The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

The religion-fueled fight in Syria

The second round of peace talks in Geneva between representatives of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria and rebel forces has ended with both sides blaming each other for the lack of progress. Beyond the finger-pointing, however, lies a growing danger to the goal of a negotiated settlement. The civil war’s religious divides are widening, making compromise unthinkable.

Representatives of the Syrian regime went to Geneva solely with the hope of convincing the opposition to let President Bashar al-Assad stay in power so he can forge an alliance against jihadist forces fighting in Syria, most notably the al Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Their argument -- one that many, including former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, have made -- was that Assad is better than any likely alternative.

But the Syrian National Coalition, representing opposition forces, rejected the proposal outright. The coalition, which purports to be a post-Assad transitional government in waiting, has decided, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, that al Qaeda will be dealt with after Assad is gone. Its standing, however, is severely constrained by its lack of political credibility on the ground. It has become little more than a vehicle for Qatar and Saudi Arabia to vie for control of Syrian politics.

The problems in Syria, however, are far greater than the shortcomings of each side’s negotiating teams in Geneva. When the civil war began in 201l, it was a fight between Syrians demanding greater civil rights and a government that ultimately provoked them into violent confrontation through its own brutality. That political struggle quickly morphed into a wider sectarian war between Sunni and Shia, flaring up across the Middle East.

from Lawrence Summers:

On inequality

Inequality has emerged as a major economic issue in the United States and beyond.

Sharp increases in the share of income going to the top 1 percent of earners, a rising share of income going to profits, stagnant real wages, and a rising gap between productivity growth and growth in median family income are all valid causes for concern. A generation ago, it could have been plausibly asserted that the economy’s overall growth rate was the dominant determinant of growth in middle-class incomes and progress in reducing poverty. This is no longer plausible. The United States may well be on the way to becoming a Downton Abbey economy.

from The Great Debate:

In the Netherlands, bankers turn to God — by law

 

Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, once famously said he believed banks were doing “God’s work.” Now, the Netherlands is going one step further: starting later this year, all 90,000 Dutch bankers will have to swear an oath that they’ll do their “utmost to maintain and promote confidence in the financial-services industry. So help me God.”

It’s part of a major attempt by regulators and banks to clean up after the financial crash of 2008, and put behind them scandals that continue to blacken the financial service industry’s reputation. Just last October, the big Dutch cooperative bank Rabobank paid a $1 billion fine to settle charges in the Libor rate-fixing scandal.

The Sochi Olympics: Russia’s Double-Curse?

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Vadislav Zubok–Professor Vladislav Zubok is Head of the Russia in Global Affairs Programme at LSE IDEAS. The opinions expressed are his own.–

As athletes and sport fans travel to the Black-sea resort of Sochi, an old observer may have a sense of déjà vu. Thirty-three years ago, Western countries boycotted the 1980 Olympic games after Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan.

from The Great Debate:

Putin’s Occupation Olympics

The upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi has naturally led to a critical look at the host country’s human rights record, with particular focus on issues such as the treatment of gays and journalists.

Yet in a less-noticed offense, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the Olympics to advance his violations of international law -- namely, as a tool for expanding Russia’s control over the occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia. Despite the conquest of a neighboring nation -- an action almost unheard of since World War Two and banned by the U.N. Charter -- the international community has scarcely protested.

from The Great Debate:

Moscow fiddles, while Kiev burns

Timing is everything in politics, and this adage could not be truer for the whirlwind now enveloping Russia and Ukraine. Both countries are in the headlines -- Russia for the coming $50 billion Winter Olympics extravaganza, and Ukraine for an economic and political collapse that has left the country on the cusp of revolution.

The confluence of these two events has created a unique set of circumstances unlikely to change until the Olympic flame is extinguished on February 23. For the prestige of hosting the Olympics -- and the huge international spotlight that accompanies the spectacle -- limits Moscow’s ability to act decisively toward Ukraine as it might have otherwise.

from The Great Debate:

In France, where unions rule, a challenge from Hollande

In France, taking a person hostage or sequestering them against their will is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in jail. It also happens to be a very effective weapon in French labor disputes. Since 2009, there have been 15 incidents of “boss-napping” and only one resulted in sanctions: 11 postal workers who were fined $2,000 apiece for locking up their managers during a dispute over a change in how the mail is delivered.

Most of the time, it’s the unions who win. That’s certainly the case in the most recent incident, involving a bitter struggle over job losses at a Goodyear tire plant in Amiens. Earlier this month, union officials occupied the factory and sequestered the production manager and head of human resources for 30 hours. After the government intervened, the battle finally ended last week when the company agreed to triple the severance it had offered. Union leader Mickaël Wamen didn’t hide his triumph. “It was a grand and beautiful struggle,” he wrote in a blog post on Jan. 24, announcing details of the settlement.

Was Nigel Farage right about mothers in the City?

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And the award for foot in mouth this week goes to… UKIP, again. This time it was leader Nigel Farage, who said that women who take time off to have children are worth less to their employer. He said this to an audience of (presumably) men in the City and rounded it off by saying there is no sexism in financial services and that childless women are more than a match for their male counterparts.

While I am not normally in the position of defending Nigel Farage, or any other politician for that matter, I think his comments deserve our attention and women should use them to trigger an important debate about mothers and the work place.

from The Great Debate:

To boost entrepreneurship, France tries to change its attitude toward failure

When entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist Mark Bivens first moved to Paris in 2001, he regularly introduced himself as someone who had started three software companies in the U.S., two of which had flopped. That’s a badge of honor in Silicon Valley, where failure is viewed as a rite of passage. Not in France. One day, a French colleague took Bivens aside and gave him some friendly advice: if you want to reassure people, stop talking about the companies that didn’t work out. “I soon realized that failure carries a stigma,” Bivens says.

The French word “échec” is indeed loaded with negative connotations. It starts at school, where pupils who get bad marks can be quickly branded “in a situation of failure” early in their education, and often drop out before graduating. In the business world, failure has long been fatal: bankruptcy in France is a lengthy and complicated process, and can scar entrepreneurs for life. And in addition to the logistical hurdles of starting a new business after bankruptcy, second-chance entrepreneurs must contend with the social stigma associated with failure, which makes raising funds or even opening a new bank account difficult.

Turkey – avoiding the glare of the IMF

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The Turkish government has been in the news for all of the wrong reasons in recent weeks. Corruption scandals, accusations of a potential coup and fears that the government is trying to erode the independence of the judiciary have led to widespread protests. Prime Minister Erdogan’s reputation at home has undoubtedly been eroded in recent months; however the bad news could be spreading further afield.

Financial markets are a good gauge of international sentiment towards a country and right now they are dumping Turkish assets by the bucket load. The Turkish lira plunged to another record low against the US dollar this week and the Istanbul index has bucked the global trend and has fallen nearly 20% in the past 12 months.

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