Vladimir Putin says he is withdrawing most Russian forces from Syria because his “objectives” have been achieved. How to judge that boast?
On such goals as keeping the dictator Bashar al-Assad in power, increasing Russian influence in the Middle East, restoring Moscow’s seat at the table of global power, and sending a message of strength to Islamic extremists inside Russia’s own borders, the jury is still out.
But it’s not too early to consider Russian success on another front: showcasing military strength to potential adversaries, allies and arms buyers. “Essentially, Russia is using their incursion into Syria as an operational proving ground,” retired Air Force general David Deptula told the New York Times last year.… Seguir leyendo » “Putin’s Syria Gamble Has Already Paid Off”
The failure of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to reach any meaningful agreement at their meeting in Vienna on Friday confirmed that the historic storm besetting the oil market has markedly reduced this once-powerful group’s effectiveness and influence.
Far from adding an element of stability, an internally divided OPEC will contribute to further volatility in oil markets, with prices remaining low for longer than many anticipated.
The oil market is being battered by a perfect storm, as three distinct forces come together. The supply side has been destabilized by the rapid encroachment of shale energy technology. The demand side is undermined by declining global growth in general, and the sharper relative fall in emerging economies in particular.… Seguir leyendo » “OPEC’s Divisions Keep Oil Low and Volatile”
The two-week United Nations conference on climate change is halfway over, and no matter what else happens, it has already been a clear-cut success in two critical areas.
As important as a global accord is, the most influential actors on climate change have been cities and businesses, and leaders in both groups made it clear that they will not wait for an agreement that, if it comes together, won’t even take full effect until 2020.
Mayors and officials representing more than 500 cities organized and attended their own summit in Paris (which Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and I co-hosted). It was the first time local leaders had ever gathered in such numbers during a UN climate-change conference.… Seguir leyendo » “What Paris Talks Have Accomplished So Far”
If Islamic State was directly responsible for the attacks in Paris that have killed more than 130 people, it is a serious change in strategy.
“It’s not just about inspiring any more, but motivating,” Patrick Skinner, a former CIA official now with the consulting firm Soufan Group, told the Financial Times. “They are projecting their terror further and more deliberately.”
Indeed, coordinating at least eight terrorists for attacks on six locations is a whole different level of sophistication than urging Canadian Muslims to carry out random hit-and-runs on men in uniform.
Coming shortly after attacks in Ankara and Beirut for which Islamic State is taking responsibility, as well as its possible bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, it appears that Islamic State is taking its holy war to new battlegrounds.… Seguir leyendo » “What Does Islamic State Think It Is Doing?”
This weekend’s annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which brought together finance ministers and central bank governors from almost 200 countries, seem to have yielded no material changes in policy formulation at either the national or multilateral levels, and offered little to alter views on global economic prospects.
Here are the seven main takeaways from the gathering in Lima:
- The assessment of the general context is far from reassuring. In the communique of the International Monetary and Financial Committee, the high-level policy body, officials from around the world characterized global economic growth as “modest and uneven overall,” and took note of increasing uncertainty and financial volatility.
… Seguir leyendo » “7 Bland Takeaways on the Global Economy”
When it comes to democracy, perhaps Tunisia should now be teaching Turkey.
After the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, it seemed as if it would be the other way around. Then, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, toured the region in triumph, promoting the so-called Turkish model of reconciling Islamism with democracy to produce prosperity. He even publicly advised Egypt’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government to adopt a secular constitution, much to its irritation.
The Arab Spring, of course, quickly turned to nightmare — except in Tunisia. Ennahda, that country’s iteration of the Brotherhood, chose to share power and form a coalition with secular parties, rather than try to rule alone and impose its views.… Seguir leyendo » “What Tunisia Could Teach Turkey About Democracy”
Greece’s debt is unsustainable. The International Monetary Fund has said so, and it’s hard to find anyone who disagrees. The Greek government sees structural reform without debt reduction as politically and economically toxic. The main governing party, Syriza, has made debt reduction a central plank of its electoral platform and will find it hard to hold on to power — much less implement painful structural measures — absent this achievement.
Moreover, tax increases and spending cuts by themselves will only deepen the Greek slump. Other measures are needed to attract the investment required to jump-start growth. Reducing the debt and its implicit claim on future incomes is an obvious first step.… Seguir leyendo » “Escaping the Greek Debt Trap”
Sadly, the “Graccident” has happened.
The Greek economy is now in intensive care, as its parts — and notably its banking system — grind to a halt. The economy that eventually comes out of intensive care will be smaller and uncomfortably different in form, but it will also have the potential to prosper over the longer term if some important decisions are made rapidly and consistently.
The dramatic breakdown in bitterness and acrimony of negotiations this weekend between Greece and its creditors understandably panicked Greeks, who are justifiably worried about their financial well-being. Lines started forming at automatic tellers, as depositors rushed to pull out whatever cash they could.… Seguir leyendo » “Greece Comes to a Sudden Stop. Now What?”
Now that Greece and its European creditors have set the country on a perilous path into the unknown, it’s worth considering the economic damage that almost a year of political turmoil and brinkmanship has wrought. Nowhere is this clearer than with capital flight: Over the 12 months through May, at least 64 billion euros in private money has left the country — the equivalent of more than a third of Greece’s annual economic output.
Data from Greece’s central bank, which records a liability for every euro that leaves the banking system, suggest that investors and depositors started pulling out in mid-2014 — not long after the far-left Syriza party’s victory in European parliamentary elections set the government on a collision course with creditors.… Seguir leyendo » “The Greek Damage, in One Chart”
The Irish have become the first people in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum. It’s an astonishing statement about the pace of cultural change in a country where more than 80 percent of residents identify as Catholic. It’s also a hopeful development for gays and lesbians in other nations: Countries with strong religious opposition to homosexuality can evolve.
The Irish referendum is notable for another reason: It further erodes the original justification for partition between a Protestant majority in the north and a Catholic majority in the south. In the decade before the island was split in 1920, northern Protestants threatened to take up arms against the British government if it granted Ireland the kind of home-rule powers that many in Scotland now seek.… Seguir leyendo » “Could Gay Marriage Reunite Ireland?”
A demoralizing investigation on performance-enhancing substances in cycling has found that the sport’s international governing bodies have largely ignored anti-doping efforts and shielded athletes from testing positive. This may not be a huge surprise, but the breadth of the problem as disclosed is still pretty shocking.
The 227-page report by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission concludes that for years, the International Cycling Union ignored widespread doping, particularly in regard to Lance Armstrong, to protect the sport’s reputation and maintain its growth. It states:
The allegations and review of UCI’s anti-doping programme reveal that decisions taken by UCI leadership in the past have undermined anti-doping efforts: examples range from adopting an attitude that prioritised a clean image and sought to contain the doping problem, to disregarding the rules and giving preferential status to high profile athletes, to publicly criticising whistleblowers and engaging in personal disputes with other stakeholders.… Seguir leyendo » “Lance Armstrong Isn’t Cycling’s Only Villain”
As someone who sides with Germany in the matter of Greek debt, I often hear that creditors should be held culpable for driving deadbeats like Greece to the brink of bankruptcy. That’s true to an extent, but not when the debtor is a government. Nation-states have confiscatory powers that allow them to do to their creditors what medieval kings did to their Jews. It’s a big mistake to pretend that a country like Greece is more vulnerable than it really is.
Nobel prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz eloquently described the concept of lenders’ fault in a recent column:
Debts are contracts — that is, voluntary agreements — so creditors are just as responsible for them as debtors.… Seguir leyendo » “You Say Debt Relief, I Say Theft”
Columbus, Ohio, is a long way from Brasilia, but thanks to a bunch of angry seniors and a lot of muck, these distant compass points in the Americas are now on a collision course.
This week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a motion on behalf of state pensioners over losses on investments in the corruption-riddled Brazilian oil major, Petrobras.
“The allegations against Petrobras are so egregious we have no choice but to take action on behalf of Ohio’s public employees and retirees,” DeWine told reporters in Columbus on Feb. 9.
Ohio is the latest plaintiff to pile on in a widening class action case against Latin America’s premier state-owned oil major, where evidence of pillage grows by the day.… Seguir leyendo » “Rousseff Is Brazil’s Crisis”
From the grainy post-Sept. 11 video clips of Osama bin Laden to today’s sophisticated online propaganda, Islamic terrorists and their supporters worldwide have proved adept at using the press, Internet and social media to get out their message and attract recruits.
Sporadic attempts by the U.S. and its allies to do the same have been far less successful. J.M. Berger, co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror,” said such efforts are complicated by the coalition against Islamic State being such a diverse group of countries, making it difficult to present a united countermessage.
This has led some people opposed to the terrorists to mount their own media battle.… Seguir leyendo » “How to Troll Islamic State Like a Pro”
If German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande had a Ukraine peace plan acceptable to Russian President Vladimir Putin, they would have flown to Moscow first, not to Kiev. Talks between the three leaders are taking place as I write, and they might even emerge with some sort of agreement. But I’m pretty sure they won’t end the crisis, because the Europeans have not made up their mind about their role in it. As long as they don’t, the war in Ukraine will grind on.
There are only two ways European Union leaders can influence the course of events.… Seguir leyendo » “Merkel and Hollande’s Mission in Moscow”
In the just-released film “Unbroken,” as in real life, U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Louis Zamperini was beaten, starved and forced to work as a slave laborer by his Japanese captors.
Things could have been worse. Like some other war prisoners held by the Japanese, Zamperini could have been used in biological warfare experiments. Or vivisected. Or beheaded, with parts of his body then eaten by his captors. As the historian Daqing Yang notes, 9 out of 10 U.S. POWs who died in captivity in World War II did so at the hands of the Japanese.
In Japan, where “Unbroken” does not yet — and may never — have a release date, right-wing nationalists have protested the film as racist and inaccurate.… Seguir leyendo » “Japan Should Embrace Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’”
What happens when people manipulate truth to advance a good cause?
The BBC reported today that a viral video of a “Syrian hero boy” rescuing a little girl while bullets rain around them is a fake. The video was created in May by a group of Norwegian filmmakers who apparently hoped to generate awareness of children in conflict zones.
The video has been viewed more than 3.4 million times on YouTube and covered by news sites including the Daily Mail, the Independent, the Telegraph and the New York Daily News. It was filmed in Malta on the same set used by the makers of “Gladiator.”
“If I could make a film and pretend it was real, people would share it and react with hope,” Lars Klevberg, the film’s director, told the BBC.… Seguir leyendo » “‘Syrian Hero Boy’ Is a Fake, and It Matters”
Russian President Vladimir Putin made headlines around the world last week when he defended the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, by which Stalin and Hitler agreed secretly to divide Eastern Europe between them. It was, Putin said, in line with the normal “methods of foreign policy” of the time.
“What is so bad about it, if the Soviet Union did not want to fight?” he asked.
Putin’s language was harsher than when last he spoke publicly on the subject, at a 2009 commemoration of the outbreak of World War II, when he dismissed “all treaties” with the Nazis as “morally unacceptable” and “politically senseless.” The reason for the shift in tone seems clear: Over the last year or so, relations between Moscow and the West have all but broken down and there is no mileage for Russia in accommodating Western sensibilities.… Seguir leyendo » “Putin’s Hitler-Pact Defense Should Worry Everyone”
Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala may have grounds to declare that yesterday’s nonbinding independence vote in Catalonia was “an act of pure propaganda that only served to exacerbate divisions among Catalans.” Yet in the face of such open contempt from the Madrid government, support for Catalan independence keeps growing.
The outcome of the poll was ambiguous for secessionists. Some 2.24 million people voted, 80.7 percent of them for full independence, another 10 percent for considering Catalonia a state but within Spain, and 4.5 percent against even the idea of statehood. That puts the number of secession supporters at only a third of the 5.4 million people estimated (by the Catalan government) to be eligible to vote.… Seguir leyendo » “Catalan Voters Tell Madrid to Back Down”
All of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand plans to transform India could be undone by a single, impressively titled law: the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Though proposed by the previous, Congress-led government, the act was supported by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, then in opposition, as a sop to Indian farmers. Now its provisions threaten to stymie any projects that require new land on which to build (which in India, means almost all of them). Among other things, the law demands that buyers pay four times the market price for agricultural land, resettle those displaced and undertake a social- and environmental-impact study before starting any construction.… Seguir leyendo » “India’s Law From Hell”