December 14th, 2013
09:05 PM ET

Why Ukraine is in turmoil

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Take a look at the extraordinary images from Ukraine in the video. Protesters in Kiev knocking down a giant statue of the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians cheering them on as they hack the fallen statue with hammers. The incident last Sunday was one of the most symbolic moments of the protests underway in Ukraine.

At the heart of these protests is a widespread frustration not only with the government in Kiev, but more so with Russian interference. To some, the moment recalled another defining moment, from 1989. That was the year Communism fell across eastern Europe, leading to the end of the Soviet Union, and, of course, to Ukraine's independence.

But you need to go much further back in history to understand what's really going on in Ukraine.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine • What in the World?
December 2nd, 2013
10:50 AM ET

How not to solve inequality

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

If there's one country in the world that looks like a utopia, its name must be Switzerland. This is a country that has it all. The average income is $82,000 a year – 65 percent more than the average American income. Everyone has great healthcare, childcare, and education. The unemployment rate is 3 percent. There is almost no corruption. According to the OECD, of 34 developed countries surveyed, the Swiss have the greatest degree of trust in their government. And, of course, it is a spectacular country with great traditions of skiing, cheese, chocolate, and wine.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, actually.

The Swiss are furious about income inequality. The story is a familiar one. According to Reuters, in 1984 top earners in Swiss firms made 6 times as much as the bottom earners. Today, they make 43-times what bottom earners make. At some banks and firms, CEOs make 200-times the salary of the lowest-paid employee.

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Topics: Economy • Inequality • What in the World?
November 16th, 2013
02:28 PM ET

Five ways to ruin an economy

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Some startling images caught our eye this week. A shopping free-for-all at a major electronics chain, the equivalent of America's Best Buy. People making off with flat-screen TVs…refrigerators…and more…all at bargain basement prices. No, it’s not the holidays yet. This is what happened when the government of Venezuela decided to play Robin Hood: the army took over the privately owned chain and slashed prices.

The incident got us thinking. We often talk about best practices for economies. Perhaps there should also be a list of things to avoid – a checklist titled ‘How to ruin your economy.’ Well, it so happens this isn't just a theoretical list, because Venezuela is actually ticking each of those boxes in practice.

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Topics: Economy • Venezuela • What in the World?
October 26th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Why world can't agree over climate change

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."

The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed last week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around.  The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.

The latest report from the United Nation’s scientific panel says it is “extremely likely” – more than a 95 percent probability – that human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades. Another study, published in Nature, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.

So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There’s a clever explanation. To understand it, we need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game –but one played with real money.

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Topics: China • Climate • Environment • What in the World?
October 19th, 2013
02:40 PM ET

Where are Africa's great leaders?

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

The world has welcomed another batch of Nobel Laureates for accomplishments in the sciences, literature, and global peace. But there is another prize, perhaps just as important, for which there was no winner.

We are talking about the Mo Ibrahim Prize, established by the Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim. The criteria for winning are listed publicly on the prize website: You need to be a democratically elected African head of state that has left office in the last three years, and demonstrated excellent leadership. If you meet the criteria, you get a $5 million award, plus an annual pension of $200,000 that kicks in after a decade.

The point, of course, is to provide a financial incentive for African leaders to shun corruption. And yet, for the fourth time in its seven year history, the awards committee was unable to find a winner from any of Africa's 50-plus countries. Bravo to the Ibrahim prize for holding high standards, even if that means no grand ceremony.

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Topics: Africa • Governance • What in the World?
October 12th, 2013
02:12 PM ET

China gives U.S. lesson in grown-up policy making

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Last week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit saw the presidents of China, Mexico, Russia and many others in Bali, Indonesia.  In the video, tucked away on the far right, you see John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State. And where is President Obama? Well, he was stuck in Washington, of course, dealing with the government shutdown and threats of default. Obama missed not only APEC, but also ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations summit, as well as planned visits to Malaysia and the Philippines.

For Asians, the symbolism was clear. The United States was struggling to get its house in order. And perhaps to highlight a contrast, China was present in full force, putting on an exhibition of power and diplomacy. President Xi Jinping attended the APEC meeting and then made special trips to Malaysia and Indonesia. The Premier, Li Keqiang, attended the ASEAN meeting and traveled to Thailand.

Consider the deals that were struck last week. President Xi promised to triple his country's trade with Malaysia within four years. In Indonesia, he promised tens of billions of dollars in investment. And he courted Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott, to whom he promised more trade and more cooperation in technology and energy.

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Topics: Asia • China • What in the World?
U.S. keeping dubious company over arms treaty
October 7th, 2013
10:28 AM ET

U.S. keeping dubious company over arms treaty

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Amid all of Washington's discussions on Syria and Iran, one other issue seems to have gotten ignored. The U.S. signed an actual international treaty this month, one with vast implications for terrorism and war around the world. The problem is…the treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate – and that's just not going to happen.

Let us explain.

It's the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty – an agreement that aims to control the $70 billion global trade of weapons. Almost every major commodity is subject to some form of international regulation – gold, oil, currencies. But there have been few controls on the flow of weaponry. Countries have wanted to have an unregulated free-for-all in the weapons market. And we are not just talking about guns.

The U.N. treaty covers battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships. These are all weapons that are playing a part in ongoing wars in Syria and large parts of Africa. As Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan put it last week, these are the true "weapons of mass destruction" as much as the chemical weapons that were used in Syria last month. And yet everyone – including rogue states, militias, and terrorist groups – seem to have unfettered access to them.

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September 21st, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Will Merkel practice what she preaches?

By Global Public Square staff

Imagine if we had national elections this week. There would be no shortage of big debates over: the deficit, taxes, Obamacare, the size of government... you name the big topic, and our two parties will have a big disagreement.

Contrast that with another major country which actually is at the polls Sunday. The hot topics there are: whether or not to have one day of the week set aside for vegetarianism ... whether or not mothers should pick subsidized childcare over keeping their kids at home ... or get this one: whether or not foreign motorists should pay tolls. Seriously? Where in the world is this wondrous country with no real problems?

Well, it's one of the world's largest economies, and Europe’s largest: Germany.

Part of the reason why Germans are debating mundane issues is because, unlike in the rest of Europe or indeed much of the world, the overall picture is quite rosy.

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Topics: Elections • Germany • What in the World?
September 7th, 2013
04:08 PM ET

What Sweden can teach America

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Conservatives often describe President Obama as a socialist. According to those critics, the president's goal is something called "Swedenization" – sky-high taxes, bloated government, and ruinous welfare policies. Well, the president should have taken some of these conservatives with him to Sweden this week. They would have found a country very different from the Socialist Sweden of the past.

You know how conservatives hate inheritance taxes – or "death taxes"? Well, guess which country has no inheritance tax – Sweden. In fact Sweden today is characterized by a very free market, freer and less regulated than the United States in many areas. It does have high income taxes, but it uses these to fund things like health care and pensions that are far more efficiently run than their counterparts in America. Indeed, Sweden tends to be near the top of most rankings on quality of life and competitiveness.

The old image of Sweden has much truth to it – 20 years ago. In 1995, Sweden had the largest government in Europe as a share of the economy. About 65 percent of its GDP was government spending  –  the nightmare scenario for the American right. Since then, Sweden has been reforming, opening up its economy and becoming market friendly and efficient. By 2012, government spending had fallen by a fifth. Sweden is now in sixth place, behind even France.

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August 24th, 2013
11:00 PM ET

How to understand Iran’s supreme leader

By Global Public Square staff

One of the most powerful leaders in the world once said this:

“Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is the best novel that has ever been written in history ... I have said over and over again, go read [it] once. Les Miserables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.”

Who said those words? It was not the president of France. In fact, it was not any Western leader at all. Those are the words of a man the West has come to perceive as a sworn enemy – Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ayatollah of Iran.

This revelation is part of an important essay in the new edition of Foreign Affairs, by the Iranian dissident and writer Akbar Ganji. It turns out Khamenei believes novels have given him a deep insight into the West. The Supreme Leader has read The Grapes of Wrath, as well as Uncle Tom's Cabin and many other books from around the world. Ganji's essay, entitled ‘Who is Ali Khamenei?’ provides fascinating insights into the most powerful man in Iran.

Remember, Khamenei has been in power in Iran since the beginning. When Iran had its revolution in 1979, and Iranians overthrew the American-backed Shah to found the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei was at the forefront. He became president in 1981, and then Supreme Leader in 1989, with full control over the military, executive, and judiciary.

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Topics: Iran • What in the World?
August 17th, 2013
03:07 AM ET

U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

We were struck by a piece of news recently that is good for America, shows that our politicians are learning from their mistakes, and are actually cooperating with each other – on both sides of the aisle. Sounds too good to be true?

For many years, the United States has had a growing problem in its criminal justice system. As Global Public Square has pointed out before, the United States is number one in the world when it comes to incarceration – by far. In 2009, for example, for every 100,000 citizens, 760 Americans were in prison. That was five times the rate of incarceration in Britain, eight times the rate in Germany and South Korea, and 12 times the rate in Japan.

This trend began about 40 years ago. In 1970, state prisons had a combined total of 174,000 inmates. By 2009, they had 1.4 million – an eight-fold increase. And these correctional systems cost a lot of money of course – nearly $80 billion a year, more than the GDP of Croatia or Tunisia.

Well it seems that finally, common sense is prevailing. Attorney General Eric Holder made an important speech this week admitting that our prisons are overcrowded and costly. He specifically called for a reduction in mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders.

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Topics: Drugs • Law • United States • What in the World?
August 10th, 2013
03:40 PM ET

Time for optimism over India-Pakistan ties?

By Global Public Square staff

Washington’s efforts to broker Middle East peace have given this age-old conflict a high profile and raised expectations once again. But there is another decades-old dispute, thousands of miles away, that is getting very little attention. And for the first time in many years, there are reasons to be optimistic about its prospects: We’re talking about India and Pakistan.

Yes, the two countries have fought three full-scale wars and are locked in a nuclear arms race. They have frequent skirmishes over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir, as they did once again this week when five Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush.

But if you take a step back from Kashmir and examine the broader political climate in the region – India, Pakistan, and also Afghanistan – there are reasons for cautious optimism.

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Topics: India • Pakistan • What in the World?
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