The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Putin’s (un)happy new year

Russian President Vladimir Putin has bid farewell to 2013 with his state of the nation address, followed closely by his annual 4-plus-hour marathon news conference. He even managed to appear magnanimous, notably in his decision to pardon the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovksy.

He is setting the stage for the main event: the Sochi Olympics.

But as Putin subtly warned in his final 2013 appearances -- and as the Volgograd bombings so graphically confirmed -- major changes must come in the new year. Putin virtually admitted in his December speeches that the current path is not sustainable, while the Volgograd bombings have increased the urgency to face up to Russia’s problems.

The president particularly vented a growing frustration with Russia’s status quo. In his address, for example, Putin returned to the issue of Russia’s crippling capital flight and prevalent use of offshore structures to avoid Russian taxes. He emphasized that he raised this matter a year ago, but “since nothing significant has been achieved,” he proposed new measures to ensure that Russian-owned offshore companies pay their fair share in taxes for the privilege of conducting business in Russia.

Putin displayed exasperation with other aspects of his stalled agenda. We are “always discussing” the question of how to make more land available for home construction, Putin insisted, yet no progress is made. He blamed bureaucratic incompetence and corruption, demanding that this be resolved in the next few months -- though he provided no immediate solutions.

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International pressure works on Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin had expected the grandest of guests for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi -- presidents, billionaires, the global big players.

For years he had imagined the presidential box like this: Needling President Barack Obama that NASA now depends on Russian rockets to get American astronauts into orbit. Emphasizing to French President Francois Hollande that France would be better served in the business world if it dropped all references to human rights. Making deals with the German delegation over champagne, as the ice skaters pirouette below, around the Olympic flame.

from The Great Debate:

Turkey cashes in on the Iran talks

You may have thought the Geneva deal struck last month between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) was a sweet one for Tehran -- getting billions in sanctions relief in exchange for mere promises to halt its nuclear program.

But Turkey may be an even bigger winner. It just needs to open its doors and wait for Iranian funds to pour in.

from The Great Debate:

Ukraine’s Protests: Not (yet) a revolution

In the three weeks since Ukraine formally suspended talks aimed at signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, two important facts have become clear.

First, it is now apparent that Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, had no effective strategy to resist intense pressure against the EU deal from Moscow. The Kremlin promised big cash loans, a gas discount and debt forgiveness, while explicitly threatening to block Ukraine's access to the Russian market and implicitly threatening to stoke separatism in regions of the country.

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Mandela and De Klerk: Essential partners

When Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. De Klerk began their historic negotiations to end apartheid, each man professed respect for the other. Indeed their relationship appeared not only professional, but personal.

Yet as the negotiations dragged on through 1992 and 1993, tempers grew short, and South Africans grew increasingly frustrated with the slow progress toward the liberation that had seemed so promising just a few years ago. Most worrisome, violence was growing between the supporters of Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkhatha Freedom Party.

from The Great Debate:

On meeting Mandela

Journalists are not easily impressed. We pride ourselves on our skepticism. (Most advisable of us, may I add.)

But I confess to having been in awe of Nelson Mandela, and not just in theory. I met him, spent about an hour with him -- or, to put it more accurately, I spent about an hour in his presence.

from The Great Debate:

Mandela’s message of reconciliation

On the day that Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president, I drove across the fault lines of segregated suburbia to watch his fellow citizens vote him into office.

In the mixed-race “Malay Quarter” in central Cape Town -- named for the residents descended from the Malaysian and Indonesian slaves brought to the city in the 17th and 18th centuries -- joyous residents thronged the streets outside the polling stations.

Only paying teachers more will raise Britain to the top of the class

–Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey GEMS Foundation. The opinions expressed are his own.–

It was results day yesterday for education ministers around the world, and where they’ve come in the class will affect their prospects just as surely as a sixth-former opening their brown envelope. Nowhere around the world will the wait have been more nail-biting than in Michael Gove’s Department for Education.

Bank of England’s focus on growth might stir ghost of inflation

–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The Bank of England appears to have moved the goalposts. After 30 years of focusing almost exclusively on inflation, monetary policy is now being more explicitly directed toward generating faster growth and lower unemployment.

from The Great Debate:

Longer lives would lead to better living

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration ordered the Google-backed genetic testing company 23andMe to stop selling its home testing kits, arguing that the possibility of false positive readings for potentially fatal or debilitating conditions could prompt people to take unnecessary and potentially fatal medical action. The FDA should now work quickly to develop standards so that 23andMe and companies like it can get back to their vital businesses of working to extend the human life span.

Looking at the challenges facing us, you’d be forgiven for thinking that long lives are a problem. Humans face food shortages, the effects of climate change, and potential overcrowding on a global scale, as well as developed world retirement and healthcare systems that are ill-equipped to serve the needs of too many Methuselahs. But these problems might be more the result of short-term thinking rather than long-lived lives. The economist John Maynard Keynes once remarked, “In the long run, we are all dead.” We may have taken that too much to heart.

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