July 28th, 2014
04:44 PM ET

What I'm reading: Sanctions and Russia’s Achilles heel

By Fareed Zakaria

“But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia’s economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the ‘red lines’ that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a ‘gray line’ – demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis,” writes William E. Pomeranz for Reuters. “No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty – and risk – of doing business in Russia.”

“The market responded immediately, with dramatic declines in the Russian ruble and the Moscow stock market. In addition, the sanctions only exacerbated an already difficult situation for Russian companies. Syndicated loans for Russian commodities producers are down more than 80 percent over the past six months. The appetite for Russian bonds has also decreased considerably in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. So the current round of sanctions made a bad situation worse.”

“Arab leaders, usually prodigal in their outpourings of ritual solidarity with the Palestinians, have been curiously silent,” writes David Gardner in the Financial Times. “Partly that is because Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies are so hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian chapter. It is also because the ferocious Syrian war, and lightning surge of Sunni jihadis from Syria into Iraq, eclipses what for many looks like a new episode in a wearisomely familiar feud. Paradoxically, Israel wants to weaken but not overthrow Hamas – the cynical military expression is ‘mowing the lawn.’ For beyond Hamas lies the unbridled savagery of movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which already has followers in Gaza and the Palestinian refugee camps up and down the eastern Mediterranean that serve as universities of jihad.” FULL POST

July 23rd, 2014
06:05 PM ET

What I'm reading: Crossing borders

By Fareed Zakaria

“It is one thing for Republicans to decide that they will not be the party of immigration reform, but it is another to decide that they will be the anti-immigration party,” writes Amy Davidson in the New Yorker. “If they do, they will define themselves in opposition to America’s future and, incidentally, to its past – one built by newcomers like the gold prospector from Canada who, in 1876, sailed on a ship around South America and staked a claim that became the town of Oracle. In the short term, there may be benefits, in the form of an energized base, but enjoying them requires a distinct lack of shame.”

“But to understand the root of Hamas's current frustration, one must look not northeast from Gaza, but west. The epicenter of Hamas's growing desperation lies in the policies of the new Egyptian government,” writes Hussein Ibish in Foreign Policy.

“Following the ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian military swept into Sinai and the border area with Gaza. They reportedly killed up to two dozen Hamas operatives in Sinai whom they believed were operating in cahoots with insurgent groups, and virtually shut down Hamas's smuggling tunnel network. In the ensuing weeks, as the new government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi cracked down on its opponents, it treated Hamas as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorist campaign in Egypt being conducted by the extremist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and, according to the government, the Muslim Brotherhood itself. The Egyptian government sees itself as being at war with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is the Brotherhood group in Palestine. The relationship between Egypt and Hamas is therefore distinctly unfriendly, if not outright hostile.” FULL POST

July 22nd, 2014
04:53 PM ET

What I'm reading: Wild West gun laws fuel border crisis

By Fareed Zakaria

“The role of gun trafficking has been oddly absent in the debate over the gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that, coupled with economic despair, is driving the migrant wave from those three nations, the so-called Northern Triangle,” writes Alec MacGillis in the New Republic. “It’s not as if we’re unwilling to consider any U.S. responsibility for the surge—there’s plenty of talk about the fact that several of the gangs terrorizing the Northern Triangle got their start in Los Angeles, and about the role that U.S. drug policy has played in fueling violence south of the border.”

“Getting less attention, though, has been the U.S. link to the actual weaponry being used in the killings and other crimes that make the three Central American nations among the most dangerous in the world.”

“Income inequality has surged as a political and economic issue, but the numbers don’t show that inequality is rising from a global perspective,” writes Tyler Cowen in the New York Times. “Yes, the problem has become more acute within most individual nations, yet income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It’s a fact that hasn’t been noted often enough.”

 

 

July 16th, 2014
06:19 PM ET

What I'm reading: How to change minds

By Fareed Zakaria

“What if the best way to change minds isn’t to tell people why they’re wrong, but to tell them why they’re right? Scientists tried this recently and discovered that agreeing with people can be a surprisingly powerful way to shake up strongly held beliefs,” writes Julia Rosen in The Los Angeles Times.

“Researchers found that showing people extreme versions of ideas that confirmed – not contradicted – their opinions on a deeply divisive issue actually caused them to reconsider their stance and become more receptive to other points of view. The scientists attribute this to the fact that the new information caused people to see their views as irrational or absurd, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“[W]hile many Americans accidentally get caught up in the wide nets tossed out by NSA operatives into chat rooms and Facebook groups, the reporters also found that it is quite easy for the NSA to manipulate Section 702 when it wants to monitor American citizens without first getting a warrant,” writes Sue Halpern in the New York Review of Books. “It does so by using loose criteria to define ‘non-US persons.’ Americans who converse in a foreign language have been classified as ‘non-US persons’ under Section 702, for example, as have Americans who use off-shore proxy servers (that appear to place their computer in a foreign country, a practice often used by people in one country who would like to watch television in another, or want to bypass government firewalls). The implication here is that when the NSA wants to target American citizens without a warrant, Section 702 enables it to find a way.” FULL POST

July 15th, 2014
09:48 AM ET

What I'm reading: Don't squander U.S.-Germany ties

By Fareed Zakaria

“While calls for full disclosure of surveillance activities are unrealistic, it is now paramount to engage in a continuous intelligence dialogue between the U.S. and Germany to emphasize just how much spying activities can jeopardize the transatlantic relationship,” writes Norbert Rottgen in the Financial Times. “The U.S. policy of non-communication in intelligence matters endangers the transatlantic alliance. Expectations for intelligence co-operation to be shaped transparently among equals cannot easily be met given the global climate of insecurity. However, a strong and trusting relationship at government level is possible if both sides now invest the necessary efforts. In doing so, it is more crucial than ever to include the German public, who are increasingly struggling to see the true value of the German-American relationship.”

“In his long political career, Netanyahu has shown little appetite for ground campaigns and for the right reasons. Gaza is a messy place to wage war, with two million people crammed cheek-by-jowl into a tiny space,” writes Dan Ephron for Reuters.

“But for all his reluctance, the Israeli leader could well find himself ordering an incursion anyway – mainly because there seems to be no effective mediator available to broker a ceasefire.”

July 14th, 2014
05:57 PM ET

What I'm reading: Why Caliphate will devour its children

By Fareed Zakaria

“[T]the aftershocks from the jihadist rupture are still reverberating. Since Mr. Baghdadi's sermon last week declaring himself caliph, al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen have denounced him. So too has the mainstream Sunni religious establishment, including Cairo's al-Azhar seminary, which has always opposed al Qaeda's actions, and Yussuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric widely seen as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood,” writes Margaret Coker in the Wall Street Journal.

“But it is still unclear what effect, if any, such censure will have on the audience that Mr. Baghdadi has shown himself adroit at cultivating: the younger Islamist radicals, including dozens of European Muslims, who have been flocking to him.”

“The Caliphate idea also carries within it its own destruction,” writes Philip Jenkins on the Daily Beast. “Now the Caliphate is, so to speak, out of the bag, competition for the office will be intense, and violent. We can expect multiple rival Caliphs who will denounce and excommunicate each other, while factions will fight each other for the prized office. Expect many assassinations and internal coups.”

“Historically-minded Islamists might recall that back in the seventh century, three of the first four Caliphs perished by assassination. The murder of the fourth, Ali, launched the Sunni-Shia schism within Islam that is still a gaping wound 13 centuries later. It is not a happy precedent.” FULL POST

July 10th, 2014
10:39 AM ET

What I'm reading: The cost of the American Dream

By Fareed Zakaria

“Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in announcing a new policy to provide employees with a college education, declared: ‘In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American dream,’” argues Howard Gold in USA Today.

“In fact, three-quarters of Americans polled by the Brookings Institution in 2008 said the dream was harder to attain.

They're right to worry. An analysis by USA Today shows that living the American dream would cost the average family of four about $130,000 a year. Only 16 million U.S. households – around 1 in 8 – earned that much in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

“ISIS fastened on to the Sunni power networks of Saddam’s army and Ba’ath party, supposedly dismantled by the U.S.-led occupation, and the tribes, hostile to jihadi totalitarianism but now more aggrieved by the Maliki government,” writes David Gardner in the Financial Times. “While sectarianism is not religion, it does have the power to resurrect the zombie ideologies of Osama bin Laden and the Ba’ath – and even get them to work together.”

“The Shia, after centuries on Islam’s sidelines, finally have something to protect. It is not just about preventing a repeat of 1801, when Wahhabi marauders from the first Saudi kingdom sacked Kerbala and other Shia shrine cities. It is about 2003 and the rise of the Shia after the invasion of Iraq, which helped Tehran forge an axis of power from Baghdad to Beirut.” FULL POST

July 8th, 2014
06:53 PM ET

What I'm reading: What Kuwait says about Arab world

By Fareed Zakaria

“Kuwait highlights the new reality that Arab citizens are now demanding rights from their governments simply on the basis of being entitled to those rights, and not necessarily because they are poor, suffer uneven access to social services, or have been politically abused and oppressed, as was the case with uprisings in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria,” writes Rami Khouri in the Daily Star.

“Kuwait also speaks of deeper discontents among other citizens in oil-rich Gulf states who can only express their grievances through websites and social media. This is evident in several Arab countries, which, like Kuwait, try to suppress public political accusations and grievances, even by jailing individuals who Tweet sentiments that are critical of state policies.

“The demonstrators in Kuwait are not calling for the overthrow of the regime, but rather for constitutional political reforms.”

“Saving our skins might be surprisingly cheap. To avoid dangerous climate change, the world needs to boost spending on green energy by $1 trillion a year,” writes Fred Pearce for The New Scientist.

“…That sounds like a lot to make up. But global investment in energy is already $1 trillion a year and rising, says David McCollum of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg. The problem is that much of that investment goes to fossil fuels. According to the International Energy Agency, government subsidies for fossil fuels are around $500 billion a year – six times more than subsidies for renewables.”

July 1st, 2014
08:25 PM ET

What I'm reading: ISIS is destroying itself

By Fareed Zakaria

“The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is scaring the hell out of everyone. It has infested Syria, overrun Iraq, alarmed Iran, and convinced U.S. politicians it’s the most dangerous terrorist organization ever. But frightening everyone isn’t a long-term growth strategy. ISIS is destroying itself,” writes William Saletan in Slate.

“Al Qaeda, the organization from which ISIS recently split, understands this truth. For years, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants tried to explain to their affiliates the folly of unchecked brutality. In letters and directives captured in the 2011 raid on his compound, Bin Laden stressed the importance of patience, discretion, and public opinion. His advice, boiled down to seven rules, forms a clear outline of ISIS’s mistakes.”

“Exploitation of the powers inherent in its reserve currency is bound to irk foreign governments and financiers. If the dollar is not a neutral medium of exchange but a U.S. weapon, the desire to break its dominance will spread across the global financial system,” writes Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg View. “China, which has been pushing the yuan as a reserve currency, and Russia, where banks owned by President Vladimir Putin's close friends have been cut off from dollar clearing after the Crimea annexation, are in the front ranks of the anti-dollar movement. Now, France has more cause to join it, too.”

June 25th, 2014
09:32 AM ET

What I'm reading: The coming climate crash

By Fareed Zakaria

“The nature of a crisis is its unpredictability. And as we all witnessed during the financial crisis, a chain reaction of cascading failures ensued from one intertwined part of the system to the next,” writes Henry Paulson for the New York Times. “It’s easy to see a single part in motion. It’s not so easy to calculate the resulting domino effect. That sort of contagion nearly took down the global financial system.”

“With that experience indelibly affecting my perspective, viewing climate change in terms of risk assessment and risk management makes clear to me that taking a cautiously conservative stance – that is, waiting for more information before acting – is actually taking a very radical risk. We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. But we know enough to recognize that we must act now.”

“While the gap between the wealthy and everyone else is widening in much of the industrialized world, a large chunk of Danes remain firmly middle class. Forty-two percent of the working population of 4.6 million have annual disposable incomes between 200,000 and 400,000 kroner ($36,700-$73,300). Just 2.6 percent earn more than 500,000 kroner a year ($91,383),” write Jan Olsen and Malin Rising for AP.

“According to the OECD, the top 20 percent of Danes earn on average four times as much as the bottom 20 percent. In the United States, by contrast, the top 20 percent earn about eight times as much as the bottom 20 percent. The idea of a generous government-provided cushion for ordinary people is deeply rooted in a nation with few outward signs of a pampered elite.”

June 20th, 2014
04:38 PM ET

What I'm reading: China's brewing subprime crisis

By Fareed Zakaria

“In a world obsessing about too-big-to-fail banks, China's entire economy could be too big to save,” writes William Pesek for Bloomberg. “Well, bulls say, what about those $4 trillion of currency reserves? China would be hard-pressed to deploy those funds for bailout after bailout, each of which would dwarf the $85 billion lifeline the U.S. threw at American International Group Inc. The moment traders got wind of the fire sale in Beijing, markets would crash and U.S. yields would skyrocket. China would suffer an unimaginable paper loss – and a more tangible one for its export-reliant economy.”

“There is no reason to assume that Pakistan has turned on the Haqqanis. But the Army may prefer to push the network’s fighters, at least for a while, into eastern Afghanistan, where they also control territory. (They are, after all, Afghans,)” argues Steve Coll in the New Yorker. “The Haqqanis’ evacuation from their strongholds around Miran Shah would create space for Pakistan to attack the North Waziristan-rooted groups that it loathes most of all—the Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighurs (who spook Pakistan’s critical ally, China), and certain virulent and irreconcilable Pakistani Taliban. According to Pakistani intelligence estimates, there may be about two thousand Uzbek fighters and hundreds of Punjabi Taliban in North Waziristan today – those groups alone promise tough going.”

June 19th, 2014
03:20 PM ET

What I'm reading: The sectarian myth of Iraq

By Fareed Zakaria

“Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen,” writes Sami Ramadani in The Guardian. “But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq's regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners.”

“If [Generation] Y-ers were the perfectly connected generation, Z-ers are overconnected. They multi-task across five screens: TV, phone, laptop, desktop and either a tablet or some handheld gaming device, spending 41 percent of their time outside of school with computers of some kind or another, compared to 22 percent 10 years ago. Because of that they ‘lack situational awareness, are oblivious to their surroundings and unable to give directions,’” writes Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg View.

“Members of this new generation also have an 8-second attention span, down from 12 seconds in 2000, and 11 percent of them are diagnosed with attention deficiency syndrome, compared to 7.8 percent in 2003. They prefer to communicate in symbols such as Emoji, rather than words: It's faster, less unnecessarily precise and more intuitive. Journalists may have to start experimenting with this new language soon…”

 

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