The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Can diplomacy prevail with Iran?

New talks with Iran ended Wednesday with a surprising forward spin. More meetings are planned in the now decade-long American-led effort to ensure the Islamic Republic does not get nuclear weapons.

Iran must now accept or reject a proposal that offers some sanctions relief in return for Tehran’s reducing its stockpile of uranium enriched close to weapon-grade. This hopeful note – Tehran’s reaction was positive – comes as a showdown looms, because Iran continues to inch ever closer to being able to make a nuclear weapon.

In a diplomatic process where expectations are low, the talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday and Wednesday were considered a success. The United States and its negotiating partners – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – got what they wanted. A senior U.S. official said Washington was “not expecting a breakthrough in Almaty.” It was enough, the official said, that the six major powers had the “opportunity to put a new and promising proposal on the table.”

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called the new proposal “more realistic” and, according to one Western diplomat, even carried out a “charm offensive.” Said Jalili, “They tried to bring proximity in some points between the viewpoints of Iran and their own, which we believe is positive, despite the fact that we have a long way to reach the optimum point.” He was also less confrontational during the closing press conference. He did not, for example, present pictures of Iranian scientists allegedly assassinated by a U.S.-Israel covert operation, as he had before.

from The Great Debate:

How close is Iran to nuclear weapons?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed last week that new second-generation centrifuges, which Iran plans to start up at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, could cut by a third the time needed to create a nuclear bomb – underlining his deadline of this summer to take military action against Iran.

Netanyahu’s prediction, however, appears to be based on some unsubstantiated assumptions regarding Iranian intentions and capabilities. Yet it can provide ammunition to the hawks in Washington and Jerusalem, who could rush us into another needless and counterproductive war in the Middle East. Netanyahu’s assertions do not stand up to technical scrutiny.

from The Great Debate:

How to do PR for banks

Big banks -- at least in Europe -- are putting on a new, highly branded, and more contrite face.  Barclays is embarking on something it calls “Project Transform”’; Deutsche Bank has announced its “2015+” strategy and is pushing for what its CEO has called “deliberate” “uncomfortable change”. UBS has its own 2015 strategy, and the head of its investment banking unit publicly proclaimed that the industry has become “too arrogant, too self-convinced”.

Should we buy any of this? William Cohan, for one, isn’t a fan of Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins’s “new morality”. Cohan’s right to point out that all of this hat-in-hand talk comes after a long period of transgression at Barclays:

What the horsemeat scandal tells us about risk

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By Kathleen Brooks. The Opinions expressed are her own.

The developing horse meat furore is a keen reminder how companies need to always be on the lookout for the next big scandal that could rock their business. Take Findus, the frozen food company. It’s 100% beef lasagne, it turned out, was 100% beef free. The company who owns Findus –private equity firm Lion Capital – spent GBP 1.1 billion acquiring the firm in 2008.

The numbers may have added up when Lion did its analysis prior to the sale, but in hindsight it would have been more expedient to check the supply chain and ensure that Findus did what it said it did on the pack. The Findus brand has been in financial trouble for some time, including breaching debt covenant deals last year. However, through a complicated debt-to-equity deal with some of its lenders, Lion managed to hold onto the business. Maybe the effort wasn’t worth it. Lion will have to fight hard to dissociate its image form dodgy processed food companies flogging horse meat dressed up as beef to the unsuspecting consumer.

Don’t Mention the War!

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–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Modern wars have no clear start and no clear end, leaving politicians free to deny their existence when it suits them and to claim victory even in the face of obvious defeat.

from Jack Shafer:

Horsemeat hysteria

Disgust, the gag reflex and flights to the vomitorium greeted this week's news that horse flesh had breached the beef wall to contaminate burgers and frozen beef meals (lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese, shepherd's pie, meatballs) all over Europe. Some of the "beef" products contained 100 percent horsemeat, and early forensic tests hinted that the contamination might go back as far as August 2012.

Both the British government and the European Union called for "horsemeat summits" to investigate the food scandal, with British officials surmising that a criminal conspiracy would be found responsible for adulterating beef products with cheaper horse. But for all the horsemeat hysteria recorded and amplified by the press, "no risk to consumer health" was posed by the products, as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland reported. The injuries from eating horsemeat were not physical, they were psychological, and where they were not psychological they were anthropological, or else simply nonexistent. According to the Ireland health authority, every beef-and-horse burger it analyzed tested negative for phenylbutazone, a common horse medicine that's banned from the food chain.

Chastened ECB wary of premature monetary tightening

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

Cyclical indicators have improved, but the economic and financial backdrop in the euro area remains fragile. The ECB has clearly learned from past mistakes and is keen to avoid a premature tightening of monetary conditions.

from John Lloyd:

England’s inevitable gay union

Earlier this week the British Parliament housed a restrained, sometimes mawkish and at times moving debate on gay marriage – and the bill passed the House of Commons, 400 to 175. The story was not that it passed, which had been expected. Instead, it was the split in the major governing party, the Conservatives, more of whose 303 MPs voted against the bill than for it. (Conservatives voted 136 in favor of the bill, with 127 voting no, five abstentions and 35 not registering a vote.) Prime Minister David Cameron, still intent on ensuring that his party is liberal as well as conservative, was emollient and understanding of those against the measure but presented his support in the context of a “strong belief in marriage. … It’s about equality but also about making our society stronger.”

His remarks signal that while there is division on the right over gay marriage – at least in Europe –and that while prejudice and bigotry still exist, the serious debate is between contending notions of conservatism. For liberals like Cameron and many in his party, gay marriage extends the benediction of an ancient rite upon modern couples, drawing them into the rituals of homebuilding and long-term affection that have so far been claimed as a heterosexual monopoly. For opponents, marriage must be just such a monopoly, since it is a union of one man and one woman for the purpose (if not always the practice) of procreation, of continuing society’s values in particular and the human race in general.

Hollande the Brave

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–Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.–

The French President has been in the press a lot recently. Firstly, there was the triumph in Mali. “Vive le France!” could be heard in the streets and the swift removal of the Taliban from Northern parts of the country is to be lauded. But after a rousing welcome in Timbuktu, Hollande might find he has a chillier welcome closer to home.

Most scenic airport touch-downs picked in web contest

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St Maarten Princess Juliana International Airport boasts the world’s most visually appealing landing, according to respondents of a survey.

Private jet bookers PrivateFly.com asked travellers and an expert judging panel for their bucket list of global descents.

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