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Echo Chambers
18 April 2014 Last updated at 18:07

'Boston Strong': Tragedy on sale

A man looks at "Boston Strong" t-shirts on display at a store. Does the US celebrate t-shirt tragedies?

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

A year after the Boston Marathon bombing, city leaders are honouring the dead and injured with parades, ceremonies and a special night at a professional baseball stadium. The "Boston Strong" slogan has become ubiquitous, appearing on t-shirts and trinkets in stores throughout the city.

This is no way to commemorate a tragedy, writes Marc Dion of the Fall River Herald News in southern Massachusetts. Death shouldn't be a halftime show and another excuse to sell merchandise.

"I live in vigil nation," he writes, "where we orchestrate the living hell out of every death, where we throw the word 'hero' around like a drunk throwing a nickel tip at a bartender."

Death should be treated with quiet dignity and respect - something the ceremonies marking the anniversary of the tragedy fail to do.

"As the notes of Amazing Grace, played by the obligatory lone bagpiper, fade away in the ballpark dusk," he writes, "we head to the concession stand for a plate of $18 cardboard nachos."

He concludes:

If this were a strong nation, strong in mind and strong in faith, we would not be so in love with death, so constantly needing to "pay tribute to our heroes," so hungry for the notes of "Taps" dying away in the air, so distracted by foolishness that we cannot tell the difference between a funeral and a twi-night doubleheader at the old ballyard.


The UK's human rights 'farce' - China has cancelled bilateral consultations with the UK on human rights following the publication of the British government's annual human rights report. The report listed China as a "country of concern" and criticised government infringements on free speech and association over the past year.

The UK should "sweep its own doorstep", write the editors of China Daily, instead of "pointing fingers at other countries".

They point to civilian casualties following UK participation in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking scandal as examples of UK human rights transgressions.

"Instead of helping to create a way to see and feel the real China, Britain has built a wall that stands in China's way to the world and closed the door for dialogue by taking human rights issues as a pretext for interfering in China's internal affairs and judicial sovereignty," they write.


Reflections spreading violence - Following the bombing of a bus station near the Nigerian capital of Abuja and reports of mass abductions of teenage girls at a boarding school in the north-east of the country, BBC correspondent Will Ross says it "feels like the insecurity in this country is spiralling out of control".

He tells World Service's Newsday that "it's hard to know which incidents to report on".

Nigeria's leaders aren't helping the situation, he adds. "With a divisive election looming," he says, "the politicians struggle to even sit in the same room to work out how to stop all this carnage."

South Africa

Media will never be the same - The Oscar Pistorius trial has changed the "media ecology" in South Africa, writes Anton Harber for the New Zealand Herald. Since the court proceedings began, the country has spawned three new 24/7 news channels, as well as a Pistorius-central TV and radio channel.

As a result, Harber writes, the South African public knows more than ever about how their courts work, but when it comes to the larger implications of the trial, the media coverage has been superficial - neglecting to deal with issues like gun culture, gender-based violence and public safety.

"Coverage - and the conversation around it - is being driven by social media," he writes. "Conventional media tries to keep up by covering the Twitter and Facebook chatter second-hand."


The rise of the business-politician - Business is beginning to take a larger role in Indian politics - and that may not be a good thing, writes the Frontier Post's Saroj Mohanty. While corporate funding isn't new, election finance hasn't dominated the public discourse like it has during this cycle.

"There are a lot of areas of Indian society that need more money - schools, health centres and infrastructures," he says. "The one area where it is not needed is in politics, electoral politics. It is time to decouple the two."

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is widely expected to win the nation's 17 April presidential election. Several commentators are concerned, however, that the president is too ill to govern the country.

"The atmosphere across the country was rather odd yesterday. For the first time, Algerians are taking part in an election they realize is crucial. And for the first time they sense some sort of danger on the horizon, not because the media have triggered chaos and fear of change, but because people realize that change is necessary, especially after watching TV footage of the president. Yes, he did cast his vote at the ballot box, but he did so while being accompanied to a separate room - a legal procedure allowed for people with special needs. Whatever today's election results, Algeria will not be fine in the years to come." - Hada Hazame in Algeria's Al-Fadjr.

"The scene as the Algerian president cast his vote in a wheelchair with his hands shaking and his aides bringing him the voting papers sums up everything about the presidential election in Algeria and the implications of the certain victory of the incumbent president. The scene sums up an acute crisis that goes deep into the Algerian regime and into its backbone, the army." - Abd-al-Ali Hami al-Din in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

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Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy

An old man in a suit looks up from his newspaper and brandy. This man does not like to be disturbed while he's running the US

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite.

So concludes a recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page.

This is not news, you say.

Perhaps, but the two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here's how they explain it:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

"A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time," they write, "while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time."

On the other hand:

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.

They conclude:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Eric Zuess, writing in Counterpunch, isn't surprised by the survey's results.

"American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media)," he writes. "The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious 'electoral' 'democratic' countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now."

This is the "Duh Report", says Death and Taxes magazine's Robyn Pennacchia. Maybe, she writes, Americans should just accept their fate.

"Perhaps we ought to suck it up, admit we have a classist society and do like England where we have a House of Lords and a House of Commoners," she writes, "instead of pretending as though we all have some kind of equal opportunity here."

South Korea

Ferry tragedy was a manmade disaster - The death toll from the sinking of the Sewol off the south-eastern tip of South Korea could have been greatly reduced if the passengers had been properly instructed in safety procedures and the crew hadn't been among the first to abandon the ship, write the editors of South Korea's Joongang Daily.

The South Korean government also shares blame, they write. "It failed to grasp the seriousness of the accident from the start and didn't know how many were rescued or missing."

The government, they continue, should conduct a thorough investigation and prepare a report on how to upgrade the nation's "safety systems and procedures".


Cristina Kirchner's sham populism - The government of Cristina Kirchner touts a populism that "redistributes wealth to benefit the poor", writes Luis Alberto Romero in Agentina's Clarin (translated by WorldCrunch).

In reality, he says, "the outcome has been greater wealth concentrations and more social polarisation, helped by subsidy policies".

The Kirchner regime, he argues, has been "built on two foundations: concentration of power and accumulation of wealth".


Presidential vote endorses status quo - It seems clear that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will win a fourth term in this week's election despite looking "more dead than alive", writes University of Houston Prof Robert Zaretsky in the Los Angeles Times.

Mr Bouteflika "is entrenched, propped up by generals and an uneasy status quo", he says.

"The question is," he writes, "how long will the government manage to impose scripted elections on a population ready for the risks and rewards of an unscripted future?"


Nato football v Russian chess - The Ukrainian crisis has taken Nato planners by surprise, writes Prof David Murphy of National University of Ireland, Maynooth, in the Irish Times. This, he says, is because of "fundamental cultural, strategic and political differences" between Russia and the West.

"Nato operates at a huge disadvantage as it needs consensus and co-operation within its member states in order to act," he writes. "President Vladimir Putin and his political and military staffs do not face such limitations and have the freedom to act quickly."

Russia has formulated a plan and is executing it, he concludes. It is up to the members of Nato to work together to stop it.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Ukrainian media respond to high-level meetings between officials from the US, EU, Ukraine and Russia in Geneva aimed resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

"There is an illusory hope for the conference in Geneva. Ukraine will be presented there as a pie which will be divided. Everything ... shows the signs of a grand plot, where big geopolitical players resolved their issues at Ukraine's expense. It will be like that this time around too." - Editorial in Glavkom.

"Today's meeting will show if the West can counter [Vladimir] Putin's plans to impose his 'world order'." - Editorial in Den.

"International talks will hardly improve the situation in Ukraine until people inside the country start talking. So the only thing the Geneva meeting could influence is to facilitate the beginning of talks inside the country between representatives of the east and the central authorities. If the meeting provides this impetus it will be a positive result." - Volodymyr Fesenko in Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine.

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Is Kathleen Sebelius running for Senate?

Kathleen Sebelius speaks at a healthcare event in March 2014. The New York Times reports that Kathleen Sebelius is considering another run for office in Kansas

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Kathleen Sebelius, who last week announced her plan to resign after five years as US health secretary, is "considering" a run for the US Senate in her home state of Kansas.

When news of her impending departure broke, journalists rushed to pen Ms Sebelius's political obituary. How would she be remembered? How responsible was she for the rocky rollout of the healthcare reform websites in autumn 2013? How much credit can she take for the late surge in enrolment?

As the Wire's Philip Bump quips, Ms Sebelius's last name should be changed to "Kathleen Sebelius-Who-Oversaw-the-Botched-Obamacare-Rollout".

Comeback stories are nothing new in politics, however. Ms Sebelius does have a history of political success in Kansas, having been elected as the traditionally conservative state's governor in 2002 and re-elected with 58% of the vote in 2006.

Start Quote

It's really hard to see why Ms Sebelius would envision any real path to victory so close to Obamacare's implementation”

End Quote Aaron Blake The Washington Post

On the other hand, it's not 2006 anymore, and Ms Sebelius would have to overcome the challenge of being second only to President Barack Obama as the public face of the still very controversial healthcare reform.

Her name was on the Supreme Court case challenging the law's constitutionality. She was grilled frequently by hostile Republicans during congressional hearings. Even her Rose Garden goodbye speech had an embarrassing missing-page glitch.

The report Sebelius would run for Senate has been dismissed by others in the mainstream press.

Bump writes that there may be a "parallel dimension out there in which Kathleen Sebelius' tenure as HHS Secretary was an unalloyed success, the sort of thing that would propel her to victory in the Kansas Senate campaign", but "that dimension is not this one".

"It's really hard to see why Ms Sebelius would envision any real path to victory so close to Obamacare's implementation," writes the Washington Post's Aaron Blake.

Others close to Ms Sebelius told Washington newspaper The Hill that they doubted the secretary would run.

Start Quote

If Kathleen Sebelius wants to come back to Kansas to run for office we will pay her bus fare”

End Quote Kelly Arnold Kansas Republican Party Chair

"I know she's tired," a former staffer says.

On the right the prospect of a Sebelius campaign was met with a mixture of glee and ridicule.

"If Kathleen Sebelius wants to come back to Kansas to run for office we will pay her bus fare," Kansas Republican Party Chair Kelly Arnold told the New York Daily News.

Stephen Kruiser writes on PJ Media that, for Democrats, "now we know what the shelf life for feigned shame over a job poorly done is".

"Just a few days after the left media tried to-wink, wink, nudge, nudge-pretend that [Ms Sebelius] was the fall gal for the nightmarish Obamacare rollout," he says, "they are now touting her troubled tenure as a resume builder."

Conservatives took to Twitter to post their suggested #SebeliusCampaignSlogans, which the conservative website collected. Many riffed on the "404 errors" users received when trying to access the dysfunctional federal healthcare website last October - "404ward" and "404 more years", for example.

General consensus, it seems, is that Ms Sebelius has little to no shot at winning. Recent poll numbers seem to back that up. And yet, as Bump says, "weirder things have happened".

"Dead people have been elected to federal office," he writes. "Prison inmates have been elected to federal office."

(Proposed #SebeliusCampaignSlogan: "Better prospects than the dead or imprisoned".)

There's a personal angle in all this. The incumbent is 77-year-old Republican Pat Roberts, an old family friend of Ms Sebelius who backed her nomination to be secretary in 2009. Mr Roberts turned on the secretary in 2013, however, accusing her of "gross incompetence" and calling for her resignation.

According to the Times, beating Mr Roberts - or even making him sweat his re-election - could be why she is "weighing revenge".

There's also the chance that Mr Roberts could be unseated in the Republican state primary by fire-breathing grass-roots conservative Milton Wolf. Such a development has put several thought-to-be-safe Republican seats into play in recent elections.

At the very least, Ms Sebelius is a seasoned campaigner with name recognition and the ability to fundraise on a national level. She could present enough of a threat to draw Republican time and money away from other, more crucial races. All that means she's probably better than anyone else the Democrats, who haven't won a Kansas Senate seat since 1939, could put on the ballot at this point.

Ms Sebelius - who will not formally resign as secretary until her successor is confirmed - has until 2 June to file paperwork declaring her candidacy.

Rand Paul's Iranian 'nuance'

Senator Rand Paul speaks to an audience in New Hampshire on 12 April, 2014. Rand Paul praises Ronald Reagan's "strategic ambiguity"

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Rand Paul doesn't support containment in Iran. But he also doesn't not support it. He could be in favour of containment in the future, but there's a chance he might not be.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Mr Paul lays out a "nuanced" position on the US relationship with Iran, the type of position he says has been missing recently in American foreign policy. Like former US President Ronald Reagan, the senator says he favours strategic ambiguity.

"Containment of Iran is a bad idea, but our leaders need to think before they speak and consider that preemptively announcing responses to every hypothetical situation may well damage our ability to keep the United States safe and strong," he writes.

For Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, Mr Paul's stance only illustrates a misunderstanding of how foreign policy is forged.

"Strategic ambiguity means we don't reveal our strategy, not that we don't reveal our position on a given issue, especially one as critical as this," she writes.

It isn't a coincidence that no politician has argued that remaining ambiguous on Iran is the right strategy, she says, and that's because it could come across as an endorsement for a nuclear Iran.

"Foes and friends shouldn't have to guess at our bottom line," she writes.

United Kingdom

Scottish Independence picks up steam - The world needs to brace for the impact of an independent Scotland, writes Kevin A Lees for the National Interest.

"Of course," he says, "the future of an independent Scotland in the 21st century is a leap into the unknown." Five months out from the vote for independence, the number of those supporting a split is growing, and a stronger relationship between the US and Scotland could be mutually beneficial, he says.


Recognition of a third gender must be a first step - The Indian Supreme Court ruled that discriminating against transgender people is against the spirit of the country's constitution. While this is a landmark decision, the editors of the Times of India think that this should pave the way for more anti-discriminatory rulings.

"While the apex court's judgment forms a welcome legal basis for transgender persons to secure their rights, the spirit of the order also needs to extend to Section 377 of the penal code that criminalises homosexuality," they write.


No answers to Calgary mass stabbing - Sometimes when tragedy strikes there is no explanation for how it happened, write the editors of the Calgary Herald. That is the case in Calgary today, after five young people were stabbed to death at a party.

In the wake of the city's worst mass murder, they can't find an explanation for how or why this could have happened. "Sometimes, there are no ready answers and no getting our minds around the thing," they write. "Sometimes, all we can do is grieve."


The monster of terrorism - It is often hard for foreigners to distinguish between aid and interference, writes Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the New York Times. But in Nigeria, where Boko Haram attacks have already claimed more than 1,500 lives this year, perhaps outside help is exactly what the country needs.

"The sad truth is that foreigners are largely refining Nigeria's crude oil, powering many of our cell phones and running some of our best schools," she writes. "They might as well step up in yet another area where locals are falling short."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Israeli commentators express anger over an attack in Hebron that killed an Israeli policemen and injured his family.

"We must not be content with a minor reaction; a twice as hard hit in return will make it clear to our bad neighbours that Israel does not come to terms with even a minor dose of terrorist attacks." - Hagai Segal in Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth.

"The State of Israel will know how to exact the full price from those who preached for murdering Jews and in whose name the murderers fired the bullets of death. There is a fitting punishment response and the security forces and the judicial system will deal with it. However, there is also a fitting Jewish response more efficient than all - to build Jewish homes along every route taken by the family to the outskirts of Hebron; this is the only response that the murderers of our people understand." - Haim Shain in Yisrael Hayom

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Is a rebellion brewing in Nevada?

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy addresses a crowd of protestors near his ranch on 12 April, 2014. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has rallied anti-government militias to his side in his confrontation with the federal government

A group of gun-wielding protestors squares off against a government it feels holds no authority. Is it Ukraine? Or Syria?

No, Nevada.

A standoff between a cattle rancher and the US government over grazing fees escalated into something akin to an armed confrontation over the weekend - and while threats of violence were defused, there appears to be no resolution in sight.

The story starts with the desert tortoise.

The Washington Post gives a full timeline of the events leading up to the confrontation, but here's the gist.

Start Quote

This desert drama is the just the latest front in the decades-long government assault on all of our rights”

End Quote Editorial Las Vegas Review-Journal

In 1993, in response to a dropping tortoise population, the federal government set aside hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in southern Nevada as "protected tortoise habitat". The government prohibited off-road vehicles and mineral prospecting in the area and began buying out ranchers who were grazing their cattle in the designated areas.

They reached a deal with everyone except Cliven Bundy, whose family had been raising cattle on the south-east Nevada land at issue since 1890s.

The government responded by levying fines on Mr Bundy, which he hasn't paid, and getting a court order to remove his cattle from all federal land, which he has ignored.

On 27 March, more than two decades after the dispute first arose, the federal Bureau of Land Management began rounding up Mr Bundy's cattle with the intent to auction them off to pay his government fines, which have now reached $1.2m (£710,000).

Mr Bundy and his family have continued to resist. One of the sons, Dave, was arrested during a confrontation with federal law enforcement. Another, Ammon, was tasered after he kicked a police dog.

The video of the incident has served as a rallying cry for pro-Bundy protestors, many associated with right-wing militia groups. They have flocked to the Bundy ranch from across the region.

Some of the demonstrators were armed and threatened to block government action with force. One protestor said they had plans to put women and children at the front of the crowd so they would be among the first casualties if violence broke out.

On Saturday the government called off the cow-collecting operation and gave back the cows it had collected "because of serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public".

Federal law enforcement block a road in Nevada. Federal officers block a road during an attempt to round up Cliven Bundy's cattle

The Las Vegas Review-Journal editors write that federal officials are "behaving like thugs loyal to a tin-pot dictator, not public servants who swore to support and defend the US Constitution".

They say that this dispute is about more than tortoises and grazing fees.

"It's about the power of environmentalists and their federal allies to erase a way of life they disagree with," they write. "It's about the federal government's control over most of the land in the West - and 86% of Nevada - and its inability to manage all that land in a competent and productive fashion."

They conclude:

No doubt plenty of city dwellers are laughing at the rubes in ranching country over their disgust with the federal government... But this desert drama is the just the latest front in the decades-long government assault on all of our rights. If we don't defend them, eventually we'll lose them. Then the joke will be on us.

Start Quote

If Bundy and a multitude of his supporters, militia friends and even family members who broke the law are allowed to go unpunished, anarchy will follow”

End Quote Dallas Hyland St George News

The federal government employs both patriots and tyrants, writes Townhall finance editor John Ransom. Concerned citizens need to ask federal officials to pick sides.

"We have to make it make it clear to the bureaucrats that there are only two sides in the war the federal government is waging upon the rest of us," he says. "There is the right, and there is the wrong. And it's no longer sufficient to say you're just following orders."

Legally, writes Power Line Blog's John Hinderaker, Mr Bundy "doesn't have a leg to stand on". He argues that Americans like Mr Bundy deserve sympathy, however.

"Their way of life is one that, frankly, is on the outs," he says.

They don't develop apps. They don't ask for food stamps. It probably has never occurred to them to bribe a politician. They don't subsist by virtue of government subsidies or regulations that hamstring competitors. They aren't illegal immigrants. They have never even gone to law school. So what possible place is there for the Bundys in the Age of Obama?

This confrontation is not about freedom, the Constitution or some idealised rancher way of life, others argue. What is at issue here, they say, is a disturbing precedent set by Mr Bundy's continued flouting of legal authority.

What happens next, wonders the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Steve Sebelius.

"A court order that's not enforced by the federal government is simply another piece of paper," he writes. "It's entirely likely ... that the government will once again face off with Bundy and his militia gang, and that the threat of violence will once again rear its head."

Dallas Hyland writes in Utah's St George News that this could be the start of a growing trend:

The stand-down was necessary to prevent bloodshed, but it must be recognized that if Bundy and a multitude of his supporters, militia friends, and even family members who broke the law, are allowed to go unpunished, anarchy will follow. Other groups, emboldened by the appearance of forcing a stand-down, will only continue to gain momentum. And furthermore, law enforcement as a whole will be rendered impotent as average people with disputes with current laws begin to wonder if they too can call a militia in to force the police to leave them alone.

The pro-Bundy camp is claiming victory for now, but the federal government is not throwing in the towel.

"It's not over," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "We can't have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it."

As tanks roll through eastern Ukraine, is a rebellion brewing in Nevada?

Liam Neeson: Save our horse carriages

Liam Neeson points at the camera in a 2012 photo. Opinion writing is one of Liam Neeson's very particular set of skills

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made a very dangerous enemy.

During Mr de Blasio's successful mayoral campaign last year, he promised that he would prohibit horse-drawn carriage businesses from operating in the city's Central Park. He recently reaffirmed that he wants the city to enact a ban this year.

There's one thing the mayor didn't count on, however: actor Liam Neeson. Mr Neeson wants the horses to stay, and he's taken to the pages of the New York Times to voice his objection.

"An entire way of life and a historic industry are under threat," he writes.

Mr Neeson, it seems, has a very particular set of skills, skills acquired over a childhood horse riding on his aunt's farm in Northern Ireland, skills that make him a nightmare for people like Mr de Blasio (or, at least, that make him a self-proclaimed expert in horse happiness).

"It has been my experience, always, that horses, much like humans, are at their happiest and healthiest when working," he writes. "Horses have been pulling from the beginning of time. It is what they have been bred to do."

Mr Neeson sees sinister plotters conspiring against him and his pro-carriage compatriots, however.

"The animal-rights opponents of the industry are well funded by real-estate interests," Mr Neeson writes, "which has led to speculation that this powerful lobby wishes to develop the West Side properties occupied by the stables."

Mr Neeson calls on the mayor to visit the Central Park horse stables, see how the horses are treated, meet the carriage operators and "start a dialogue that will safeguard a future for the horses that the majority of New Yorkers want".

After reading Mr Neeson's op-ed, we have only one thing to say to Mr de Blasio:

Good luck.


The opposition is ready to talk - The leader of Venezuela's opposition coalition, Henrique Capriles-Radonski, writes in the Wall Street Journal that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro needs to sit down with protestors and his political opposition and engage in meaningful talks.

Mr Capriles-Radonski presents the president with a list of steps to take, including releasing political prisoners, disarming pro-government militias, ending media censorship and investigating human rights abuses.

He reiterates what he told Mr Maduro during a debate last week: "You can either have a proper dialogue or a social explosion."


Obama's nuclear legacy - President Barack Obama's foreign policy weakness makes a decision by Japan to develop nuclear weapons more likely, writes Commentary magazine's Michael Rubin.

Japan joins traditional US allies around the world in looking for a "Plan B", he says, since they "now recognise that they cannot trust the United States".

"It should be hard for Japanese leaders not to conclude that if they want to defend their territory and people, the time is nearing when they will have to cross the nuclear weapons threshold," he writes.


Sex workers think World Cup will make them rich - The Atlantic's Olga Khazan travels to Brazil, where she talks with prostitutes who are anticipating an influx of visitors around this summer's World Cup football tournament.

"Throughout Brazil, some sex workers seem to have as much riding on the World Cup as the country's most devoted soccer fans do," she writes. She says Brazilian aid workers express concerns about child prostitution and sex-related violence, however.


A Modi win will be a headache for Canada - For 12 years, Narendra Modi - the front-runner in this month's Indian presidential election - has been denied a visa to visit Canada under a Canadian law barring suspected human rights abusers.

If Mr Modi is elected, and Canada chooses to continue the ban, it could cause serious problems in India-Canada relations, writes Dalhousie University's Anita Singh in Canada's Globe and Mail.

The US, UK and Australia also have visa bans, but they've announced they will be lifted if Mr Modi wins. Canada should follow suit, Ms Singh argues.

"Ottawa must recognise that its existing policy isn't simply about Canada's relationship with Mr Modi, but rather about its relationship with all of India," she writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Iranian media responds to the US denial of a visa to Tehran's ambassador-designate to the UN and the Iranian request for a special UN, committee meeting to investigate the decision.

"It is expected from the country's government and foreign ministry officials that they be bold in remaining firm on their rightful position and not yield to excesses and bullying of arrogant [powers], who since the beginning of the Revolution, have never concealed their hatred and ill will towards the pious Islamic republic system." - Hassan Khayati in Jomhuri-ye Eslami.

"After the collapse of the Soviet Union, America has tried to establish a unipolar system in the world in order to show that except for America, there is no other important country in the world... Under US commitments to the United Nations, this country has the responsibility of ensuring the security of the organisation and cannot prevent the presence of countries' envoys and officials in this organisation." - Ali Tatmaj in Hemayat.

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A baseball star's escape from Cuba

Yasiel Puig celebrates after a base hit on 11 April, 2014/

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig is many things - a Major League Baseball all-star, a multimillionaire with a seven-year, $42m (£25m) contract and a hero to countless Southern California baseball fans.

He is also a Cuban defector who allegedly reported some of those who attempted to lure him to the US to Cuban authorities, while secretly trying multiple times to flee his island home.

Puig's harrowing and ultimately successful escape is recounted in an article by Jesse Katz in Los Angeles Magazine.

"An elaborate underground of couriers and bagmen is forever shadowing Cuba's best ballplayers," Katz writes. "So is a state-sponsored network of secret police and paid informants. When you are being lured and monitored at every turn, caught between ambition and duty, survival sometimes means playing both sides."

Start Quote

The worst case scenario is that Puig is a ruthless opportunist who will betray and harm others for his own good”

End Quote Tom Ley Deadspin

Katz describes how a Miami-area businessman with a criminal record, Raul Pacheco, agreed to pay $250,000 to Cuban smugglers with ties to a Mexican drug cartel to whisk Puig and several others to Mexico, where he could seek asylum and then negotiate a professional baseball contract.

In exchange Puig allegedly agreed to give 20% of his future baseball earnings to Mr Pacheco.

Katz writes that Puig and company "were not the first to employ this scheme, a version of which has catapulted many of baseball's new Cuban millionaires to American shores. It is usurious and expedient, illicit and tolerated."

Things went awry once Puig arrived in Mexico, however, as Katz reports that Mr Pacheco was reluctant to pay. For weeks the smugglers held Puig in a seedy motel on Isla Mujeres, making threats against Puig and attempting to auction the player off to US sports agents.

Mr Pacheco finally organised a group to rescue the ballplayer and bring him to Mexico City, where he auditioned for baseball scouts. The Dodgers, who had been watching Puig since he was on the Cuban national baseball team, quickly offered him the big-money contract that set him on his way to becoming a nationally recognised baseball star in less than a year.

It seems Puig's past has continued to haunt him, however. Katz recounts how the smugglers threatened Puig and his family in an attempt to collect the money they felt Puig and his associates owed them.

Katz quotes one former friend of Puig's who says a man connected to Puig promised to "neutralise" the leader of the smugglers. A month later, the smuggler died from multiple gunshot wounds in Mexico. Puig's ex-friend wonders whether the apparent assassination was somehow tied to the threats - or if Puig's people met the smugglers' demands.

"It's a great story full of scenes that feel ripped straight from a screenplay, but above all it reveals that Puig's past is incredibly complex and harrowing," writes Deadspin's Tom Ley.

Start Quote

Now that Puig is a multi-millionaire, are the smugglers still involved, and could that involvement one day lead to Dodger Stadium?”

End Quote Bill Plaschke Los Angeles Times

"The worst case scenario is that Puig is a ruthless opportunist who will betray and harm others for his own good," he writes. "A more charitable interpretation sees Puig as someone trying to survive and navigate his way through a dangerous underworld full of crooks, drug dealers and smugglers."

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wonders what became of the smugglers.

"Now that Puig is a multi-millionaire, are the smugglers still involved, and could that involvement one day lead to Dodger Stadium?" he asks.

"Shortly after Puig's arrival last summer, the bodyguard quotient around the Dodgers' dugout noticeably increased," he writes. "This winter, that same security detail could be seen around Puig in public. One can only hope this season the added security remains, both on the field and in the stands, particularly when Puig is standing alone in right field."

Yahoo Sports's Mike Oz calls Puig's story "a good reminder that nothing he does on a baseball field - hitting a cut-off man or trying to take an extra base, even when ill-advised - has the grave stakes Puig faced just trying to get to this country."

A victim of the right's war on Obamacare?

A photo of Florida Governor Rick Scott Governor Rick Scott led Republican efforts to block Medicaid expansion in Florida

Some liberal bloggers claim to have found the face of expanding health care reform to the poor. Her name is - or was - Charlene Dill.

Ms Dill, a 32-year-old Florida mother of three with a history of heart problems, collapsed and died in a stranger's house while working as a vacuum cleaner salesman - one of her three part-time jobs.

Ms Dill had stopped taking prescription medication for her condition after she no longer qualified for Medicaid - the government health-care programme for the poor - because her yearly income of $9,000 was above the maximum amount to qualify for coverage.

On March 21, Ms Dill - who was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Florida when she was 18, estranged from her husband and on her own raising children ages 3, 7 and 9 - passed away. And now the painful question: Was her death preventable? Those who have spread word of her story argue that it was.

You see, Ms Dill would have been covered by Medicaid if Florida had taking advantage of federal funding to expand the programme under the Affordable Care Act.

Start Quote

Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims”

End Quote Thom Hartmann Truthout

Congress had intended for the expansion to be mandatory, but in 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose to opt out - and 21 states, thanks largely to Republican efforts, have done so. In those states, there is a gap in coverage for those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to receive insurance subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act - a gap into which an estimated 5 million Americans fall.

Ms Dill was one of those Americans, and a number of left-wing writers argue that her death is at Republicans' feet.

"Dill's death was not unpredictable, nor was it unpreventable," writes the Orlando Weekly's Billy Manes, who first publicised the story.

Truthout's Thom Hartmann agrees.

"Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims," he writes. He accuses Republicans of playing politics with people's lives and sacrificing Dill in the interest of scoring political points.

"Republicans say that they're pro-life, but that's a bald-faced lie, because they refuse to let low-wage working Americans have access to life-saving Medicaid," he writes. "If Rick Scott and his Republican buddies in the Florida legislature are really the Christians they claim they are, then they're going to burn in hell. Deservedly."

Female-driven network Women on the Move published an emotional letter from Dill's best friend, Kathleen Voss Woolrich, in which she urges voters to remember her friend when heading to the polls:

You see the main argument Republicans use is that it's some lazy person who needs Medicaid expansion. That those of us living without healthcare or dental care are lazy. But my friend a single beautiful mother worked three jobs. She paid taxes. She paid her house taxes. And now she's dead.

US Representative Alan Grayson writes inthe Tampa Bay Times that Ms Dill's story should be a turning point. The Democrat urges lawmakers to ditch the strategy of saving face in favour of saving lives.

"To Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee, on behalf of all of Florida, I have one request of you: Choose life. Expand Medicaid. Take the money. And spare 1 million Floridians from suffering, from sickness and from death," he writes.

Start Quote

Ms Dill's tragic death and her family's loss is hard enough without turning her tragedy into a political football”

End Quote Noah Rothman Mediaite

The New Republic's Brian Beutler writes that while it's impossible to prove without any doubt that Ms Dill would have lived if she had been able to enroll in an expanded Medicaid, Democrats can point to her death as a stark illustration of the consequences of the healthcare gap:

People either qualify for Medicaid or they don't. They either qualify for premium tax credits or they don't. Either they're insured when disaster strikes or they're not. It's completely uncontroversial to argue that Dill would have had a more fighting chance at survival if Florida Republicans hadn't refused the expansion against state interest.

This is all too much for Mediaite's Noah Rothman, who says the rush from liberals to tout Ms Dill's story is a sign of "panic" at their party's prospects in this November's midterm congressional elections.

He writes:

Ms Dill's tragic death and her family's loss is hard enough without turning her tragedy into a political football to be eagerly run up the field by an increasingly desperate base of Democratic partisans and their ethically challenged accomplices in the Congress. The facts associated with Medicaid expansion suggest, at the very least, that it is impossible to directly link Ms Dill's death to Florida's decision not to expand Medicaid. But that will not stop the president's allies in the press from adopting even the most base and immoral tactics in the attempt to stave off disaster in November.

Whether it's moral to do so or not, Beutler doesn't think Democrats are likely to capitalise on the story.

While easily debunked Obamacare horror stories flood social media, he says that liberals are often reluctant to play a similar game.

"That cautiousness simultaneously reflects the left's greatest political strength and weakness: its relatively healthy epistemological standards, and its at-times lamentable unwillingness to seize its own political advantage," writes Beutler.

(Kierran Petersen contributed to this story.)

Parental 'help' at school could hurt

A 1940 photograph of a father helping his son do homework. You're not helping, Dad

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

It's an assumed truth that the more parents are involved in their children's schooling, the more academically successful those kids will be.

Not so fast, argue Prof Keith Robinson of the University of Texas and Prof Angel L Harris of Duke University. They conducted a study on various forms of parental involvement - helping with homework, talking to teachers, visiting a child's classroom - and found that more active parents not only didn't help, they occasionally hurt.

It's important for parents to teach their children to value education, expect they will go to college and making sure they get assigned good teachers, Robinson and Harris write, but that's where the benefits end. If you're trying to help your kids with their homework, chances are you're just mucking things up.

"Regardless of a family's social class, racial or ethnic background, or a child's grade level, consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades," they write in a New York Times opinion piece. "Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse."

The results of the study should be taken into account when forming national education policy, Robinson and Harris say.

"Schools should move away from giving the blanket message to parents that they need to be more involved and begin to focus instead on helping parents find specific, creative ways to communicate the value of schooling, tailored to a child's age," they write.

Parents should "set the stage", they conclude, then get out of the way.


Racial profiling of Somalis is a gross violation of human rights - The Kenyan police are trampling on the rights of ethnic Somalis when they arrest them without cause and arbitrarily demand they show national identity cards, writes Mohamed Guleid in the Standard. He compares it to the treatment Jews received during the Spanish Inquisition.

The government's actions, he concludes, violate the Kenyan constitution and numerous international treaties.


A husband-wife power swap - Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli cannot run for re-election, so he's installing his wife, Marta, as his party's vice-presidential candidate for the 4 May elections.

The Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes that Mr Martinelli's actions are in keeping with his drive to hold onto power at all costs and yet another example of the corruption and stifling of dissent that have typified his rule.

"The Panamanian democracy is on the ropes once more," she writes.


Russian invasion could lead to nuclear disaster - Ukraine's nuclear power plants could be in grave danger if open war breaks out in Ukraine, writes former US State Department official Bennett Ramberg.

Even if plants aren't directly targeted, the collateral damage from a conflict could have serious consequences.

"Fighting could disrupt off-site power plants or transmission lines servicing the reactor, and could also prevent diesel fuel from reaching the plant to replenish standby generators," he writes. "Operators could abandon their posts should violence encroach."

Without close monitoring, a nuclear power plant could suffer a radioactive emission greater than Chernobyl or Fukushima, he says.


Media are corrupting the election - The Indian media's focus on scandal and their "shrill activism" are creating a "sense of perpetual unease", writes Santosh Desai in the Times of India.

Presidential candidates Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi have tried to take advantage of this feeling of disillusionment, he says, but Mr Modi has been the most successful.

"Constant carping criticism creates a need for order and clarity, and Narendra Modi has come forward to fill the gaping void that has been widened by the current media discourse in the country," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Abdullah Abdullah recently said he was "confident" about the outcome of the vote

Coverage of the release of partial results for the first round of the Afghanistan presidential election dominates the Afghan media, as some papers criticise the IEC for delays in announcing the news.

"It seems that now [current President Hamid] Karzai has two preferred candidates... The most recent concern is that some people in election bodies want to engineer the vote results in favour of the government's preferred candidate. Undoubtedly, this time the results of a fraudulent elections are not acceptable to the Afghan people." - Editorial in Mandegar

"It is unclear why only 10% of votes have been counted so far, but the main point is that both the [election] commissions have failed to act as quickly as needed... A delay in announcing the results is questionable for all. They should put an end to this." - Editorial in Arman-e Melli.

"Residents of the country who went to the polls and showed readiness to elect their future leader despite threats by the [armed] opponents want the poll bodies to perform their duties without any fear. People also urge the presidential contenders to avoid early prejudgments." - Editorial in Anis

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Aboutalebi: Let him into the US?

President Barack Obama giving a speech on 11 April, 2014. President Obama has decided to deny Hamid Aboutalebi's visa request

The Obama administration announced on Friday that it has decided to deny a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, whom Iran had selected to be its permanent representative to the UN.

Mr Aboutalebi's appointment had become a hot-button source of controversy in Washington, as politicians and the media debated whether a man who had ties to the 1979 hostage standoff at the US embassy in Iran should be allowed to enter the US.

The Iranian government contends that Mr Aboutalebi was only a translator for the hostage-takers and did not participate in the taking of the embassy.

That explanation doesn't fly with the editors of the Washington Times.

Start Quote

Hostage-taking is the credential of a terrorist, not of a diplomatic host”

End Quote Editorial The Washington Times

"Americans of a certain age will not forget their bitter anger at watching 52 countrymen paraded, bound and blindfolded, through the streets of Tehran, nor the endless anxiety felt while the American diplomats were held prisoner for 444 days," they write. "Hostage-taking is the credential of a terrorist, not of a diplomatic host."

They argue that President Barack Obama "must overcome whatever reluctance to offend radical Islam he has and draw a red line around a visa for Mr Aboutalebi, and for once allow no one to erase it."

Republican Doug Lambert, who sponsored a bill in the House of Representatives that would deny visas to UN diplomats who have conducted "terrorist activities", says Americans' "conscience" can't allow Mr Aboutalebi to enter the US.

"We, as Americans, and as people with a memory as well as a conscience, cannot allow such an official on our soil, except to be brought to trial for his participation in illegally holding our diplomats hostage," he writes in the Denver Post.

"While the US is required to allow UN diplomats to come to New York, it has the right to refuse visas to those seeking to work as diplomats in the UN," he writes. "Diplomatic immunity should not apply to terrorists and to their accomplices. "

Mr Lambert's bill passed unanimously in the House on Thursday, and a companion measure was similarly approved by the Senate. Mr Obama has not announced whether he will sign it into law, however.

Barry Rosen, one of the 1979 hostages, says Iran's failure to recognise the crimes it committed against the 52 men and women is why this issue hasn't died down.

Start Quote

It's not unknown for youthful radicals to mature into middle-aged statesmen”

End Quote Editorial Los Angeles Times

"There has never been an acknowledgement of what occurred 35 years ago, much less an apology," he writes in the New York Times. "That silence is the greatest outrage of this controversy."

The editors of the Los Angeles Times have questioned whether the US should be making such a big deal out of the issue and fear that it could adversely affect ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme.

They note that Mr Aboutalebi was 22 years old when the hostage incident took place.

"It's not unknown for youthful radicals to mature into middle-aged statesmen," they write.

"The administration has registered its displeasure with Aboutalebi's appointment. Now it should refocus on more important matters, including the nuclear negotiations."

"But even if the Aboutalebi of today were an unreconstructed anti-American, the US would be wrong to try to prevent him from taking up a position at the UN," they continue. "Having agreed to serve as host country of the international organization, the US shouldn't interfere in decisions by member states about their representation in that body any more than it should block foreign leaders it objects to from addressing the UN."

Now that Mr Obama has made his decision, the Iranians will have to decide whether to press the issue or find a new ambassador. Their next step could speak volumes about the long-term prospects for the ongoing nuclear programme negotiations and US-Iranian relations in general.

Judging Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius smiles in a Rose Garden ceremony on 11 April, 2014, announcing her resignation as secretary of health and human services. Will Kathleen Sebelius be remembered as a healthcare hero or a goat?

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Hours after word leaked that US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was resigning, the battle over her political legacy - and the politics of her leaving - began.

Is her departure a sign that she is being held accountable for the rocky launch of the healthcare insurance exchanges or is it a smooth transition after she put the reform programme on a path to success?

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn closes the book on Ms Sebelius's time in office, writing that the secretary was not really suited for the tasks at hand.

"Sebelius brought two main assets to her job," he writes. "She had experience regulating insurers and, as a successful Democrat in Kansas, she knew how to work with Republicans. But what Obamacare needed more was a deft, aggressive manager."

Despite this, he says, Ms Sebelius managed to overcome a tumultuous start and leave on a high note.

"It's now clear that Obamacare is succeeding in one of its primary goals - reducing the number of Americans without health insurance," he writes. "The only question is by how much."

He continues: "The memories of Obamacare's difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I'm not sure that really matters."

Vox's Ezra Klein agrees that Ms Sebelius "can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success".

Rutgers Prof Ross K Barker writes in USA Today that Ms Sebelius is going to be known for the botched healthcare reform rollout, but much of the blame should go elsewhere.

"Her true misfortune was that she was the person called upon to implement a poorly conceived program that failed to take account of how the Affordable Care Act would disrupt the lives of so many Americans," he says.

Democrats who are arguing that Ms Sebelius's resignation is a sign that things are going well are misguided, says the Federalist's Ben Domenech. Now, the Senate will have to hold hearings and vote on her successor.

This surprise resignation presents Republicans with an unexpected opportunity to refocus the conversation on Obamacare's negatives, offers a chance to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take a hard vote on Obamacare six months before the midterms, and serves to disrupt what had been a positive few days of media spin for the healthcare law into another conversation about its many failings.

President Barack Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell to take the reins of the agency. Her confirmation battle will surely be a bruising one, with the merits of healthcare reform up for debate. Again.


Strong-arming Shangri-La - China is losing an ideas war in Tibet, write Stefan Halper and Lezlee Brown Halper for the Los Angeles Times. If China wants to maintain control over Tibet, it needs to reassess the type of power it will wield and possibly move to a more hands-off approach - especially since the leadership in Tibet is likely to become more radical after the Dalai Lama dies.

"If that were to happen, China's policies might become more repressive, which would in turn enhance Tibet's soft power and cause global opinion to turn even more negative toward Beijing," they write.

"Alternatively, if China were to grant Tibet greater autonomy, China would be applauded for finding a rational solution to a difficult problem."


Breaking the US silence - Time and time again, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has held the US up as a bogeyman to distract from its own failures, writes Business Insider's Linette Lopez. But the US stands in a powerful position, she argues, and Venezuela is more divided than ever. She suggests that the US could pull the plug on the purchase of Venezuelan oil and pulverise their economy, as oil exports are half of the country's income.

"Without them, Venezuela cannot finance the social programs that are the promise of Maduro's party," she writes. "Without them he will lose support that he cannot afford to lose."

US foreign policy

Becoming a bigger Norway - Amir Taheri of Asharq Al-Awsat thinks President Obama isn't as naive as many have accused him of being. When it comes to foreign policy, he says, Mr Obama wants the US to be less of an imperialist bully and more like Norway. If Mr Obama's goal is to emphasise the use of soft power over threats of military force, Taheri continues, his actions as president make much more sense.

"He has succeeded in cutting the US down to size," he writes. "Under Obama the number of people across the globe who respect and admire the US has not increased, but the number of those who fear it has decreased," he writes. "The trouble is that he has been less than frank about his ideological choice, not telling the Americans what he is cooking, thus acting without an express mandate from them."


A new kind of great power relationship - US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to China alternated between warm and icy, writes Suthichai Yoon for Thailand's the Nation. It could be the beginning of a "frenemy" relationship that lends stability to the region, he argues.

"The US and China can talk frankly and put all their cards on the table instead of issuing threats and using undercover manipulation to undermine each other," he says. "Both realise that they need each other in this increasingly interdependent world."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Five deputies in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, have called for former leader Mikhail Gorbachev to be put on trial over the break-up of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to independence for 14 countries previously ruled by Moscow, including Ukraine.

"They say that 23 years later, especially in relation to Ukrainian events, this must be investigated right now. I don't understand what the State Duma deputies mean by "Ukrainian events" or why they are being linked…. They're calling for national liberation movements to be started on the territories of former Soviet countries - essentially, civil wars." - Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk in Izvestiya.

"This initiative will primarily play into the hands of anti-Russian forces. For instance, the Baltic states might say: look, in Russia they're calling for revision of 1991 outcomes, so we should draw closer to America and close ourselves off from Russia." - Aleksei Makarkin, deputy head of the Centre for Political Technologies in Novyye Izvestiya.

"Until we do away with the bad habit of decrying and spitting on the back of former leaders, we shall not become a truly great nation... Russia has never respected soft leaders, but then moans about cruel ones. This is why if we want a soft leader, we need to at least learn to respect him. One does not need to worship him, but it is advisable to learn to say thank you." - Mikhail Zubov in Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

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Ban knives? Attack prompts gun debate

Family members hug in Murrysville, Pennsylvania following a knife attack at a local high school. Murrysville, Pennsylvania, families react to the mass stabbing at a local high school

On Wednesday 16-year-old Alex Hribal allegedly entered a high school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and stabbed 21 of his classmates and a security guard. Although some of the injuries are serious, so far there have been no fatalities.

Given the recent history of school shootings in the US, it didn't take long before the incident became fuel for the ongoing debate over gun control. If you were wondering whether the chasm between the two sides on this issue had narrowed at all, it hasn't.

Start Quote

Guns aren't our problem, mentally ill people are”

End Quote Elizabeth Nelson Capitalist Preservation

The Pennsylvania attack proves that firearms aren't the problem, argue gun rights advocates. A disturbed individual is always capable of finding a weapon and causing violence.

"Jack the Ripper, OJ Simpson, Ted Bundy and the BTK killer never used a gun to subdue or killer their victims, and yet our administration would have us believe that guns are our enemy," writes Elizabeth Nelson of Capitalist Preservation blog. "Guns aren't our problem, mentally ill people are."

Dan Zimmerman on The Truth About Guns blog agrees:

As someone once said, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun (or a knife) is a good guy with a gun. Of course, as we all know, our schools are sterile, gun free zones where, with the occasional exception of a resource officer, guns are prohibited. Kinda like our military bases. How's that working out?

Alex Jones's site asks whether liberals will now start calling for a knife ban:

School shootings have resulted in demands from the Obama administration and Congress for laws scaling back the Second Amendment. Piers Morgan and other media figures have railed against the idea citizens have a right to own firearms.

Is it possible they will now move to restrict the use of knives and other sharp instruments? Will the government create a national cutlery database? Will there be a move to microstamp buck knives?

Ah yes, Piers Morgan - the Brit who until recently hosted a CNN talk show, where he was an outspoken proponent of gun control. As Salon's Elias Isquith documents, Morgan continues to be a lightning rod for gun boosters, who showered his Twitter feed with invective.

"America's lack of knife control is sickening, isn't it fella?" went a typical tweet.

Although Mr Morgan was largely silent, other pro-gun advocates framed their arguments along the lines of a comment made by one of the surgeons who operated on students injured during the attack.

Start Quote

Nobody could have outrun a bullet if the suspect had been armed with a gun”

End Quote Michael Daly The Daily Beast

"Even though many people were injured and injured severely, this would be a completely different scenario if a firearm was in place," Dr Juan Carlos Puyana said.

Michael Daly of the Daily Beast writes that President Barack Obama might be appearing at another mass shooting memorial service "if the mayhem at Franklin High had been perpetrated with a 9-mm pistol like the one the 2009 Fort Hood gunman used or the .45 calibre pistol the more recent shooter wielded."

"Nobody could have outrun a bullet if the suspect had been armed with a gun, but anybody who managed to stay outside the reach of the blades escaped injury," he writes.

The editors of the Hartford Courant compare the school shooting in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, and this week's incident in Pennsylvania:

Gun advocates frequently quote the old saw that "Guns don't kill people - people kill people," and argue that determined would-be attackers, if denied firearms, will find other weapons. As far as they go, those statements aren't untrue.

But look at the consequences: In Connecticut, 20 children and six educators died. In Pennsylvania, nearly two dozen people were attacked, and there were no deaths.

They conclude: "Pennsylvanians must ask themselves, as we and all Americans must: What if this student hadn't used a knife? What if he had wielded a gun?"

"Knife attacks happen in countries such as Japan where guns are hard to access, and they have been lethal," writes John Hopkins Prof Katherine Newman. "Just not as deadly as a loaded high-capacity automatic weapon that requires a split second to gun down dozens of people."

So this is where the gun debate stands in the US. A 16-year-old boy can run through a school, indiscriminately stabbing his fellow classmates, and it's either compelling evidence that gun control doesn't work - or exactly why it does.

Outspoken Islam critic in college row

A 2007 photo portrait of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Brandeis University won't be honouring Ayaan Hirsi Ali after all

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Brandeis University's decision not to bestow an honorary degree on a women's rights advocate and outspoken critic of the Islamic faith has generated a firestorm of criticism from conservative media outlets.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former member of the Dutch parliament, was set to receive the accolade from the university on May 18, but objections from some faculty and students led to a change of heart from university president Fred Lawrence.

She "was raised in a strict Muslim family but renounced the faith in her 30s after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage", writes the Associated Press's Paige Sutherland.

Ms Ali would go on to start a foundation to assist women in the West who were the victims of religious oppression, and she would occassionally have harsh words for the faith of her childhood.

In 2007, Ms Ali told Reason magazine that Islam needs to be defeated: "I think that we are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars."

Statements like these were cited by those who objected to Ms Ali's appearance at Brandeis's commencement ceremonies. On Tuesday they prevailed, as Brandeis announced that it "cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values".

The decision was denounced by conservative commentators

"What Lawrence has done here is the nothing less than the act of a gutless, spineless, simpering coward," writes Commentary magazine's John Podhoretz.

The National Review's Charles CW Cooke compares the current controversy to Brandeis's decision in 2006 to confer an honorary degree on playwright Tony Kushner, who said things critical of Israel.

He quotes a statement by Jehuda Reinharz, who served at the time as president of Brandeis, justifying the decision: "The university does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions."

Cooke goes on to write:

Perhaps I'm missing a critical emanation or penumbra here, but if the consciences and professions of its honourees have no bearing on the integrity of their achievements, it should not matter whether their convictions comport with those held by the University, should it?

He argues that the story is following a standard progression:

First, an invitation is proffered to someone of heterodox views; next, the forces of conformity congeal and solidify, circulating petitions, banging drums, and rambling about justice and what you will; then the would-be host begins to worry, announcing meekly that it is reviewing its options; and finally, the invitation is shamefully revoked, usually under the paradoxical auspices of broadmindedness and inclusion. "We're sorry," the typical explanation runs, "but we're too permissive to allow your sort".

George Mason University Prof David Bernstein writes in the Washington Post that there's plenty of blame in this controversy.

"Because Ms. Ali engages in blanket condemnation of Islam, and has expressed the desire to suppress it by force, I think she was a poor choice for an honorary degree (though a fine choice as a campus speaker or honouree in other contexts)," he writes. "Commencement should be a time to bring the community together, not to make some students, in this case students of Muslim background, feel like the university is disrespecting them."

Once Brandeis invited Ms Ali, however, "it should have stuck by that decision, especially given the Kushner precedent".

"In short," he says, "it's incompetence all the way around".


Ukraine needs support, wherever it is - On Tuesday we noted that only one in six Americans could find Ukraine on a map. Geographic knowledge isn't as important as a willingness to resist conduct that "violates international law and threatens the international order", says the Washington Post Charles Lane. Resisting Russian aggression in Europe, he continues, is "worrisome not only strategically but also morally".

"Foreign policy is not only about knowledge but also judgment; not only smarts but also wisdom," he writes.

South Africa

The only truth is Steenkamp is dead - Whether Oscar Pistorius is being truthful during testimony in his murder trial, writes the South Africa Mail and Guardian's Khaya Dlanga, "at the end of the day, Reeva Steenkamp is dead". He says Mr Pistorius was not "performing" when he took the stand, he was being sincere. He either felt sorrow for accidentally killing Steenakamp or remorse at the consequences of his intentional act.

"Pistorius's performance on the stand yesterday was that of a boxer who got knocked out on the first round and got up just before the ref had counted to eight - a flurry of fists whose impact left him bloodied from the very first fist," he writes.


Why does the international community fear Narendra Modi? - Leading Indian presidential candidate Narendra Modi has a "notorious record for ginning up religious tension in a country where this can be - and often is - deadly", writes Vox's Max Fisher.

"His ascent coincides with a rising trend of Indian right-wing Hindu nationalism that has stirred up major concern among many foreign observers," he says.


The China defence - As Western nations mulled a boycott on Russian natural gas imports, writes Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky, "Chinese officials must have rubbed their hands with glee". He says China, "the biggest energy-consuming nation in the world", could be the accidental beneficiary of Russia's hunt to find a new market for its energy exports.

"Putting a squeeze on Russia by trying to strangle its energy exports will now be difficult: If Europe starts buying less of its natural gas imports from Gazprom, Gazprom can sell more to China," he says.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich announced this week that Russia and China intend to sign a 30-year contract for natural gas supplies. Some Russian experts wonder whether China will be able to replace Europe as Russia's energy-sector partner.

"The [Russian] authorities' hopes for Chinese help look naive. It seems like ministers themselves understand that. In the face of Western sanctions, the Economic Development Ministry has published shocking new forecasts and looks like it does not take the Chinese factor into account. Experts say that China rather than the EU provides growth of the Russian economy... At the same time China will never be able to completely replace the EU, for example, in the gas sector." - Anastasiya Bashkatova in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"It is obvious that under pressure from the West, Gazprom will have to make significant price concessions to China which will make the undertaking with the 'eastern breakthrough' a lot less profitable if compared to the initial ambitious plans of the Russian gas monopoly." - Sergey Putilov in Novye Izvestiya.

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Twitter abuzz after Colbert announcement

Stephen Colbert gives a thumbs-up in front of a US flag Love him or hate him, Stephen Colbert is getting a much bigger audience

News that CBS has named Stephen Colbert as David Letterman's successor as host of The Late Show swept across Twitter on Thursday, as commentators and media personalities raced to share their thoughts.

"Guys! A big thing happened! Everyone to your positions!" tweets the Wire entertainment writer David Sims. "You, get to snark! You, get to apathy! You, ask if we even need late night anymore!"

Liberals rejoiced at the news, and some took glee in the fact that a Twitter movement to #CancelColbert that was started by left-wing social media activist Suey Park and embraced by conservative commentators had clearly failed:

Oliver Willis of Media Matters for America: Colbert gets promotion (basically) the same week Bill O'Reilly declares him the leader of the progressive scourge. There clearly is a God.

Start Quote

This is a good day for Colbert, but a sad day for intelligent television”

End Quote Brian Ries Mashable

Jamelle Bouie of Slate: Looks like Colbert was cancelled! Sort of.

Josh Greenman of the New York Daily News: 'Stephen Colbert' is dead. Long live Stephen Colbert.

Others mourned the loss of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report and Mr Colbert's announcement that he was retiring his right-wing persona:

Brian Ries of Mashable: This is a good day for Colbert, but a sad day for intelligent television. We're losing the greatest satirical characters of our time.

Author/blogger Paul Myers: Not sure if I'm more happy for Stephen taking over the Letterman slot than I am incredibly sad over the imminent loss of The Colbert Report.

Dave Lozo of Bleacher Report: Colbert has this perfect show now. Now he's going to be another guy who asks celebs about their projects. This news is nothing except sad.

The news also prompted words from Mr Colbert's critics.

On the left:

Teju Cole of the Black Atlantic: In spite of being white, male, straight, popular, competent, and rich, Stephen Colbert has overcome the odds and succeeded.

And on the right:

Start Quote

Your parents had Leno vs. Letterman; you get Fallon vs. Colbert”

End Quote Dylan Byers Politico

Ben Shapiro of TruthRevolt: Colbert? Really? Why not just wait until President Obama is out of office and hire him to replace Letterman directly?

Sonny Bunch of the Washington Free Beacon: I'm extremely excited to go from not watching Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central to not watching him on CBS.

Charles CW Cooke: Damnit. And I was hoping for Suey Park.

Mr Colbert does have conservatives fans, however:

Jesse Walker of Reason magazine: Colbert was good as a straight TV host when he'd sub for Stewart. And this is a chance to break free of a character that was getting stale.

Charlie Spiering of Breitbart News: Stephen Colbert is a delightful entertainer - I've always enjoyed his stuff even though it is mostly targeted at conservatives.

Then there was speculation about what the move means for the late-night television wars:

Matt Kalman a Boston-based sports writer: So it'll be Jimmy Fallon vs. Stephen Colbert in the battle to get senior citizens to fall asleep with the TV on. May best man win.

Dylan Byers of Politico: Your parents had Leno vs. Letterman; you get Fallon vs. Colbert.

Alex Parker of Bloomberg BNA: Rise of Daily Show & Colbert parallels fracturing of media, lifestyle, everything. Traditional late-night model no longer relevant.

And finally, at least one tweeter tried to put it all in context.

Screenwriter Julius Sharpe: Wow, Colbert replacing Letterman. Who's replacing Fallon? And Kimmel? And who will replace them? Oh my God, we're all gonna die someday!

Who will keep the keys to the internet?

A photo of an Icann video display during a conference in London on 13 June, 2012 The US is set to hand over control of the internet domain name registration company Icann in September 2015

The US government recently announced that it would be handing off the reins of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), an organisation tasked with assigning and managing domain names and IP addresses worldwide.

While the transfer of power won't happen until September 2015 and has been planned since the organisation's creation in 1998, some reactions have been panicked, to put it lightly.

This transfer of power could mean the end of a single united internet, writes Keith Darnay for the Bismarck Tribune.

Start Quote

Enjoy the internet while you can”

End Quote John C Dvorak PC Magazine

Darnay wonders what happens if September 2015 arrives and no organisation is ready to take control. Perhaps the US agrees to stay in a leadership position until the new digital overseers are in place, but other countries get nervous and start developing their own internets.

"Indeed, we may be living in the waning days of the Internet's 'Golden Age,'" he writes, "a time when we were tantalisingly close to being united in a single digital world."

John C Dvorak thinks that the US giving up Icann will change the course of the internet forever.

"Enjoy the internet while you can," he writes for PC Magazine. "America has waved the white flag. Decades from now, we will look back at the glory days fondly."

He continues:

Start Quote

The internet is a collective hallucination, one of the best humanity has ever generated”

End Quote Jonathan Zittrain The New Republic

Porn, of course, will be the first thing to go. We all know there is too much on the net and it is too freely available. But this is not the job for Icann. Will it become the job of the next group to come along? You can count on it. Forget net neutrality; content neutrality is over.

Others predict that the internet will fall under the sway of governments they fear are uninterested in electronic freedom.

"It's been a good month for Vladimir Putin: He got Crimea and the internet," writes L Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal.

The US has used its level of control to make sure that access to the internet and content is free from political interference, he writes. If the US follows through with this plan, the alternative is a weak international body fending off governments who will try to use their influence to silence their critics.

"China could get its wish to remove from the internet as an affront to its sovereignty," Crovitz writes. "Russia could force Twitter to remove posts by Ukrainian-Americans criticising Vladimir Putin."

The editors of the Orange County Register take issue with the explanations behind the future transfer. Along with many commentators, they point to the Edward Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency as the reason behind the US's decision to hand over Icann, the idea being that perhaps the US can buy back some global trust.

"Trading away control in exchange for the ephemeral - or completely illusory - goodwill of foreign governments is unforgivably naive and can only damage the causes of free speech and freedom of information for everyone," they write.

Julian Assange speaks to the BBC's technology programme

Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks, counters that a division of the internet might not be such a bad thing.

"I think the impulse to do it is quite important and will lead to good things and should be supported," he told the BBC. "The devil is in the details in terms of how these communications links actually operate."

Mr Assange said that it would be difficult to build a European internet because of the number of backdoor deals conducted between Europe and the US. If those deals can't be stopped, than another organisation - presumably Assange's own Wikileaks - has to step up and publish what these governments are up to.

"For any organisation to be accountable, the buck has to stop with someone," he says.

Others are suggesting that we all try to understand the role of Icann a little bit better.

Start Quote

Today's Icann already works, and I can't think of a good reason to do away with it”

End Quote Hiawatha Bray The Boston Globe

"The internet is a collective hallucination, one of the best humanity has ever generated," writes Jonathan Zittrain for New Republic. "To be sure, it is delicate in many ways, with its unowned character threatened from many quarters. But rest easy that Icann isn't one of them."

He says that it is almost impossible for Icann to get involved in a way that could prohibit free speech, as all it does is decide who runs each list of names. The US government has had little impact on how the organisation has run so far, he contends, and Icann cannot tax internet usage. If anyone tried to change that, there would be a powerful backlash.

"Anyone trying to tighten the screws too much will simply strip them," Zittrain writes.

Icann chief Fadi Chehade has published a blog post attempting to correct some inaccuracies and misconceptions.

He writes that giving up Icann is not the same as surrendering control of the internet. He adds that the move is not a response to Mr Snowden's information, would not lead to a division of the internet, and would not affect the general public. He believes critics are distracted by all of this misinformation and missing the larger point.

"Instead of politicising the debate over the US government's decision to transition stewardship of the internet's technical functions, let's move forward with the discussion we need to have - how to engage in the necessary discussion to develop an effective transition process, one that continues to ensure an open internet that belongs to everyone," he says.

Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe wonders why this transition is necessary. Why fix something that isn't broken?

He says he doesn't expect the handover to be a disaster, as the Obama administration has made clear that it intends to prevent any governments from taking control of the organisation. Ideally, Icann would be a truly independent agency with no motivation to censor or impose restrictions.

"Done right, it might work," he writes. "But today's Icann already works, and I can't think of a good reason to do away with it."

Whatever happens, the editors of the Washington Post think that the US is in the end responsible.

They write that the US commerce department has to ensure that the internet's new stewards are free from outside influences that would make it harder for them to do their important administrative work.

"The commerce department's contract with Icann expires next year," they note. "If the non-profit hasn't organised itself to ensure the continued functioning of an open, free and functional Internet by then, US authorities should not let global politics stop them from extending their supervision."

(By Kierran Petersen)

Embracing LBJ's legacy

President Lyndon Baines Johnson on the phone on 1 January, 1965. Some Democrats long for LBJ's arm-twisting political muscle

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

President Barack Obama and former Presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are among the dignitaries visiting the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Johnson's instrumental role in shepherding the passage of the landmark legislation is often overshadowed by a Vietnam War that tore the country apart. Now, writes the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty, many Democrats are giving Johnson's robust liberalism a second look.

"This new warmth toward the 36th president comes as his party has moved to the left in recent years," she writes.

She continues:

The health-care law that President Obama put into place is the most ambitious domestic program since Johnson's Great Society era. Where laws striking down racial barriers stand among the great achievements of Johnson's presidency, Democrats have taken up gay rights as the civil rights struggle of the 21st century. The party also is putting a new emphasis on income inequality, an issue that carries echoes of LBJ's War on Poverty.

The current level of gridlock in Washington has some Democrats wistfully remembering what Johnson was able to accomplish, writes the New York Times's Peter Baker.

"For better or worse, Johnson represented the high-water mark for American presidents pushing through sweeping legislation - not just the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act and major measures on immigration, education, gun control and clean air and water," he writes.

"No president since has approached that level of legislative success, although there are people who argue that is a good thing because government should not be so intrusive."

He says, however, that Washington has changed since the days of Johnson's "Great Society".

"The country faced crises both parties felt compelled to address," he writes. "And political deal-making then was different with pork projects called earmarks that are now banned - seedier, perhaps, but also effective."

Add to that the fact that US political parties have become more ideologically pure and faith in the government as a whole has deteriorated, he contends, and we find ourselves in our current state of affairs.


Island takeover - It is not unrealistic that China may seize the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and soon after Japan's Ryukyu Islands as well, writes Naval War College Prof James Holmes in Foreign Policy. The Ryukyu Islands are inhabited by about 1.5 million Japanese and are the location of US Marine and Air Force bases that monitor the East China Sea. Taking over these islands would "announce China's return to the top of the Asian pecking order - and do so in resounding style," Holmes writes.


Reproductive rights success - Women should celebrate the Philippine Supreme Court ruling that the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law is constitutional, writes Rina Jimenez-David for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Even though eight provisions were struck down, the law is an overall success.

"Finally, the government has the mandate to fully fund and implement its reproductive health policies, including giving young people age-appropriate, accurate and practical education on matters regarding sex, sexuality and personal responsibility," she writes.

North Korea

TV time - Leaders of North Korea may be trying to lure citizens back to watching state propaganda by signing an agreement to air BBC television shows Doctor Who, Top Gear, and Teletubbies, writes Lily Kuo for Quartz. "Rather than signalling new openness, the prospect of a deal may be a clue of how worried officials are over foreign TV shows and movies already being smuggled into the country," she says.


Questioning neutrality - Finland and Sweden have begun discussions about joining Nato over concerns about Russian aggression, writes Suvi Turtiainen for Die Welt (translated by WorldCrunch). "It would not be unusual for Russia to unleash economic war if Moscow is of the opinion that a neighbour has hurt its interests," Turtiainen writes. There is widespread dissent within Finland and Sweden, however, and membership is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Main Turkish opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was punched in the face while on his way to a party meeting in parliament on Tuesday. The incident has been strongly condemned by many political parties and politicians. Their sentiments are echoed by the Turkish press.

"The most likely explanation is that it is the reflection of the 'high political tension' that was felt before the 30 March election... This is a warning against the mentalities that turned the elections into battles and consolidated votes by doing so." - Guneri Civaoglu in Milliyet siyaset.

"This cannot be seen as just an ordinary incident. It cannot be glossed over by a condemnation. It is an alarm. If the main opposition leader is punched under parliament's roof, this means the word has long failed there. It is not the first case, where a politician has been attacked... but the attack, being carried out in parliament, is making the situation much more serious." - Mustafa Unal in Zaman.

"If party leaders in Turkey are being attacked in parliament, what should ordinary citizens do? The duty of the police is to protect the lives and freedoms of the people! He is the police of the people not of the state! The point that has been achieved is hurting my country." - Hikmet Cetinkaya in Cumhuriyet.

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Is Wall Street rigged?

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange on 28 March, 2014.

Michael Lewis's new book, Flash Boys, details how a group of financial firms, through technology and paid access, are able to get a fraction of a second heads-up on stock price movements.

Because of the way the US financial system is spread out over more than 40 individual "markets" - many of which are just banks of computer servers that match up buyers with sellers - these high-frequency trading (HFT) companies have devised computer algorithms that figure out when a large stock purchase is being made.

When the order hits on one exchange, there may not be enough shares available. High-speed traders then quickly place buy orders on other exchanges fractions of a second ahead of the original purchaser, to whom they then sell their stock for a slightly higher price.

Although each trade probably brings in only fractions of a cent of profit, on high-volume trades those numbers can add up quickly.

Lewis's book, and resulting publicity tour, which has included a in-depth segment on CBS's 60 Minutes, has sparked a debate over whether high-speed trading is legal - or moral. Lewis says these traders have "rigged" the stock market, and many pundits and analysts agree.

Start Quote

The stock market has become a virtual space - an interactive, computer-driven system of staggering complexity”

End Quote John Naughton The Guardian

"The significance of Lewis's book is that it explains in user-friendly terms how the colossal profits of high-frequency traders really amount to an unconscionable tax on the ordinary investor, or at any rate on the pension funds and other financial institutions on which our livelihoods depend," writes the Guardian's John Naughton.

He continues:

The stock market has become a virtual space - an interactive, computer-driven system of staggering complexity. And it turns out that there are several sides to this complexity: for the banks and the high-frequency traders who exploit it, it's a marketing tool for bamboozling investors and a means of intimidating regulators; and for smart programmers and entrepreneurs it offers limitless opportunities to play the system.

Eric Scott Hunsader, the founder of the market data firm Nanex, tells the Washington Post that having a speed advantage is "the equivalent of having tomorrow's Wall Street Journal in your hand today".

"This is wrong and it needs to be corrected," he says.

One of the central figures of Lewis's book is Brad Katsuyama, a trader for the Royal Bank of Canada in New York who discovered what the high-speed traders were doing and came up with a way to delay stock buy orders so they hit all the exchanges at the same time.

Mr Katsuyama tells Jason Kirby of Maclean's that he doesn't see computerised trading as necessarily a bad thing, but "some people use computers to cheat". The perception that the stock market game is rigged is driving ethical traders out of the business, he says:

Good people are leaving Wall Street to go into other industries, they're making moral decisions to leave Wall Street, and it's a shame, because as some of the good people end up leaving the industry, the ratio of good people to not-so-good people changes.

Not everyone is up in arms over Lewis's HFT expose, however. Critics of the book argue that the stock market has always been the province of the privileged and that high-speed traders are taking less of a cut than previous insiders did.

"The problem with Flash Boys is that the demands that master storyteller Michael Lewis makes of his narrative don't align well with the structural problems of HFT that Lewis the journalist should want to expose," Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon writes in Slate.

"The result is that the general public, after reading this book or watching Lewis on 60 Minutes, thinks that the scandal of HFT is that they're being ripped off, and that the stock market is a scam. Neither of which is true."

"Rather, HFT is a ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated mechanism for divvying up intermediation revenues between banks, exchanges, high-tech telecommunications outfits, and various algo-driven shops," he writes. "Everybody is in on the game."

He concludes:

Start Quote

Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but isn't Wall Street always rigged, in some sense?”

End Quote Bill Saporito Time magazine

The Wall Street code has always favoured a small group of rich and well-connected institutions who can afford to pay enormous sums of money to maintain their edge in the market. The advent of HFT just created new entrants into that charmed circle, while causing many incumbents to lose their gilded meal tickets.

Time magazine's Bill Saporito agrees.

"Should you be outraged that some super-smart traders may have an edge on everybody else?" he asks. "Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but isn't Wall Street always rigged, in some sense?"

Shaving a few fractions of a cent really shouldn't be a concern for the average trader, he says:

The reason all of this doesn't really matter is that while the HFTs may be investing in microseconds the rest of us should be investing in years. Steady, diversified investing over the long-term still makes the most sense for most people. If there's a fairness problem regarding HFTs, the SEC and other regulators need to fix it, but trading the market has always been fool's game, and trying to trade again HFTs armed with supercomputers and algorithms is like bringing a peashooter to an artillery battle.

Yes, writes the Week's John Aziz, HFT is taking a "parasitic cut" from market transactions - but the benefits of computerisation far outweigh this cost.

"Computerisation has very much been a double-edged sword for investors," he says. "Even with high-frequency traders taking their cut, investors are benefiting from transaction costs that are lower than those of the pre-computerisation era."

"Life is too short to worry about computer traders sifting the stock market for pennies," writes Yahoo's Michael Santoli.

"If one were starting from scratch, no one would build the system as it exists today," he says, "with so many trading forums operating under differing regulatory mandates, dozens of order types, fragmented order flow and an over-reliance on electronic players who are under no obligation to smooth out trading in times of extreme market stress."

Start Quote

Financial regulators' foremost task right now is to drag American finance into the sunlight in every way that it can”

End Quote Timothy Noah MSNBC

"Yet the noise and outrage surrounding the HFT issue far exceed the apparent inefficiencies or abuses in the system," he concludes.

Timothy Noah of MSNBC acknowledges the validity of these critiques, but he says there's a "larger message" in Lewis's book.

"Financial markets, with their 'dark pools' and ever-more-abstruse financial instruments, are rapidly losing the transparency necessary for them to work properly - a problem the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation only partially addresses," he writes.

"Financial regulators' foremost task right now is to drag American finance into the sunlight in every way that it can. That Wall Street will fight them every step of the way merely confirms how rigged the game really is."

The American public is only now learning about HFT and how certain insiders have managed to acquire very lucrative financial information that the average investor is unable to access. US Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday that the Justice Department looking into the legality of the practice.

A poll last September found only 14% of Americans had a favourable view of New York financial institutions. Given the public relations beating Wall Street and the financial sector have taken over the past few years, is it any wonder that many Americans have concluded that the system is rigged for the benefit of insiders and we probably don't even know the worst of it?

Americans: Ukraine is in ... Greenland?

A 1950 photo of a boy looking at a globe. Knowledge of geography is not an American strength

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

A recent survey conducted by three US college professors found that only one in six Americans could find Ukraine on a map of the world. The results are plotted in one shame-inducing graphic.

What's more disturbing is that the farther away from the actual location of Ukraine the survey participants guessed, the more likely they were to support US military intervention.

A few of the 2,066 respondents seem to think Ukraine is somewhere in the central US, which certainly would make an armed response easier. Alaska - Alaska! - is the target of nearly a dozen guesses.

Greenland and northern Canada are peppered with dots. Brazil. South Africa. A spot in the ocean south of New Zealand.

Is it too much to hope that some of the people surveyed were just messing with the pollsters?

Political independents performed best, with 29% picking correctly. Republicans (15%) and Democrats (14%) were equally dismal. At least there's hope for the future. Twenty-seven per cent of Americans between 18 and 24 correctly located Ukraine.

Dartmouth Prof Kyle Dropp, Harvard Prof Joshua D Kertzer and Princeton Prof Thomas Zeitzoff write in the Washington Post that their survey reveals a disturbing truth:

Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants' general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the US to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to US interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance US national security interests; all of these effects are statistically significant at a 95% confidence level.

It's worth noting, however, that no matter how woefully misinformed Americans are about Ukraine's actual location, only 13% of the total survey wanted to intervene militarily.


Time for a US-Canadian merger - Russia and China have their sights set on Canada's "rich and poorly defended open spaces", writes syndicated columnist Froma Harrop. If the US wants to protect its northern neighbour, she says, there's an obvious solution: a merger.

Harrop talks with the National Post's Diane Francis, who calls for a US-Canadian union in her new book, Merger of the Century.

"A merged Canada and US would occupy more land than Russia or all of South America," Harrop writes. "It would become an energy and economic powerhouse less subject to foreign intrigue. And few countries would mess with either of us."


Terrorism and human rights - Kenya needs to have a "serious debate" about how to respond to the violence that has plagued the nation for three decades, writes Ken Nyaundi in the Standard.

While steps need to be taken to maintain security, he says, there is a price to be paid in liberty and the possibility that some steps taken could be counterproductive: "When we descend into a frenzied over-reaction, we drive terrorists further underground, generate sympathy for them and make them heroes".


Is a Ukraine invasion coming? - BBC's Jonathan Marcus analyses the latest information on Russian troop movements along the Ukrainian border and comes to the conclusion that the Russian military has learned from mistakes made in the 2008 invasion of Georgia.

Marcus talks with several experts who predict that Russia is capable of extended combat operations in Ukraine if it chooses to undertake them.


British reconciliation - As Irish President Michael D Higgins makes the first-ever state visit to the UK on Tuesday, former President Mary Robinson remembers how differently she was treated on a non-official visit during her term in 1991.

"Because of Northern Ireland, the British would not agree to call me 'president of Ireland'!" she writes.

Her trip, she says, was a "carefully orchestrated meeting at head-of-state level between two countries with a troubled past seeking, in a symbolic way, to begin reconciling".

BBC Monitoring quote of the day

Iran and the powers have started the third round of nuclear talks. Representatives from Russia, the US, Britain, France, China and Germany - headed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton - are meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna.

One Iranian daily feels Tehran deserves praise for initiating the new rounds of talks:

"It seems that despite problems and suspicions created by domestic and American hard-liners, Iran's initiative to resume diplomatic negotiations was not considered as a sign of defeat and surrender, and Iran put an end to the propaganda created by Israel and some regional countries and secured its peaceful rights in the best way possible. As a result, Iran's nuclear industry remained intact and the country can perform its regional and international role with full respect." - Seyyed Ali Khorram in Iran's E'temad.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Russian debate: Invade or persuade?

A pro-Russian militant in a surgical mask stands behind barricades near a Ukrainian government building in Donetsk. Russian militants are raising the stakes in eastern Ukraine

Tensions are rising in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk, as pro-Russian demonstrators occupy government buildings. Meanwhile, the Russian media look on and mull whether it's time for their country to step in - or even to annex more of its neighbour's territory.

"Current events hardly seem real," writes Dimitriy Durnev in Novyye Izvestiya, "and reminds one a lot of a film."

Mikhail Rostovskiy in Russian daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets calls the situation "a tornado, a hurricane that sweeps away everything in its path and does not recognize any state borders".

He continues:

Start Quote

Ukraine is missing its last chance to preserve its statehood and territorial integrity”

End Quote Sergey Frolov Trud

The east of Ukraine was not the one to throw the first stone in the conflict. It only took on a challenge that it was confronted with. The east of Ukraine is trying to talk to the west of Ukraine in the only language the latter understands... The inevitable conclusion is that it is time for Ukrainian servants of the people from all regions to again start mastering the political art that has been completely lost in the country - the art of negotiating.

Russian author and political dissident Eduard Limonov writes in Izvestiya that he is not surprised by the recent turn of events.

"I predicted many years ago that the independence Ukraine got for free might not stand the first serious endurance test. And this is exactly what has happened," he writes.

What occurs next, he continues, is up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I advise him to make Donbass [in eastern Ukraine] part of Russia," he says. "The West will not hamper this. And relations with them have been spoilt forever. We understood that they wanted to make Ukraine a base for attacking Russia and to take hostage eight million Russians living in Ukraine. This will not happen."

Russia is facing a "difficult choice", writes Sergey Frolov in Trud:

Diplomatic methods of settling the intensifying crisis in Ukraine are still available. But if Kiev decides to play an all-or-nothing game and blood is shed in the south-east, talk will be of no use any more... The key thing is obvious: Ukraine is missing its last chance to preserve its statehood and territorial integrity.

Kirill Khartyan in Vedmosti agrees that Mr Putin is confronting an "unpleasant dilemma":

Suffer sanctions - even from Germany,which has proved most loyal in the given circumstances - that would extend beyond the Ozero cooperative [nickname for businessmen close to Mr Putin] and would most certainly worsen the already not-so-brilliant situation in the Russian economy, or disappoint overjoyed Russians who, having got the gift of Crimea, are prepared for new gifts. I think in the vision of values held by the Russian leader the second option is much worse.

(Translations provided by BBC Monitoring.)

Why can't the selfie generation find jobs?

College students celebrate on the beach in Cancun, Mexico during spring break on 20 March, 2014. Seth J Carr writes that millennials are unjustifiably labelled as "selfie-posting, social media-crazed underachievers"

On Friday the US Labor Department released the latest national employment figures. The report had good news for many - overall unemployment remained at 6.7% - but continued to paint a dreary picture for the crop of 20-somethings now entering the job market.

The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 12.2%, while 16- to 24-year-olds came in at 14.5%.

But are these younger Americans - "millennials" or "Generation Y" - to blame for their joblessness? Is there something about this generation of Americans that is making it harder for them to enter the workforce, or is the economic deck stacked against them?

Start Quote

The emphasis for today's new adults has always been on self-perfection”

End Quote Rachel Lu The Federalist

Millennials get a bad reputation as "selfie-posting, social media-crazed underachievers," writes Seth J Carr in the Chicago Tribune. Despite the selfies, millennials have valid reasons for their lack of employment.

If you're not part of Gen Y, you didn't grow up with the highest student debt in history in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Maybe that's why so many millennials are living in their parents' basements, unemployed or underemployed.

Many millennials are not unemployed by choice, writes Tim Donovan for Salon. There is a large demographic of "young, undereducated, poor and, all too often, minorities" that are unable to find work.

Rachel Lu, a philosophy professor at the University of St Thomas, writes in the Federalist that millennials have been told by their baby boomer parents to chase their dreams and raised to take advantages of opportunities for self-improvement instead of "putting down roots".

"The emphasis for today's new adults has always been on self-perfection," she says. "Obligations to others were supposed to slide gracefully into the picture at some later date."

Start Quote

The turmoil of the new information and service economy means that millennials will have to be their own job creators if they want to work”

End Quote Walter Russell Mead The American Interest

Lu says it's incorrect to blame millennials wholly for their situation. The current sluggish economy is not of their making.

Walter Russell Mead, writing in his blog for the American Interest, says millennials will have to learn to adjust. They "think they can sit idly until the government or the economy offer them a nine-to-five office job," he says.

"This is not how the world works today. The turmoil of the new information and service economy means that millennials will have to be their own job creators if they want to work."

That's likely a good thing, since a large number of millennials have an uphill climb to land work in a stable office job. A study by the employment and recruiting company Adecco found that hiring managers are three times less likely to hire a millennial than a mature worker because they see older workers as more "reliable" and "professional".

Many young adults are choosing to venture into entrepreneurship, such as independently creating software for mobile devices, because they find having a meaningful job is better than accepting an unsatisfying job. This isn't a sign of laziness, writes Zachary Karabell for the Atlantic, but rather is "evidence of a generation of college graduates determined not to settle, which bodes well for our future".

Others call 20-somethings unrealistic in their desires to run their own businesses and wait for the perfect job. Millennials need to embrace the traditional office workplace, writes Jewelyn Cosgrove for Policy Mic:

Many of us aren't accustomed to the same kind of work that Gen X has been doing for years. Over half of millennials would like to start their own business, and many have relied heavily on freelancing to make ends meet during the down economy. Millennials, myself included, are often quick to forget the value of more traditional skills in the workplace, skills which are just as useful as our well-honed career survival instincts.

Although Cosgrove thinks that millennials may be ill-prepared for today's economy, she hasn't lost all faith: "We are frustrated, downtrodden, and maligned by the media, but we are ever hopeful."

(By Hannah Sieff)

The more we know, the less we agree

President Barack Obama delivers his 2013 State of the Union address before Congress. In some policy debates, each side brings its own set of facts

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

If the public were more informed on a controversial subject - if they just had better access to the facts and an understanding of what they mean - would pressing policy questions be easier to solve?

Vox's Ezra Klein talks to Yale Law Prof Dan Kahan and concludes that the answer is no.

Mr Kahan conducted a study on what he calls the "science comprehension thesis". First, he asked subjects to analyse - based purely on the evidence provided - whether a study indicated that a skin cream cures a rash or makes its worse. Respondents who were better at math tended to come up with the correct answer.

Mr Kahan then offered a similar test using a study on gun control. Once again, subjects were instructed to only assess what the numbers indicated. This time math competence failed to predict whether respondents analysed the data correctly. Ideology - whether one was liberal or conservative - was the determining factor in how one answered.

The conclusion, Klein says, is that people tend to filter out information that forces them to disagree with members of their "tribe". That means that liberals will generally seek out evidence that supports liberal conclusions, while conservatives will embrace conservative numbers.

He writes:

Each party has its allied think tanks, its go-to experts, its favoured magazines, its friendly blogs, its sympathetic pundits, its determined activists, its ideological moneymen. Both the professionals and the committed volunteers who make up the party machinery are members of social circles, Twitter worlds, Facebook groups, workplaces and many other ecosystems that would make life very unpleasant for them if they strayed too far from the faith. And so these institutions end up employing a lot of very smart, very sincere people whose formidable intelligence makes certain that they typically stay in line. To do anything else would be upend their day-to-day lives.

The hope, he concludes, is that voters will eventually hold politicians accountable if their allegiance to their own ideology leads to bad public policy decision. He's not optimistic, however:

It's not true when American politics becomes so warped by gerrymandering, big money and congressional dysfunction that voters can't figure out who to blame for the state of the country. If American politics is going to improve, it will be better structures, not better arguments, that win the day.


Philippine violence is crossing borders - "If you want to be rich, you go into the kidnapping business," writes the Malaysia Star's Philip Golingai about why crime has become a severe problem on the Philippine island of Jolo. Although the violence is usually restricted to Philippine territory, he writes, sometimes it spills over into Malaysia, as it did when a Chinese national was kidnapped recently in a luxury hotel in Sabah.

For some Philippine criminals, he says, "Sabah's diving resorts are like a tempting candy store".


Is a military coup coming? - "Growing food shortages, the world's highest inflation levels, record homicide rates and President Nicolas Maduro's bloody repression" are bringing the situation in Venezuela to a breaking point, writes the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer.

He cites a report by Argentine political scientist Andres Serbin that predicts Venezuela is heading toward anarchy, followed by military intervention and possibly civil war.

"History has proven that there is no such thing as a 'good' coup," Oppenheimer writes, so regional powers need to force Mr Maduro to negotiate with protestors and "re-establish the rule of law".


Remorse inspires a better response - On the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, many international actors regret the lack of action to stop the brutal killings, writes John Prendergast for the Daily Beast.

Still, there is hope that nations will be more effective in response to future human rights violations because "no response to genocide will arise without a constituency of conscience demanding one".


Avoiding the gallows - Although capital punishment is usually reserved for crimes like murder, three of the four men who raped a 23-year-old photojournalist at Shakti Mills in India were sentenced to death because they were repeat offenders. The Times of India editorialises that making rape equivalent to murder can lead to "further brutalisation and dehumanisation of society".

The editors suggest that "the ends of justice as well as deterrence would be far better served by increased conviction rates along with differential punishments depending on the degree or grade of the crime".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the week

Sunday's presidential election in Afghanistan was the main focus of both Afghanistan's media and that of neighbouring Pakistan. The Afghan press welcomed the high turnout, with some calling on the Electoral Complaints Commission [IEC] to deal seriously with fraud and irregularities in the elections. Some Pakistani papers urge Kabul to reach out to Pakistan, while others call on the Taleban to give up attacks.

"The 5 April elections were a national epic created by the people of Afghanistan, women and men, old and young, all strata and social categories... In the first phase, the people said 'no' to those who wanted to prevent the people by force from participating in the elections... The people have successfully passed the great test, election 2014, and demonstrated their resolve well and said 'no' to violence and terrorism." - Afghanistan's the Daily Afghanistan.

"The people of Afghanistan like other free nations of the world showed that they want and can build their destiny. From now on, no-one shall dare say that democracy does not work in Afghanistan." - Afghanistan's Hasht-e Sobh.

"Efforts are seriously under way to destroy the election process and to strike a blow to the presidential candidates... The number of ballot papers in some stations was less than the number of participants. The point creates speculation among the people that the election commission might have interfered to decrease votes to be cast for prominent candidates." - Afghanistan's Mandegar.

"Pakistan's interest lies not in once again trying to 'conquer' Afghanistan through jihadi proxies, but supporting our neighbour in its quest for peace and development, not the least because enlightened self-interest suggests both peace and war in Afghanistan inevitably impact Pakistan too." - Pakistan's Daily Times.

"We believe the new Afghan president will try to maintain better ties with Pakistan. He will honour the sacrifices made by Pakistan for the Afghan people in different ages and will maintain strong contacts with it." - Pakistan's Jang.

"The Afghan Taleban should end their resistance movement and get elected with the support of the people. This is what the people of Afghanistan want." - Pakistan's Nawa-i-Waqt.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Is Mozilla CEO a free speech martyr?

Mozilla's Firefox logo is projected on a screen at a technology conference in Barcelona, Spain, on 24 February, 2013. Mozilla's Firefox browser has been the target of boycotts - first from liberals then from conservatives

On Thursday Mozilla's chief executive and co-founder Brendan Eich resigned after less than a month on the job.

The internet pioneer had come under heavy criticism for a $1,000 (£600) donation he made in 2008 to the Proposition 8 campaign in California, which sought to amend the state's constitution to prohibit gay marriages. (The measure passed but was struck down by a US court in 2012.)

Howls of protest that Mozilla would promote someone with Mr Eich's views quickly turned to howls that Mr Eich was being unjustly punished for those views.

Outrage, it seems, never goes away, it just changes hands.

The editors of the National Review call the development "pure poison":

The nation's full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it.

Start Quote

If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society”

End Quote Andrew Sullivan The Daily Dish

Six years ago, they say, Mr Eich and US President Barack Obama both opposed gay marriage.

"Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views."

(One thing they don't mention, however, is that Mr Obama always opposed Proposition 8.)

The Atlantic Monthly's Conor Friedersdorf offers a hypothetical:

Consider an issue like abortion, which divides the country in a particularly intense way, with opponents earnestly regarding it as the murder of an innocent baby and many abortion-rights supporters earnestly believing that a foetus is not a human life, and that outlawing it is a horrific assault on a woman's bodily autonomy.

The political debate over abortion is likely to continue long past all of our deaths. Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership's political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?

"The rise of marriage equality is a happy, hopeful story," he says. "This is an ugly, illiberal footnote, appended by the winners."

Andrew Sullivan, who is gay himself, says the gay advocacy groups that pushed for Mr Eich's ouster set a terrible precedent:

Start Quote

Eich wasn't just a casual opponent of marriage equality”

End Quote Mark Joseph Stern Slate

When people's lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance.

If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It's staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.

Not so fast, writes Slate's Mark Joseph Stern. Mr Eich's donation to the Proposition 8 campaign was more than just an expression of his political views - it was the endorsement of a hateful campaign.

"Almost every gay person I know remembers the passage of Prop 8 as the most traumatic and degrading anti-gay event in recent American history," he writes. "The tactics used by pro-Prop 8 campaigners were not merely homophobic. They were laser-focused to exploit Californians' deepest and most irrational fears about gay people, indoctrinating an entire state with cruelly anti-gay propaganda."

He says that the campaign worked because people like Mr Eich gave money to fund television ads that insinuated that gay marriages would corrupt the children of California.

He concludes:

Eich wasn't just a casual opponent of marriage equality. He was a major contributor to the most vitriolic anti-gay campaign in American history, one that set the standard of homophobic propaganda that continues to this day. When we talk about Eich's anti-gay stance, we aren't just talking about abstract beliefs. We're talking about concrete actions that harmed thousands of gay families and informed innumerable gay Americans that they were sinful, corrupted predators.

The Awl's Choire Sicha says that Mr Eich wasn't forced out - he quit because he "didn't want to do the actual work" of defending his views:

How can we want to live in a society where people with despicable views won't defend them long enough to make the situation better, and instead, huff off, quit their jobs and apparently delete their Twitter accounts?

One minute Eich was blogging about how he'd show everyone that he could deal with a complicated situation, celebrate diversity and the company, and ensure that everyone could trust in his leadership. Eight days later, his willingness to see that process through had apparently evaporated.

MSNBC reporter Ned Resnikoff sees a different double standard at work in this story.

"I like how at-will employment and arbitrary termination become crises when they happen to a wealthy executive," he tweets.

The ground beneath the opponents of gay marriage has crumbled with surprising quickness, as this controversy clearly shows.

Conservatives have rallied to Mr Eich's defence mostly on free speech principles and not because they agree with his views on the topic (although some certainly do).

But just because the battles to enshrine male-female marriage in state constitutions are largely a thing of the past, the vitriol of the campaigns like Proposition 8 still casts a shadow over today's politics - and it cost Mr Eich his job.

Putin knows history, Kerry does not

US Secretary of State waves as he boards an Air Force jet on 2 April, 2014. Are John Kerry's foreign policy strategies "riddled with mistakes"?

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Someone needs to sit President Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry down for a history lesson, according to Salon's Patrick Smith.

US foreign relations come across as "clownish" because they're never informed by history and are therefore riddled with mistakes. To really understand what is happening in Moscow, Smith argues, the US needs to have a basic understanding of spheres of influence and try to outgrow them. In the meantime, US leaders need to realise that no country is free from them.

Instead, he says, what the US has done is to paint Russian President Vladimir Putin as old-fashioned for acting within his sphere of influence according to his own country's ambitions.

"It is fine to pretend there is no such thing as history within the walls of the neoliberal hothouse Washington has made of itself," Smith writes. "But it is never going to travel successfully in our century."


"Cuban Twitter" is not a big deal - Rather than a tipping point for a revolution, the US-funded "Cuban Twitter" will prove to be just another stumble in US-Cuba relations, writes the Miami Herald's Fabiola Santiago.

"A dedicated Cuban communications zone - even one cleverly dubbed 'ZunZuneo', after what Cubans call the sound of a hummingbird - in a country where people earn an average of $20 a month and own little if any technology is not exactly a prescription for 'smart mobs', flash crowds and a Cuban Spring," she says.


A sleeping giant stirs - Nigeria will "rebase", or reset, its national statistics on Sunday, allowing for a clearer picture of the country's economy. BBC's Matthew Davies says that this process, which most countries do every three years or so, could boost Nigeria's economy by as much as 65% on paper. If that happens, Nigeria could edge out South Africa as the continent's largest economy.

"Rebasing is necessary simply because economies change over time," Davies says. "Different goods are produced and new technology is introduced, so rebasing means that the statistics give the most up-to-date picture of an economy as possible."


Immigrant anger - "Men and women who immigrate to Italy and Germany face at best stringent rules and at worst outright persecution," writes Tonia Mastrobuoni for the Italian paper La Stampa (translated by WorldCrunch).

She interviews African immigrants camped in Berlin's Oranienplantz who are caught in a legal limbo. "Abstruse European rules", she writes, has allowed countries like Germany to "wash their hands" of immigrants who come to Europe through Italy.

"Only last week a preliminary agreement was reached between local politicians and representatives of Oranienplatz, after months of exhausting negotiations: Berlin promises to take care of each one of them, in exchange of the evacuation of the square," she writes. Most on the ground, she adds, are unconvinced that they will see any real changes.


A brutal game unfolding in Asia - Prime Minister Tony Abbott travels to Japan, South Korea and China next week. He does so amid the opening salvos of what may become an oncoming diplomatic skirmish that could affect the entire Asia-Pacific region, writes Peter Hartcher for the Sydney Morning Herald.

He contends that Abbott's trip is a good way to show China that Australia is willing to continue close economic ties - but only if it can maintain its independence. "Diversifying is always a wise way to manage risk," he says.

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

US Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Algeria on Thursday, meeting with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. One columnist wonders what impact the visit will have on the nation's presidential election later in April.

"Yes, the timing of Kerry's visit to Algeria does not suit Algeria. However, it is the perfect time for America to get strategic agreements signed with Algeria, agreements the USA would not have secured had Algeria been in a different situation... These strategic issues are to do with America's wish to free the European Union from the dominance of Russian gas. And in this context, Algeria and Qatar will bear the cost of what the USA seeks to accomplish for Europe. This is why Kerry brought together Bouteflika and the Qatari emir in Algeria, just like when two sisters are brought together.'' - Saad Bouakba in Algeria's El-Khabar.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Athlete blasted for paternity leave

Daniel Murphy sits on the infield dirt during a baseball game on 15 August, 2013. Daniel Murphy said being there for his wife during childbirth "helped a lot"

A lot of professional baseball players miss games - because of injuries, illnesses or simply being given the day off on the whim of their managers.

Daniel Murphy, starting second baseman for the New York Mets, was absent for the first two games of the 2014 Major League Baseball because he was about to become a dad.

Start Quote

What are you doing? I've got four of these little rug rats - there's nothing to do”

End Quote Craig Carton Radio sports talk show host

As a Major League ballplayer, Murphy's contract allows him to take up to three days off for the birth of a child - an option many players have exercised. Perhaps because it was opening day - a hallowed occasion in the baseball world - however, Murphy was assailed for his decision in New York's often vicious, hyper-competitive sports media.

"You're a Major League Baseball player," Mike Francesa said on his Wednesday radio talk show. "You can hire a nurse. What are you going to do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?"

Craig Carton, another New York area radio host, agreed:

You get your ass back to your team, and you play baseball. That's my take on it. There's nothing you can do anyway. You're not breastfeeding the kid. What are you doing? I've got four of these little rug rats. There's nothing to do.

Carton's co-host, former National Football League quarterback Boomer Esiason, said that Murphy's wife should have scheduled a C-section delivery prior to the start of the season.

"This is what makes our money," he said. "This is how we're going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I'll be able to afford to send my child to any college I want to because I'm a baseball player."

Meanwhile, some journalists scoured Twitter to find proof that there are Mets fans out there who also objected to Murphy's decision (which they did).

After the initial round of criticism, Murphy said he believes his travelling to Florida to be with his wife for the delivery was justified.

Start Quote

The criticism feels like the equivalent of pushing [Murphy] into the lockers for playing with the girls at recess”

End Quote Melissa Isaacson ESPN

"Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off," Murphy told a New York sports radio show. "It felt, for us, like the right decision to make."

ESPN's Melissa Isaacson writes that these criticisms try to make the point that "Murphy has a great, high-paying job with four months' vacation … so he and his wife should schedule all of life's biggest moments during those four months."

She says: "The criticism feels like the equivalent of pushing [Murphy] into the lockers for playing with the girls at recess."

The message from the broadcasters is that bonding with babies is for "wimps", Happy Nice Time People's Lisa Needham writes: "Real men just ignore the kid until he's old enough to play catch or drive to the store and buy his old man cigarettes."

Studies show it can be "priceless" for a new mother to have partner around during the first few days of parenthood, according to Jezebel's Dodai Stewart. "Her ENTIRE WORLD has changed, and she's suddenly responsible for a helpless squirming infant. The two of you have created a family. Why wouldn't you take all the time you can?"

ThinkProgress's Travis Waldron notes that a baseball player's negotiated right to take paternity leave puts him in the minority among US workers:

"The United States, in fact, is one of just three nations out of 178 surveyed that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave, putting us behind countries from Canada (50 weeks) to the United Kingdom (20) to Mexico and Pakistan (12).

Although some states have passed mandatory leave laws, he concludes that the lack of a nationwide policy is "a much bigger missed opportunity for our country than missing a productive baseball player for a few days will be for the Mets".

Esiason has since apologised for his comments, but Francesca and Carton have not.

On Thursday Carton said: "Everyone's got some crazy notion on it, and if you're one of the dopey organised groups with nothing better to do, focus your attention on something else, would you?"

A baseball season is 162 games over seven months. Parenthood is a lifetime obligation. Although the controversy will eventually fade, these kinds of dustups tell us a lot about where some people's - and the nation's - priorities are.

Letterman retirement is end of an era

David Letterman waves during the 26 March, 2011, Comedy Awards David Letterman has hosted a late-night television talk show for 34 years

Late-night television icon David Letterman is calling it quits after 34 years.

The 66-year-old comedian made the announcement during taping for his Thursday night show, and word leaked out after guest Mike Mills of the band R.E.M. posted the information on Twitter.

Start Quote

David Letterman is the best there is and ever was”

End Quote Jimmy Kimmel host of Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Here's how Letterman is reported to have broken the news to his studio audience:

The man who (runs) this network, Leslie Moonves, he and I have had a relationship for years and years and years, and we have had this conversation in the past, and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance.And I phoned him just before the program, and I said "Leslie, it's been great, you've been great, and the network has been great, but I'm retiring."

I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theatre, all the people on the staff, everybody at home, thank you very much. What this means now, is that Paul and I can be married. We don't have the timetable for this precisely down - I think it will be at least a year or so, but sometime in the not too distant future, 2015 for the love of God, in fact, Paul and I will be wrapping things up.

Mr Moonves replied with his own statement, which read in part:

Dave has given television audiences thousands of hours of comedic entertainment, the sharpest interviews in late night, and brilliant moments of candor and perspective around national events. He's also managed to keep many celebrities, politicians and executives on their toes - including me. There is only one David Letterman. His greatness will always be remembered here, and he will certainly sit among the pantheon of this business.

The announcement has led to an outpouring of support for the host.

"David Letterman is the best there is and ever was," tweeted ABC's late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

"Rank everybody on television during the length of his career - all fields, all styles. David Letterman ranks First," tweeted sports and politics show veteran Keith Olbermann.

And now cue speculation on who will fill Mr Letterman's prize late-night spot on CBS.

Start Quote

I love Letterman but I am really excited about what this could mean for the diversification of late night”

End Quote Lena Dunham Actress

According to a 2012 New York Times article, Craig Ferguson, who hosts the show immediately following Mr Letterman's, has long had a right of first refusal if the 11:30 slot on CBS were to open up.

The Times notes that "those clauses have never been ironclad, however, because a network can choose to pay off the deal rather than complete the succession."

Other names that have surfaced are Conan O'Brien, who currently hosts a show on TBS and once occupied Mr Letterman's old 12:30 spot on NBC, and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Lena Dunham, star of the HBO show Girls, tweeted that she hopes CBS casts a wider net: "I love Letterman but I am really excited about what this could mean for the diversification of late night. Trying not to be a pessimist..."

"No matter who replaces Letterman, a new generation will truly have established itself, with the younger and more cheerful [Jimmy] Fallon at NBC and the insurgent bro-esque Jimmy Kimmel on ABC," writes Salon's Daniel D'Addario. "This will be fun to watch - as will the march towards retirement from a fellow whose congenital crankiness seemed as though it'd always be on our sets."

The news comes on the heels of the forced retirement of his fellow late-night host (and long-time nemesis) Jay Leno. Mr Leno and Mr Letterman were dual aspirants to replace the much beloved Johnny Carson on NBC's The Tonight Show in 1992, with Mr Leno nabbing the job.

Over the course of his career, Mr Letterman has helmed more than 6,000 instalments of his show, which has been won eight Emmy Awards and a Peabody.

Is the tide turning for Democrats?

President Barack Obama walks to the podium prior to addressing the press on implementation of health care reform on 1 April, 2014. The new healthcare numbers have finally given Democrats something to smile about

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Democrats are still basking in the glow of the announced 7.1 million individuals who signed up for health insurance coverage through government-run exchanges by the March 31 not-really-a-deadline deadline.

After spending nearly six months being battered by Republican politicians and the media for glitches and shortcomings in the rollout of reforms, some liberals are starting to express hope that the Affordable Care Act won't be an albatross around their necks when the November elections roll around.

What's more, they think they can go on the offensive by criticising the recently released budget from Republican Representative and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Jonathan Weisman in the New York Times breaks it down:

For the first time in a while, Democrats this week found themselves talking up a contrast between their agenda - protecting the newly insured, raising the minimum wage and renewing unemployment benefits - and a Republican plan that would cut healthcare and education spending deeply, and move Medicare toward private insurance…

And Republicans found themselves in a new position: on the defensive, justifying a budget that has already proven to be a political loser ("What's the Democrats' plan?" House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio asked Wednesday) and trying to explain what would happen to more than 10 million people who have signed up for insurance through the president's healthcare law via a private plan or Medicaid and would be left at sea with its repeal.

Republicans face a conundrum, writes Dylan Scott in Talking Points Memo. Their attempts at total repeal of the Affordable Care Act have proven futile, and most of the obvious changes to the law they could have enacted - such as adjusting the mandate that employers provide healthcare for their workers or face a fine - have already been made through unilateral White House action.

"From a policy perspective, it might be perplexing, but the politics seem clear: The White House knows the mandate is universally unpopular, and offering as many opportunities as possible to avoid it might take some of the edge off," Scott argues. "But by making the change administratively, Republicans are unable to take any credit for providing relief from the mandate."

Reason Magazine's Peter Suderman warns, however, that Democrats' celebrations may be short-lived.

Despite all the difficulties over the past six months, he says, launching health care may have been the easy part. Now Democrats are politically responsible for healthcare in this country, and keeping the system running is going to present an ongoing challenge:

When building Obamacare, liberal health wonks often referred to the law's design as a "three-legged stool" - regulations, subsidies and a mandate. With Obamacare's design phase over, and its upkeep and adjustment period just beginning, Democrats will have to try to find a way to balance between a different trio of concerns: cost, access and political viability. It's the three-legged stool of Obamacare maintenance - and it may be harder to support than Democrats expect.


Outrageous lies in Maduro's op-ed - Yesterday we covered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's opinion piece in the New York Times, in which he denounced his opposition as enemies of democracy. Venezuelan journalist Francisco Toro in the New Republic says the president's column was full of lies, but one particular passage stood out:

Maduro claims that the Bolivarian revolution "created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our citizens nationwide."

This is roughly equivalent to President Barack Obama claiming that he created Social Security. Venezuela first established free universal primary education (for both boys and girls) back in the nineteenth century.

"Maduro's op-ed is strewn with similar whoppers, like his commitment to labour organizing rights, US involvement in the 2002 coup, the vitality of Venezuelan democracy, and a call for "peace and dialogue," he says. "Big lies are used where small lies would have done the job just as well."


High stakes for upcoming election - Afghanistan's political system is "deeply flawed", writes Matthieu Aikins, as it "has undermined democracy by encouraging elites to bargain for power at the expense of public accountability".

Aikins followed Afghanistan presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani on the campaign trail and writes about his experience for the New York Times. Once you get away from the boisterous crowds of the city, the reality in the country is that "neither democracy nor development has found much success".


Inside the black market for HIV certificates - In Uganda, a certificate proving a person does not have HIV is essential for getting a job, traveling abroad and avoiding the stigma associated with the disease. BBC Africa's Catherine Byaruhanga goes undercover to expose the health care clinics that are offering bogus certificates - for a price.

"Many people in Uganda still see it as a disease of the immoral, those who have led a promiscuous life," she writes.


A Pyrrhic victory - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party may have emerged victorious in the recent local elections, writes Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies chair Sinan Ulgen, but his polarising campaign has significantly diminished his prestige and the global standing of his country.

"How Erdogan behaves will not only determine the intensity of domestic political conflict; it will also greatly affect Turkey's potential to regain the regional clout that it once enjoyed," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian papers look at probable implications of Nato's decision to suspend cooperation with Moscow. Some believe that the alliance's decision is nothing more than a diplomatic move, while others say that the alliance will take the opportunity to strengthen its influence in the former Soviet Union.

"At first sight, this looks like a mere symbolic gesture. But this gesture has launched a negative process: secrecy will stimulate the sides' mutual suspicion and will strengthen old and generate new mutual prejudices... The North Atlantic Alliance has got a surprise present from Moscow - the image of a once forgotten 'threat from the East', thanks to which the bloc may justify its further existence." - Editorial in Vedomosti.

"At first sight, something global has happened: the most powerful military bloc in the world has taken offence at Moscow for its actions in Crimea, a new 'cold war' is beginning and global security is under threat... However, at closer inspection, it becomes clear that so far this is more of a diplomatic move than actions that can have a real impact... The 'freezing' of partnership will give a free hand to US strategists." - Ignat Kalinin in Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

"Recent decisions to completely stop military and practical civilian cooperation with Moscow clearly show the policy that the alliance is planning to stick to in future... Brussels will not hesitate if there is an opportunity to deploy its bases in Ukraine. The bloc's leaders are interested in building up an army in Ukraine that is equipped with NATO arms and acts according to NATO standards and which will treat Russia as its enemy." - Yevgeniy Shestakov in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

World News America nabs a Peabody

A still from the World News America opening sequence BBC World News has won four Peabody Awards

On Wednesday, the University of Georgia's Grady School of Journalism announced the winners of the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards, which recognise achievement in television, radio and the internet. BBC World News America received an award for its coverage of the Syrian civil war.

"From gruesome mass-murder scenes outside Homs to displaced children living in caves, the consistent, up-close coverage of Syria's civil war and its human toll by BBC World News journalists had no equal in 2013," the award committee writes.

The BBC has covered the ongoing conflict in Syria since its early days, including extensive reporting by correspondents Lyse Doucet, Paul Wood, Ian Pannell and Jeremy Bowen, among others.

The award is the fourth Peabody for BBC World News America and first since it won two in 2009. Its Syria coverage also received a 2013 Emmy Award.

"I could not be prouder of my BBC colleagues for their reporting on Syria," said BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay. "Despite huge hurdles they refused to give up on telling this heart breaking story. They did so with compassion and clarity. And I know they would join me in asking us all to take this moment to remember the millions of Syrians caught up in this war."

BBC Coverage of Syrian Civil War

BBC America was recognised for two original series, Orphan Black and Broadchurch - tops for a basic cable network.

In total, the Peabody committee gave out 46 awards for work done in 2013, a record number.

Among the other notable recipients announced on Wednesday were AMC's hit series Breaking Bad, two Netflix shows, House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and ABC's Scandal.

The committee also praised a pair of investigations on the link between brain injuries and American football, from PBS's Frontline and ESPN's Outside the Lines.

It said the Pakistani animated cartoon Burka Avenger "sends a clear message about female empowerment that has the potential to affect an entire generation".

The Philippine's GMA Network was also lauded for its coverage of Typhoon Haiyan.

"The quality of storytelling in electronic media continues to increase year-after-year, across platforms, producing organizations and nations," said Jeffrey P Jones, director of the Peabody Awards.

The award ceremony will take place on 19 May in New York City. Here is a full list of the winners.

Forget the rich, tax the childless

Babies in a German nursery.

Conservative commentator Reihan Salam thinks that the deck is stacked against parents in the US. He cites a government study that a child costs a middle income family more than $300,000 (£181,000) over 18 years - not including college tuition and "foregone earnings and career opportunities" for the parents.

"While nonparents can focus on their jobs in laserlike fashion, parents are rarely in a position to do the same," he writes in Slate. "Every time a sick child keeps a parent home from work, her earnings suffer, either directly, because she's taking an unpaid leave of absence, or indirectly, because she's missing out on opportunities to climb the corporate ladder."

And so Salam has a plan to encourage parenthood and ensure stable families: greatly expand the per-child income tax credit and make it available to all income levels.

Start Quote

Tax reform along these lines could awaken a sleeping giant in American politics”

End Quote Reihan Salam Slate

As a good conservative, however, he is loath to increase the federal budget deficit. His solution is raise taxes on everyone earning more than $51,000 (£30,700) a year. Parents would still wind up owing less to the government, but childless singles and couples would take a hit.

Salam builds on a proposal by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, which creates a new $2,500 (£1,500) per child credit (a direct dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed) but doesn't address the resulting $2.4t (£1.45t) price tag. Cutting government spending is unrealistic, Salam says, leaving higher taxes as the only alternative.

Yes, he concedes, his plan would infuriate millions of nonparents.

"But does this mean those of us who favour a more parent-friendly tax code should give up?" he asks. "Not quite. Tax reform along these lines could awaken a sleeping giant in American politics, namely the 36% of American voters who have a child under 18 in their household."

If parents "flex their muscle", he concludes, "we might have a revolution on our hands" - one that he would welcome.

The Los Angeles Post-Examiner's Carl Woodward isn't buying it.

"Salam frames his argument as provocatively as possible for a reason," he writes. "For the 1 percent and their Republican apologists, it's the oldest trick in the book: turn the working classes against each other while quietly sucking them dry."

He continues:

When Salem speculates that "we might have a revolution on our hands," the last thing he has in mind is an actual revolution: he's fantasizing a new culture war between nonparents, who he describes as "political enemies," and parents, who he thinks of as "a sleeping giant."

Hotair's Allahpundit is surprised that conservatives haven't rushed to embraced the proposal.

"If we're doomed to run deficits until a debt crisis brings about a reckoning, who should bear the burden of extra taxes in the meantime in the name of reducing that deficit as much as possible?" he asks.

Salam's goal is noble, he concludes:

He wants parents to coalesce as a voting bloc the same way seniors have. Lower taxes for families is the potential catalyst to raising their political consciousness. Once you've got parents voting as parents rather than as Democrats/Republicans, whites/blacks/Latinos, urbanites/suburbanites, etc, all sorts of policy consequences potentially flow from that, and all of them have to do with making American law more family-friendly.

Start Quote

On the merits, there is no reason to prefer weird tax code mangling over the child allowance”

End Quote Matt Bruenig Demos

Demos's Matt Bruenig thinks that by tinkering with tax credits and rates, Salam makes the whole thing too complicated. Why not just cut parents a monthly check for every child, like they do in France?

"On the merits, there is no reason to prefer weird tax code mangling over the child allowance," Bruenig writes. "Both policies aim at the exact same goals, but child allowances are way better at achieving them."

"The only reason conservatives like Salam and Lee opt for the inferior tax code approach is because it sufficiently obscures the welfare program they are clumsily putting together."

He concludes that "this kind of policy inefficiency is the price conservatives are willing to pay for the psychic good-feels that come from successfully submerging a welfare program so as to limit people's comprehension of it as such."

People should have the right to be left alone, writes Population Connection's John Seager on the New York Times's website.

"We should refrain from punishing or rewarding personal decisions about the size and shape of our families," he says. "If the decision to have or not have children isn't private, then nothing is private."

Salam's proposal has found a fan in Australia, where the News's Wendy Tuohy writes that implementing such a system in her country "would recognise the vital job families are doing by rearing new Australians who will care for, and pay for, many of us into our old age."

"Are we family-friendly enough to ask those who go without the burden of having children to pay more to help the ones who do?" she asks. "Or do we still consider that in Australia it's every, man, woman and their children - and every double-income no kids unit - for themselves?"

Hillary Clinton famously noted that it takes a village to raise a child. According to Salam, it's time for that village to pony up some more cash.

Another blow to campaign finance law

John Roberts smiles at the White House on 7 August, 2010. Chief Justice John Roberts's Supreme Court has shown a willingness to strike down campaign finance laws

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday took another big bite out of current campaign finance law, striking down a nearly 40-year-old measure capping the total amount of money individuals could donate to political campaigns and parties.

Hanging over today's court ruling in McCutcheon v FEC is the spectre of the 2010 Citizens United v FEC decision, which allowed corporations and labour unions to make unlimited donations to independent political action committees (super PACs) and fund issue advocacy advertising.

This contributed to a general mood on the left and among campaign finance advocates of resigned outrage.

"The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling on Wednesday striking down aggregate limits on political campaign contributions is no less destructive for being so widely predicted," writes Jesse Wegman in the New York Times.

Salon's Paul Campos is equally pessimistic.

Start Quote

Wealthy donors now have a broad new power to launder money to political candidates”

End Quote Ian Millhiser ThinkProgress

"This latest outburst of judicial activism in the struggle to render campaign finance laws completely toothless is merely accelerating a historical process that is coming to seem almost inevitable," he writes.

Ari Berman in the Nation decries what he sees as the misplaced priorities of Supreme Court, which praises the first amendment freedom of speech when tearing down campaign finance laws but ignores 15th amendment civil rights protections as it strikes down voting rights acts.

"A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundament rights for all citizens doesn't sound much like a functioning democracy to me," he writes.

According to ThinkProgress's Ian Millhiser, this decision will allow state political parties to legally funnel money to any political campaign, opening up a huge loophole in the limits on donations to individual candidates.

"Wealthy donors now have a broad new power to launder money to political candidates - they just have to be a bit creative about how they do it," he writes.

Of course, he notes, they could also just give their money directly to independent committees, as allowed under the Citizens United decision.

"But it's hardly an argument for eliminating even more limits on how far the wealthy can go to influence elections," he concludes.

FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten writes that donors may prefer to "ingratiate themselves" to political parties rather than Super PACs.

Start Quote

I think this is a positive development, a reaffirmation of free speech”

End Quote David Fredosso Conservative Intelligence Briefing

A side benefit, he says, is that the disclosure requirements for this type of donation are more stringent.

Meanwhile, conservatives are heralding the decision as a victory for free speech over counterproductive government regulation.

"I think this is a positive development, a reaffirmation of free speech, and something that liberals would appreciate more if they weren't deluding themselves about campaign finance law and what it can and cannot accomplish," writes David Fredosso of Conservative Intelligence Briefing.

Invariably, he notes, campaign finance "reform" is a fruitless project, as money always finds a way to influence politics. He says that when changes to campaign laws in 2002 limited the money political parties could spend on advertising, that money just went to independent groups instead.

"This silliness could have been completely ended had the court decided to go further and abolish all limits on campaign spending, so that all 'dark money' could flow to campaigns instead," he writes.

"And Congress could have done what conservatives proposed in 2002 in place of the useless system we adopted - increase disclosure requirements so that we know more about where campaign money comes from."

The McCutcheon decision affects a relatively small number of Americans, on both the left and the right, who reached the $123,200 (£74,000) cap on political donations.

Perhaps the most interesting development is the concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, which called for doing away with all donation limits entirely, even the $2,600 (£1,560) maximum to individual candidates.

Could this be where the Supreme Court is headed?

"While Roberts goes out of his way to say that those base limits were not challenged today, he does not do anything to affirm that those limits are safe," writes UC-Irvine Law Prof Richard L Hasen in Slate.

"This opinion promises more bad things to come for money in politics, and soon."

It's the stuff of liberal nightmares and conservative dreams.

Maduro: Media distort Venezuelan protests

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a meeting on 25 March, 2014. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro calls for "peace and dialogue"

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is in no hurry to make concessions to the protestors who have taken to the streets of his nation's cities for weeks on end. Instead, he contends in an opinion piece for the New York Times, voices of concern are being drowned out by claims by an angry mob of a corrupt democracy.

He writes:

The protesters have a single goal: the unconstitutional ouster of the democratically elected government. Anti-government leaders made this clear when they started the campaign in January, vowing to create chaos in the streets. Those with legitimate criticisms of economic conditions or the crime rate are being exploited by protest leaders with a violent, antidemocratic agenda.

The American government has been meddling in the protests, Mr Maduro writes, pointing out that the Obama administration spends $5m (£3m) every year to support opposition movements. He also criticises a bill in Congress for an additional $15m (£9m) for what he labels "anti-government organisations" and proposed economic sanctions.

Mr Maduro calls for diplomacy between the protestors and the government, writing that he has "extended a hand to the opposition".

"Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward," he writes. "We welcome anyone who sincerely wants to help us reach these goals."


Denouncing the West - Rossiya 1 television presenter Dmitry Kiselev has ferociously denounced homosexuals, Obama's greying hair, and Ukrainian leadership. Kiselev's rants can easily sway public opinion, says Stephen Ennis for BBC News.

"Mr Kiselev's polemic set the tone for the Kremlin's policy on Ukraine that culminated in Mr Putin's triumphant annexation of Crimea some three weeks later," he writes.


Improbable cures - Government officials and other loyal citizens have praised the claim by the Egyptian military that cures have been found for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, writes Wael Eskandar for Daily News Egypt.

"Miracles aside, there can only be two explanations as to why the military has announced the cure," he writes. "The first is that the army is willingly misleading people by offering false hope to millions of Egyptians infected with hepatitis C as a means of enhancing its image. The second is that the army itself was conned into thinking the cure exists."


Preventing a nightmare - The Ebola outbreak in Guinea has much of Liberia's "fragile population" afraid of the nightmarish disease, write the editors of Liberia's the News. They say that some are suggesting Liberia close its border with Guinea, as Senegal recently did. They argue, however, that gathering money and international support is a more effective method of battling the disease.


Threatening diversity - Quebec, known for its multiculturalism, may pass a "discriminatory" law that has already sparked violence against Muslims, writes Safiah Chowdhury for Al Jazeera. The Quebec Charter of Values, which was recently introduced, would limit state personnel from wearing religious symbols such as Muslim veils. The charter is "antithetical to Canadian values" and "a revision of our prejudices is overdue", she writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

On Monday former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery charges. Israel's media was quick to react.

"The man who served in our most senior government position, who commanded the trust of the nation, and who had utilized the authority to make war and endanger lives, has turned out to be a criminal. At the same time, today is also a day to be proud of our legal system." - Editorial in the Jerusalem Post.

"In a certain sense, Ehud Olmert is the ultimate Israeli of the last generation: both direct and cunning, intelligent and superficial, seducer and aggressor, local and cosmopolitan, greedy and friendly, full of charm and shady. But this ultimate Israeli was corrupt to the bone." - Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz.

"From now on Ehud Olmert is a serial criminal, polluted man of finance, partner to the secret of the 'black box'… He is one of the arms of the octopus of crime in the biggest case of corruption ever investigated by the national unit for investigating fraud." - Mordechai Gilat in Yisrael Hayom.


As many astute readers pointed out, we made an error in yesterday's What in the World post about Stephen Colbert's response to the #CancelColbert Twitter movement.

We wrote that the music accompanying the opening segment of The Colbert Report was Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G-minor, which we noted was played at the end of the film Platoon.

In fact, Samuel Barber's Adiagio for Strings was the piece that was played both on the show and in the film.

Albinoni's moving composition did, in fact, grace the end of a war film - the Australian World War One epic Gallipoli, not Oliver Stone's Vietnam tale.

Remedial instruction in the use of famous pieces of classical music in cinema will begin forthwith.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Pollard: Time to free a spy?

An Israeli protesting the imprisonment of Jonathan Pollard holds up a sign reading "enough is enough". Jonathan Pollard's imprisonment continues to spark heated emotions

According to information provided by White House officials, the Obama administration is considering the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy intelligence analyst who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel.

Word is that the "Free Pollard" card could be played in exchange for concessions from Israel as part of ongoing Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

The news set off another round of debate as to whether Pollard, now 59 years old, should remain in a US prison or be handed over to an Israeli government that has long sought his release.

Start Quote

This amounts to offering a thing of great value in exchange for getting dust kicked in your face”

End Quote Josh Marshall Talking Points Memo

"Let me just say it: No, no, no, no!" writes Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall. "If the White House is seriously considering using Pollard as a bargaining chip at this stage of the negotiations they've totally lost their minds."

He says that it would be a "no-brainer" to release Pollard if it sealed a long-term peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but that's not what's at stake at this point.

Right now, he says, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu's intransigence is leading to rash action on the part of the Americans.

"The impasse is largely based on the Netanyahu government's active efforts to scuttle the negotiations themselves," he writes. "So this amounts to offering a thing of great value in exchange for getting dust kicked in your face."

The New York Times editorialises that bring Pollard into the negotiations is a "desperation move" on the part of the US and "a bad idea and would do nothing to advance progress on the core issues of a peace deal".

Releasing Pollard would be "a major mistake that borders on betrayal", writes Zackary Keck in the Diplomat. "It would send the wrong message to [NSA leaker Edward] Snowden and other intelligence officers contemplating discussing classified information in the future."

Writing in the Israeli paper Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer says that Israel's decision to recruit Pollard as a spy was a "criminally reckless decision", and he shouldn't be welcomed as a hero by Israelis if he's released.

"There was nothing heroic about the way in which Israelis abetted an act of betrayal by an American, a betrayal of a country that has done more than any other for the Jews and continues to do for the Jewish state," Pfeffer writes.

Former State Department official Dennis Ross disagrees. He says that for Israelis, Pollard "has taken on the aura of being a soldier who was left in the field, and the ethos in Israel is that soldiers are never left behind".

Start Quote

There is something disconcerting - repulsive is only slightly too strong a word - about having justice used as a diplomatic bargaining chip”

End Quote Ruth Marcus The Washington Post

As for those who think Pollard's release means going easy on him, Ross replies:

Whether one accepts the argument that Pollard's sentence seems more severe than that handed out to other spies, it surely makes little sense to say that someone who has spent nearly 30 years in jail has not paid a severe price.

If releasing Pollard can give the negotiations a "necessary boost", Ross contends, then the Obama administration is justified in doing it.

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post says that the debate shouldn't be about negotiating tactics, but about justice.

"There is something disconcerting - repulsive is only slightly too strong a word - about having justice used as a diplomatic bargaining chip," she writes. "From the US point of view, if justice would be served by freeing Pollard at this point, this should happen, regardless of whether his release is a useful lever in peace negotiations."

Considering that Pollard is up for parole in November 2015, she says, a slight chance at benefitting from his release is more valuable than a few extra months of guaranteed prison time. The US should go ahead and release him, she concludes.

Harvard Law Prof Alan Dershowitz and former Canadian Attorney General Irwin Cotler echo Marcus's justice theme, arguing that Pollard's continued incarceration violates the spirit of his plea bargain agreement in 1986.

"The time has come for the US government to keep its word and reaffirm what it agreed to tell the judge back in 1986," they write in the Jerusalem Post, "namely, that a sentence of 28-plus years, rather than a sentence of life imprisonment, is enough to satisfy the demands of justice for Jonathan Pollard."

Traitor or hero, have we reached the point where Pollard could walk free?

Colbert: Who gets the last laugh?

Stephen Colbert gives a thumbs-up in front of a US flag "I am never going to take me for granted again," says Stephen Colbert

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

When you pick a fight with a man who stars in his own television show - particularly one who uses parody to self-consciously revel in his own glory - you have to be prepared for what might happen.

The Colbert Report's Stephen Colbert, the target of a #CancelColbert Twitter campaign led by "hashtag activist" Suey Park, returned fire by exclaiming "the dark forces trying to silence my message of core conservative principals mixed with youth-friendly product placement have been thwarted".

The show started with an extended dream sequence: Colbert imagines a world in which The Colbert Report is cancelled. Flowers wilt. Cities lie in ruins. An iconic Native American sheds a tear. All set to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, music that was famously used in the closing sequence of Oliver Stone's Platoon.

"We almost lost me," Colbert intones. "I'm never going to take me for granted ever again."

On the power of Twitter: "Who would have thought that a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstandings?"

On accusations that he's a racist: "I am not a racist. I don't even see race, not even my own. People tell me I'm white, and I believe them because I just devoted six minutes to explaining how I am not a racist."

He also gleefully noted the surge of coverage the #CancelColbert story provoked on television and in print.

That surge hasn't quite subsided yet, as the quick-response articles give way to longer "think pieces", such as the one by author Jay Caspian Kang in the New Yorker.

Kang wonders whether the media were duped by "the work of a master provocateur who held up a mirror up to the way that self-identifying liberals of all races respond to criticism from people that they assumed to be allies".

He speaks with Ms Park, who tells him: "There's no reason for me to act reasonable, because I won't be taken seriously anyway. So I might as well perform crazy to point out exactly what's expected from me."

Kang concludes:

If we take #CancelColbert at face value, we can easily dismiss it as shrill, misguided, and frivolous. But after speaking to Park about what she hoped to accomplish with all this (a paternalistic question if there ever was one), I wonder if we might be witnessing the development of a more compelling - and sometimes annoying and infuriating - form of protest, by a new group of Merry Pranksters, who are once again freaking out the squares in our always over-reacting, always polarized online public sphere.

As his performance Monday night demonstrated, Stephen Colbert is one of the masters of satirical humour. But has Suey Park taken the art to another level? Are we all just missing the joke?


Let Putin have Crimea - If the Crimeans want to secede from Ukraine and merge with Russia, writes University of Chicago Law prof Eric Posner, the West should let them do it. "Russia gains nothing from the annexation but an arid peninsula of no economic or military importance, and the distrust of its neighbours," he writes. "Putin's foolish move will be its own punishment."


The populist threat - The victory of the populist National Front in recent French elections indicates an unease that's growing Europe, write the editors of Spain's El Pais. "The best way of combating it is to address the anxieties in society and tackle the problems - unemployment, insecurity and integration - with realism and good sense," they write.


Was Morsi an autocrat? - Nine months after a military coup toppled him from power, the view that Mohammed Morsi was a dictator in the making seems to hardening, write Shadi Hamid and Meredith Wheeler of the Brookings Institution. That's not the case, however.

"Decades of transitions show that Morsi, while inept and majoritarian, was no more autocratic than a typical transitional leader and was more democratic than other leaders during societal transitions," they write.


Americans are coming to town - The Agreement on Enhanced Defence Cooperation, which will allow the US military to occupy bases in the Philippines, is "legalised invasion", writes the Philippine Inquirer's Nelson D Lavina.

"Weep for the motherland," he writes, "for having leaders whose foreign policy, written in stone, has been 'to follow the glistening wake of America' for more than a century now - blindly."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met in Paris to discuss the situation in Crimea.

Russian media offer their take on the developments.

"For the first time since the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia and the West have started to align their positions… Russia took a more flexible stance on the presidential election in Ukraine that is scheduled for May: Moscow may recognize the voting results... The US, for its part, recognized the legitimacy of Russia's calls for disarming radicals and clearing them from the buildings that they seized, protecting ethnic minorities and conducting a constitutional reform." - Yelena Chernenko in Kommersant.

"Although they have not formally admitted it and they continue to say that they will never recognize it, in fact the Americans do not care much for Crimea now. What they are concerned about is that something like this could happen to East Ukraine." - Interview with pundit Vitaliy Tretyakov in Trud.

"It seems obvious that the period of self-satisfaction from merging Crimea with Russia and from the fact that the 'Western partners' swallowed the merger is over. The question is how President Putin will fill the void that replaces his self-satisfaction." - Kirill Kharatyan in Vedomosti.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Healthcare numbers have liberals smiling

A woman holds a flier with the words "let's get covered" during a healthcare signup fair in California on 28 March. A last minute surge in insurance enrolments is good news to Democrats

The open enrolment period for purchasing health insurance on the government-run exchanges is officially over, sort of.

Monday evening, White House officials began leaking news that the total number of Americans insured through the federal and state-run insurance marketplaces could break seven million. That's been perceived to be a "magic number", as it was the mark that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted enrolment would reach prior to the much-derided launch of the healthcare websites last October.

According to a Los Angeles Times report by Noam N Levey on Sunday, 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans will have acquired coverage under the new system.

Levey writes that the number shows "substantial progress toward one of the law's principal goals and is the most significant expansion since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965".

Start Quote

This is an outstanding number any way you slice it”

End Quote Charles Gaba

The news was greeted with considerable fanfare on the left, which has been yearning for good news on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to the law's rocky start, Democrats feared that Republicans would bludgeon their candidates on the issue in the upcoming congressional elections. Now, at last, they see a glimmer of hope.

Healthcare analyst Charles Gaba on his blog writes on what the latest government numbers mean:

In spite of everything - the terrible website launch of and some of the state sites; the still-terrible status of some of the state sites even now; the actively hostile opposition and obstructive actions in certain states, the negative spin on every development by some in the news media - in spite of all of this, over seven million people nationwide enrolled in private, ACA-compliant healthcare plans between 12:01am on 10/1/13 and 11:59pm on 3/31/14 ... slightly surpassing the original CBO projection for that period.

He adds, "This is an outstanding number any way you slice it."

The latest figures could "at least temporarily change the narrative surrounding the law as the media focuses more on success stories than glitches and website blackouts", writes US News's Robert Schlesinger.

Salon's Joan Walsh takes the opportunity to jab doomsayers on her own side, via Twitter: "I wonder if liberals who shrieked about the early ACA 'disaster' will say they were wrong, and talk about why."

If the left is going to successfully defend the Affordable Care Act, argues Sally Kohn on, they will have to convince the entire American public of its benefits, not just the 7 million Americans who have signed up on the exchanges.

She writes:

As more Americans access private health insurance choices through the exchange marketplace, receive care minus the discrimination and dirty tricks that insurance companies could get away with in the past, we'll see more people getting the medicine they need, screened for cancer sooner in more treatable stages and pay less for good care.

Start Quote

The real battle is going to be fought over the next few election cycles, as both sides mobilize their coalitions”

End Quote Jay Cost The Weekly Standard

Conservatives counter that the Obama administration is "cooking the books", in the words of Wyoming Senator John Barrasso.

According to the Washington Post's Marc A Thiessen, there's a big problem with Mr Obama's new health care numbers. The administration hasn't revealed how many of the seven million exchange enrolees have actually paid their first bill.

"It's like putting merchandise in your Amazon cart but never clicking 'buy,'" he writes.

While the seven million figure is a "marketing coup" for Mr Obama, writes Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle, there are still too many unknowns to reach a conclusion about whether the law is working - including how many of that number already had insurance under old system.

Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard says that while some Americans may be benefitting from the Affordable Care Act, thanks to government subsidies and the like, there's a group of "clear losers" who are unhappy with their situation:

Losers in the schema include people whose new insurance is more expensive or otherwise less satisfactory because of the new regulations, seniors whose Medicare Advantage program will be peeled back (or whose local hospital stops taking them because of cuts to Part A), businesses who cannot afford the mandates, people who lose their employer insurance as a consequence of the new business mandates, young and health people, and others.

While Democrats may be cheering now, he says, the contest is far from over.

"The real battle is going to be fought over the next few election cycles, as both sides mobilise their coalitions," he writes. "Republicans must mobilise the losers and also present an appealing counter-offer to the winners."

Given that the battle over healthcare reform didn't end when the bill first passed, nor when Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2010, nor when Mr Obama was re-elected in 2012, Cost's assertion that the fight will go on is probably one thing on which both left and right can agree.

Video: Arizona woman struck by police

A man is taken into police custody tried to disperse a crowd of University of Arizona fans in Tucson on 29 March. Tucson police officers made 15 arrests as they tried to disperse a crowd of basketball fans

Unruly crowds after sporting events are not an unusual occurrence in the US cultural scene. Post-game couch-burning, for instance, has become a running joke on college campuses.

Police - sometimes in riot gear - get called to control the throng of fans. There are occasionally injuries, and inebriated students, celebrating victory or wallowing in defeat, often wind up in jail.

Such was the case in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday night, following the University of Arizona's overtime loss in an NCAA college basketball tournament game in Anaheim, California. Fans took to the streets, and the city's police responded in force.

In the end 15 people were arrested, including nine Arizona students, as police tried to disperse the crowd with nine canisters of pepper spray and 200 "pepper ball" projectiles, among other non-lethal crowd control devices.

Jazmine Foster-Hall of the Daily Wildcat, the university's student-run newspaper sets the scene:

Start Quote

It's mighty difficult to construct a narrative that required the police officer to respond with that degree of force”

End Quote Josh Voorhees Slate

Students threw sparklers and firecrackers at the wall of police. One fan walked toward the police line with his arms spread out. This fan was shot by police multiple times with pepper balls, then forcibly pulled behind the police line. Officers proceeded to hold him in place while one officer kneed the man once in the stomach, then punched him three to four times in the stomach and torso before the man fell to the ground.

It was in this heightened situation that Arizona student Phoebe Landolt recorded a video of a woman being knocked to the ground by what appears to be a Tucson police officer in full riot gear.

The Arizona Star quotes Ms Landolt's description of what happened:

These girls had been trying to get to their car. The girl is on her phone not paying attention, and this cop came out of nowhere and just leveled her... After that everyone just started yelling, and she started crying.

"Tyranny in Tucson", the Daily Caller headlines its story on the incident, and early coverage in the media has displayed scepticism that the officer's actions were justified.

"Obviously, there could be more context to this video," writes Samer Kalef of Deadspin. "But from the 20 seconds before the girl gets knocked down, she doesn't seem to be making an audible or visible scene, and the response by the cop seemed excessive."

Slate's Josh Voorhees agrees: "It's mighty difficult to construct a narrative that required the police officer to respond with that degree of force."

According to the Star, the Tucson Police Department is reviewing the incident, a process that could take weeks or months, according to Barry Petchesky in Deadspin. The site also quotes an Arizona student who says "they are preliminarily planning to file lawsuits against police".

The unmaking of the first lady

First Lady Michelle Obama listens to a performance on 25 March during a visit to China Are the media "turning" on First Lady Michelle Obama?

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

"The mob has turned its full fury on First Lady Michelle Obama," writes the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker.

She cites a Wall Street Journal blog post on the cost of Ms Obama's recent trip to China and an expose in the New Republic by a former White House staffer with gossipy quotes from several anonymous former aides.

"As described, she was a perfectionist - super-attentive to detail and laser-focused on advance planning," Parker writes. "And this is bad because?"

She also notes the rapt attention the media pay to Ms Obama's clothing and appearance, and the occasional candid photo that is made out to be some sort of controversial window into her soul:

Haters prefer to focus on a frame here and there in which Michelle Obama is either not wearing the happy-wife smile or dressed too casually for their taste. Those in the public eye for any period of time will fail to present their best face in every instance - or they'll have perfectionist minders micromanaging any potential downside.

She concludes that the negative turn in coverage is likely due to her husband's "low 40s" approval ratings. She asks: is it our "animal nature" to attack a "weakened leader"?

Or it could just be the case of disgruntled staffers getting a measure of revenge.

"Maybe some staffers weren't up to the job and, lacking the maturity or self-awareness (not to mention loyalty), to accept their own responsibility, they turned to the dubious consolation of dishing dirt," she writes.


A simple solution to the Ebola threat - A new outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea has killed 70 people and continues to spread to those around the infected, including family and medical personnel. Technology and vaccines are of no use, writes Laurie Garrett for Foreign Policy magazine. Instead, soap and water, along with protective gear and quarantine of victims is all that is needed.

"African communities no longer need to live in horror and dread, fearful of the lurking virus," she says.


Beef, pork … and tiger? - The Chinese wealthy class is engaging in a new trend of eating tigers, but not before they watch them be slaughtered. The remains of the endangered animals are then sold on the black market. According to Jake Adelsten in the Daily Beast, this is a dangerous way for Chinese elite to assert superiority, as "feasts serve as both entertainment and an ostentatious display of wealth".


Playing with words - Rio de Janeiro's wealthy class wants to develop traditional favela neighbourhoods to make room for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, writes David Ziran for the Nation.

He says that officials, including the military, are using the terms "favelas" and "slums" interchangeably in efforts to depopulate the areas. The attempts to make favela residents appear as "pesky people" living in slums is comparable to gentrification in the US.


Gay marriage saved the Socialists in Paris - President Francois Hollande's reluctant decision to allow gay marriages in France has helped keep his Socialist Party in power in Paris, says Marc Naimark for Slate. The enactment of LGBT marriage rights is virtually the only thing preventing a takeover from right-winged parties.

"LGBTQ voters in Paris don't make majorities, but those sensitive to homophobia do," he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) appears to have emerged victorious in local elections as corruption claims against him and his attempts to block YouTube and Twitter did not dented his popularity among the majority of voters.

Turkey's columnists and commentators react to the news:

"Let the election results not deceive us. Those who will put their stamp on Turkey's future will be the ones who get ready for the difficult days ahead and have a programme. Even if the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party] receives 90 percent of the vote, that doesn't mean it is capable of ruling Turkey. Do AKP votes feed the people? Do they have a plan to unite Turkey?" - Editorial in Aydinlik.

"We have left behind a tense election period. No matter what the results are, this is the reality: Tayyip Erdogan cannot rule Turkey anymore. Because the country is out of joint… the political instability will continue and deepen." - Rahmi Turan in Sozcu.

"Turkey did not go through a local election. It went through an Erdogan referendum. It refreshed confidence in him. It did not bow to attacks and dirty tricks; it once again declared that it loves and values him. As long as he stood upright, the nation and the country also stood upright." - Ibrahim Karagul in Yeni Safak.

"They worked hard to cut Turkey's tongue and twist its arm. They tried hard to silence the voice of all the oppressed by silencing Turkey's voice. But there was a reality that they forgot. This reality was that those who believe will see victory… the rightful victory of belief, faith and an attitude which stands up to traitors, enemies and global obsessions." - Bulent Erandac in Takvim.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

This is an A-minus paper?

University of North Carolina football players run onto the field in 2010. The University of North Carolina has been rocked by allegations of academic fraud in its athletic department

The ongoing academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina's athletic department has been at a slow burn for months, as salacious bits of news have been unearthed by investigative journalists.

The latest piece of evidence that North Carolina (UNC) athletes were getting passing grades in their college courses with little or no work comes in the form of a "paper" on civil rights icon Rosa Parks, provided to the ESPN sports network by former UNC tutor turned whistleblower Mary Willingham.

Here's the text, in its entirety:

On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. "Let me have those front seats" said the driver. She didn't get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. "I'm going to have you arrested," said the driver. "You may do that," Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them "why do you all push us around?" The police officer replied and said "I don't know, but the law is the law and you're under arrest.

The work was the final essay in a class for which an unnamed athlete received a grade of A-minus. (And as freelance writer Bryan Graham points out via Twitter, the piece was probably plagiarised from the first page of Rosa Parks' autobiography.)

According to the website of the UNC registrar's office, "A" level work requires:

Start Quote

Those who think that most big-time college athletes are at school first and foremost to be educated are fooling themselves”

End Quote Jordan Weissman Slate

Mastery of course content at the highest level of attainment that can reasonably be expected of students at a given stage of development.

The A grade states clearly that the students have shown such outstanding promise in the aspect of the discipline under study that he/she may be strongly encouraged to continue.

With the college basketball tournament known as "March Madness" in full swing, the ESPN story received extensive media commentary.

"If this is the kind of education that student-athletes can get away with, then student-athlete is a totally meaningless term," writes the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri. "Student is already a meaningless enough term for the majority of the body. But this definitely does not amount to an A-. It doesn't even amount to a paper."

Slate's Jordan Weissman says that although UNC has been singled out for criticism, this is likely happening at all universities with high-profile college athletic programmes.

"Those who think that most big-time college athletes are at school first and foremost to be educated are fooling themselves," he writes. "They're there to work and earn money and prestige for the school."

A friend of mine who happens to be black recounted to me a joke told by liberal comedian Bill Maher last week, "March Madness really is a stirring reminder of what America was founded on: making tons of money off the labour of unpaid black people."

The reality is the combination of race, sports and lots and lots money are turning college athletics in the US into a powder keg, and stories like the ones coming out of North Carolina have helped light the fuse.

The day after ESPN ran its piece last week, the federal National Labor Relations Board decided to allow athletes at Northwestern University in Illinois to proceed with their plans to unionise and collectively bargain with their school for greater benefits - possibly including financial compensation beyond tuition and room and board.

The notion that participants in major college sports are still "scholar-athletes" becomes more and more difficult to defend with each new revelation from schools like UNC.

Add in the mounting scientific evidence that high-contact sports like US football can cause long-term brain damage, and it seems increasingly likely that intercollegiate athletics, as it is now structured, is an unsustainable proposition.

A Twitter war on Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert on the set of his show, the Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert makes a living walking the line between humour and offence

Satire can be a dangerous game. Making jokes about racists is safe. Making a joke about racism by pretending to be a racist is the kind of subversive humour that can get you in a lot of trouble.

Just ask Stephen Colbert, who is both a master of the art and its latest victim.

The first thing to understand is that the Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report is not really Stephen Colbert.

Start Quote

I'm sick of liberals hiding behind assumed 'progressiveness.'”

End Quote Suey Park Social media activist

The show's "Stephen Colbert" is a caricature, a cardboard version of a right-wing pundit used to poke satirical fun at right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.

On Wednesday night, Colbert mocked the attempt by the owner of the Washington Redskins US football franchise to defuse allegations that the team's name is a racist slur on Native Americans.

Earlier this week, Dan Snyder said he was starting an "Original Americans Foundation" to provide support to impoverished Native American communities.

On his show, Colbert announced that he was going to "show the Asian-American community I care by starting the 'Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever'".

It was a reference to previous instances on the show where Colbert pretended to be a stereotypical Asian and then didn't understand why his behaviour might be offensive.

The following day, the network-run @ColbertReport Twitter account - over which Colbert and his show have no editorial control - sent out a tweet to its one million followers with that quote, devoid of any context or reference to the Redskins.

The message caught the attention of 23-year-old social media activist Suey Park, who gained fame in 2013 by creating the #NotYourAsianSidekick Twitter trend.

On Thursday night, she tweeted to her 18,000 followers: "The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it."

She followed it up with a concerted campaign to rally support for her cause.

When supporters of the show pushed back, pointing out that Colbert's routine was satire, Ms Park pressed on:

"Dear white people, we're not stupid. We know what satire is and what it isn't."

"I shouldn't have to interrupt my work/social life to respond to every act of racism. The left is just as complicit."

"I'm sick of liberals hiding behind assumed 'progressiveness.'"

Start Quote

The weaponised hashtag also takes power from the people who are trying to mock it”

End Quote David Weigel Slate

That last tweet was picked up by conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, who called on her 700,000 followers to "co-sign", giving the trend additional momentum.

The Twitter war quickly caught the attention of the mainstream media, as columnists and commentators weighed in on the matter.

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams admits that she is "a full-time, professional offended feminist", but adds:

I've got to say that we all undercut the serious points we may be trying to make about changing the conversation when the response to something that we deem inappropriate is a full-on demand for somebody's head.

Colbert's humour succeeds by "cranking offensiveness up so far as to be inherently unbelievable", writes the Wire's Brian Feldman. "React however you choose, but this sort of thing is Colbert's bread and butter."

Slate's David Weigel wonders if Ms Park's "hashtag activism" will have an effect:

Any time a public figure or group of people is blitzed and told not to say something offensive, no matter how prideful they are, the instinct is to never say that again.

He says that just because Colbert has tried to mock someone else's racism, that's not enough for people like Ms Park:

As they explained in 140-character bursts, when a white comedian like Colbert joked about racism by playing a racist, he was still telling his audience to laugh at a racist joke. Anyone who disputed this was trying to "whitesplain" satire - an argument that can never be debunked.

He also notes that the entire episode exposes how difficult it is to win Twitter outrage wars:

The weaponised hashtag also takes power from the people who are trying to mock it - Twitter doesn't discriminate between earnestness and parody. People making fun of the humorlessness and bad faith of the hashtag end up keeping it in the "trending" column.

Start Quote

Sadly, Mr Colbert, for some weird reason, still doesn't understand that his own ideology breeds intellectual cannibals”

End Quote Douglas Ernst The Washington Times

The Daily Banter's Chez Pazienza calls Ms Park a "human umbrage machine", saying he hopes the episode will "serve as the breaking point for progressive pop culture, when it finally decides that the constant ridiculous outrage has become nothing more than self-parody".

Meanwhile, those on the right revelled in a liberal icon like Colbert taking fire from the left.

Twitchy, a social media watchdog site founded by Malkin, took particular delight, collecting tweets from outraged liberals and liberals outraged at the outrage.

Douglas Ernst of the Washington Times blogs that Colbert's situation "highlighted quite nicely where you end up when you follow that worldview to its logical conclusion: the land of livid thought police".

"Sadly, Mr Colbert, for some weird reason, still doesn't understand that his own ideology breeds intellectual cannibals," he adds.

Comedy Central has since deleted the offending message, and Colbert tweeted from his personal account that he had nothing to do with it: "#CancelColbert - I agree! Just saw @ColbertReport tweet. I share your rage. Who is that, though?"

As regular viewers of The Colbert Report will attest, the show's guests and interview subjects often act as though they're oblivious to being the target of subtle derision. It's part of the show's insidious charm.

Ms Park, on the other hand, professes to be well aware of Colbert's style of humour and contends that pretending to be racist is just as bad as being racist.

If Colbert had used a racial epithet - say, the "n" word, for instance - to make fun of a Klan member, would that have been acceptable? Is "ching-chong ding-dong" any less inflammatory?

At what point does humour cross over into offensiveness?

As I wrote, satire is dangerous business. That danger, walking the line between laugher and shock, is part of what makes it so compelling - and Colbert so popular.

Pope's success is bigger than politics

President Obama speaks with Pope Francis during a meeting in Rome on 27 march, 2014. A presidential visit spurs talk of the pope's popularity boom

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

President Barack Obama's visit with Pope Francis on Thursday has pundits speculating on what the meeting means and waxing about the popular pontiff's first year on the job.

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson says the politics-first focus of the media on Mr Obama's papal visit is "absurd".

"Catholic teaching stands in judgment of both ideological sides in U.S. politics, as one would expect of a faith that combines moral traditionalism with a belief in social justice," he says.

He pivots to look at where the Church was a year ago, and how much has changed:

A year ago, the prevailing narrative about the Catholic Church could hardly have been worse - paedophile priests, financial misdeeds, the arrest of the pope's butler, for goodness' sake. The Holy Spirit seemed to be on an extended vacation.

Now, he writes, Francis has changed public perception by combining "traditional moral teachings with a scandalous belief that people are ultimately more important than rules".

The BBC's Alan Johnston describes the relaxed atmosphere at the meeting

The American Prospect's Molly Worthen agrees that the pope's emphasis on mercy and humanity is part of the explanation for his success:

The reason is not because they believe he will settle questions that have troubled the church for generations. Rather, his example - his decision to wash the feet not of fellow priests but of juvenile inmates on Holy Thursday; his invitation to homeless men to join him on his birthday - reminds many Catholics of what the church means to them on a daily basis and what they hope it means to the world.

Although the pope has not altered Church policy on hot-button social issues, she writes, he has moved away from the confrontational style of his predecessor. This new attitude could appeal to Americans who are religious but aren't attracted to the US brand of fundamentalist evangelicalism.

"Francis offers a reference point that resonates with Christians disillusioned with the grandstanding of the religious right and the confrontations of the culture wars," she writes.


The next Ukraine? - It's time to once again play the "where is the next Ukraine?" game. For former Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Jorge Castaneda, the answer is Venezuela. "Recent events in Venezuela imply as many perils and unforeseen, perverse consequences as in Ukraine," he says. The international community and Latin American democracies need to pay more attention.


Rome's promise of prosperity - Italian support for Tunisia could lead to a complete turnaround in the region, writes Giovanni Faleg for the American Interest. The country's technocratic leaders are looking for economic backing and trade partners, he says, and Rome could be the best option available.

"In the ruthless game of international politics, leaps of faith are quite uncommon, and perhaps even foolhardy," he writes. "Yet economic growth and democratic governance in the Maghreb will improve the lives of millions of young Arabs, marking perhaps a turning point in the region's history."


The other refugees - Following a report from Canada's parliament on the state of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Jonathan Tobin writes that the only way to find peace between Israel and Palestine is to acknowledge that there are a competing perspectives among refugees.

"Not until they realise that they were not the only ones who suffered and that the war that led to their dispossession was the result of their own unwillingness to compromise and share the land will the Palestinians be prepared to accept the current compromise that has been on the table from Israel for many years, and finally move on," he says.


Don't be fooled by election promises - "Election manifestos of political parties tend to promise all things to all people," write the editors of the Hindu. Heading into the elections in India, there are a lot of promises being made. But India shouldn't be duped by politicians making the same promises that they failed to fulfil in the last election.

"Unlike the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the energetic new party, the AAP, the Congress would be judged by its performance in government in the last decade, and not by the promises it holds out," they write. "The party's record is enough to take the shine off many of the promises listed in the manifesto."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

The media in Egypt appear to be wholeheartedly behind former Defence Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as he begins his campaign for president, but elsewhere not every regional commentator is impressed.

"In the end, the field marshal did not surprise anyone when he declared his candidacy for president, this is because his ambition became clear in the first quarter of an hour after his military coup, despite affirmations to the contrary." - Subhi Hudaydi in pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

"It is exciting that both [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and al-Sisi came from the intelligence services. This is the reason why both of them are cunning... Al-Sisi will achieve for Egypt and the Arabs what Putin has achieved for Russia." - Muhammad Yaghi in Palestinian Al-Ayyam.

"Amid a climate of expectations that Sisi will win the contest, there are also fears the election won't help Egypt's reputation, damaged by security tension and socio-economic problems... One person is destined to win, but unless millions of people can vote freely, respect the result and then witness authentic reform and resurgence, it will be a hollow election." - Editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Judge: Don't be too sexy for this court

A photo of women wearing high heels in New York City. Inappropriate courtroom footwear?

US District Court Judge Richard Kopf has some wardrobe advice for young women lawyers: If female law clerks label you "an ignorant slut" behind your back, you should "tone it down".

Here's the full passage, which the federal judge posted Tuesday on his personal blog :

1. You can't win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.

2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.

3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.

OK, in his defence, he was referring to a 35-year-old Saturday Night Live skit involving Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain. That makes it less ridiculously inappropriate, maybe?

The Nebraska jurist's post was prompted by an Amanda Hess Slate article that traced the history of acceptable female dress in the courtroom. She quotes an Illinois bankruptcy judge as saying scantily clad women had become a "huge problem".

She notes that Loyola Law School in Los Angeles recently sent out a memo informing its students that "stiletto heels are not appropriate office wear (outside of ridiculous lawyer TV shows)".

Start Quote

It is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be”

End Quote Richard Kopf US district court judge

She adds: "Judges who school female attorneys on how to dress are annoying, and the limitless choices of the female wardrobe are confusing."

Yes, about those judges. Here's an anecdote Mr Kopf offers on his blog:

True story. Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.

In a recent case involving this fine young lawyer every female law clerk in the building slipped in and out of the courtroom to observe her. I am not exaggerating. I later learned that word had gotten around about this lawyer's dress. Acknowledging that the lawyer was really good, the consensus of the sisterhood was uniformly critical. "Unprofessional" was the word used most often. To a woman, the law clerks seethed and sneered. They were truly upset.

That's too much for Jezebel's Phoenix Tso, who writes, "I feel bad for any woman who has had to work with this guy."

It's embarrassing, she says, that Mr Kopf is a judge who can write something like that without feeling shame (she uses somewhat more colourful language).

"Buried within the lecherous and paternalistic tone is a fair point - lawyers should learn how to dress professionally, and for women, that may mean wearing longer skirts and higher cut tops. But there's a more mature and respectful way to do this," she continues.

"Ewwww!" writes Omaha World-Herald columnist Erin Grace. She quotes several female lawyers from Nebraska, one of whom says the judge was being "pretty honest".

Start Quote

If law students should be remembered for what they say, not how they dress, then that should apply to judges”

End Quote Erin Grace Omaha World-Herald

Another was less approving: "It makes you not want to... practise in front of him if you're female."

Grace concludes by saying: "If law students should be remembered for what they say, not how they dress, then that should apply to judges."

On Wednesday, Mr Kopf posted an update to his blog, admitting that he "touched a third rail" by writing about "women, apparel and courtroom attire".

He included a reply to Grace:

If, on balance, you think the post was harmful to the image of the federal judiciary and truly treated women as objects, I am very, very, very sorry for that, but I would ask you to pause and reread it. I hope you will find upon objective reflection that the mockery I make of myself and the hyperbole and somewhat mordant tone I employed, made a point worth considering.

In the rough and tumble world of a federal trial practice, it is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be.

It's a world where a Mid-west judge can admit he's a "dirty old man" and write blog posts that make national news.

Obama leads a US retreat

US President Barack Obama scratches his head during a press conference in Rome on 27 March, 2014. President Barack Obama is giving Americans the foreign policy they want, and they don't like it

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

President Barack Obama has generally followed the public's will in his foreign policy decisions, writes the Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan. So why, he asks, are Mr Obama's foreign policy approval ratings so bad?

Here's his answer:

A majority of Americans may not want to intervene in Syria, do anything serious about Iran or care what happens in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt or Ukraine. They may prefer a minimalist foreign policy in which the United States no longer plays a leading role in the world and leaves others to deal with their own miserable problems.

They may want a more narrowly self-interested American policy. In short, they may want what Obama so far has been giving them. But they're not proud of it, and they're not grateful to him for giving them what they want.

Americans, he writes, have taken pride in being the "leader of the free world", the alpha dog in the global pack.

"Now, pundits and prognosticators are telling them that those days are over, that it is time for the United States to seek more modest goals commensurate with its declining power," he writes. "And they have a president committed to this task."

It may be what the people are calling for, but polls seem to indicate that leading a nation in retreat is a thankless task.


Is Catalonia the next Crimea? - With the recent events in Ukraine, pundits and prognosticators everywhere are straining to spot the next geopolitical flashpoint. It could be the Spanish province of Catalonia, writes Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky.

"If you want to keep a territory from seceding, set its people free," he argues, urging Spain and other nations dealing with breakaway provinces to allow open and free votes on secession. "There is no case for forcibly keeping territories under a country's rule if the majority there does not want it," he concludes.

United Kingdom

Scottish secession would devastate Labour Party - Speaking of secession, it's not likely that Scotland secedes from the UK, writes Sean Thomas in the Telegraph. If it does, however, he says it could have serious repercussions for the balance of political power in Parliament.

The Conservative Party will "rumble on", he writes. "By contrast, the loss of Scotland to Labour will be utterly devastating: like a battlefield amputation. Without Scotland, Labour will be mutilated and traumatised for a generation. And might never recover."


The mysterious murder of a former intelligence chief - Why was Col Patrick Karegeya, former Rwanda chief of external intelligence, murdered at his hotel suite in South Africa? Gabriel Gatehouse of BBC's Newsnight says that it may have been because of his involvement in the Rwandan political opposition movement.

"Patrick Karegeya's death served as a stark warning to his fellow exiles in South Africa," he says. Oppose current Rwandan President Paul Kagame and you are likely to end up dead.


Will reality tarnish Sisi's heroic narrative? - Although Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is a prohibitive favourite in the upcoming Egyptian presidential race, writes the Christian Science Monitor's Louisa Loveluck, his popularity could take a beating as he faces Egypt's significant problems. He will have to address a battered economy, diminished respect for the rule of law and a repressive security apparatus, she says.

"With such large challenges facing their poster-boy president," she writes, "Sisi has little time to live up to the hype."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Middle East media react to the decision of the Arab League during this week's summit in Kuwait not to allow a representative from the Syrian opposition to occupy that Syrian seat in the 22-member body.

"The sight of the [vacant] Syrian seat at the Arab summit reflects the reality of the Arab position and the inability to rally behind an Arab stance that is useful to the Syrian people." - Samih al-Ma'aytah in Jordan's Al-Ra'y.

"Syria was like an Arab orphan when its [Arab League] seat was snatched from the opposition coalition… The odd decision appeared to be revoking the legitimacy of the Syrian opposition by pulling the Arab rug from under its feet. And if the US and the rest of the world has been denying it weapons, the summit deprived it of a political weapon leaving it to face a frightening Somali fate" - Rajih al-Khuri in Lebanon's Al-Nahar.

"It is unacceptable for Syria's seat to remain vacant under the current circumstances because that would send [Syrian President] Al-Asad's regime a clear message to continue killing and annihilating its own people. It will also send a message to the international community that Arabs are divided over Syria." - Editorial in Qatar's Al-Rayah.

"Speaking at the Kuwait summit and building on habitual political hypocrisy, the Arab League secretary-general [Nabil al-Arabi] expressed great concern over Arab security. However, he said nothing about the grave violation of this security as a result of the continued terrorist aggression against Syria over the past three years." - Editorial in Syria's Al-Ba'th.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Disney's Frozen and the 'gay agenda'

Actress Bailee Madison blows a kiss at the 19 November, 2013, premier party for the film Frozen. Is there a lesbian subtext to the Disney movie Frozen?

Does "letting go" mean coming out?

To Kevin Swanson, a pastor and host of a right-wing Christian-themed radio show, it does. Swanson slammed Disney's award-winning animated film Frozen, calling it the work of the devil.

"Friends, this is evil, just evil," he said. Swanson contends the film indoctrinates young women to be lesbians and convinces people that homosexuality and bestiality are acceptable in society.

While Swanson doesn't specifically cite what parts of the film he sees as promoting homosexuality, others have drawn parallels between the kingdom's rejection of the magical powers of one of the main characters, Elsa, and society's rejection of homosexuality.

Start Quote

The words to Let it Go are clearly not Christian-values friendly, by any stretch of the imagination, when understood and heard”

End Quote Kathryn Skaggs Blogger

Many equate film's most recognisable song, Let it Go, with the experience of coming out and accepting one's sexual orientation.

"Disney has a long history of fielding accusations of using its children's movies to advance one liberal agenda or another - whether it's gay rights, environmentalism or socialism," writes the Daily Beast's Caitlin Dickson.

"However, there seems to be something about Frozen that has attracted more than the usual amount of controversy for a kids' cartoon."

Kathryn Skaggs, a Mormon blogger, identifies what she sees as the film's attempt to normalise homosexuality.

She writes:

When mainstream society comes to the point where it celebrates that which is contrary to the commandments, taught in a movie presumably made for children, by awarding it the highest accolades within its culture, and good parents don't perceive it, but rather endorse it unwittingly, we are in serious trouble.

She targets much of her fire on Let It Go, which she says hides a "subversive" message beneath a catchy tune:

The words to Let it Go are clearly not Christian-values friendly, by any stretch of the imagination, when understood and heard. This is not an innocent song, with a catchy tune. It is rebellious. It mocks moral absolutes. It is careless. It is unaccountable. It is anti-obedience. It is regardless. It is selfish. And if you still disagree, then by all means, feel free to show me how I've misinterpreted the lyrics.

Mark Saal, another Mormon blogger, disagrees with Skaggs' comments.

Lyrics from Let it Go

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen.

A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I'm the queen.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.

Couldn't keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.

Don't let them in, don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be.

Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know.

Well, now they know!

"Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar," he says. If you look hard enough, he says, you can find a hidden homosexual agenda in almost any song, movie or any other work of art.

Meanwhile, some members and allies to the LGBT community are claiming Elsa as their own.

Ryan C Robert, writing for Qodda, argues that the film has given LGBT youth a character with which to empathise. He says the movie portrays unconditional sisterly love, and many LGBT kids need to understand that people will love them regardless of what happens.

"Disney's Frozen may not have intended for one of the main characters, Elsa, to have a story that is such an easy parallel to the world of growing up in the closet, but it happened," he writes. "It happened, and now we're gonna celebrate."

There isn't consensus in the LGBT community as to what the movie means, however.

"It's time for a reality check," writes the Daily Dot's Rob Price. "I don't wish to dismiss anyone's interpretation, or tell someone they're watching a film 'the wrong way' - but for me at least, these claims just don't add up."

While he says he would love Frozen to be a movie about coming out, it's not, he says. Frozen is a timid step in the right direction, but still sticks to plenty of societal standards.

"Praising the film studio for the meagre animated scraps they're currently throwing to the LGBTQ community will only breed complacency on their part; it's about time they 'let it go' and come out the celluloid closet for good," he says.

It seems like just about everyone wants a piece of Elsa. Perhaps the best thing to do is to act like the movie's lovable snowman, Olaf, and go looking for some warm hugs until the storm blows over.

(By Kierran Petersen)

The disruptive power of 3D printing

A 3-D printer creates a bust of actor Bruce Willis. Manufacturing a brave new world, one plastic head at a time

Advocates of 3D printing say that small, in-home machines will allow tinkerers and makers to unleash a wave of creative energy, constructing whatever they can imagine, whether replacement shower curtain rings, works of art or even cars.

"The technology has not yet evolved to replace full manufacturing processes, but in its current nascent form it does cut down on prototyping, waste and transportation emissions - opening the door for more sustainable business practices across a range of industries," writes Chat Reynders of Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management for the Guardian's website.

Reason magazine's Greg Beato says the focus on the myriad uses of the technology, from the artistic to the mundane, ignores the larger picture: 3D printing has the potential to be a disruptive, possibly revolutionary invention.

Start Quote

Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow”

End Quote Greg Beato Reason magazine

What will happen, he writes, once millions of people are able "to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives"?

It's the end of big-box stores - Bed, Bath & Beyond, for one. But more than that, it could also strike a blow to the heart of government (music to Beato's libertarian ears).

He explains how:

Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow. How can it not, when only old people pay sales tax, fewer citizens obtain their incomes from traditional easy-to-tax jobs, and large corporate taxpayers start folding like daily newspapers? Without big business, big government can't function.

Beato contends that recent history shows that government will fight back. Just ask the online car-for-hire company Uber, which has struggled with taxi unions and local government approval in cities like Dallas and Seattle.

Start Quote

3D printers are still potentially hazardous, wasteful machines, and their societal, political, economic, and environmental impacts have not yet been studied extensively”

End Quote Lyndsey Gilpen TechRepublic

Over the past decade or so, as newer technologies and fewer opportunities for traditional employment have prompted more people to act in entrepreneurially innovative ways, government's response has been the same: Consumers must be protected against strawberry balsamic jam made in home kitchens. Tourists must be protected against immaculately maintained carriage houses that can be rented on a daily basis for below-hotel rates. Travellers must be protected from cheap rides from the airport.

There's a "dark side" to 3D printing, writes Lyndsey Gilpen of TechRepublic, and it's not just because the machines are "energy hogs" and possible sources of pollution.

"3D printers are still potentially hazardous, wasteful machines, and their societal, political, economic, and environmental impacts have not yet been studied extensively," she says.

There's a reason government has stepped in to regulate factories, after all. Unfettered manufacturing could have harmful consequences:

Weapons can be 3D printed. So can safety equipment such as helmets, wheels for bikes, and toys for small children. Of course there is the issue of intellectual property and trademark, but the larger issue involves responsibility.

If a person shoots a gun and harms or kills someone, stabs someone with a 3D printed knife, or breaks their neck while riding on a bike with a 3D printed helmet, who is held accountable? The owner of the printer, the manufacturer of the printer, or the irresponsible person who thought it was a good idea to produce and use an untested product?

3D printing is clearly one of the Next Big Things. Should politicians and CEOs be worried?

Obama's 'mindless' NSA supporters

US President Barack Obama pauses during a speech on NSA surveillance on 17 January, 2014. Glenn Greenwald says many Democrats have no "intellectual honesty" when it comes to NSA surveillance

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

President Barack Obama's plan to call for legislation ending the National Security Agency's bulk collection of American's phone data is exposing the lockstep-marching hypocrisy of many Democratic politicians, writes Glenn Greenwald.

In an article on The Intercept, the former Guardian journalist's new media endeavour, Greenwald says he long ago realised that "many Democrats literally had no actual political beliefs other than 'we support Obama in everything that he does'".

He writes that Mr Obama's latest reversal puts Democrats who backed the NSA programme in an "extremely difficult position":

If they had even an iota of integrity or intellectual honesty, they would instantly and aggressively condemn Obama. After all, he's now claiming to want to end a program that they have been arguing for months is vital in Keeping Us Safe. Wouldn't every rational person, by definition, criticise a political leader who wants to abolish a program that they believe is necessary to stop terrorism and preserve national security?

They won't do that, he concludes, because their support for the NSA was really just a reflection of blind backing for the president.

He describes this attitude: "The Leader is right when he does X, and he's equally right when he does Not X. That's the defining attribute of the mindset of a partisan hack, an authoritarian, and the standard MSNBC host."

Greenwald concludes by observing that Mr Obama's action is "potent vindication" of Edward Snowden's release of secret NSA files.

"Whatever test exists for determining whether 'unauthorized' disclosures of classified information are justified, Snowden's revelations pass the test with ease," he writes.


A bridge between Russian and the West - China needs to move past its "non-intervention policy" and play a role as a mediator between Russia and Western nations as the Ukrainian crisis unfolds, write Zhang Hong and Wang Ling in Caixin media (translated by WorldCrunch).

"A great rising nation must possess moral appeal and affinity," they write. "A country that takes into account only its own interests without questioning what's right or wrong can never win international respect."


Somalia's battle with al-Shabab militants

The fight against al-Qaeda in Africa - BBC correspondent Mark Doyle follows a group of Ugandan troops as they fight against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. "Somalia has been at war for decades," he says. "The human cost of that is incalculable." He says the tragedy of Somalia feels like an "ungovernable country" where "foreign troops dig in; foreign jihadists battle against them".


Turkish leader's Twitter ban is delusional - Diana Moukalled of Lebanon-based Future Television says that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan may well have committed a "cardinal sin" and opened himself up to mockery when he ordered his nation to block access to the social media platform Twitter.

"For Erdogan to declare that he would fight Twitter - and then actually try to do it - is the pinnacle of the kind of self-aggrandizing delusion that believes it is possible to force public opinion into submission, not only in Turkey but also globally," she writes.

South Africa

What we know about the Pistorius trial - BBC's Andrew Harding, who has been covering the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, writes that the real fireworks are still to come - when Mr Pistorius takes the stand.

"My feeling is that the rival experts and the various neighbours and friends will largely cancel each other out," he says. "Inevitably this trial is going to hinge on Pistorius's own testimony. Not just what he says, but how convincingly he does so."

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

The two-day Arab summit which wrapped up in Kuwait on Wednesday was never going to be a success, not with so many member states at odds with each other over various issues and eight heads of state did not even attend, but sent high-level representatives instead. The press was equally unimpressed, both with the meeting itself and with the participants.

"Seventy years of the boring classic discourse at every summit. And, after all this time, the Kuwaiti emir emerges to tell us that growing disagreements in the Arab nation were crushing our hopes and aspirations... The cause for disagreement is that the mastermind in Riyadh is fighting the [Muslim] Brothers in Egypt while backing them in Syria." - Editorial in Syrian government newspaper Al-Ba'th.

"With very few exceptions, most of those attending this summit, and all those absent either completely or by way of symbolic representation - which is worse than a boycott - all these brothers, warring brothers, each one of them had turned the tip of his dagger to the side of his brother while giving him a warm embrace in front of TV screens, and secretly wishing the sky to fall down on him and banish him further down into the folds of the ground beneath." - Salih al-Qallab in Jordan's Al-Ra'y.

"What is not surprising at this summit is that there are some who had come to practice mercurial formation in politics, to create intangible glory and to put forward a broken and familiar record. As they search for political limelight, they have urged Egypt - the government, the people, the entity and Egypt's standing - to reconcile with extremism, death and terrorism. However, Egypt's new leadership, aware of developments and conspiracies being hatched all around it, had refused to reconcile with terrorism since it cut its hand when it distanced it from politics and disabled it." - Editorial in Saudi Al-Watan.

"The USA no longer needs fleets, aircraft carriers or mighty armies ... because they have created for us a style called 'self-destruction '... so that we take it upon ourselves to destroy our countries and to give the keys to our capitals and to our independence and national sovereignty to foreigners." - Abdelhamed Riahi in Tunisian Al-Chorouk.

"The [Arab] leaders still believe that they are living in the era of emperors. Little do they know that this era ended more than 2,000 years ago. They still fail to realize that people who have breathed freedom will never accept any way of life without it." - Usamah Sa'd in Palestinian Filasteen.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

The price we pay for air safety

The view from the air traffic control tower in Manchester, UK. Air travel has become considerably safer over the last 20 years

Despite the tragedy of flight MH370, world air travel is safe. In fact, it may be too safe, according to the Center for Global Development's Charles Kenny.

Government air travel regulations impose a high cost on any airlines that want to fly to the US, including some requirements - such as on-board defibrillators - that are expensive but save relatively few lives.

"There are clear benefits to this process, safer air travel chief among them," he writes in Business Week. "But the unintended consequences also suggest that exporting American regulations around the world could cost more lives than it saves."

Start Quote

International regulations mean lower profits for Kenya Airways and less tax revenue for the Kenyan government”

End Quote Charles Kenny Center for Global Development

He cites a study that shows the cost per life-year saved of defibrillators is $100,000 (£60,500). He compares that with the $7 (£4.25) per life-year cost for vaccinations in developing countries.

Connecting the two takes a bit of logical gymnastics, but here's the crux of his argument:

If Kenya Airways wasn't spending the money putting defibrillators in its jets that fly to the US, it probably wouldn't use the savings to fund a vaccination program. But it might lower the cost of travel to and from Kenya, which would enable more people to travel, in turn increasing all the benefits that travel can bring - tourism dollars, trade, and investment. As it is, the international regulations mean lower profits for Kenya Airways and less tax revenue for the Kenyan government - which really might spend some of that on vaccinations.

Christian Wolmar on the Guardian's website notes that when he was a transportation correspondent 20 years ago, "air disasters outside Europe generated little media interest because they were relatively frequent and generally thought to be inevitable; a price that had to be paid for our mobility".

He notes that some "safety analysts" at the time predicted that increased traffic would mean a plane crash a week by 2010.

"In fact, safety has improved to such a degree that crashes of jets run by established European, American and Asian operators are relatively rare, and attract the kind of blanket coverage accorded to the demise of flight MH370," he writes.

He attributes the improved safety to more reliable planes, better regulations and smarter safety procedures.

With the apparent loss of the Malaysia Airlines jet, there have already been calls to increase spending on global air transportation infrastructure.

Conde Naste Traveler's Clive Irving, for instances, urges more airlines to use live satellite streaming technology to send flight information to air traffic controllers - at an estimated cost of $1,500 a month per plane.

"Aviation safety experts are in no doubt that eventually every airplane should have this system, but how long is 'eventually', given the reluctance of manufacturers, airlines and regulators?" he asks.

Can we afford to ease some government regulation for air travel? Could our money really be better spent elsewhere?

Corporations are (religious) people, too?

Feminist demonstrators hold signs outside the US Supreme Court building on 25 March, 2014. The Hobby Lobby case is a "mess of bad facts", writes Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's mandate that companies providing insurance for their employees include free contraceptive coverage.

Although Sebelius v Hobby Lobby features the hot-button topics of birth control and President Barack Obama's healthcare reform programme, the case turns on a different point.

The key question is whether corporations can take on the religious beliefs - and, consequently, the constitutionally protected religious freedoms - of their owners.

Defenders of the insurance mandate argue that giving corporations this kind of ability would be a dangerous precedent.

Start Quote

Any critical health coverage the boss doesn't agree with could be eliminated”

End Quote Sandra Fluke The Washington Post

"To obtain a religious exemption from the mandate, Hobby Lobby's owners need to imbue the corporation with their personally held religious views," writes Salon's Brian Beutler. "And that requires altering the distinction between shareholder and corporation in fundamental and potentially disruptive ways."

"On many levels, the Hobby Lobby case is a mess of bad facts, political opportunism, and questionable legal theories that might be laughable had some federal courts not taken them seriously," writes Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones.

She continues:

Women's groups fear a ruling that would gut the ACA's contraceptive mandate. The business community, meanwhile, doesn't want to see the court rule that a corporation is no different from its owners because it would open up CEOs and board members to lawsuits that corporate law now protects them from, upending a century's worth of established legal precedent.

The Constitutional Accountability Center's Tom Donnelly warns that a ruling in favour of Hobby Lobby would open up a judicial can of worms, as lower courts would be forced to determine which practices and beliefs are entitled to protection.

"Courts have balked at going down this path in the past - and for good reason," he writes. "Furthermore, the Supreme Court has never granted a religious accommodation to a secular business that comes at the expense of its employees - an unprecedented move that would allow secular employers to effectively impose their own religious views on the employees, even in the face of contrary laws."

In a Washington Post opinion piece, attorney Sandra Fluke - who gained national prominence in 2012 after testifying before Congress about insurance coverage of contraception - says that if Hobby Lobby prevails, "any private company could argue that religious beliefs prevent it from offering vital employee protections".

She writes:

Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees' insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment - all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn't agree with could be eliminated.

Opponents of the mandate counter that the case is about religious freedom - and point to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993, which requires the government to have a "compelling interest" when enacting laws that "substantially burden" the free exercise of religion.

Pro-life demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court on 25 March, 2014. Protestors from both sides gathered outside the US Supreme Court on Tuesday

"The Obama administration contends that starting a for-profit business means leaving religious liberty behind," writes University of Missouri law professor Joshua Hawley. "The administration has effectively told the Supreme Court that for-profit companies have no right to act on moral convictions the government opposes. They are about profits. That position is deeply mistaken."

He goes on to explain why:

This combination of conscience and enterprise is a vital part of our free-market tradition. If the 2008 financial debacle taught anything, it is that focus on profits above all can cause terrible damage. It was a profits-first mentality that encouraged lenders to deceive customers, ratings agencies to deceive banks, and banks to deceive each other.

The Heritage Foundation's Derrick Morgan contends that the left's position in this case is ironic.

"In a reversal of commonly held stereotypes, many so-called progressives now seek government-enforced conformity," he writes. "The left used to argue that we should be free to live without fear of government sanction. Today they insist everyone agree with them - or else."

The Federalist's Gabriel Malor blasts the media for what he sees as a misrepresentation of what the case is about:

The leftist papers do not mention the substantial monetary burden put on religious business owners to violate their consciences. The papers do not mention that contraception was both inexpensive and widely available before the contraception mandate, and still is. The papers omit to mention that it isn't the businesses who have radically changed, but the mandates from government.

He also says that no one is talking about the fact that the the Obama administration has made allowances for non-profit corporations that oppose the mandate.

Start Quote

The administration wants everyone to render unto Caesar not only what is Caesar's but also what is God's”

End Quote Rick Warren Saddleback Church

"Liberals seem focused on the 'for-profit' characterization of the businesses involved in this case because, by exempting thousands of non-profits from the mandate, they've little else to stand on," he says. "I'm sure the leftist bias against profit also plays a role."

The court could carve out a smaller exception to the contraception mandate for corporations that have close ties to their founders/owners. Rick Warren, a pastor whose Saddleback Church in California has a national following, describes what he sees as the difference.

"Hobby Lobby is not a secular, publicly traded company," he writes. "Rather, it is the personal, purpose-driven mission of one of the most devout families I've ever met."

He adds:

The administration is insisting that those who form and operate a family business based on religious beliefs must disobey what they believe is God's standard in order to obey the government's program. The administration wants everyone to render unto Caesar not only what is Caesar's but also what is God's.

There's also the possibility, writes Georgetown Law Prof Martin Lederman, that the court could rule that there is no contraceptive "mandate" at all. If corporations did not want to provide the required coverage, they could stop offering insurance altogether. Their employees would purchase insurance from the health care exchanges, and the employers would pay a tax that supports the government-managed insurance system.

"Lederman's analysis gives the court an easy out in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby, allowing it to avoid the dicey questions of whether corporations have religious-freedom rights, whether scientific ignorance is a religious belief - or even whether the plaintiff is sincerely religious or simply part of a larger Republican-led political effort to kill off Obamacare," Mother Jones's Mencimer writes.

It's the kind of cut-the-baby-in-half, leave-no-one-happy solution the Supreme Court endorsed with its last round of decisions upholding the bulk of the Affordable Care Act but striking down the requirement that states expand their health care coverage for the poor.

We'll likely have to wait until June before the court announces its decision.

Crimea: The Panama precedent

Masked individuals hold a Russian flag at a government building in Crimea on 1 March, 2014. Imperialist behaviour from world powers is nothing new, says Prof DeWayne Wickham

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

A world power helps a breakaway territory achieve independence from a weak, internally divided country that has rejected a high-profile treaty.

Is Morgan State University Prof DeWayne Wickham writing about Crimea? No, he's referring to Panama.

In a column in USA Today Wickham cautions that US leaders who have denounced Russian actions in Crimea and taken the "moral high ground" should look closely at their own country's history.

In 1903 the nation of Panama was carved out of Colombia after the Colombian government rejected a treaty that would have allowed the US to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The US fostered an uprising in the province of Panama and sent warships to prevent Colombian re-enforcements from arriving, Wickham writes. Once the independent state of Panama was established, its government quickly approved the canal treaty that Colombia wouldn't sign.

"Panama is in the geopolitical backyard of the USA," Wickham writes. "It's inside America's sphere of influence, just as Crimea is inside Russia's."

"I don't say this to justify the imperialistic behaviour of either superpower, but rather to suggest that it's nothing new. Nor should it be unexpected."


Gender bias is a real security threat - While male Indian politicians debate security in the run-up to this year's elections, writes National Human Rights Commission member Satyabrata Pal, they ignore the plight of Indian women. "Women in India are insecure and remain at risk because in this patriarchal society they are children of a lesser god," she says.

United Kingdom

Who speaks for UK Muslims? - BBC Newsnight hosted a debate on Monday between MP Maajid Nawaz, journalist Mehdi Hassan and political commentator/activist Mohammed Ansar. Mr Nawaz had tweeted out a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad saying hello to Jesus, stirring up anger in the UK Muslim community. Mr Ansar said Mr Nawaz doesn't represent the Muslim community and is trying to get attention by stirring up controversy.

"You want to make yourself a martyr of free speech, and you're not," Mr Ansar told Mr Nawaz. "As a political candidate, should you be offending large portions of the Muslim community?"


Detainees down under - The Australian government has detained 52 people for almost five years without trial, writes University of Sydney Prof Ben Saul. Although the United Nations has found that the detentions are illegal, he says, the Australian public doesn't seem to care. "Sustained international pressure is therefore essential," he writes, and the US must take the lead.


Saving the Irish language - Irish speakers need to be able to conduct business with the government in their native language, writes Language Commissioner Ronan O Domhnaill in the Irish Times. Too often, he says, Irish-language services are limited or missing entirely.

He asks:

Is it too much to ask that children in the Gaeltacht [Irish speaking regions] should enjoy the right to basic services, such as healthcare, in their first language, which also happens to be the first official language of the State, according to the Constitution?

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

On Monday, 528 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death on charges of killing two policemen and rioting on 14 August, 2013. While he proceedings have been criticised by UK, US and EU media for unfairness, in Egypt nearly all papers have applauded the sentences.

"Before you praise or criticise Judge Sai'd [Yusuf who issued the ruling]... watch the videos that are available on YouTube; watch them before you hold the judge accountable... I will not leave my mind to reject a deterrent ruling that separates between the rule of the jungle and the rule of law... I will not sympathise with savages just because their number is large." - Hamdi Rizq in the Egyptian daily Al-Misri al-Yawm

"There is nothing better for any society than applying decisive and quick justice... I do not imagine that it is anyone's right to describe the ruling as political, as its legal and religious basis is correct and that is retribution." - Abd-al-Khaliq Subhi in the Egyptian state-owned daily Al-Ahram al-Misa'i

"The people in Egypt and abroad are not preoccupied now with the sentence. They are rather concerned about its messages, repercussions and timing... These are part of the concerning and bewildering questions." - Yusuf Rizqah in the Hamas-run, Gaza-based Palestinian newspaper Felesteen

"The requirements of justice should be fulfilled. Announcing the death penalty after only two hearings is the murder of justice. The US, UN and international community should put pressure on the military government of Egypt to ensure the fair trial of political prisoners." - Editorial in Pakistani daily Nawa-i-Waqt

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Measles and the anti-vaccine 'debate'

A California child receives an immunisation shot. There should be no debate on the benefits of immunisation, writes the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri

An outbreak of measles in New York City that has spread to at least 20 people has added heat to the debate over the effectiveness of public awareness campaigns and whether the government should strengthen mandatory requirements for children.

Although the UK saw immunisation rates drop after a now discredited 1998 study by Dr Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism, the US has not had a significant change.

At least not yet, warn some in the public health field.

Start Quote

Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country, and this year people are being hospitalized for it”

End Quote Russell Saunders The Daily Beast

There are pockets of lower immunisation that could widen, they caution, if autism activists like actresses Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari continue to push the notion that immunisation is dangerous.

"You don't need to get every listener to believe that vaccines are Actively Dangerous," writes Alexandra Petra in the Washington Post. "You just need to create an atmosphere that suggests there is Room For Doubt and Debate. Then sit back and watch the vaccination rates drop."

A New England paediatrician writing in the Daily Beast under the pseudonym Russell Saunders calls the situation "sheer lunacy".

"Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country, and this year people are being hospitalized for it," he writes. "All due to the hysteria about a safe, effective vaccine. All based on nothing."

Unvaccinated children should be prohibited from attending public schools unless they have a medical reason, writes Phil Plait in Slate.

He continues:

I do understand that people might have a religious belief against vaccinations. However, I think religious exemptions can and should only go so far. Certainly they stop dead when religion impinges on my rights to have my child attend a school that is safe. I have even less patience for the "personal belief" exemption because that strikes me as being aimed at people who are anti-vaccination. And they are most certainly wrong.

Jennifer Margulis, a fellow at the Schuster Institute at Brandeis University, counters that parents have valid reasons to stray from a government-recommended vaccination schedule.

Start Quote

When they showed images of sick children to parents it increased their belief that vaccines caused autism”

End Quote Aaron Carroll The Incidental Economist

"It is a news media-driven misperception that parents who claim philosophical or religious exemptions are uneducated or misinformed," she writes.

"Most parents who individualize the vaccine schedule are actively educating themselves, continually assessing their family's specific health needs, and doing everything they can to keep their children safe and healthy."

So is more money for education the answer? Maybe not. According to a study recently published in Pediatrics medical journal, the more people are warned about the lack of a link between MMR and autism, the more suspicious some parents become that there actually is a link.

Aaron Carroll, in the Incidental Economist blog, writes:

When they gave evidence that vaccines aren't linked to autism, that actually made parents who were already skittish about vaccines less likely to get their child one in the future. When they showed images of sick children to parents it increased their belief that vaccines caused autism. When they told a dramatic story about an infant in danger because he wasn't immunized, it increased parents' beliefs that vaccines had serious side effects.

"Basically," he says, "it was all depressing. Nothing was effective."

Attempts to educate the public are not "futile", according to Dan Kahan of Yale Law School's the Cultural Cognition Project. The information produced by public health groups has to be carefully crafted, however.

"It is a bad idea to flood public discourse in a blunderbuss fashion with communications that state or imply that there is a 'growing crisis of confidence' in vaccines that is 'eroding' immunization rates," he writes.

"It's a good idea instead to use valid empirical means to formulate targeted and effective vaccine-safety communication strategies."

He also warns that comparing the anti-vaccination movement to other controversial topics is particularly counterproductive. Citing a Yale study, he writes:

The equation of "vaccine hesitancy" with disbelief in evolution and skepticism about climate change - another popular trope - can create cultural polarization over vaccine safety among diverse people who otherwise all agree that vaccine benefits are high and their risks low.

Could the immunisation issue really be in danger of becoming another political football? There's a lot wrong with the current US political climate, but at least it hasn't been responsible for an entirely preventable measles epidemic. It would be nice to keep it that way.

Cold War, the sequel

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a pro-Russia rally on 18 March, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin must be confronted, says former Ambassador Michael A McFaul

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

The "post-Cold War" era in Europe is now over, writes former Obama administration Ambassador to Russia Michael A McFaul.

In a New York Times opinion piece, Mr McFaul argues that the US did not "fully win" the Cold War because Russia did not transition to a functional democracy and become integrated with the West. Now nationalism and autocracy have taken hold there.

"The Kremlin has both the intention and capacity to undermine governments and states, using instruments like the military, money, media, the secret police and energy," he writes.

Because of this, he concludes, Ukraine's democracy and stability must be bolstered and Russia needs to be isolated. The US needs to regain its moral standing in the world and abandon its move toward global disengagement in order to prevail.

We have entered a "tragic era" of "ideological clashes, nationalistic resurgence and territorial occupation", he says.


Don't rush to judgement on World Cup 2022 - Rumours swirl that Qatar bribed its way to being awarded the 2022 World Cup, its construction workers are being mistreated, and it's too hot in the Middle East for players. Lee Wellings writes for Al Jazeera that while Fifa has been corrupt for years, there is no proof of Qatar's malfeasance. "Do I think the World Cup should be taken away from Qatar?" he asks "Absolutely not."


Progress in an unfinished war - While public opinion may be that war in Afghanistan is still raging, the military scene is actually fairly positive compared to previous years, writes Michael O'Hanlon for Politico. Some areas still experience violence, but overall the rate is dropping. "This war may not be won in a classic sense, but it is also surely not being lost," he says.


The West's broken promises - Western media have failed to acknowledge problems such as human rights abuses, internal divides and the possibility of a civil war in Libya, Owen Jones writes for the Guardian. Nato countries should be held accountable because they broke Libya, and they have since failed to fix the mess they made.

Baltic states

How many allies are enough? - The United States used "appallingly bad judgment" when committing to defending Baltic States against Russia, Ted Galen Carpenter writes for the National Interest. The US strategy of "collecting allies for the simply for the sake of collecting allies" damages the country's credibility and puts Nato at risk because it requires expansion into an unstable Central and Eastern Europe, he concludes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

The Turkish press on Monday is dominated by reports and comment on Sunday's shooting down of a Syrian military jet alleged by Turkey to have violated its airspace.

Several leftist papers focus on the fact that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated the Turkish air force on its actions in an address delivered to a rally of Justice and Development (AK) Party supporters only a week before local elections on 30 March.

The leftist paper Taraf carries the headline: "A war game, only a short while before the elections".

The secular daily Cumhuriyet's headline is: "He is dragging [Turkey] into a war".

Pro-government papers, on the other hand, view the incident and Mr Erdogan's congratulations to the pilots in a more positive light.

The centrist pro-government daily Sabah regards the downing of the Syrian fighter plane as an act of revenge for the deaths of two Turkish pilots shot down by Syrian forces in June 2012, a view reflected in the paper's headline: "Two of our martyrs find peace".

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab paper al-Quds al-Arabi says that the incident "gives Erdogan … a rare opportunity to escape from his crises by rallying Turkish nationalism against its opponents".

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Rise of the machine reporters

A robot at a trade show in Hanover, Germany. "Can I quote you on that?"

As if journalists didn't have enough to worry about these days, what with the print portion of their industry dying a long, slow death and the digital product often given away for free. Now comes the rise of the machine reporter.

A few minutes after a minor earthquake hit Southern California on Monday morning, the Los Angeles Times featured an article about the event on its website, with help from a computer algorithm written by one of the paper's developers.

It's not the first time the newspaper has used automated reporting. And the Times isn't the first media outlet to rely on such systems. Entire companies, such as Narrative Science (business news) and Automated Insights (sports), have business models built around the idea of mechanised journalism.

Start Quote

Quakebot neatly illustrates the present limitations of automated journalism”

End Quote Will Oremus Slate

Slate's Will Oremus writes that computers are fully capable of basic reporting tasks:

Having spent some years as a local news reporter, I can attest that slapping together brief, factual accounts of things like homicides, earthquakes, and fires is essentially a game of Mad Libs that might as well be done by a machine.

He thinks journalists shouldn't be worried, however.

"Quakebot neatly illustrates the present limitations of automated journalism," he writes. "It can't assess the damage on the ground, can't interview experts, and can't discern the relative newsworthiness of various aspects of the story."

The Guardian has also tried automated reporting, although its experiment was a little more haphazard.

They gave a developer one day to come up with GUARBOT, which they then assigned to write an article about the health-food staple quinoa. Here's what their electronic partner came up with:

The crime-ridden family of quinoa has taken US by storm this month. According to Peru, New York has confirmed that quinoa is more story than anything else they've ever seen. Quotes from top Yotam Ottolenghi eaters suggest that "crop" is currently clear top, possibly more than ground black pepper. Experts say both Salt and University need to traditionally grow to strengthen a common solution. Finally, it is worth slightly rattling that this article was peeled until it made sense.

The article seems like it needs a bit more "peeling", but then I haven't been the victim of a quinoa-related crime.

Start Quote

Surely we should just let computers do the work, while humans get on with more investigative and analytical pieces?”

End Quote Aisha Gani and Leila Haddou The Guardian

The idea of having computers do the rote work that used to be assigned to cub reporters certainly has its allure.

"The mundane task of trawling through wire copy to spot a newsworthy item could be seen as a waste of resources, especially if all that's required is straight reportage of facts and figures," write the Guardian's Aisha Gani and Leila Haddou. "Surely we should just let computers do the work, while humans get on with more investigative and analytical pieces?"

Of course the journalists who are writing investigative and analytical pieces probably cut their chops working on the kind of rote articles that GUARBOT and Quakebot are now tackling. You don't just step out of college as the next Seymour Hersh.

And don't think it's just reporters whose livelihood is in danger, either. It's only a matter of time before their editors will feel the machine's icy gaze, as well.

"At a panel on automated storytelling at Columbia Journalism School's Tow Center for Digital Journalism last month, Narrative Science co-founder Larry Birnbaum speculated on a system that could exercise editorial judgment," writes New Scientist's Aviva Rutkin. "The bot would decide which stories were worth writing, how the stories should be written and which readers to show them to."

Hal, I'd like to do an investigative think-piece on pod bay doors and the debate over whether they should be opened or closed.

"I'm sorry, Anthony, I'm afraid I can't assign that."

I, for one, will not welcome our new robot overlords.

Sarkozy: French phone taps like Stasi

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy watches a football match in April 2013. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy breaks his silence on allegations of corruption

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy compares his current status as a target of government investigation to that of an East German during communist rule.

"Even today, everyone who phones me must know they will be recorded," he writes in the French newspaper Le Figaro, as translated by France 24. "You've read correctly. This is not an excerpt from the marvellous film The Lives of Others about East Germany and the Stasi's activities. These are not the actions of some world dictator taken against his opponents. This is France."

In a letter published on Friday, he addresses for the first time the allegations of corruption that have followed him in the two years since he left office.

"The sacred principles of our Republic have been trampled with an as-yet-unknown violence and unprecedented lack of scruples," he writes.

He concludes by saying that he is not interested in returning to public life, although he frames it as a warning to his critics:

To those who fear my return [to politics], rest assured that the best way to avoid it would be by allowing me to live my life simply and quietly ... basically like a 'normal' citizen.

The response from the French government has been quick and forceful.

"Any comparison with dictatorships is intolerable," French President Francois Hollande said.

"Our country is democratic, proud of being recognised as based on human rights where justice - at least as long as I am president - can act independently."


Does Crimea foreshadow Taiwan response? - China is closely watching the world's reaction to Russia's attempts to annex Crimea, writes the Week's Damon Linker. The lack of a strong Western response to the Ukraine situation, he argues, could have "dangerous geopolitical consequences". Could China be tempted to make a move on Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province? "The fact is we just don't know," he says. But scenarios like this are increasingly likely when the US doesn't enforce world order.


What does freedom mean to a Turkish journalist? - After Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to restrict access to Twitter because of how social media has damaged the government's reputation, writer and journalist Kursad Kahramanoglu tells the BBC that freedom for him means being able to interact with his friends around the world and read the news.

"My only reliable source of information is through the internet. If the internet was restricted, my freedom allowing me to be informed no longer exists," he says.


Busting the myth of the mafia code - La Stampa's Francesco La Licata says that the idea that members of the mafia have a code that forbids them from harming women or children is a myth. The latest example is a two-year-old boy, killed in a revenge hit.

"It would be absolutely impossible to recount all the terrible stories that have taken place on the island of Sicily," he writes (translated by Worldcrunch). "One thing seems pretty conclusive, though: Scrolling through the list of victims, it's quite apparent that ours is an island for neither women nor children."


The people are not behind these protests - The world has Venezuela all wrong, writes Mark Weisbrot for the Guardian. Daily life in Venezuela chugs along regardless of the protests, which are backed by a minority of people who are wealthy enough to afford the protest. And the tide doesn't seem to be turning as the economy stabilises and halts inflation before the next election over a year away.

"The only place where the opposition seems to be garnering broad support is Washington," he says.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Chinese commentators are offering early reactions to US First Lady Michelle Obama's week-long visit to China with her two daughters.

"Given that first ladies are unique ambassadors for the United States, the trip stands out as a stroke of 'gentle diplomacy' on the part of Washington… Although it would be naive to expect Michelle's visit to iron out all differences between China and the United States, it is safe to say that a successful visit by Michelle will infuse fresh vigour into the development of bilateral relations." - Chinese news agency Xinhua.

"In practising 'first lady diplomacy', the United States appears to be expressing goodwill towards China in a light-hearted manner. But at the end of the day, it is intended to show America's soft power, to export their so-called universal values to China and to compete for hearts and minds with the Beijing authorities. The only difference is that it is done in a more concealed and flexible way. China should understand the hidden overtone and avoid being fooled by it." - Hong Kong's Oriental Daily.

"We need to develop such purely friendly exchanges, which play an irreplaceable role in reducing the mutual distrust and wariness between China and the United States." - Chinese edition of Global Times.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Critics bust fraternity culture

Students stand outside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on 20 April, 2012. San Diego State's campus was rocked in 2012 by a student death at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity

The college fraternity system is broken and places college students at risk of injury or death, writes the Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan.

Her article, published last month after a year spent researching fraternities, has ignited a debate about the value of Greek life and the relationship it has with universities.

"While the fraternities continued to exert their independence from the colleges with which they were affiliated, these same colleges started to develop an increasingly bedeviling kind of interdependence with the accursed societies," she writes.

"Fraternities tie alumni to their colleges in a powerful and lucrative way," she says. "At least one study has affirmed what had long been assumed: that fraternity men tend to be generous to their alma maters."

Start Quote

Not everyone likes fraternities, but joining one was absolutely the right choice for me, as it is for thousands of young men each year”

End Quote Steve Roney The Atlantic

But that association comes with a price, she contends - in serious injuries to students, increased alcohol-related crime around campus and parental liability for student misconduct, among other problems.

Some of the members of these "accursed societies" are rushing to the defence of Greek life.

"I'm not alone when I count my college years as the most formative of my life," writes Steve Roney in a follow-up piece in the Atlantic. "Those years were dominated by my fraternity participation."

He says that the critics of the fraternity system have drowned out the positive sides of the experience.

"Nothing in this world can be all things to all people," he writes. "Not everyone likes fraternities, but joining one was absolutely the right choice for me, as it is for thousands of young men each year."

Other fraternity members aren't as optimistic.

Sam Smith writes in Scholars & Rogues that while he has fond memories of his time in a the Greek system, if he had a college-age son, he'd do "everything in his power" to keep him from pledging to a fraternity.

Flanagan's piece, he writes, proves that today's national fraternity organisations are only looking out for themselves, and if something goes wrong it's the students - and their families - who will be left in the lurch.

"In a time of crisis, depending on the details of what has happened, national will be Johnny on the Spot, yes, but not to save you," he says. "Instead, they'll secure the perimeter and begin looking for a bus to throw you under."

Students drink and smoke marijuana at a Texas hotel during spring break in 2001. Binge-drinking contributes to the fraternity problem, writes Caitlin Flanagan

Katie JM Baker of Aljazeera America takes issue with Flanagan's focus on accidental falls from fraternity houses while ignoring what she sees as examples of the most sinister parts of Greek life.

"Erecting more balcony guardrails won't persuade frat brothers to stop hosting offensive Asian-themed ragers and sending mass emails referencing 'rapebait'," she writes. "It won't stop them from throwing beer bottles at black students, calling them 'Trayvon Martin' or more or less getting away with sexual assault."

Flanagan ignores black fraternities, class issues, sororities and the larger problem of rape culture, writes Jezebel's Kate Dries, and offers no solutions to the problems she does identifiy.

"Instead, she manages to hide an actually fascinating explanation of the way fraternities take out insurance and work with lawyers to protect themselves by ignoring basically every college student whose issues already aren't getting enough attention."

Matthew Leibowitz for The Wesleyan Argus agrees that Flanagan should spend more time focusing on how to change fraternity culture.

Start Quote

Too often, fraternities are at odds with the mission of a college or university”

End Quote Editorial Bloomberg View

"The problem with this piece is that it mimics the problematic nature of past and often present activism around sexual assault," he writes. "It chooses to focus on punishment and unhealthy prevention as opposed to productive prevention and the improvement of culture."

There are encouraging steps being taken to address the negative aspects of Greek life, he says, but Flanagan's piece does not present a way of moving forward.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest fraternities in the country and the organization with the most fraternity-related deaths since 2006, recently decided to ban pledging in an attempt to cut down on hazing.

Flanagan - this time writing for the Washington Post - chimed in, saying that the fraternity's edict is meaningless. The real problem in her eyes is alcohol abuse.

"Every one of the incidents described in my files - every single one - involves as its principal player titanic quantities of booze. Collegiate binge drinking is not confined to the fraternity house, obviously, but the two entities have a synergistic effect on one another," she says. "Saving lives - and reducing the incidences of rape and serious injury - depends on taking alcohol out of the equation."

In the end, the question remains: do the merits of Greek life really outweigh its faults?

The editors of the Bloomberg View don't think so. In a January editorial, they argued that most colleges would be better off without fraternities.

"Too often, fraternities are at odds with the mission of a college or university," they write. "Focusing on that mission may be the best way for colleges and universities to see their way clear to the reform and, when necessary, abolition of campus fraternities."

(By Kierran Petersen)

Ukraine's nuclear regret?

Russian troops occupy a Ukrainian base near Simferopol on 5 March, 2014. Would nuclear weapons have deterred Russian military action in Crimea?

At least one Ukrainian politician is wondering whether his nation should have kept its nuclear arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1994 the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum, in which the three powers offered assurances that they would respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, is having second thoughts.

"We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," he told USA Today's Larry Copeland. "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake."

Mr Rizanenko's logic is sound, writes USA Today's James S Robbins.

Start Quote

If Ukraine still had its nukes, it would probably still have Crimea”

End Quote Walter Russell Mead The American Interest

"The problem with Ukraine trading its most potent weapons for Russia's promise of good behaviour is now evident," he says.

"Kiev gave up its means of deterring Russian aggression. Now, Ukraine is overmatched in conventional forces and would have difficulty fighting off a Russian incursion."

He argues that current and future nuclear powers, such as Iran, North Korea, Japan, India and Pakistan, should take note: deterrence works.

There's a lesson for the US, as well:

For America, the message is to give up the quixotic quest for "global zero", build up missile defences and modernize the U.S. nuclear force. To live in the 21st Century, the United States will need to relearn the lessons of the 20th.

The American Interest's Walter Russell Mead agrees.

"If Ukraine still had its nukes, it would probably still have Crimea," he writes. "It gave up its nukes, got worthless paper guarantees, and also got an invasion from a more powerful and nuclear neighbour."

He cites Libya as another example of a nation that negotiated away its nuclear programme only to sacrifice its security.

"The choice here could not be more stark," he writes. "Keep your nukes and keep your land. Give up your nukes and get raped."

Start Quote

Nuclear weapons are simply not the effective deterrent that most people think”

End Quote Gareth Evans Former Australian foreign minister

That's just not true, counters Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia. He says such a view has "dangerous policy implications".

"Nuclear weapons are simply not the effective deterrent that most people think, whether the context is deterring war between large nuclear-armed powers or protecting weaker states against conventional attack," he says.

An arsenal that is "suicidal to use", he argues, is not an effective deterrent. Russian President Vladimir Putin would know that Ukraine wouldn't use nuclear weapons to defend Crimea, so the outcome in that regional crisis would probably be the same today even if Ukraine were an atomic power.

Nuclear weapons are a destabilising element, he concludes, and the risks of mistaken or ill-conceived use far outweigh any benefits they may have.

As much as we like to speculate about what Ukraine as a nuclear power would do, writes the American Conservative's Noah Millman, the reality is that Ukraine never really had a choice.

"Western and Russian interests were aligned in wanting to see Ukraine denuclearized; an independent nuclear Ukraine would have been treated as a dangerous rogue state," he says.

As for the Libya example:

Dictators may well learn the lesson from Libya that denuclearization will not bring Western protection - which is true. It does not therefore follow that a nuclear Libya could have done anything different to defeat its insurgency.

Posing counterfactuals - what would happen today based on past actions not taken - is always a tricky business. It's a game, however, that commentators and analysts seem eager to play.

Deconstructing Putin's Crimea speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Kremlin on 18 March, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin displayed an "aggressive hypernationalism", according to one commentator.

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a fiery speech to a joint session of parliament at the Kremlin on his nation's attempt to annex Crimea.

His address is must-reading for those interested in how the Russian leader perceives the situation in Ukraine - both for what he says and what he doesn't say.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall analyses a transcript of the speech.

"If Mr Putin was looking for a way to explain to his electorate why they still need him as president, this crisis works beautifully," she writes. "It appeals to patriotism, it invokes an 'enemy without' which requires a strong leader to hold the nation firm against foreign pressure."

The Washington Post's Charles Lane writes that Mr Putin's speech started with a lie - that the Crimean referendum was legitimate - and continued down that track for the next 40 minutes or so:

Putin presented a legal and historical argument so tendentious and so logically tangled - so unappealing to anyone but Russian nationalists such as those who packed the Kremlin to applaud him - that it seemed intended less to refute contrary arguments than to bury them under a rhetorical avalanche.

Rutgers-Newark University Prof Alexander J Motyl writes for CNN that Mr Putin has a "distorted view of Russian history.

"A bizarre kind of simultaneously aggrieved and aggressive hyper-nationalism is now Russia's official ideology," he says.

Of course, if you want a different take, you can always turn to Tamara Zamyatina of the Russian news agency ITAR/TASS.

"Vladimir Putin in a dignified manner rebuffed the cravings of our opponents from the US and Western countries to misrepresent the results of the Crimean referendum," retired Russian Colonel-General Valery Manilov tells her. "Particularly convincing was his criticism of the EU officials who recalled the existence of international law in connection with referendum, although they more than once encroached on its provisions in Serbia, Iraq and Libya."


Spending time with email scammers - During a recent trip to Africa, Mother Jones's Erika Eichelberger sat down with some of the people behind the ubiquitous Nigerian email scams, which they call Yahoo (pronounced "ya-OO") jobs. They say they target lonely women and Saudi Arabians with money to burn. "They justify what they do by claiming that the highest levels of the Nigerian government are ridden with scammers," she writes.


On the edge of moral and political ruin - Pornpimol Kanchanalak writes in Thailand's the Nation that his country has lost its moral compass during the recent political crisis. "Our government believes that winning an election has given it the absolute mandate to act in any way it sees fit, utilising not only double, but multiple standards, when it comes to applying the rule of law to itself," he says.


Immigrants are overrunning Hong Kong - It's easier for mainland Chinese to move to Hong Kong than it is to Beijing, writes Leung Man-Tao for Caixin media (translated by WorldCrunch), leading to a surge in the city's population. "The mainlanders are buying into Hong Kong's relatively safe and transparent healthcare and its various education services," he writes. "But Hong Kong's system doesn't seem to be capable of coping with the overwhelming demand. What Hongkongese end up seeing are soaring prices, messy streets, and public resources stretched thinner every day."

Saudi Arabia

At the mercy of insurance companies - Up until now, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health provided free healthcare for the nation's citizens, writes Sabria S Jawhar in the Arab News. A new policy, however, requires Saudis working in the private sector to finance their medical care through insurance companies. "If insurance companies can dictate what services can be approved or denied, it will be a disaster for Saudis working in private companies." he writes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

With local elections imminent, the row in Turkey over corruption allegations surrounding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has heated up again. President Abdullah Gul has publicly contradicted Erdogan's oft-repeated assertions that the corruption scandal is part of a foreign-backed plot.

"Just 10 days before the long-awaited local elections in Turkey, political tensions have risen to previously unseen levels. The discourse used between rival political leaders is not new. The mass media is also exacerbating stresses in society. Still this is not unheard of in a country where the political debate is based on enmity rather than competition." - Tulu Gumustekin in Turkey's Daily Sabah

"The stench has pervaded the whole country. Everything is quite obvious. There is no situation that can be objected or attempted to deny. Prime Minister Erdogan himself is sinking while trying to protect his circle... Unless he rescues himself from the [corruption] claims before the judiciary, the blemish will continue and grow; the country will become totally unmanageable!" - Rahmi Turan in Turkey's Sozcu.

"The process that is being gone through in Turkey these days has only one meaning: McCarthyism. If Erdogan comes out of these elections with an increased share of the vote, that means hard days are waiting for every single person whose path has coincided with the [Gulen] Community... If these people do not want their, their children's, the country's and the democracy's future to be blocked... they should act according to this fact." - Emre Uslu in Turkey's Taraf.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

Nate Silver's war on opinion

Nate Silver FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver opts for data over opinion

Nate Silver, who made a name for himself with his FiveThirtyEight politics website and highly accurate forecast of the 2012 presidential election results, has been an outspoken critic of opinion journalism.

"Plenty of pundits have really high IQs, but they don't have any discipline in how they look at the world," he said to New York magazine's Joe Coscarelli.

He calls them "hedgehogs" with one big idea and little rigour:

Start Quote

I know it's cheaper to fund an op-ed columnist than a team of reporters, but I think it confuses the mission of what these great journalistic brands are about”

End Quote Nate Silver New York Magazine interview

They don't permit a lot of complexity in their thinking. They pull threads together from very weak evidence and draw grand conclusions based on them. They're ironically very predictable from week to week.

He has particularly strong words for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

"I know it's cheaper to fund an op-ed columnist than a team of reporters, but I think it confuses the mission of what these great journalistic brands are about," he writes.

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of a magazine known for its opinion journalism, the New Republic, is rankled by that view.

First, however, he concedes that there are grounds for criticism:

The quality of opinion journalism in America is a matter of concern for opinion journalists, too. Opinion, after all, is easy. In a democratic society, moreover, opinion is holy. "It's just my opinion": with those magical words, which are designed to change the subject, Americans regularly seek sanctuary from intellectual pressure on their utterances. Their opinions do not deserve such immunity, of course, and neither do the opinions of columnists. The state of American punditry is not strong. A lot of it is lazy, tendentious and lost to style.

He says Silver's words are "slander", however. There are plenty of opinion journalists who ground their views in "analytical and empirical seriousness".

Silver questions the very legitimacy of opinion journalism, he continues, and that is a dangerous path to tread.

Start Quote

Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility, unless everything is like sports”

End Quote Leon Wieseltier The New Republic

"Since an open society stands or falls on the quality of its citizens' opinions, the refinement of their opinions, and more generally of the process of opinion-formation, is a primary activity of its intellectuals and its journalists," he writes.

Can you quantify whether gay marriage should be legal? Or the necessity of a social safety net? Or whether intervention abroad to prevent genocide is a moral obligation? These are the types of questions, Wieseltier writes, that the "cult of numbers" can't answer.

He concludes:

Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility, unless everything is like sports... Nate Silver had made a success out of an escape into diffidence. What is it about conviction that frightens these people?

Politico's media blogger Dylan Byers notes the irony of Silver basing his view of opinion journalism in general by relying on a handful of examples - singling out the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan in his website's "manifesto", for example. It's exactly the type of qualitative, anecdotal analyses Silver professes to condemn.

Byers also says Silver invited these latest attacks by his relentless data-driven evangelism.

"It would have been all well and good for Silver to quietly launch his site while stressing the benefits of data-driven journalism," he writes. "Instead, he chose to spend months preaching about the superiority of his model while attacking traditional journalism - and more specifically, punditry - as if it were worthless and inferior."

Now opinion journalists and commentators are firing back. And they're carefully watching Silver's new 538 website relaunch, sharp knives at the ready.

Crimea enters the 'twilight zone'

Demonstrators hold a Russian flag in the Crimean city of Simferopol on 18 March, 2014. Although Russian flags are waving in Crimea, its international status is far from certain

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

Crimea is in a "twilight zone of international sovereignty", writes Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment.

It's not alone, however. Several other European territories have ambiguous sovereignty that causes great confusion and resentment, and "it is not a happy list":

It begins with Northern Cyprus and in the former Soviet space extends to Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. In the Balkans, Kosovo has mostly come out of the shadows, being recognized by 107 states, but has still not taken up a seat at the United Nations. Republika Srpska and Chechnya have renounced their shadow status - for the time being at least.

As residents of these regions know, living in the shadows isn't easy. International travel presents a challenge, as does determining what currency to use and how to open bank accounts.

Crimea is a little different, he says:

The strangest aspect of the Crimean case is that this is not a situation born out of conflict. The other territories reached their sad, isolated status in large part because they had no other option in a time of bloodshed.

What's worse, he concludes, is it's all so senseless:

Crimea had plenty of autonomy already and most people did not seek an either-or of Russia or Ukraine. They were quite contentedly living with both, until the Kremlin's Sword of Damocles descended this week.


Tempers flare over immigration policy - When 34 illegal immigrants sailed over to Australia in hopes of entering the country, the Navy sent them back in an unsinkable lifeboat. The "boat people" were not enthused by the quick rejection and showed it by filming themselves screaming obscenities toward Australia and warning of a 9/11-type attack. Andrew Bolt writes for the Australian Herald Sun that the Navy did the right thing, as Australians should "choose for ourselves the immigrants we want and judge will fit in".


Diplomacy at sea - The Chinese government is unlikely to concede to a code of conduct in the South China Sea dispute, writes Prashanth Parameswaran for the National Interest. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations must be assertive with Chinese leaders in order to make any progress, but the issue should also be a "shared global interest" seeing as "hope is not a strategy".


Modern-day Lady Macbeth? - Peruvian first lady Nadine Heredia has been accused of having too much influence upon her husband's politics, with 62% of Peruvians believing she runs the nation. Some have criticized her of "being bossy and dangerous or a power-hungry Lady Macbeth". Raul Gallegos for Bloomberg View writes that Ms Heredia should instead be applauded for her involvement, as first ladies should "do more than sit next to their president-husbands for the photo op".


EU-bashing by a political court - The Federal Constitutional Court has been berated for overstepping its legislative limits and becoming increasingly political, particularly regarding decisions on European integration, writes Der Spiegel. Even the European Parliament claims the court misunderstands democracy in Europe. "The court is looking a lot like a sorcerer's apprentice - one that is unable to get the genie it has unleashed back into the bottle."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

On Tuesday, an Israeli army patrol was targeted by a roadside bomb along the Golan Heights cease-fire line. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Israel will act "forcefully" to defend itself, and an Israeli military air strike against the Syrian army took place earlier today.

"The Syrians and Hezbollah are dragging Israel into a war of attrition on the northern border at timing and rhythm they dictate, and the Israel security establishment is being dragged to this quarrel with open eyes. If the prime minister, the defence minister and the cabinet do not come to their senses and take the reins into their hands, the day will not be distant when we will find ourselves, against our wish, in turmoil on the two fronts - in Gaza and in the north... What is certain is that the policy of 'sit, do nothing, pray and twist in the hope that this will end alone' is an invitation to the next incident." - Alex Fishman in Israel's Yediot Aharonot.

"After four violent incidents on the border with Syria and Lebanon since the beginning of the month it seems that it is no longer an exaggeration to talk about revival of a front in the north... If the current escalation continues, it is possible that Israel would need a more forceful response. Yesterday it was content with firing artillery into Syrian territory in the area were the incident happened. However, the IDF still has a wider scope for action, alongside the traditional threats Jerusalem has passed to Damascus through various channels. It seems that from now on it will have to set a high price tag for terrorist attacks from the Syrian border." - Amos Harel in Israel's Ha'aretz.

"So far Israel has succeeded in remaining outside the Syrian civil war, but now it seems that it is being dragged into it with worrying slowness. Meanwhile, the military and verbal responses are directed at Bashar Assad because of Assad's given weakness, the assessments that he himself is directly or indirectly involved in the terrorist attacks, and also because Israel is not really interested in toppling him fearing his successors would be worse... It seems that we expect to see the scenario according to which the borders in the north will become terror borders sooner or later materialize." - Yoav Limor in Israeli's Yisrael Hayom.

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

MH370: Simple, compelling, wrong

A slide projection reads "Day 10" at a rally for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane at a Kuala Lumpur area shopping mall. Ever since MH370 disappeared, experts and amateurs have been speculating about its fate

On Tuesday a "startlingly simple" theory explaining the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jet began making the rounds on social media and among journalists interested in the story. According to a fellow named Chris Goodfellow, the plane caught fire, and the pilot headed to a nearby airport to save the craft, eventually crashing into the Indian Ocean.

Goodfellow originally posted his theory on his Google+ page on 14 March, but it picked up steam when it was reposted on the linking site Reddit. On Tuesday Wired magazine edited and ran the post under the headline A Startlingly Simple Theory about the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet.

Goodfellow, whom Wired identifies as having "20 years' experience as a Canadian Class-1 instrumented-rated pilot for multi-engine planes", begins with a dismissive wave toward the aviation experts who have been clogging the news networks.

"There has been a lot of speculation about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370," he writes. "Terrorism, hijacking, meteors. I cannot believe the analysis on CNN; it's almost disturbing."

He says that he "tends to look for a simpler explanation".

He then theorises that a fire, possibly electrical or from an overheated tyre on take-off, sent smoke into the cockpit shortly after the crew signs off with Malaysian air traffic controllers.

The pilot executes a sharp left turn and heads for a nearby emergency landing spot, while turning off electronics - such as the transponder - in order to isolate the problem.

Start Quote

Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi”

End Quote Chris Goodfellow Wired magazine

"Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a very experienced senior captain with 18,000 hours of flight time," he writes. "We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbour while in cruise."

A quick search of Google Earth gives Goodfellow a candidate: Pulau Langkawi.

"Surprisingly, none of the reporters, officials, or other pilots interviewed have looked at this from the pilot's viewpoint: If something went wrong, where would he go?" he writes. "Thanks to Google Earth I spotted Langkawi in about 30 seconds, zoomed in and saw how long the runway was and I just instinctively knew this pilot knew this airport."

All the pieces fit into place, he writes. The climb to 45,000ft? A last-ditch attempt to put out the fire. Where is the plane now? After the pilots were overcome by smoke, the plane continued on autopilot over Langkawi and headed west into the Indian Ocean, where it eventually ran out of fuel and crashed.

"Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi," he writes. "There is no doubt in my mind. That's the reason for the turn and direct route."

Goodfellow's theory continued to spread across media, both social and mainstream.

"I buy this new MH370 theory of an onboard fire," tweeted the New York Times's Josh Barro.

The theory "fits the facts" and "makes sense", writes Business Insider's Henry Blodget. "It requires no fantastically brilliant pre-planning or execution or motives."

The Atlantic's James Fallows agrees.

"I think there's doubt about everything concerning this flight. But his explanation makes better sense than anything else I've heard so far," he writes. "It's one of the few that make me think, Yes, I could see things happening that way."

Only it very likely didn't happen that way - as considerable information that was already in the public realm contradicts the story. By Tuesday evening, writers and commentators were picking Goodfellow's post apart.

Start Quote

Such vigorous navigating would have been impossible for unconscious men”

End Quote Jeff Wise Slate

"Goodfellow's account is emotionally compelling, and it is based on some of the most important facts that have been established so far," writes Jeff Wise in Slate. "And it is simple - to a fault."

"While it's true that MH370 did turn toward Langkawi and wound up overflying it, whoever was at the controls continued to manoeuvre after that point as well, turning sharply right at VAMPI waypoint, then left again at GIVAL," he says. "Such vigorous navigating would have been impossible for unconscious men."


Goodfellow's theory fails further when one remembers the electronic ping detected by the Inmarsat satellite at 8:11 on the morning of March 8. According to analysis provided by the Malaysian and United States governments, the pings narrowed the location of MH370 at that moment to one of two arcs, one in Central Asia and the other in the southern Indian Ocean. As MH370 flew from its original course toward Langkawi, it was headed toward neither. Without human intervention - which would go against Goodfellow's theory - it simply could not have reached the position we know it attained at 8:11 a.m.

There still should have been a distress call, Greg Feith, a former National Transportation Safety Board crash investigator, told NBC News.

"Typically, with an electrical fire, you'll have smoke before you have fire," he said. "You can do some troubleshooting. And if the systems are still up and running, you can get off a mayday call" and pilots can put on an oxygen mask, Feith said.

Nine hours after its first article on the subject Business Insider ran a follow-up, with reaction from pilots.

Michael G Fortune, a retired pilot who flew 777-200ERs like the Malaysia plane, said it was unlikely the crew would have shut off the transponders to deal with the fire.

"The checklist I utilized for smoke and fumes in the B-777-200ER does not specifically address the transponder being turned off," he said.

Another 777 pilot told the website that putting on oxygen masks would have been the first priority for the crew, preventing them from being incapacitated.

As long as there is no definitive word about the fate of MH370, theories - from respected experts and amateurs relying on a hunch and a little help from Google Earth - will continue to bounce around the internet.

Some will catch on and go viral, until they are debunked or overtaken by new facts.

About this Blog:

Echo Chambers unscrambles the noise of the global debate, from social media to scholarly journals, Kansas City to Kathmandu.

About the Editor:

Anthony Zurcher is a senior writer with the BBC and editor of Echo Chambers, where he gathers and analyses the best in US and world opinion. He previously edited political columnists of all stripes – left and right, right and wrong.


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