April 7th, 2014
12:38 PM ET

Ukraine crisis underscores need for renewables push

By Russ Carnahan and Michael Shank, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Russ Carnahan was a U.S. Representative from Missouri and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is now a partner at Carnahan Global Consulting, a consultancy that also advises firms in the energy sector. Michael Shank is associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the advocacy arm of Friends (Quakers) in the U.S. The views expressed are their own.

At the heart of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is the question of energy independence and energy security. We’ve witnessed this before in previous violent conflicts – whether in the Middle East, Central Asia or North Africa. Energy wars are real and they will continue to dominate our geopolitical agenda for the coming years unless the United States and its allies decide to act.

In discussions with our European Union counterparts in Berlin and Warsaw in the past month – as part of a U.S.-E.U. transatlantic dialogue on, among other salient topics, the annexation of Crimea – energy was very clearly at the core of this conflict. There was also consensus that the present moment couldn’t be a more historic opportunity to ensure an energy transition happens – and soon – lest more wars be fought, more territories acquired, or more people literally left out in the cold. The urgency of this effort cannot be overstated.

To be clear, when it comes to energy security and energy independence, anything that’s got a valve on it and has to be transported thousands of miles across borders decreases a country’s capacity for stability. That pipe – whether carrying oil or gas – is a target for acts of sabotage, political and physical. In 2009, for example, Russia turned off the spigot to gas exports to Ukraine, leaving the country out in the cold in the dead of winter. The Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. is proving similar in serving as a political target, whether erroneously or accurately.

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Topics: Energy • Environment • Ukraine
China or America? Indians pick U.S.
April 4th, 2014
12:52 AM ET

China or America? Indians pick U.S.

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is the director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

During the Cold War, the Indian government attempted to position itself between Moscow and Washington by claiming leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement. As Indians head to the polls over the next six weeks, their country again finds itself in a world with two preeminent powers: this time, China and the United States.

And the Indian public is fairly clear where its sympathies lie: with America. Of course, how such attitudes will influence the views of the next Indian government remains to be seen. But, for now at least, there appears to be no evidence of broad anti-Americanism on the sub-continent.

This might come as a surprise to some. After all, the favorable views of the United States came despite the fact that the Pew Research Center survey measuring sentiment was conducted in India in the immediate aftermath of the controversial December 2013 arrest and strip-search of India’s female deputy consul general in New York on charges of visa fraud. Yet by more than three-to-one (56 percent to 15 percent), Indians express a favorable rather than unfavorable view of the United States.

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Topics: China • India • United States
How to save the American Dream
March 14th, 2014
02:03 PM ET

How to save the American Dream

By Rep. Alan Lowenthal and Michael Shank, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif) serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Natural Resources Committees.  Michael Shank is associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and a senior fellow at the JustJobs Network. The views expressed are their own.

The partisan picking apart of last month’s Congressional Budget Office report on the minimum wage – and the debate over its impact on employment – was just the latest missed opportunity to find bipartisan solutions for this country’s problems. Sadly, in this case, the failure strikes at the very heart of the American Dream – economic mobility.

Despite what many Americans assume, the United States actually has some of the lowest and longest-stagnating rates of economic mobility in the rich world – significantly lower than many European countries. This fact should be of concern to both Democrats and Republicans as it hinders this country’s economy.

How has this happened? For a start, the minimum wage has lost much of its purchasing power, and hasn't kept pace with inflation. Indeed, the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in the late 1960s, while wages at the bottom end of the scale have fallen in recent decades, even as worker productivity has grown.

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Topics: Economy • Inequality • United States
March 10th, 2014
10:44 AM ET

West must do better on Ukraine than it did with Syria

By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. You can follow her @annaborsh. The views expressed are her own.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has captured the attention of the world, including the Middle East, where many see parallels between the struggle for democracy in Kiev and their own countries. But the unrest in Ukraine has a particularly special meaning for Syria, where peaceful protests against Bashar al-Assad eventually turned violent in the absence of Western support. Ukrainian protesters in Kiev last month, for their part, flew the Syrian revolutionary flag alongside the Ukrainian flag. The big question, though, is whether the West will see the connections that the protesters see – and draw some vital lessons.

From the U.S.-Russia reset, to Syria, to Iran, there has been ample opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to perceive weakness from the West. And in the absence of decisive Western leadership, the post-Soviet space and the Middle East have seen a resurgent Russia, under Putin’s leadership, work to create what amounts to a Soviet Union 2.0, propping up authoritarian regimes, creating areas of influence, and stifling freedom and democracy.

Such moves have prompted some analysts to note what they see as a revival of the Cold War struggle between Russia and the U.S., whether it be the ongoing crisis in Ukraine or the Middle East/North Africa region.

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Topics: Syria • Ukraine
January 27th, 2014
09:59 PM ET

What I'm reading: Is Asia destroying its kids' innocence?

By Fareed Zakaria

“The French social historian Philippe Aries famously argued that the expansion of formal schooling during the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe had created the modern concept of childhood by removing children from adult society, and drawing attention to their particular needs and abilities,” writes Pankaj Mishra for Bloomberg. “One could argue that the Asia-wide obsession with vocational education and careers has led to the opposite – the early exposure of children to the tasks and responsibilities of adult society, and the destruction of childhood.”

“The freedom and innocence of youth has been cruelly foreshortened by the imperative to train early – through a joyless regime of coaching classes and entrance exams enforced by tiger moms, dragon teachers and other fierce taskmasters. Many among the striving young then find that success is not guaranteed in the scramble for skills and jobs in an unforgiving new world, where whatever comparative advantage one may have always seems to be slipping away.”

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Russia's growing Middle East influence
January 8th, 2014
10:15 AM ET

Russia's growing Middle East influence

By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. The views expressed are her own.

Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved perhaps his most desired goal in 2013: He successfully positioned Russia as indispensable to resolving key international problems. And nowhere has his success been more visible than in the Syrian conflict and Iranian nuclear negotiations. The Moscow-brokered deal to put Syria’s chemical arsenal under control of international inspectors helped avoid military strikes against the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, Russia also emerged as a strong voice in the P5+1 group, allowing Iran to avoid tougher sanction against its nuclear program upon reaching an interim deal in Geneva in December 2013.

But behind the scenes, Russia is playing an even more significant role, and is an increasingly assertive player throughout the broader Middle East. It’s a trend the West cannot ignore.

According to Russian press reports, the Kremlin struck a $2 billion weapons agreement with Egypt last month, the culmination of years of quiet Kremlin efforts to revive Russia’s Cold War relationships in the region.

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Topics: Middle East • Russia
December 4th, 2013
06:59 PM ET

What I'm reading: Networked nature of gun violence

By Fareed Zakaria

“There are still huge pools of private wealth sitting on the sidelines that can be rapidly mobilized to support productive infrastructure. The government needs to help with rights of way before construction, and with strong regulation to protect the public interest afterwards,” writes Ken Rogoff for Project Syndicate.

“In his first term in office, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested the creation of an infrastructure bank to help promote public-private partnerships. It is still a good idea, particularly if the bank maintained a professional staff to help guide public choice on costs and benefits (including environmental costs and benefits). Even if Keynesian multipliers are truly at the upper end of consensus, mobilizing private capital for investment has most of the advantages of issuing public debt.”

“Even as the Suez Canal has become a touchstone of Egyptian nationalism, the great power of today – the United States – tends to see the waterway in similar terms as the colonial powers of the past,” argues Steven Cook in Foreign Affairs. “Like Disraeli, U.S. presidents and strategic planners have long regarded the canal as a means to another end – a critical component of global trade and a vital conduit for U.S. warships between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The question is no longer about control; Egyptian control of the canal is universally accepted. Yet as the debate about U.S. military aid to Egypt raged after the July 3 military coup, and as the subsequent low-level insurgency broke out in the Sinai Peninsula, analysts have begun to question just how secure the canal is – and whether that even matters anymore.”

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November 14th, 2013
12:09 PM ET

What I'm reading

By Fareed Zakaria

“It is hard to imagine any legitimate reason for not converting the Arak reactor into a light water reactor. The Iranians have enough enriched uranium fuel to power such a reactor, and surely it would be worth the while of the countries that are now negotiating with Iran to offer to help in this endeavor. If the IR-40 became a light water reactor, this would end all the suspicions about it,” argues Jeremy Benstein in the New York Review of Books.

“By going ahead with a heavy water reactor, Iran seems to be saying it is determined to have the capacity to produce plutonium—and leave open a path to making a bomb.”

Moving Syria’s chemicals “for destruction elsewhere is the only real answer. But where? Neither the U.S. nor Russia makes sense. U.S. laws make the import and transport of chemical warfare agents problematic. If that could be finessed, vocal groups representing residents near the demilitarization sites would certainly raise objections,” says Dan Kaszeta for Bloomberg.

“…One country, however, seems to have a ready-built facility that could be used for this purpose: Albania. In late 2002, well after it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, Albania made the embarrassing discovery that it had 16 tons of chemical warfare agents squirreled away in a bunker from the era of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. In subsequent years, the U.S. government, through its Defense Threat Reduction Agency, spent about $45 million building an incineration plant, which was eventually moved to Qafemolle, Albania, to dispose of the stores.”

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October 30th, 2013
04:42 PM ET

What I'm reading: The limit of intercepts

By Fareed Zakaria

“If the White House and the Department of Defense really want the United States to focus more on the Asia-Pacific region, as they claim to, then it makes sense to shift resources toward maritime forces,” writes Cindy Williams in Foreign Affairs. “Wars in that region are more likely to be fought at sea than on land. Moreover, if the United States is planning to avoid future stability and counter­insurgency operations, like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, which require large numbers of boots on the ground over multiple rotations, then the military will need considerably fewer ground forces. Hagel suggested as much when he reported on the SCMR in July 2013.”

“Yet Hagel may find it difficult to deliver on that recommendation. At least since the 1970s, the Department of Defense has allocated budgets among the armed services according to the same formula every year, with the shares of the budget awarded to the army, the navy, the air force, and the Marine Corps rarely varying by more than one percent from year to year. Changing the mix of forces will be politically daunting.”

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October 21st, 2013
09:04 PM ET

What I'm reading: America's relevant skill shortage

By Fareed Zakaria

“For a long time, ‘because the American people were the most educated in the world, they were in the best position to invent, be entrepreneurial, and produce goods and services using advanced technologies,’ Harvard professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz assert in their 2008 book, The Race Between Education and Technology,” writes Rick Wartzman in American Prospect.

“For those born from the 1870s until about 1950, the authors found, every decade witnessed an uptick of about 0.8 years of education. In other words, ‘during that 80-year period the vast majority of parents had children whose educational attainment greatly exceeded theirs.’ But then something happened: ‘Educational change between the generations … came to an abrupt standstill.’"

”The timing couldn’t have been worse. To perform practically any function in the Skechers warehouse, ‘you need to use a computer...‘It takes new skills.’ Yet relatively few people have them. Even fewer are prepared for the kinds of jobs that may come next."

“During China’s demographic explosion, maintaining job growth was the government’s paramount priority,” write Damian Ma and William Adams in Foreign Affairs. “Occupational safety, collective bargaining rights, and other costly labor protections were vastly less important, and summarily ignored. That started to change a little with the Chinese Labor Contract Law of 2008, the centerpiece of a stronger labor regulatory package that increased worker protections against layoffs, obliged employers to negotiate with the party-controlled unions over pay rates and benefits, and provided workers with new avenues to defend their rights against employers in courts.

“Fully enforced, the regulation’s provisions were estimated to increase the cost of employing Chinese workers by some 10–20 percent. But at the time the law was enacted, no one gave that much thought. After all, there were still nearly 200 million migrants in the cities and millions more waiting to move off farms. As long as the supply remained abundant, the employer’s paradise would endure. By 2010, however, cracks were starting to show.”

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October 16th, 2013
01:52 PM ET

What I'm reading: U.S. has a skills problem

By Fareed Zakaria

The average literacy score for Americans ages 16 to 65 in a new OECD study “places the U.S. 18th out of 22 participating countries. In numeracy, the U.S. ranks 20th out of 22. In ‘problem-solving in technology-rich environments’ – a measure of the capacity to interact productively with computers – the U.S. comes in 14th out of 19,” writes Clive Crook on Bloomberg.

“Those results are actually quite good when compared with the performance of adults ages 16 to 24. In literacy, young Americans rank 20th out of 22; in numeracy, 22nd out of 22; and in problem-solving, 19th out of 19.”

“The only glimmer of good news in these figures, if you can call it good news, is that U.S. standards of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving aren’t falling in absolute terms as fast as the poor relative performance of U.S. youngsters might suggest. Young Americans have slid to the bottom of the rankings mainly because young adults in other countries are doing much better than their predecessors did, whereas their American counterparts aren’t. The fact remains, the capacities of the U.S. labor force are consistently well below average, and those of the youngest segment rank (on two out of three measures) dead last.”

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October 9th, 2013
03:19 PM ET

What I'm reading: What default would say about idea of America

By Fareed Zakaria

“Recent threats to shut down the government or, worse, default on the debt represent a revocation of the rules. In its nihilism, the Tea Party is closer in spirit to the nullifiers of the 1830s, who were willing to put the union at risk to defeat a national law,” writes Stephen Mihm for Bloomberg.

“‘Let it never be forgotten,’ Calhoun once said, that ‘where the majority rules, the minority is the subject.’ Perhaps, but nullification and secession, like the Tea Party tactics of today, elevated the minority into a position of terrifying power. One tyranny simply replaces another.

“These tactics have long-term costs. If the U.S. defaults on its debt because a handful of Republican legislators don’t like a law vetted by all branches of government, the damage will go beyond a much lower credit rating. Something else – a sense that the U.S. is, for all its differences, united – will have been lost.”

“Managing the congressional politics around sustaining Afghan forces after the transition was feasible back when Washington assumed that a troop surge before the transition would put the Taliban on a glide path to extinction,” writes Stephen Biddle in Foreign Affairs.

“The United States would still have had to give billions of dollars a year to the ANSF, but the war would have ended relatively quickly. After that, it would have been possible to demobilize large parts of the ANSF and turn the remainder into a peacetime establishment; aid would then have shrunk to lower levels, making congressional funding a much easier sell. But that is not the scenario that will present itself in 2014. With an indefinite stalemate on the horizon instead, the politics of funding the ANSF will be much harder to handle – and without a settlement, that funding will outlast the Taliban’s will to fight only if one assumes heroic patience on the part of Congress.”

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