing protestors. It's this sort of across-the-political-divide criticism that some view as sowing the seeds of change.

"From a political standpoint there's something for everyone to hate about the practice," writes the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham. "Liberals note that it disproportionately affects poor and minority citizens, while conservatives are inclined to see it as a gross overreach of state power."

In late July Congress began considering efforts to reform forfeiture laws by requiring the government to prove a greater connection between property and a crime and proof that the owner knew the property was being used for criminal activity.

"Our constitutional framework emphasizes the need to uphold individual rights above all," Michigan congressman Tim Walberg, the House of Representative bill's author, writes in the Washington Post. "We should not accept a system in which Americans must live in fear that their property could be seized by those whose chief mission should be to serve and protect."

Growing public awareness and media criticism of the practice may not translate into legislative action, however. As with previous efforts, the bills will face strong opposition from law-enforcement groups, the Post reports. The website Govtrack.us gives Mr Walberg's measure only a 2% chance of being enacted.

With asset forfeiture the old saying is particularly true. Follow the money.


Here comes Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

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

Today's must-read

It's looking increasingly likely that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is going to seek the Republican presidential nomination, writes the Washington Examiner's Byron York. And if polls in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses, are any indication, he should be considered an early favourite.

"Few frontrunners choose not to run," York writes. "And when Huckabee, not yet a candidate and officially undecided, invited a group of reporters to meet with him at a hotel outside Washington Monday, he certainly looked like a man preparing to jump into the race."

York recounts how Mr Huckabee spent an inordinate amount of time talking about foreign affairs in general and Israel in specific - criticising President Barack Obama's handling of the Middle East.

"The conversation wasn't a tour d'horizon of foreign policy, but it was clear Huckabee has been studying up - for a former governor steeped in domestic policy, often a sign of an impending run," he says.

Since his 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination, in which he finished second to John McCain, Mr Huckabee has spent most of his time as a popular television host and commentator. The visibility, and financial war chest, that his media enterprises have provided, York says, would give him the ability to launch a serious candidacy.

National Journal's Ron Fournier agrees with York's take on Huckabee's ambitions. He asked the former governor why 2016 would be different from the last time he ran.

"He's not a creature of Washington and he is a favourite of social conservatives, a preacher-turned-politician who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 before running out of steam," Fournier writes. "Should he choose to run in 2016, Huckabee said the path would be easier. He is better-known, battle tested and already drawing the interest of major donors."

Name recognition, money and experience running in the harsh spotlight of a national campaign - those are the types of attributes that in the past have chalked up delegates and secured presidential nominations.

Scotland

Bitcoin could be a virtual national currency - In the lead up to Thursday's Scottish referendum, some critics have worried that the fledgling nation would not risk economic ruin without a reliable currency.

Those who see the choices as staying with the pound, adopting the euro or creating a weak new currency are missing a fourth option, writes Ben Myers of Investing.com - Bitcoin.

"The exciting prospect of Scotland adopting Bitcoin would leapfrog its financial system ahead of other developed nations and increase the credibility and adoption rate of Bitcoin," he argues.

The Scottish have experimented with alternative currencies in the past, he notes, as in the 18th and 19th centuries some of the region's banks issued their own legal tender that circulated alongside the pound.

Rwanda

The legacy of 9/11 - The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, were a wake-up call for the US, writes Kenneth Agutamba for the New Times, but many African nations had been confronting terrorism for years.

Although the 9/11 attacks were tragic, Agutamba continues, they changed the West's perspective and brought greater support for African nations battling militants.

"When a problem affects the US, it receives international prominence, and that's how terrorism became a global problem," he writes.

Thanks to Western support, he concludes, popular Rwandan President Paul Kagame is able to make good on his promise to "go after any fellow, anywhere, who attempts to hurt Rwandans and destabilise Rwanda".

Venezuela

An undeserved UN Security Council seat - According to an Associated Press report, the Latin American and Caribbean nations in the UN have agreed to elect Venezuela as their representative to the UN Security Council.

According to Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas, following through with this decision would be a serious mistake.

Venezuela, he writes for US News & World Report, "has failed to meet the most basic conditions for membership including the institutional and political capacity to establish the essential national consensus to pursue Security Council decisions, the economic capacity to pursue and support council commitments and the political will and capacity to implement its decisions, which presumably include the protection of human rights".

Sweden

The rise of the far right - In Sweden's recent national elections, the right-wing anti-immigration Sweden Democrats garnered a surprising 13% of the vote, preventing any of the traditional power blocs from having enough seats to form a governing coalition.

The rise of the Sweden Democrats, writes University of Colorado Nordic studies Prof Benjamin R Teitelbaum, is a "nightmare for a vast majority of Swedes, who see their cherished reputation for civilised politics challenged by the nativism of the far right and an increasing tendency on the far left to fight back with vicious personal attacks and a measure of violence".

As tensions between the far-right party and their opponents grow, he writes in the New York Times, the values that Swedes have long treasured - "their homogeneity, egalitarianism and tolerance" - are at risk.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Global commentators offer their take on the upcoming Scottish independence referendum.

"The Scottish referendum has reflected the unravelling of the West's unifying ability. The rise of new countries is slowly changing the West's sense of superiority, and this may damage the foundation of the West's social stability." - Editorial in China's Huanqiu Shibao.

"UK Prime Minister David Cameron can expect one of two things: The first option is that Scotland becomes independent, in which case Mr Cameron's political death will be at hand. If the second option - the continuation of England and Scotland's union - is chosen, Mr Cameron will be chided over the spending in recent months on various English parties [supporting union between England and Scotland]." - Commentary by Alireza Sadeqi in Iran's Resalat.

"The people of Scotland will on Thursday conduct a referendum that would determine the political fate of their country. If the result of the voting is the independence of Scotland then that would be a major historic event by all means, not only in Britain alone but in Europe and the world." - Editorial in Pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi.‎

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


Parenting, punishment and abuse

NFL running back Adrian Peterson

The initial reaction to the news that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had been indicted on child abuse charges was that it was the latest in a string of public relations disasters for the National Football League.

There's a key difference between how discussions are forming over the Peterson episode and the video-recorded elevator fight in which running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee, knocking her unconscious.

Once the Rice video was leaked no one - quite understandably - stepped forward to defend his actions. The Peterson story, in which the player is accused of punishing his four-year-old boy by hitting him with a thin tree branch, is fuelling an ongoing debate over when, or whether, it's permissible to use physical punishment as part of child-rearing.

Start Quote

What's child abuse in 2014 was normal in the 80s where I grew up and also with people in my age range”

End Quote Donte Stallworth Former NFL player

In that way it's become more like the discussion over changing standards of parenting - a mirror image of the "good old days" reminiscences of unsupervised children playing in parks and walking alone to the neighbourhood store.

Back in those halcyon days of youthful freedom, children were also spanked. And hit. And sometimes beaten with belts and sticks.

As the Peterson story indicates, however, those days aren't exactly gone. While studies indicate that corporal punishment for children in the US is declining, a 1995 Gallup survey found 50% of US parents still spank at least once a month, 20% still hit their children with a "hard object" and 5% slapped their children on the face.

A 2014 University of Michigan study found that 30% of US 1-year-olds had been spanked at least once.

It is legal in every US state for a parent to hit a child as long as it is "reasonable" - a definition that can vary based on community standards. Texas, the state in which the Peterson incident took place, has guidelines that advise "a blow that causes a red mark that fades in an hour" is likely not abusive, while more lasting injuries might be judged so.

During investigation of the May incident that left Peterson's son with cuts and welts along his legs, buttocks and genitals, Peterson reportedly told police that the "whooping" he administered was similar to ones he received as a child.

According to the police report Peterson later texted the child's mother: "All my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don't play no games when it comes to acting right."

The police report also said that the child had told the officers he had been hit by a belt in the past and that Peterson "has a whooping room".

As news spread, fellow NFL players tweeted that they had similar childhood experiences.

Start Quote

Kids can't protect themselves, and most adults can't control themselves when they get frustrated and angry”

End Quote Mel Robbins CNN.com

"When I was kid I got so many whoopins I can't even count!" New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram tweeted. "I love both my parents, they just wanted me to be the best human possible!"

"What's child abuse in 2014 was normal in the 80s where I grew up and also with people in my age range," tweeted retired player Donte Stallworth.

Outspoken former professional basketball star Charles Barkley also came to Peterson's defence.

"I'm from the South," he said during CBS's NFL pregame show. "Whipping - we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances."

He continued: "I think we have to really be careful trying to teach other parents how to discipline their kids. That's a very fine line."

Yahoo Sports's Kelly Dwyer writes that Mr Barkley's "fine line" is bunk.

A Minnesota Vikings fan carries a stick before their game on Sunday. A Minnesota Vikings fan wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey holds a stick before her team's game on Sunday

"Charles Barkley just excused beating a child because his version of the American South had a lot of it when he was growing up in the 1960s," he writes.

Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason agrees.

"I think Adrian Peterson is in a well of trouble, and I think he should pay a significant price," he said in a radio interview Monday morning. "I don't give a damn how he grew up."

CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins writes that the "cultural excuse is appalling":

Start Quote

For some folks, the very act of questioning black parenting triggers concerns about racism”

End Quote Khadijah Costley White The Atlantic

"Let's just carry that to a logical conclusion. There was a culture of slavery and racial segregation in the South; does that mean we should carry it on now? Of course not. There's a culture of rape in India right now; does that mean it's OK to carry it on? Of course not."

She says violence against children should be illegal across the board.

"Kids can't protect themselves, and most adults can't control themselves when they get frustrated and angry," she writes.

In the Atlantic, Khadijah White worries that the discussion of a "culture" that's permissive of corporal punishment is becoming racially tinged. Peterson is black - as are most of the players defending him. Many of Peterson's critics - including the ones previously cited - are white. Studies have found that black parents are more likely to spank their children.

"For some folks, the very act of questioning black parenting triggers concerns about racism," she writes. "And for good reason. The absolute devastation of the black family during slavery shaped the very definition of freedom around the ability to raise one's own children."

It will be a travesty if Peterson becomes the symbol of "black male oppression", White writes.

"The black community is more than black men; violence is not love," she concludes. "And if you think the media coverage of men like Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson make black people look bad, then just think what it looks like when you defend and justify their abuse."

On Monday morning the Minnesota Vikings announced that Peterson, who had been sidelined for the team's game on Sunday, would be reinstated immediately and allowed to practise and play with the team going forward. The league says it's still reviewing the case.

"To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child," the team stated in a press release announcing the decision. "At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action."

On Monday afternoon, Peterson also released a statement, which read, in part:

"I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury. No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that's what I tried to do that day."

When Ray Rice hit his fiancee, he received a two-game suspension - later extended indefinitely following public outcry. Adrian Peterson hits his son with a tree branch - and is arrested for it - and he sits out one game.

One game, even though the NFL is under a harsh spotlight given recent high-profile domestic abuse cases.

Draw your own conclusions.


An airborne Ebola nightmare scenario

A public health worker in Liberia disinfects a courtyard as villagers watch.

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

Today's must-read

Virologists may not be publicly talking about the possibility that the Ebola virus could someday mutate into an airborne strain, writes Michael T Osterholm in the New York Times, but it's something they are "definitely considering in private".

The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota says that the virus - which currently can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids - has proven to be "notoriously sloppy in replicating", which increases the chances that it could turn into something more contagious.

"Why are public officials afraid to discuss this?" he asks. "They don't want to be accused of screaming 'fire!' in a crowded theatre - as I'm sure some will accuse me of doing. But the risk is real, and until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic."

The second disturbing scenario he envisions is if the Ebola virus is brought to a more densely populated area of the world, where it would be more difficult to contain.

According to the World Health Organisation, the virus has already infected almost 4,800 people and killed around 2,400. It is now predicting that more than 20,000 may contract the virus before the current outbreak is over.

"What happens when an infected person yet to become ill travels by plane to Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa or Mogadishu - or even Karachi, Jakarta, Mexico City or Dhaka?" he asks. The more people who get infected, he says, the greater the opportunities for mutation.

"The current Ebola virus' hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1,000 years," he writes.

To prevent this, Osterholm says, the United Nations should be put in charge of overseeing containment of the outbreak by managing air supply chains, providing hospital beds and training medical staff.

Waiting for a vaccine isn't a realistic solution, he concludes. By the time one is developed, the disease could be in "our own backyards".

Although Osterholm paints a dark picture - and it's not the first time he's taken to a major daily newspaper to do so - other public health professionals are unconvinced. Scott Gottlieb, former deputy director of the US Food and Drug Administration, writes in Forbes that it is very unlikely that the Ebola virus would ever mutate into an airborne version.

"It would be unusual for a virus to transform in a way that changes its mode of infection," he writes. "Of the 23 known viruses that cause serious disease in man, none are known to have mutated in ways that changed how they infect humans."

Tara C Smith, writing for ScienceBlogs, says that diseases similar to Ebola have already appeared in the US and have been easily controlled. She adds that she is much more concerned with "ordinary" viruses like influenza and measles.

"Ebola is exotic and its symptoms can be terrifying, but also much easier to contain by people who know their stuff," she concludes.

In 2005 Wendy Orent, writing in the New Republic, called Osterholm a "doomsayer" who has been on the "disease and terrorism circuit" for decades, warning of impending dangers like smallpox, mosquito-borne viruses and swine flu.

So is Osterholm's op-ed a "clarion call to action" or nothing but "fearmongering", as one molecular virologist called it on Twitter?

If it's the former, we've been warned. If it's the latter, then it's fearmongering on some prime real estate - the opinion pages of the New York Times.

Spain

Scottish secession a cause for concern - Catalonian separatists are watching the upcoming vote on Scottish secession from the UK very closely. Bloomberg View's Mark Gilbert says that the independence-minded Spanish region could be home to the next significant European separatist drive.

Gilbert says the recent nosedive in the Spanish and Catalonian bond prices are an indication that investors are taking seriously the recent demonstrations in Barcelona to force a vote on independence.

"The momentum in Scotland for freedom has taken both politicians and investors by surprise and, in Spain, the former would do well to heed the moves being made by the latter," Gilbert concludes.

Russia

Punishing sanctions threaten global stability - If Western nations go too far in trying to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine, writes Nobel prize-winning economist Robert J Shiller, it could push Europe and possibly the entire world into another recession.

Given that the global economy is just starting to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis, such a development would be extremely concerning, he writes for Project Syndicate.

He compares the current mood around the world to that of 1937, when people had been "disappointed for a long time" and had little hope for the future. It was this instability, he says, that led to World War Two.

"It would be highly desirable to come to an agreement to end the sanctions; to integrate Russia (and Ukraine) more fully into the world economy; and to couple these steps with expansionary economic policies," he concludes.

Saudi Arabia

IS is a monster made by the Arab world - Why aren't nations like Saudi Arabia doing more to stop the spread of the Islamic State (IS), asks Le Monde's Alain Frachon (translated by WorldCrunch). He says it's because all the Middle East players are more preoccupied with the Sunni-Shiite regional power struggle.

"In that fight, anything goes, including fomenting an extremist Sunni movement," he writes. "In their battle against the Shia, Islam's majorities have fueled Sunni extremism."

While Saudi Arabian leaders acknowledge that the rise of IS is a concern, they are also worried that a direct attack on the insurgents could anger their own people.

"The 'Arab streets' are receptive to the jihadists' message, a fatal attraction that the Arab regimes fight openly at their peril," he writes.

Palestinian Authority

Back to the UN - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is once again pledging to ask the United Nations to recognise Palestinian statehood. But trying to do so now, cautions Rami G Khouri in Bloomberg View, will likely get him "laughed out of any room he entered".

The reality, Khouri writes, is that Mr Abbas needs to reach a resolution with Hamas leaders and unite the Palestinian people, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and around the world, before moving forward.

"This can only be achieved by reviving the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents Palestinians everywhere but has been moribund since the 1993 Oslo agreements created the Palestinian Authority," he contends.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Middle East commentators react to US President Barack Obama's newly announced strategy to combat the Islamic State (IS).

"Did the US and Europe become aware only now that terrorism will affect them directly, so they decided to form an international alliance against it? Or did the US moves come within the framework of its conspiracy to divide the Middle East?" - Jalal al-Sayyid in Egypt's al-Akhbar.

"The Islamic State is a Western creation that has been intricately designed to divide the Arab world." - Abdalah al-Awadi in the United Arab Emirates' al-Ittihad.

"Unless the social reasons that caused the strengthening of the IS in Iraq and Syria disappear, the IS will not vanish... Turkey understands this and does not want to be a tool in the game that has been formed in a very short time with sleight of hand." - Hilal Kaplan in Turkey's Yeni Safak. ‎

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


It's hard living on $400k a year

A wealthy man holds burning money.

Once upon a time, earning $400,000 (£250,000) a year was a ticket to easy street. But now? Well, it's hard just to keep your head above water. Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner will tell you that the really good wine clubs start at $150,000 a year.

Don't take it from Echo Chambers, though. We'll let the Wall Street Journal, pennysaver for the elite, break it down.

WSJ Wealth Advisor's Veronica Dagher explains in an article and accompanying video that "core expenses" for a family of four in Chicago - like an $850,000 mortgage on a $1.2m house, $24,000 a year in property taxes, $25,000 in home maintenance and $30,000 in groceries - really add up.

Then there's discretionary spending, such as $25,000 a year for two vacations, $15,000 a year for car payments, $10,000 for entertainment and $12,000 in "club dues". (Who are we kidding? I bet that paltry amount won't even get you a golf membership with real live caddies. What are we, savages?)

Start Quote

For high earners in demanding jobs, spending heavily can also help justify long work hours and compensate for time away from friends and family”

End Quote Veronica Dagher The Wall Street Journal

When you throw in other yearly expenses like children's sport ($10,000) and gifts ($6,000), Dagher estimates a total yearly outlay of $283,000, which pretty much leaves you living paycheque to paycheque after income taxes.

And let's also note there's no school tuition included for little Mason and Emma. They'll never get into Harvard going to public school!

"Now is the time to make some changes," Dagher cautions. "Save that bonus, and cut your spending - while you still have an income."

The Daily Kos's Weinenkel says the entreaty to "cut your spending" is the best part of the video:

"Let's forget that the median middle-class household income peaked at $56,080 in 1999 and it stands at roughly $50,017 now. Welcome to examples of the shrinking middle class, Wall Street Journal."

If that wasn't a strong enough dose of wealth hubris, Dagher provides plenty of examples of six-figure families living beyond their means.

"Sylvia Flores was earning more than $200,000 a year overseeing website content for retailers and tech firms when she got into trouble," Dagher writes. "She had a personal chef and a housekeeper, and took her husband and two children to Hawaii for frequent vacations."

All that extravagant living added up to more than $300,000 in credit card debt. Fortunately, Ms Flores has seen the light of day and now makes her own meals and shops at thrift stores.

"While lower earners can face hardships and financial struggles that are even more dire, the consequences of chronic overspending can be painful regardless of which income bracket you start in," Dagher writes.

Start Quote

Articles like this fall into the category of reverse econ-porn”

End Quote Michael Hiltzik Los Angeles Times

Yes, it's hard for the poor. But the profligate wealthy have feelings, too. They're working hard and deserve what's coming to them.

"For high earners in demanding jobs, spending heavily can also help justify long work hours and compensate for time away from friends and family," she says.

Needless to say, some writers are not exactly amused by the Journal's piece.

Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan says the article is either "a deliberately unsympathetic joke designed to agitate the stirrings of an American class war" or "one of the whitest whines of all time".

The Journal's article is an example of "insidious reporting", writes the Los Angeles Times's Michael Hiltzik, asking readers to sympathise with high-earners in "situations that middle- and working-class families can only dream about".

Turn to the paper's editorial page, he continues, and you'll find opinion writers singing the praises of the wealthy while cursing the "moral turpitude" of the lower classes:

"If the Journal's editorial writers read their news pages, they may discover that their reporters are undermining their usual argument that we need to safeguard the income of the 'job creators' at the top of the economic pyramid by cutting income and benefits for the rank and file at the bottom."

"Articles like this fall into the category of reverse econ-porn," he concludes. "They offer the chance not to salivate over the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but to chortle over their heedlessness and stupidity."

So chortle all you want - the rich won't mind. The Wall Street Journal editors will get worried when you start looking for pitchforks and torches.


Another president, another Iraq speech

President Barack Obama.

The speech was short, roughly 15 minutes. Heavy on rhetoric and light on details, it was the kind of script a president delivers when he believes the public is already on his side.

For now, according to opinion polls, the American people seem to support President Barack Obama's steps toward greater involvement in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. If by beheading two American journalists the Islamic militants wanted to get US attention and stir its anger, they were successful.

Start Quote

What the US needs if it is to prevail in the battle Mr. Obama put forth Wednesday is the genuine article of presidential leadership”

End Quote Dan Henninger The Wall Street Journal

Reaction from commentators and analysts tended to reflect this American mood, as well.

Those on the right who had been calling for increased military intervention in Syria offered words of support, leavened with a heavy dose of I-told-you-so.

"I thought that this was a fine speech, grading against the curve of my expectations. But my expectations were low," writes the National Review's Jonah Goldberg. "I have serious doubts that Obama has any desire to stick it out beyond the moment the American people stop paying attention."

The Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger says that the speech was the mark of a humbled president. He wonders, however, if the message has really sunk in.

"It had better," he answers. "What the US needs if it is to prevail in the battle Mr Obama put forth Wednesday is the genuine article of presidential leadership."

Not everyone on the right is on board, however. Outside the Beltway's James Joyner calls the plan "Whack-a-Mole with no end in sight".

Start Quote

This is an almost text-book case for not starting a war”

End Quote Andrew Sullivan The Daily Dish

"Frankly, this is simply the logical continuation of Obama's existing IS non-strategy and, indeed, his general counter-terrorism strategy of blowing up the bad guys and hoping they get tired of it eventually," he writes.

The Atlantic's David Frum writes that Mr Obama's plan will boost Iranian hegemony in the region and aid the brutal Syrian government of Bashar Assad.

He acknowledges the irony of his views, since as a White House speechwriter he helped sell the 2003 Iraq invasion to the public.

"Those of us associated with the Bush administration bear the burden of having launched a war on false premises that then yielded disappointing results," he says. He goes on to argue that, unlike the Iraq War, this latest intervention has "no discernable aims".

"It's a reaction: an emotional reaction, without purpose, without strategy, and without any plausible - or even articulated - definition of success," he concludes.

Another early backer of the Iraq War, Daily Dish's Andrew Sullivan, also has a bad feeling about what's in store.

"This is an almost textbook case for not starting a war," he writes. "I have come to the conclusion that the administration saw a kind of tipping point on the ground with IS, has no real solution, and improvised this strategy on the fly."

Start Quote

The nation that can't agree on anything is taking definitive action”

End Quote Michael Scherer Time magazine

Frum's and Sullivan's views track closer to many of the opinions of the conservative movement's growing libertarian wing, who are not weighed down by past support for Iraqi intervention.

"We're being gulled into a new-and-improved crusade to fix a Middle East still utterly destabilised in large part due to our still-smouldering failure to reshape desert sand into a form more to our desires," writes Nick Gillespie in the Daily Beast.

The response from the left was supportive, although at times reluctantly so.

Time's Michael Scherer says the speech was a good moment for Mr Obama, as he demonstrated his leadership in the one area - foreign policy - where his political opponents cannot block him.

"The nation that can't agree on anything is taking definitive action," he writes.

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall also voiced his support, although he noted that he believes IS is less of a threat than is believed.

President Barack Obama. President Obama is the fourth president in a row to make a prime-time address explaining why military intervention in Iraq is necessary

"Making calculated use of American airpower to help anti-ISIS forces regroup and make progress against IS makes sense to me," he writes.

Many liberal writers and commentators - like Mr Obama himself - were outspoken opponents of President George W Bush's 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. To turn around and back what appears to be a vague, open-ended call for US military action requires pirouettes some found difficult to stomach.

Mother Jones's David Corn worries that Mr Obama has "unleashed the dogs of war" and will find them difficult to keep under control

"Obama's intentions are clear: he doesn't want to return to full-scale US military involvement in Iraq," he writes. "But now that he has committed the United States to renewed military action there, where's the line?"

When Mr Obama ran for president in 2008, he said he wanted to change the "mindset" that got us into the Iraq War, writes the American Prospect's Matthew Duss. But that's proving a hard thing to do.

"It's also impossible to ignore the fact that, by constantly asserting vast executive authority for various anti-terrorism measures, from drone strikes to surveillance, Obama has also affirmed and strengthened that mindset," he says.

Mr Obama is "complicit in his own entrapment", he concludes. "And it's something progressives will have to continue to struggle with long after his presidency ends."

So once again the US stands on the brink of greater military involvement in the Middle East. All of this has a familiar ring to it, and not just because it was slightly over a year ago that Mr Obama was arguing in favour of air strikes on government forces in Syria.

As many commentators have pointed out, presidential speeches announcing US forces taking action in the Middle East have become a tradition for more than 30 years.

The last four presidents have given prime-time speeches explaining why Iraq, in particular, demands the expenditure of US blood and treasure.

It seems there's no end in sight.


Hillary Clinton's approval bubble pops

Hillary Clinton.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is providing a reality check for Hillary Clinton, who previously boasted robust public approval ratings.

According to the survey, 43% of registered voters have a positive view of the former secretary of state and first lady, while 41% have a negative opinion.

Start Quote

The more Hillary Clinton looks like a candidate, the less invincible she appears”

End Quote Patrick O'Connor The Wall Street Journal

That marks a considerable decline from her February 2009 numbers, as she began her four-year stint as secretary of state. Then she recorded 59% positive to 22% negative.

The Wall Street Journal's Patrick O'Connor says this trend is a result of Mrs Clinton's being increasingly seen through the lens of partisan politics, as she mulls a bid for the presidency in 2016.

"The more Hillary Clinton looks like a candidate, the less invincible she appears," he writes.

A closer look at the numbers indicates that the bulk of Mrs Clinton's decline can be attributed to Republicans whose views of her have dimmed. Her disapproval rating among conservatives has jumped from 52% in 2009 to 70% today.

It's all about one's frame of reference. When compared to President Barack Obama, Mrs Clinton may seem appealing to conservatives. But standing on her own, as a potential standard-bearer for the Democrats, she takes on all the political baggage and negative connotations of her party.

Back in late June, when Mrs Clinton's poll numbers first began to show some weakness, the New York Times's Brendan Nyhan made note of this phenomenon.

Start Quote

We tend to overrate the importance of candidate image, which is largely a function of the flow of partisan messages”

End Quote Brendan Nyhan The New York Times

"Mrs Clinton's re-entry on the political stage over the last few weeks is turning her back into what she was before her stint as secretary of state: an intensely polarising political figure," he wrote.

He compared her situation to that of a once-popular Republican as he contemplated a presidential bid in 2008, John McCain. He was admired by many Democrats when he was criticising his own party and staying above the partisan fray. But once he was perceived as a political threat, the gloves came off.

"We tend to overrate the importance of candidate image, which is largely a function of the flow of partisan messages," he wrote. "When opposition elites withhold criticism during, say, a presidential honeymoon or a foreign policy crisis, politicians can seem unstoppable, but when normal politics resume, their images - and their poll numbers - quickly return to earth."

Mrs Clinton's potential Republican opponents should refrain from taking too much joy at the survey results, however. Leading contenders like former GOP nominee Mitt Romney, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul all have net-negative approval numbers.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio comes the closest to positive among the minority of respondents who have an opinion of him, with a 21%-21% split.

Although Mrs Clinton's popularity drop may have been entirely predictable, it still presents a threat to the former first lady's political ambitions. Part of her appeal to Democratic voters has been predicated on what a formidable opponent she would be in 2016.

That may still be the case, but it's getting harder to point to survey statistics to back that up.


The NFL's domestic abuse problem

Ray Rice and his wife, Janay Palmer

Two videos showing an American football star in a vicious attack on his girlfriend have cost him his multimillion dollar contract but also left the reputation of the league in tatters.

In October the National Football League will heartily embrace Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Fields will be decorated with the movement's ubiquitous pink ribbon-logo.

Players and coaches will don pink gear - shoes, sweatbands, hats and gloves. Commercials will be aired; survivors will be honoured.

Critics say the NFL isn't doing all this because of some altruistic spirit - it's all about marketing its product to women.

Female viewers are a prime television demographic, and the league has been conducting a concerted campaign for years to boost its ratings and develop a market for female-targeted merchandise.

Start Quote

The league will become such a mess that nobody can bring themselves to care about the actual games”

End Quote Andrew Sharp Grantland

By all indications the NFL's push has been a success. According to the league, in 2010 93 million women watched an NFL game. The league reports that 44% of its fan base is female. The female audience continues to be a growth area for a sport that has pretty much reached its maximum exposure among men.

All the colour-themed cancer-awareness promotions, shapely team jerseys and jewel-encrusted NFL handbags may be at risk, however, due to the damage being done to the league's image following the release of the graphic video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his then-girlfriend unconscious.

The Rice story is just the most prominent case in a continuing litany of domestic abuse incidents for the league. According to a study by USA Today, 85 of the 713 arrests of NFL players since 2000 were for domestic abuse incidents.

In 2013, the Christian Science Monitor reports, 21 of the league's 32 teams had players involved in domestic violence incidents. Five Thirty Eight's Benjamin Morris writes that while the arrest rate for domestic violence is lower than the national average for similarly-aged men, it's much higher when the perpetrator's income is taken into account.

Feminists writers, such as Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan, are calling for an NFL boycott, and the story is making waves in the mainstream press.

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus writes that the "feckless, enabling, see-no-evil National Football League and the feckless, enabling, see-no-evil Ravens management preferred not to ponder what it takes to knock out a human being".

The NFL initially decided to impose and stand behind a two-game ban on the player, she writes, revealing what they thought of the seriousness of the incident.

On 28 August, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attempted to quiet the critics by announcing the league would impose six-game suspensions for future domestic violence infractions and a lifetime ban for repeat offenders.

As Grantland's Andrew Sharp points out, however, three days later San Francisco's Ray McDonald was arrested for striking his pregnant fiancee. The league has yet to discipline him, and he took the field on Sunday.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the Rice elevator assault video was "sickening"

Sharp writes:

"For a league that can't even announce new domestic-violence penalties without a player getting arrested for domestic violence within 72 hours, it might be time to start sending stronger messages. This isn't a court of law. 'Not getting arrested for domestic violence' is a pretty low bar to clear for players who want to play every Sunday."

Sharp goes on to note that Carolina's Greg Hardy was found guilty of domestic violence over the summer. He's appealing against the verdict, and he played on Sunday as well.

But eventually the rules will be enforced and the public will recognise the NFL is trying, right? The league is already getting praise - "Bravo, NFL" - from some quarters.

Deadspin's Barry Petchesky counters that the new NFL domestic violence rules are filled with loopholes and considerations of "mitigating factors". The lifetime ban, for instances, can be appealed and rescinded after one season.

Start Quote

It has long been clear that the NFL is indifferent to violence against women”

End Quote Katie McDonough Salon

"They are neither new nor are they rules," he writes. "They are words strung together in such a way that people will respond by saying, 'Wow, the NFL takes domestic violence seriously.'"

Mr Goodell wants to "project an air of authority", but it's authority he already had. He could have suspended Mr Rice for six games - or indefinitely - before the new rules were released. The NFL chose not to act until the public outcry threatened its bottom line, Petchesky says,

Mr Goodell has said that the NFL embraces its role and responsibility as a "leader" that stands for "important values". Sharp says his "words ring hollow". The reaction on Monday to the Rice video should be a wake-up call for the league.

"If owners don't really care about the NFL setting some grand standard for the rest of society, that's totally fine," Sharp writes. "But Monday should scare them. If the NFL ever really loses supremacy in sports and culture, Monday is a good preview of what that looks like. The league will become such a mess that nobody can bring themselves to care about the actual games."

Oh, and speaking of the league's owners - the people who hired Goodell and ultimately are responsible for the league conduct - there's this little nugget.

On Tuesday Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the most powerful men in the NFL, was sued for sexual assault. Although the substance of the charges will be aired in court, the case has already led to the release of embarrassing photos taken by his accuser of the outspoken Mr Jones groping strippers. These aren't the images the league wants in people's minds as it tries to talk seriously about women's issues.

On Tuesday night Mr Goodell sat down with CBS to attempt to defend the league and his actions in the Rice incident. He had to explain why a video of an unconscious Janay Palmer being dragged from an elevator and a police report that Rice struck her warranted only a two-game suspension, while the full elevator video of him landing the blow led to an indefinite ban.

Goodell said:

"I will tell you that what we saw on the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself. And that's why we took the action we took. As I've said before, we didn't feel that was sufficient, we didn't get that right. But what we saw yesterday was extremely clear, it was extremely graphic, and it was sickening."

Responses like that "won't change anything", Salon's Katie McDonough writes. She goes on to join a growing chorus calling for Goodell's resignation.

"It has long been clear that the NFL is indifferent to violence against women," she says. "This incident was just too much of a media headache to ignore, so the NFL acted - belatedly, inadequately, cynically."

Whether the NFL's actions are enough remain to be seen. Will fans turn their back on the NFL in anger and disgust or tune in and cheer over the many Sundays to come?

The NFL is a business - one of the most successful in the US. The bottom line, in the end, is the bottom line.

UPDATE: The Associated Press is reporting that a law enforcement officer claims to have sent a copy of the incriminating elevator assault video to "an NFL executive" three months ago. The officer also provided the AP with audio of a voicemail recording from an NFL office number confirming receipt of the video.

If these reports are substantiated, it will become increasingly difficult for Mr Goodell to stand by his assertion that no one in the league had seen the full video before this Monday.


The threat of 'big small government'

Police arrest a protestor in Ferguson, Missouri, on 18 August, 2014.

It has long been an assumed truth in US politics, particularly in conservative circles, that the most effective government is local government.

In the words of former Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan: "Government closest to the people governs best."

The American Conservative's Scott Galupo traces the idea back to Thomas Jefferson, who held that "the concentration of power begets tyranny" and advocated the "dispersal of power throughout multiple levels of government".

But has the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager and the subsequent violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, exposed this belief as fundamentally flawed? What if local government, closest to the people, can be the most oppressive?

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait says that Ferguson has revealed an "Orwellian monstrosity" growing in the US. And it's not simply about the militarisation of local law enforcement, although that has garnered the lion's share of press attention.

Start Quote

These are boom times for provincial autocrats”

End Quote Franklin Foer The New Republic

The problem, he says, is unchecked, unaccountable local power:

"The city's white-dominated council governs a mostly black city, and its oppressive, biased justice system is an instrument of fiscal (in additional to social) domination. Court fines account for a fifth of the city's revenue. Police officers disproportionately search black drivers, even though they disproportionately discover contraband among white ones. The city issues three warrants per household, and its draconian justice system appears designed to bleed its victims."

The New Republic's Franklin Foer comes to a similar conclusion:

"What Ferguson shows is that the heart of the problem is, in fact, small government - the cops, prosecutors and their bosses with an inflated sense of their powers. The great and growing threat to liberty in this country comes from states and localities run amok."

Chait points out that one would have a hard time finding recent examples of federal government abuse on a par with what occurred in Ferguson at the hands of the locals. And while what happened there was "somewhat outside the norm, it is hardly a freakish anomaly".

Americans are surrounded by "big small government", he says. "We simply haven't trained our minds to notice it."

Start Quote

What all this means, perhaps, is that, as a polity, we're unhealthily obsessed with the federal government”

End Quote Scott Galupo The American Conservative

It isn't the federal government that overregulates certain professions - plumbers, beauticians, and taxi drivers, for instance - it's local governments. It isn't the federal government that drives up housing costs with burdensome zoning regulations, he says, it's local governments.

Foer also identifies civil forfeiture laws as a source of small-government oppression.

"Authorities can unilaterally confiscate cash or property that it considers illegally begotten; many states then place the proceeds straight into its own coffers to fund further crime-fighting," he writes. Government authorities often can do this without even presenting criminal charges.

Both Foer and Chait contend that the current situation has arisen in part because of a lack of oversight and accountability.

Few people pay attention to their local leaders, such as their state representatives, Chait writes. Studies show they're elected almost always based on their party affiliation, and their success flows from partisan winds blowing out of Washington, DC.

Foer notes that as states and localities grow increasingly liberal or conservative thanks to demographic shifts, the prospect of a plausible political alternative to check excesses disappears. Add to that the lack of an aggressive local media thanks to the long, slow decline of newspapers, and it's a formula for unchecked corruption.

A demonstrator stands in front of police in Ferguson, Missouri, on 19 August, 2014. Militarised police is a reflection of local government excess and abuse, writes Jonathan Chait

"These are boom times for provincial autocrats," he writes.

The solution, both Chait and Foer conclude, is to have the federal government step in to combat corruption and overregulation.

"Only a strong federal government can curb the autocratic tendencies burbling across the country," Foer writes.

Start Quote

None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us”

End Quote Jonathan Chait New York Magazine

It's a counterintuitive response bordering on heresy for most conservatives. Getting them to buy in will be difficult, Galupo admits.

"What all this means, perhaps, is that, as a polity, we're unhealthily obsessed with the federal government," Galupo writes. "For conservatives, this obsession, hardly confined to the fringes, often borders on paranoia. And the legacy of Jefferson has left them blind to the kind of government intrusiveness and bullying (and worse) that actually, and profoundly, affects our daily lives."

The left is little better, Chait acknowledges, as they tend to view any push against government regulation as motivated by greed or vested interests.

"Democratic voters tend to apply an ideology shaped by high-profile national struggles to their local voting habits; they may, for instance, associate arguments against regulation with the sorts of spurious claims made by polluters, Wall Street or other robber barons," he writes.

Given these obstacles, is there any chance Ferguson can serve as a wake-up call to the US public?

Galupo hopes that a growing libertarian movement on the right can form an alliance with the Democratic centre-left to take a more "holistic approach to government reform".

Foer and Chait, on the other hand, seems less optimistic. Foer says libertarians are so fixated on Washington that they "rigidly insist on devolving power down to states, cities, and towns - the very places where their nightmares are springing to life".

Chait concludes:

"The myth of localism is rooted deep in our political psyche. Left and right alike use small and local as terms of approbation, big and bureaucratic as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us."


Obama blasted for immigration delay

Train in Mexico Many travel to the US border by leaping on to freight trains

President Barack Obama is taking heavy criticism from the left and the right over his decision to put off any unilateral executive action on immigration reform until after November's midterm congressional elections.

Three months after promising to use executive orders to fix a "broken" immigration system, the president now says his plans have been shelved until after the midterm elections.

It was expected that he would bypass Congress in order to enact changes to visa rules, boost border security and give a path to citizenship for some 11 million US-based illegal immigrants.

In recent months, the issue has become more acute because tens of thousands of people from Central America have tried to get into the US from Mexico, many of them unaccompanied children. It's a situation Mr Obama has called a "humanitarian crisis".

In a Sunday interview on the political talk show Meet the Press, the president explained that the politics had shifted since he made a late-June promise to make a move before the "end of summer", forcing him to revise his deadline.

"I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy," the president said.

Start Quote

This presidential delay means that more innocent people will be deported and more families separated”

End Quote Jorge Ramos Univision

On Saturday, however, a White House official in a background email to the Washington Post was more blunt about the political calculus behind the move:

"The reality the president has had to weigh is that we're in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans' extreme politicisation of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections."

The consensus conclusion is that the change of strategy will help take a controversial issue off the table for Democratic candidates running in hotly contested races. In midterm elections, turning out the party faithful can be decisive - and the president apparently concluded that anything he does on immigration would motivate grass-root conservatives to head to the polls without a sufficiently large boost in Hispanic support.

The success of this decision likely depends on how long the uproar lasts from those closely invested in the outcome of the current immigration reform debate. For now, it's at a fever pitch across the political spectrum.

President Obama sits for an interview on Meet the Press. Obama tells Meet the Press the politics have shifted on immigration reform

Pro-immigration supporters feel the president is putting immigration on the back burner once again. Salon's Gabriel Arana explains why the latest move is so devastating for reform advocates:

"The delay shows the president doesn't understand the moral crisis at the heart of the immigration debate, in which those looking to escape poverty get branded as parasites, their children as 'anchor babies'," he writes. "Lawmakers all 'play politics', but extending the suffering of this vulnerable population because it might save you a few votes at the ballot box is yet another sign you don't fully consider them Americans."

"A promise is a promise," tweeted Jorge Ramos, news anchor at Univision, an American Spanish language broadcaster.

"This presidential delay means that more innocent people will be deported and more families separated," he added.

The delay isn't a victory for those on the right who oppose any presidential action on the immigration issue, either. They're only more worried that they will be unable to deter an administration action once potential voter backlash is taken out of the equation.

"This is nothing more than a head fake to keep voters from punishing Democrats for Obama's attempts to abuse the separation-of-powers structure in American government," writes Hot Air's Ed Morrissey.

The libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation's Todd Gaziano tells Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post that if the president "had respect for the democratic process and he has no intention of changing his executive actions, then he should obviously announce what they are and let congressional candidates disclose whether they support such policies and think they are lawful."

And then there are those who see Mr Obama's handling of the issue as just another example of a White House that has become politically tone deaf and unable to formulate cohesive strategies to sell their policy programmes.

"President Barack Obama has one person to blame for looking indecisive, dithering and cowed by bungled political calculations: Barack Obama," writes Politico's Edward-Isaac Devere.

Immigration reform protestors gather outside the White House in August 2014. Immigration reform activists are angry over the president's decision to delay

"This is a re-occurring theme for Obama: repeatedly delivering bold speeches that set dazzlingly high bars for action, then slowly backpedalling into a muddle and letting the issue - and his poll numbers - fade away," he concludes.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones pushes back against these kinds of analyses, however.

"The truth is that anytime a president changes course, a bit of awkwardness is baked into the cake," he writes. "What's more, I don't see anything in Obama's actions that made this any better or worse than usual. It was pretty routine and will be forgotten by all but political junkies within days."

Perhaps. There are a great many moving parts to account for in the president's latest shift.

For conservatives, it is more difficult to get angry about a potential post-election move than target a concrete action that's already been taken.

Immigration activists have to balance the anger and resentment over what they see as a broken promise with the reality that eventual unilateral presidential action is their only hope for real reform any time soon.

For embattled Democrats facing midterm elections, the president's decision reveals a stark reality. Immigration reform was once considered a winning issue - one they could use to bludgeon their opponents on the campaign trail to garner support from a key demographic.

That, it appears, is no longer the case. But if immigration isn't a winner for them, what is?

According to the New York Times, Democrats have decided to place their bet on economic issues, such as the minimum wage, that appeal to single women.

The polls and focus groups have spoken. Immigration reform activists, it appears, are going to have to wait.


At what price a university degree?

A young man sits with his hands on his head Experts disagree on whether the value of a college education is falling

It's back to school time in the US. That may spell panic for parents of young children realising they are way behind on saving for university fees, which can over four years run on par with the cost of a new home.

As parents pinch their pennies, economists and academics are at odds over whether a four-year degree is even worth such a princely sum.

Two employees of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are offering some potentially good news for prospective students and their parents.

Writing for the New York Fed's blog, Liberty Street Economics' Jaison R Abel and Richard Deitz claim that the value of an average US university degree has been hovering around an all-time high for more than a decade. And the amount of time an average student spends paying off their school debt is at least half of what it was in the 1970s.

But they also point out that the value of a college degree may be so high only because the alternatives are so bleak.

"Wages of high school graduates have also been falling, reducing the opportunity costs of going to school and keeping the college wage premium near its all-time high," they write.

In another post, they find the value of that college degree plummets if the student takes more than four years to graduate.

Net present value of a bachelor's degree chart

But, according to the National Center for Education Studies, more than 40% of full-time students seeking bachelor's degrees at four-year institutions fail to graduate from that school within six years.

Abel and Deitz argue the extra years affect the value of a degree because the student ends up paying an "opportunity cost", essentially money lost by not entering the job market.

Start Quote

This fall, I'll be teaching some of the most financially distressed students in America”

End Quote Devin Fergus Associate professor at The Ohio State University

In the first additional year a student spends at school, they miss out on $2,500 (£1,528), a sum which more than doubles if a student spends two extra years at school.

"This earnings 'wedge' persists throughout one's career," Abel and Deitz write. "The difference add up each and every year, so that those graduating later never really catch up to those who graduated earlier."

However, Abel and Deitz still view their findings as an overall positive sign.

"For students who require five or six years to graduate, the value of a bachelor's degree no doubt remains substantial, but staying on in college certainly takes a financial toll."

Devin Fergus, an associate professor at The Ohio State University, disagrees.

"This fall, I'll be teaching some of the most financially distressed students in America," he writes for The Washington Post.

Fergus says his pupils are facing a student aid crisis, the seeds of which were sown in the 1980s when then-President Ronald Reagan helped pass a slew of tax- and budget-cutting measures.

These changes were responsible for the government reducing spending on higher education by about a 25%over five years.

"Effectively, these changes shifted the federal government's focus from providing students higher education grants to providing loans," Fergus writes, arguing students are now drowning in debt.

Four graduates lined up in a row Recent graduates have begun to question the traditional academic path

One recent graduate sees Abel and Deitz's results as yet another reason for students to question the traditional academic path.

NJBIZ.com's Andrew Sheldon says he often wonders if he should have postponed his 2010 degree in order to start his own business.

"Your early 20s are a time when you are most financially malleable, so isn't that the perfect time to take a risk?" he asks.

"If it doesn't work, college will be waiting for you and that education might be even more valuable because you've probably learned a few things about yourself."

He may be onto something. Vox's Danielle Kurtzleben writes that while the overall value of a university degree may be close to its all-time high, the numbers seem to indicate a downward trend.

"If college costs accelerate or if graduate wages continue to be stubbornly low, that could continue and make the decision to go to college all the tougher for future high school grads," she writes.

It doesn't take a degree in math to realise the costs of US university may someday no longer add up.


The other Isises

A billboard advertises the ISIS Downtown condo development in Florida.

The Institute for Science and International Security has a name problem. Or, more specifically, an initials problem.

Start Quote

However coincidental, we have no interest in sharing a name with a group whose name has become synonymous with violence”

End Quote Michael Abbott President, Isis Wallet

Ever since its founding in 1993, the Washington-based think tank, which focuses on nuclear non-proliferation issues, has relied on its acronym, Isis, as a shorthand for its name.

Then Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, commonly translated into English as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and often abbreviated as Isis, came along.

As the militant group's power and influence in Iraq and Syria have spread, its name has become associated with anti-Western rhetoric and the use of brutal violence to impose Islamic law and persecute differing religious sects and ethnicities.

On Tuesday the think tank Isis posted a message on its website, pleading with the media and non-governmental associations to refer to the Islamic group by a different set of initials.

"The widespread, persistent use of the acronym Isis to refer to this terrorist organisation continues to cause considerable confusion and is causing reputational harm to the many organisations and entities that also use this acronym," they write.

An undated photograph shows an Islamic State militant holding a knife. The think tank Isis isn't interested in being associated with the Islamic militant group

They say that the United Nations and the US refer to the militant group by the initials Isil, short for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (which of course could present a challenge to an entirely different set of organisations).

In addition, they write, the Islamic group itself announced in June that it wished to be called the Islamic State (IS) - the acronym currently used by the BBC.

If that's not enough, the think tank goes on to note that the original Isis is an Egyptian goddess "whose mythology includes motherhood and bringing life from death". If she could be reached for comment, she'd probably also object to being associated with what Isis (the think tank) calls a "murderous anti-feminine terrorist organisation".

The think tank, and the goddess, aren't the only Isises facing a branding nightmare.

The UK-based lingerie company Ann Summers recently apologised for "any offence caused" by its Isis line of bras. And a mobile payment company, Isis Wallet, announced in July that it will change its name.

"However coincidental, we have no interest in sharing a name with a group whose name has become synonymous with violence, and our hearts go out to those who are suffering," company head Michael Abbott wrote.

Start Quote

Dueling acronyms are a constant problem in this acronym-crazed town”

End Quote Al Kamen The Washington Post

A Florida condominium project, ISIS Downtown, has also decided it would be wise to find a new name.

The think tank isn't interested in abandoning Isis to the militants, however, and believes the media and other groups should change their nomenclature.

Are they going to comply? The Washington Post's Al Kamen says his paper "will stick with Isis".

"Dueling acronyms are a constant problem in this acronym-crazed town," he writes. "There's AFP, which is the French wire service and the Koch operation; the ABA, which includes lawyers, bankers and a basketball organisation; GMA, a morning TV show and the grocers' association; and SEC, a financial watchdog and a college basketball conference."

Of course, Good Morning America and the American Bar Association aren't slaughtering civilians and beheading journalists.

Kamen says that the "best bet" is for someone to destroy the "bad Isis".

"Then we eliminate this problem … and a host of other more deadly ones," he concludes.

Perhaps the folks at Isis (the think tank) aren't all that convinced this outcome is achievable anytime soon.


Confronting the 'football industrial complex'

An Atlanta Falcons defender tackles a St Louis Rams player in a game in November 2010.

"Are you ready for some football?"

It's the shouted rhetorical question that has started Monday night National Football League (NFL) broadcasts for decades.

For the millions of Americans who make the NFL by far the most popular US professional sport, the answer has long been yes. And it will be again on Thursday night, as NFL season kicks off with a matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the defending Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks.

Start Quote

Fans need to recognise that the game isn't going to change until we force the issue by walking away”

End Quote Steve Almond Author

Every Sunday (and Monday, and some Saturdays and Thursdays) for the next five months, millions of Americans - and plenty of Brits, thanks to three regular-season games in London - will feast on a bacchanalia of gridiron pageantry.

Best-selling author Steve Almond, however, won't be watching.

The self-professed long-time American football fan writes in the Los Angeles Times that he feels guilty about watching a sport whose participants risk traumatic brain injury. More than that, however, he says he objects to "the cynical commercialisation of the sport, its cultish celebration of violence and the more subtle ways in which football warps our societal attitudes about race, gender and sexual orientation."

He says that he, like other spectators, are enabling the corruption of a game he used to love.

"Fans need to recognise that the game isn't going to change until we force the issue by walking away," he writes.

It's not as easy as it may seem, however, as every sport channel and website this time of year is packed full of football-related content. Moreover, with friends who are passionate fans, boycotting football means abandoning the social activity that revolves around the weekly contests.

Former NFL star Earl Campbell is driven onto the field during a Houston Texans American football game in January 2013. Former NFL star Earl Campbell, 59, suffers from debilitating back and knee pain following a seven-year playing career

"A lot of people criticise football," Almond says. "Not all of them recognise how deeply meaningful it can be to fans like me."

In another piece, written for Salon, Almond addresses what he calls the "toxic lies" football fans tell themselves to calm a guilty conscience.

The game is getting safer? Hardly, he says. Tackling and violent collisions are still an integral part of the game. Injuries still abound. And even the most state-of the art gear can't prevent possibly debilitating concussions.

The players know what they're getting into and are paid millions? It's only because the fans create the market. Players perform for our amusement. And the "Football Industrial Complex", as he calls it, grinds up and spits out the tens of thousands of others who play but don't get the golden lottery ticket of a career in the NFL.

Start Quote

Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation”

End Quote Mark Edmundson University of Virginia

Complain as Almond might - and he'll keep on doing it, as he's got a book to sell on the topic - football's popularity shows no sign of fading.

According to University of Virginia Prof Mark Edmundson, it's because football represents what the US has become.

"Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation," he writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people."

Back when the US was more pacifistic - when it had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into world wars - baseball was the national pastime.

"That game is skill-based, nonviolent and leisurely," he writes.

Football, however, "is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting."

He, too, worries about the societal cost of the sport. Is football an outlet for our passions or a contributing factor to a growing culture of violence?

"If the modern world is truly a place where a nation must be ready to fight constantly in order to survive, then perhaps football serves a general good," he writes. "But whether the only way to thrive as a nation and a people is through the capacity for warfare, one can certainly doubt."

Michael P Noonan of the Foreign Policy Research Institute thinks such an reading is going too far, however. All sport - baseball, football, jai alai, whatever - is a proxy for war, he writes for US News & World Report. Football, however, is popular in part because it most resembles the modern ideal of warfare:

"Quick, violent action. Fighting similarly organised foes. Defined end-states with a clear victor. This is how most military professionals would also prefer war."

All of this debate recalls an old stand-up routine by the late comedian George Carlin about the differences between football and baseball.

"Baseball is a 19th Century pastoral game," he says. "Football is a 20th Century technological struggle."

Perhaps most importantly, according to Carlin, the difference between football and baseball is expressed in the attitude of the fans.

"In baseball, during the game in the stands there's kind of a picnic feeling," he says. "Emotions may run high or low, but there's not that much unpleasantness."

"In football in the stands during the game," he counters, "you can be sure that at least 27 times you are perfectly capable of taking the life of a fellow human being - preferably a stranger."

Growing up, my favourite football teams were the NFL's San Diego Chargers and the University of Texas Longhorns. For many years, Junior Seau anchored the Chargers defence with passion and skill. And I still hold dear a football autographed by star Texas running back Earl Campbell.

Seau is dead now, having taken his own life after suffering for years from symptoms of brain trauma. At 59, Campbell can barely walk, his body wreaked by the cumulative effects of countless violent tackles.

Is this what football does to its stars? Almond suggests that this is the blood on the hands of the millions of fans.

And yet unlike Almond, I'll still watch games this fall. I'm still ready for some football.

But I'm starting to feel uneasy about it.


Why a Tennessee town has the fastest internet

A photograph of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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

Today's must-read

The south-eastern Tennessee town of Chattanooga has some of the fastest internet connection speeds in the world, thanks to a fibre-optic network installed by the government-owned electric company, EPB.

The town, with a 2012 population of just more than 171,000, has used its internet speeds of over 1 gigabit per second to attract new businesses, including five venture capital funds with 2014 investment capital of more than $50m (£30m), according to the Guardian.

Chattanooga's success is a testament to the power of government infrastructure investment, writes Daily Kos blogger Steven D.

It's also, he says, a threat to the private telecommunications monopolies, which are content to offer lower levels of service, "slowly draining the lifeblood out of our nation even as they steal whatever is left in our pocketbook".

He contends that private-sector malaise and greed are part of the reason why US internet speeds currently ranks behind 30 countries, including South Korea, Romania and most of Europe.

"Uruguayans have better internet service than citizens of the 'greatest nation on earth,'" he writes. "Pretty damn embarrassing, if not a big surprise."

Companies like Cox and Comcast are trying to prevent public utilities like EPB from competing directly with private internet providers, he says.

The companies argue that government-supported entities have an inherent competitive advantage over private businesses when they succeed and are a drain on government coffers when they fail.

Currently 20 states have laws placing limits on municipal broadband networks, according to Ars Technica, including strict prohibitions in Texas and Nevada.

Private telecommunications companies are also fighting to prevent Federal Communications Commission regulations that would make it easier for municipalities to circumvent these state rules.

"I have said before that I believe the FCC has the power - and I intend to exercise that power - to pre-empt state laws that ban competition from community broadband," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in May.

Russia

Former US politicians are Gazprombank's newest lobbyists - Former US Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott have signed on to lobby the US government for the Russia financial giant Gazprombank, which faces sanctions from Western nations due to the Russian government's involvement in Ukraine.

As a senator, writes New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait, Mr Breaux had a reputation for being a pragmatist - and that is once again on display here.

"After all," Chait contends, "what could be more pragmatic than recognizing the blunt reality that Russia is way stronger and richer than Ukraine?"

Germany

The politics of Uber - A German court has banned Uber from operating throughout the nation, holding that the law doesn't allow unlicensed vehicle operators to provide rides for profit. This is just another attempt by taxi operators around the world to restrict competition, writes Quartz's Tim Fernholz.

Uber will likely adapt quickly to the ruling, he says, just as it has in other areas - such as New York City - where licensing requirements were initially used to block the company.

In the end, he says, German taxi drivers and labour unions should look at the arrival of Uber as an opportunity to boost the car service industry as a whole. Uber could end up being a blessing, he concludes, not a curse.

China

Hong Kong's sham democracy proposal - The guidelines issued by the Chinese government for Hong Kong's 2017 chief executive election are so restrictive that it effectively gives Beijing control over who can run for the top office, writes former Hong Kong legislator Margaret Ng in the New York Times.

While some Hong Kong officials seem to be endorsing the plan as at least a semblance of representative government, Ng says that accepting it will "allow the Chinese government to assume complete control over Hong Kong's affairs".

Pro-democracy supporters should stand firm, she says, and reject a proposal that is even worse than the status quo.

India

Japan love is going too far - Narendra Modi's election as India's new prime minister has ushered in a new era of warm relation with Japan, writes Bloomberg View columnist Pankaj Mishra.

While there are economic benefits to increased trade and investment, Mishra says, there's a deeper reason behind the closer ties.

"Since the 19th Century, Hindu nationalists have venerated Japan as the paradigmatic Asian society that preserves its traditional virtues while also developing industrial and military strength and inculcating patriotism among its citizens," he writes.

Mr Modi will learn, Mishra says, that Japan has made too many mistakes to merit imitation and that much of the nation's success was a result of unique global conditions and not a sustainable economic policy.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Middle East commentators write about the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and what it means for regional stability.

"With its attacks on Islamic State, America has returned to Iraq with unclear and non-transparent objectives, which it describes as a long-term policy to confront Islamic State. These plans will accelerate Iraq's disintegration." - Nosratollah Tajik in the Iranian newspaper Shargh.

"Thank you Islamic State for your foolish sectarian incitement. Who believes the Gulf States would have taken serious steps to combat terrorism if Islamic State had not appeared?" - Shamlan Youssef al-Issa in Kuwait'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) bbc.co.uk.


Are viewers the 'abusers' in celeb photo leak?

A man in a hotel room looks at a laptop.

As word spread on Sunday evening that hundreds of candid nude photographs of celebrities like Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence were being posted to internet forums, discussion quickly turned to who was responsible.

The hackers, clearly, had committed illegal acts. But was Apple's iCloud service, possibly used to surreptitiously access personal data, also to blame? What about the "foolish" women (and men) who took the photos in the first place?

Start Quote

To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves”

End Quote Mary E Winstead Actress

Some have suggested that there are other perpetrators in this case, however - hundreds of thousands of them. They're the viewers who have flocked to message boards like Reddit and 4chan to catch a glimpse of the intimate images.

"This is about women being shamed, and objectified, and treated like property," writes Vox's Kelsey McKinney.

As Actress Patricia Arquette bluntly put it in a Twitter post on Monday:

"Every time someone opens a stolen intimate nude photo of anyone they are becoming a sexual molester. Participating in a group molestation."

Mary E Winstead, one of the actresses whose photos were stolen, also had a message for those who viewed them:

"To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves."

She would later post that she is "going on an internet break", in part because of the vitriolic reaction her comments provoked. Her feed, she wrote, offers people "a glimpse of what it's like to be a woman who speaks up about anything on Twitter".

Start Quote

There is an obsessive tendency in American culture with elevating women - young, beautiful women, especially - to celebrity status just to bask in their eventual fall”

End Quote Jessica Valenti The Atlantic

People who view and download photos on the internet are accomplices in an assault, agrees Australian blogger Clementine Ford for Daily Life.

"If you deliberately seek out any of these images, you are directly participating in the violation not just of numerous women's privacy but also of their bodies," she writes. "These images - which I have not seen and which I will not look for - are intimate, private moments belonging only to the people who appear in them and who they have invited to see them."

The Atlantic's Jessica Valenti says this episode reveals a truth about modern society and our celebrity culture that goes beyond the desire to see famous people in revealing moments.

People are drawn to these illicitly obtained photographs, she contends, because they like to "revel in the humiliation" of the victims.

"There is an obsessive tendency in American culture with elevating women - young, beautiful women, especially - to celebrity status just to bask in their eventual fall," she writes.

She concludes:

"Even if we're not the people who stole the pictures, and even if we're not publishing them on blogs or tweeting them out, looking at naked photos of someone who doesn't want us to goes beyond voyeurism; it's abuse."

The Sydney Morning Herald's Sam de Brito disagrees:

Model Kate Upton stands on a red carpet in New York on 5 May, 2014. Swimsuit model Kate Upton is one of dozens of celebrities who have had candid photographs distributed on the internet this week

"The idea that people who search for pictures of Lawrence are participating in the violation of her body and 'enjoying an ongoing assault' reeks of the kind of spooky nonsensical logic that insists you steal a person's soul if you photograph them."

He says it's similar to saying that people who watched the recorded beheading of journalist James Foley by IS were dishonouring his memory.

"People who go searching for these sorts of images are guilty of curiosity, morbid fascination and, in the case of the JLaw photo hack, poor impulse control," he writes.

He continues:

"Yes, it'd be nice to think people acted with decorum when alone with a laptop in their home, but the seething, Commandment-shattering cesspool that is the internet suggests many do not."

More than abusers or accomplices, writes Gizmodo's Luke Hopewell, the people seeking out these photos are guilty of a double-standard.

In a post announcing that his website will not link to any forums containing the leaked photographs, Hopewell writes:

"If you've ever objected to your privacy being violated by tough policies like metadata collection or mass surveillance or Facebook toying with user emotions in news feeds or whatever, you probably shouldn't look at these photos for risk of being a massive hypocrite."

The threat posed by Big Brother and intrusive corporations can be trumped, it seems, by the unquenchable desire for celebrity skin.


Should the US adopt a shorter working week?

Man in suit on the beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Andrea Mitchell MSNBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Jamison Foser Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fascinating indeed.


Message to kids: Parks bad, guns good

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

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

Today's must-read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ukraine

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

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

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

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

France

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

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

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

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

Pakistan

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

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

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

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

Central African Republic

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

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

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

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

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

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

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

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


'No strategy' Obama reveals IS truth

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

"We don't have a strategy yet."

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Mollie Hemingway The Federalist

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

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

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

It all depends on perspective.

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Mike Rogers US Congressman

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

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

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

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Analysis: Jon Sopel, North America Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Lawrence Freedman Professor, King's College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


At presser, Obama's suit does the talking

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Laura Basset The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Wesley Lowery The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cue more church jokes, I suppose.

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

Is Wisconsin's Scott Walker in trouble?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at a convention.

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

Today's must-read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraq

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

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

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

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

Ghana

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

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

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

France

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

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

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

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

Turkey

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

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

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

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

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

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

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

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

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

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


Don't blame war correspondent victims

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

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

Today's must-read

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

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

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

He writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan

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

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

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

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

Timor Leste

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

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

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

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

Syria

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

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

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

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

Brazil

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

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

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

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

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

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

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

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

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


Death by cop: Invisible numbers

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote John Roman and Zach McDade The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Richard Florida CityLab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(By Annie Waldman)


Burger King abdicates US citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Ben White CNBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Damian Paletta The Wall Street Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the wonderful world of global corporate finance.

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


Golfing while the world burns?

President Barack Obama squats by a golf course green.

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

Today's must-read

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

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

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

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

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

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

He writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya

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

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

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

Mexico

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

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

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

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

Syria

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

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

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

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

Venezuela

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

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

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

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

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

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

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


Michael Brown 'no angel' controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Toure The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

A criticism of the New York Times posted on Twitter.

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

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

A criticism of the New York Times posted on Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

(By Annie Waldman)


Did a US columnist sink the French?

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

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

Today's must-read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qatar

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

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

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

South Korea

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

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

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

Iraq

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

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

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

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

Nigeria

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

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

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

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

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

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

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

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


Assad and the US: New BFFs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, as PJ Media's Walter Hudson writes:

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

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

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

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

However, there was one important caveat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


US Democrats rally around Rick Perry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada

Quebec's lessons from Scottish separatists

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

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

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

Russia

Playing games with Asian diplomacy

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

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

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

India

A disappointing end to a dynasty

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

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

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

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

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

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

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

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

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


Critics of the US focus on Ferguson

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

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

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

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

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

Law enforcement offical

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

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

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

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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Miles Godfrey Syndey Daily Telegraph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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