August 12th, 2014
12:26 PM ET

What I'm reading: Inequality debate avoids asking who is harmed

By Fareed Zakaria

“It is striking how the public discussion of inequality has been careful not to differentiate between citizens except by wealth or occasionally by the skill needed for their work,” writes Adam Posen in the Financial Times. “In most of the serious recent discussions on inequality, the idea that someone’s economic fortunes might depend upon race, gender or ethnicity is nodded to in passing, at best. Another blind spot is persistent regional backwardness – as besets West Virginia and Alabama, southern Italy and Portugal.”

“Instead of confronting these continuing harms of exclusion directly, commentators have fixated on the ways in which the rich become richer, and the fact that some have lost the opportunity to become rich. Popular resistance to high estate taxes may be puzzling to many. Yet, inequality due to inherited wealth is far less grave an injustice than an inequality that emerges because of inherited skin color, ethnic identity or place of birth.”

“I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop,” writes Justin Levitt in the Washington Post. “In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up. To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.”

“So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country.” FULL POST

August 11th, 2014
03:06 PM ET

What I'm reading: Civil war fear hangs over Lebanon

By Fareed Zakaria

“Hizbollah has committed several thousand men to the fighting in Syria. After Iran’s reversals in Iraq, it needs to defeat Syrian rebels in Qalamoun, in that way consolidating the territory controlled by President Bashar al-Assad between Damascus and the Syrian coast, the regime’s heartland,” writes Michael Young in The National.

“The Lebanese army, by design or default, may become a part of this project. That’s worrying, because it could heighten sectarian tensions that undermine the army’s unity, since a substantial portion of soldiers in the army are Sunnis.

“Hizbollah must also beware. If Lebanon collapses into a new civil war, Hizbollah would have to abandon Syria to fight at home. In other words, it would effectively have to give up on the Al Assad regime at a time when the latter’s capacities to remain in power are already doubtful. This may not only mean that Iran, Hizbollah’s sponsor, could lose Syria; it would mean that Hizbollah suddenly finds itself trapped in a civil war that it simply cannot win.”

“From start to finish, the latest Gaza conflict has largely been a man’s war,” writes Elana Maryles Sztokman in The Atlantic. “The Israeli negotiating team in Egypt does not include a single woman–not even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose condition for joining the current governing coalition was that she head Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instead appointed his own (male) representative, Yitzchak Molcho, to represent him in the delegation. Livni sits on Israel’s security cabinet, the small committee that has made most of the major decisions about this war, but, tellingly, she is the only woman at the table. The story is the same on Israeli television and in the country’s newspapers. According to a study by The Marker, fewer than 10 percent of all experts interviewed on news programs during the war have been women.”

“The sexism underlying women’s exclusion from security and military leadership has found expression in some particularly troubling statements by senior officials and commentators.”

 

August 5th, 2014
06:33 PM ET

What I'm reading: Will U.S. help the Kurds fight ISIS?

By Fareed Zakaria

“The Kurds are among America’s best friends in the Middle East; they are pro-Western, largely secular, and largely democratic,” writes Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker. “Since 1991, when Saddam Hussein’s latest attempt to launch a genocidal campaign against them was thwarted by the United States, the Kurds have more or less governed themselves. During the American war, from 2003 to 2011, not a single American soldier was killed in the Kurdish region. The Kurds regard themselves as culturally and linguistically apart from the Arabs – Sunni and Shia – who inhabit the rest of Iraq. These days, fewer and fewer Kurds even know how to speak Arabic.”

“And that’s the problem, at least according to the United States. Since 2003, American policy toward Kurdistan has been ‘one Iraq.’ That is, no matter how friendly the Kurds are, no matter how pro-Western, American policy has been to keep Iraq together. That means: don’t do anything that helps the Kurds too much, lest they break away from Iraq and declare independence, which is most what most Kurds want.”

“Perhaps the most gratuitous [Obama] administration failing has been its reluctance to respond to the slights inflicted on it even by minor powers,” writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post. “Bahrain’s extraordinary expulsion of State’s human rights envoy prompted only a routine statement of ‘concern;’ so did the criminal charges against Saakashvili. The administration could easily punish and deter such governments; ambassadors could be recalled, military aid withheld, exercises and official visits canceled. Instead, the message goes out that the Obama administration can be defied with impunity – and the bank run continues.” FULL POST

August 1st, 2014
08:01 AM ET

What I'm reading: Court protects gun owners from common sense

By Fareed Zakaria

“U.S. federal courts have issued two noteworthy rulings on guns in the past week,” writes Francis Wilkinson for Bloomberg View. “One is constitutionally significant: It overturns the District of Columbia's ban on carrying handguns outside the home, while showcasing the gun-rights movement's aggressive legal and political efforts to eliminate virtually all regulation. It may go all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices could potentially use it to establish ground rules for concealed and open carry.”

“The other case has all the gravity of a Daffy Duck cartoon. It exposes an insular gun culture, addled by paranoia and determined to shut itself off from even the most anodyne expressions of common sense.”

“Just because Putin hasn’t succeeded in instigating a larger pro-Russian uprising doesn’t mean that a quick resolution is in sight,” writes Lucian Kim for Slate. “Ukrainian politicians from all camps have proved themselves to be singularly shortsighted and self-interested. Last week, with the battle for the East still far from won, the government coalition collapsed and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned. When cold weather returns in the fall and the Ukrainian government discovers it doesn’t have enough money to pay Russian natural-gas giant Gazprom, the energy crunch will start to bite. And without a decisive victory on the battlefield, frustrations both within the military and on the homefront could boil over. It’s far from clear whether Ukraine can win its war for independence.” FULL POST

July 30th, 2014
11:58 AM ET

What I'm reading: A Chinese Gold Standard?

By Fareed Zakaria

“China’s nearly $4 trillion in reserves — accumulated through its mercantilist trade policies — give it plenty of ammunition to claim leadership in the creation of a new monetary order,” writes Kwasi Kwarteng in the New York Times. “The Chinese, however, are most unlikely to bid for monetary hegemony in the near future. For the past 25 years they have pursued a policy of aggressive export growth to drive their economy. China successively devalued its currency, from 1.50 renminbi to the dollar in 1980, to 8.72 in 1994. (Today the renminbi trades at 6.20 to the dollar, which the United States still considers artificially low.)”

“Could China someday peg its currency to gold, as Britain did in 1821? China has the reserves to do this, and it could have the political will, if the dollar proved to be unreliable as a store of value in the future.”

“Recommending Finlandization for Ukraine is bad advice on several levels,” writes James Kirchick for American Interest. “First, it misunderstands and misinterprets Finland’s experience, either downplaying or outright ignoring the costs that this policy imposed upon the country’s democracy. Proponents of Finlandization discount the danger that it posed to the European continent as a potential model for other countries susceptible to Russian pressure and influence. Furthermore, compelling neutrality upon an unwilling Ukraine is a stark moral capitulation to foreign aggression. Foreclosing the possibility of EU and NATO membership to Ukraine would shred the basic precepts of Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture, enshrined in agreements stipulating that countries be allowed to choose their own political and security alliances free from foreign intimidation and threats.” FULL POST

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

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