April 15th, 2014
06:15 PM ET

What I'm reading: The real history of the 2nd Amendment

By Fareed Zakaria

"Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands," writes John Paul Stevens in the Washington Post. "Those emotional arguments would be nullified by the adoption of my proposed amendment. The amendment certainly would not silence the powerful voice of the gun lobby; it would merely eliminate its ability to advance one mistaken argument."

“In Ukraine, nuclear emissions could exceed both Chernobyl and Fukushima. Wartime conditions would prevent emergency crews from getting to an affected plant to contain radiological releases should reactor containments fail. And, with government services shut down in the midst of fighting, civilians attempting to escape radioactive contamination would not know what to do or where to go to protect themselves,” writes Bennett Ramberg for Project Syndicate.

“Such risks might be one reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin to think twice about ordering a military invasion of Ukraine. But, should war come, combatants must do all they can to keep conflict away from the nuclear sites and the off-site power sources feeding them.”

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April 9th, 2014
05:45 PM ET

What I'm reading: Do street protests work?

By Fareed Zakaria

“In today’s world, an appeal to protest via Twitter, Facebook, or text message is sure to attract a crowd, especially if it is to demonstrate against something – anything, really – that outrages us,” argues Moises Naim in The Atlantic. “The problem is what happens after the march. Sometimes it ends in violent confrontation with the police, and more often than not it simply fizzles out. Behind massive street demonstrations there is rarely a well-oiled and more-permanent organization capable of following up on protesters’ demands and undertaking the complex, face-to-face, and dull political work that produces real change in government. This is the important point made by Zeynep Tufekci, a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, who writes that ‘Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.’”

“As the Ukraine crisis continues it is clear that Mr Putin has made a significant strategic mistake,” writes Nick Butler in the Financial Times. "Russia is a petropower rather than a superpower and in a global market petropower is unusable as a means of pressure. By raising European consciousness about the degree of dependence on Russian gas that had developed, he has done his own country a great disservice.”

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April 8th, 2014
10:23 AM ET

What I'm reading: Why China's economy needs reform

By Fareed Zakaria

“China’s ability to postpone a crisis might lead the powers-that-be to prefer the option of adjustment delayed. That could prove a huge mistake,” argues Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. “Growth cannot be sustained by increasing indebtedness indefinitely. Reform and rebalancing are essential. From what I heard at the China Development Forum last month the Chinese authorities understand this. Indeed without these reforms, their plan for liberalizing the capital account could be lethal. China can avoid a financial crisis. That is a boon, though it also risks reducing pressure for reform. Yet reform must come – and the sooner the better.”

“There are still plenty of diehard anti-Castro figures in Washington. But calling the arguments they marshal threadbare is unkind to threads,” argues The Economist. “Cuba does not threaten American security. It is playing a constructive role in the peace process between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrillas. Its political system is nasty and undemocratic, but it is buttressed, not undermined, by the embargo. (The reverse is true of the standing of the United States in Latin America.) Waiting for the Castros to die makes no sense when Venezuela’s crisis presents an opportunity now to cement the process of liberalization in Cuba.”

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March 31st, 2014
05:28 PM ET

What I'm reading: Are we making a mistake with big data?

By Fareed Zakaria

“New, large, cheap data sets – and powerful analytical tools will pay dividends – nobody doubts that. And there are a few cases in which analysis of very large data sets has worked miracles,” writes Tim Harford in the Financial Times. “David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge points to Google Translate, which operates by statistically analysing hundreds of millions of documents that have been translated by humans and looking for patterns it can copy. This is an example of what computer scientists call ‘machine learning,’ and it can deliver astonishing results with no preprogrammed grammatical rules. Google Translate is as close to theory-free, data-driven algorithmic black box as we have – and it is, says Spiegelhalter, ‘an amazing achievement.’ That achievement is built on the clever processing of enormous data sets.”

“But big data do not solve the problem that has obsessed statisticians and scientists for centuries: the problem of insight, of inferring what is going on, and figuring out how we might intervene to change a system for the better.”

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March 26th, 2014
06:29 PM ET

What I'm reading

By Fareed Zakaria

“Mass arrests and mass trials have become key tools in [Egypt’s] expanding ‘war on terrorism.’ The same court in Minya is hearing another case, which will resume on April 28th, in which more than six hundred Islamists are charged with the murder of two policemen,” writes Ursula Lindsey in the New Yorker. “On Wednesday, Egypt’s chief prosecutor announced two more mass trials, with a total of nine hundred and nineteen defendants. Many activists have been dragged from their homes to face spurious charges, and an unconstitutional law to ban protests has been passed. Journalists working for Al Jazeera English have been charged with membership in a terrorist organization and with fabricating news to blacken Egypt’s reputation; on Monday, they were once again denied bail. Meanwhile, the show trials of two ex-Presidents, Mubarak and Morsi, are ongoing.”

“Amid all these legal proceedings, there has been no proper accounting for the abuses of any of Egypt’s regimes.”

“India’s cities are so insistently provocative that, for a certain class of Indian, to be under-stimulated has become the ultimate luxury,” writes Tunku Varadarajan for the Daily Beast. “For some time now, members of the Indian elite who have no family connection to the place have been quietly buying land in Coorg, building vacation houses in its remote hills and valleys. Once obsessed with gleaming hotel towers and swimming pools in the “foreign” mold, India’s domestic tourists have grown infinitely more sophisticated and, even, jaded. Indians who have “been there, done that” in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and the Swiss Alps want languid escapes from their overscheduled lives. And they are deeply nostalgic for the quiet India – so recently changed – that they remember from childhood vacations.”

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March 24th, 2014
12:09 PM ET

What I'm reading: Why would Obama administration do this?

By Fareed Zakaria

“The Internet is often described as a miracle of self-regulation, which is almost true. The exception is that the United States government has had ultimate control from the beginning,” writes L. Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal. “Washington has used this oversight only to ensure that the Internet runs efficiently and openly, without political pressure from any country.”

“This was the happy state of affairs until last Friday, when the Obama administration made the surprise announcement it will relinquish its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, which assigns and maintains domain names and Web addresses for the Internet. Russia, China and other authoritarian governments have already been working to redesign the Internet more to their liking, and now they will no doubt leap to fill the power vacuum caused by America's unilateral retreat.”

“The old economic paradigm relied on unsustainable growth, so we must change the paradigm,” write Sean McElwee and Lew Daly for The Week. “For decades, our rising standard of living came at a deep cost to our environment and our children's future. There is simply not enough planetary bio-capacity to grow our way out of the messy moral discussions of distribution. The idea that inequality is merely an inefficiency to be corrected with a technocratic fix or perpetual growth is no longer tenable.”

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March 18th, 2014
12:13 AM ET

What I'm reading: A mother speaks out on India's Section 377

By Fareed Zakaria

"What makes life meaningful is love. The right that makes us human is the right to love. To criminalize the expression of that right is profoundly cruel and inhumane," writes Leila Seth in the New York Review of Books following the Indian Supreme Court decision on the criminalization of homosexuality. "To acquiesce in such criminalization or, worse, to recriminalize it is to display the very opposite of compassion. To show exaggerated deference to a majoritarian Parliament when the matter is one of fundamental rights is to display judicial pusillanimity, for there is no doubt that in the constitutional scheme it is the judiciary that is the ultimate interpreter."

"A review petition is now up for hearing before one of the two original judges plus another, who will replace the now retired Justice Singhvi. It will be heard in chambers. No lawyers will be present."

 

 

March 13th, 2014
06:15 PM ET

What I'm reading: America's looming retirement crisis

By Fareed Zakaria

“[F]irst, a bit of background on the real debt crisis in this country, the one that we haven’t talked about seriously yet, let alone come to terms with – the retirement crisis,” writes Rana Foroohar in TIME. “The key stat you need to know: the median household retirement savings for all workers between the ages of 55 to 64 is $120,000. That works out to about $625 a month. A full one-third of the workforce aged 45 to 54 has saved nothing at all for retirement. At a time when social security benefits are being paired back, public pensions are being restructured en mass, and housing growth is flat (only the top 10 markets in the country are predicted to have any significant price increases in the next 15 years), this is a looming iceberg of a crisis.”

“A diplomatic approach to Iran would not sit well with many in the Syrian opposition,” argues Jonathan Stevenson in the New York Times. “But they also have to face facts: With or without Iran, the United States and its allies will remain wary of any political deal unless the moderate opposition substantially purges its ranks of jihadists, who are infiltrating Syria in increasing numbers.”

“Even partial success in these endeavors would make Russia – which is genuinely concerned about transnational terrorism – more inclined to urge Mr. Assad toward a power-sharing deal, and possibly a graceful exit. Beyond that, it would address the regime’s purported sticking point, namely the opposition’s perceived subordination of ‘terrorism’ to political transition.

“Iran, of course, would prefer the status quo. So what, realistically, could we expect out of this approach?”

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March 11th, 2014
04:39 PM ET

What I'm reading: Will Russia make a play in Kazakhstan?

By Fareed Zakaria

“There are signs of disapproval by the ruling elite in Kazakhstan regarding the Russian military involvement in Ukraine,” write Peter Elstov and Klaus Larres in the New Republic. “Putin’s longtime supporter President Nursultan Nazarbayev is cautiously silent, but spontaneous protests in front of the Russian Consulate in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, have not been disbanded by the police. This should not be surprising: Russians in Kazakhstan constitute about 24 percent of the population – more than 3 million people. In northern Kazakhstan, almost 50 percent of the population is Russian, with some areas having a majority of Russians. It is not inconceivable – following the logic behind the annexation of Crimea by the Russian army – that Putin may, at some point, want to return parts of northern Kazakhstan to the Russian orbit, particularly if this country becomes politically unstable.”

“Only when the 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and gas disputes with Russia in 2006 and 2009 kept dragging it on to the west’s foreign-policy radar did Brussels and Washington start to see Ukraine’s significance as a buffer between Europe and Russia,” writes Julian Evans in The New Statesman. “Yet even then they viewed it as no more than a commodity: a strategic chess piece, a prize of influence, a resource-rich target of western expansionism.”

“The result of this psychically toxic mixture of abuse, neglect, condescension and exploitation? The Ukrainian people, ethnic Ukrainians (78 percent), ethnic Russians (17 percent) and others, had a nation but did not – until 31 November last – start to have the confidence of nationhood.”

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March 10th, 2014
09:49 AM ET

What I'm reading

By Fareed Zakaria

“That tacit decision to accept all Russian money at face value has come home to roost in the past week,” writes Anne Applebaum in Slate. “Some of the general European reluctance to apply economic sanctions to Russia is of course directly related to the Russian investments, interests, and clients of European companies and banks. But in fact, the laundering of Russian money into acceptability, in both Europe and the United States, has had far more important consequences in Russia itself.”

“Many Venezuelans are still unable to connect the dots between Chavez's policies and the economic difficulties they face every day,” writes Raul Gallegos for Bloomberg. “Enough people continue to believe that their former leader’s benevolent redistribution plans were somehow only botched by state inefficiency.”

“Chavez’s version of social inclusion set a low bar. It never gave the poor the tools to achieve sustainable development through viable long-term employment in a thriving private sector. But nurturing people’s ambition has never been the Chavista way.”

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March 5th, 2014
10:28 PM ET

What I'm reading: Time to reconsider NATO expansion?

By Fareed Zakaria

“The stark fact is that even if Russian military intervention stops with the establishment of a pro-Russian vassal state in Crimea, Russia will have enormous leverage over the new government in Ukraine,” writes Edward Walker in the Los Angeles Times. “It can cut back on crucial gas deliveries, raise the price of gas and other commodities it is selling to an economically prostrate Ukraine, impose painful tariff and nontariff barriers on trade, and, above all, it can stir up endless trouble for Kiev, not just in Crimea but also in other Russian-speaking regions of the country.”

“In the longer term, the crisis in Ukraine suggests that it is time to reconsider NATO expansion and to explore alternative institutional arrangements for European security in the 21st century. Ukraine, for example, would be much better served by a NATO-Russian-Ukrainian treaty that provided for its military neutrality and some kind of a common customs regime for trade with the EU and Russia (or a Russian-led customs union). It is in no one's interest, least of all Ukraine's, to see a continuation of the dogfight between Russia and the West over Ukraine's external orientation.”

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February 28th, 2014
01:52 PM ET

What I'm reading: Can Ukraine avoid partition?

By Fareed Zakaria

“If neither the Slavophiles nor the Westernizers can carry the entire territory, some kind of separation starts to look inevitable. Such a separation might come about as paramilitary groups establish local supremacy. Or it might happen as a result of Russian intervention, as in Armenia, Moldova and, later, South Ossetia,” writes Daniel Hannan in The Telegraph. “It is easy enough to imagine Russian security forces crossing the border at the request of local proxies and establishing a de facto Russophone state. The Trans-Dniester Republic still exists, unrecognized but very much in force, on Ukraine’s western border; why not a Trans-Dnieper Republic to its east?”

“Does Nato have the will to prevent such a development? If not, what are our options? If a partition is coming anyway, might it not be better to take ownership of the process: to see that the border is decided peacefully and by referendum rather than by military occupation?”

“Crimea could become a part of Ukraine that is not really ruled by Ukraine,” argues Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. “Clearly, the men with machine guns are not the product of a chaotic social movement, as were the protesters in Kiev. Someone bought them their unmarked uniforms, and somebody planned their carefully timed arrival on the scene. Their presence, coupled with major Russian military exercises in the area, may be intended to encourage separatism. So are the warnings that the Russian media have issued about “fascism” and extremism in Kiev. And if separatists don’t appear in large numbers, then the issue can be used anyway, as a constant source of anxiety and tension for the fragile new government in Kiev.”

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