Opinion

The Great Debate

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story.

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The summer of 2014 will likely go down in American journalistic history as one of the most news-heavy summers in decades. Ukraine, Gaza and now Ferguson have gripped the attention of those who cover and consume the news.

For those who consume news through comedy, it is no different. This summer, millions of Americans, especially younger ones, will have their understanding of these international and domestic crises filtered through the lens of political satire, thanks to the efforts of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and relative newcomer John Oliver. Stewart and Colbert are darlings of the left, icons of contemporary American liberalism. But neither has earned that status in one very important way: the majority of their guests are just as white and male as they are.

Colbert’s track record, in particular, is simply pitiful. This is both surprising and dismaying, given his status as one of the most visible liberal comedians performing political satire today, and the place he holds in the hearts of so many left-leaning American viewers.

Though the situation appears to be improving in writers’ rooms, the on-air underrepresentation of anyone who isn’t a white male remains acute. Of the 10 late-night comedy shows with the highest ratings, only one is hosted by a woman. All 10 hosts are white (and 20 percent of them are named Jimmy). This looks likely to change at the end of 2014, when The Colbert Report ends its nine-year run and Colbert takes over at The Late Show. Colbert’s time slot at Comedy Central will be filled by The Minority Report, to be hosted by The Daily Show’s longtime Senior Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore.

How Colbert’s place in the late-night comedy landscape will shift when he moves from cable to network remains to be seen. For now, however, he is highly influential. The “Colbert bump,” the effect created by having the host endorse a product or an idea, is demonstrable> In response to Amazon’s treatment of Hachette authors, the comedian urged his viewers to buy the debut novel by Hachette’s Edan Lepucki from other retailers. Lepucki’s California debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list. Authors and actors promote their newest releases on these comedy shows, and they are a way for public intellectuals to establish and build their bona fides. Appearing on Stewart or Colbert bestows credibility and respect on many of the people with whom the hosts choose to converse.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Here’s what it will take to trigger the next stock market correction

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the market's opening in New York

As Wall Street hit another new record Thursday, it is worth considering what could cause a serious setback in stock market prices around the world. Since I started writing this column in 2012, I have repeatedly argued that the rebound in stock market prices from their nadir in the 2008-09 global financial crisis was turning into a structural bull market that could continue into the next decade.

Asset prices, however, never move in a straight line. It has been more than two years without even a 10 percent correction and five years without a 20 percent setback. This cannot go on.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, investors are certain to suffer some big and painful losses -- even if I am right in expecting equity prices to continue rising in the long term. What kind of event is most likely to end this bull run, or at least interrupt it with a setback of 20 percent or more?

Anatomy of an air strike: Three intelligence streams working in concert

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In a fast-moving war with an elusive foe like the Islamic State militants, information is as important as guns, jet fighters and bombs.

Sometime early this summer, U.S. Special Operations Forces launched a raid into Syria in an effort to rescue several American hostages being held by the group. But the commandos’ information was out of date. The captives were no longer in the target area.

The attempted rescue, which the Obama administration revealed one day after a graphic video was posted depicting an Islamic State member beheading kidnapped American journalist James Foley, underscores the importance of timely intelligence. The Pentagon’s escalating campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq depends completely on reliable information.

from David Rohde:

Did America’s policy on ransom contribute to James Foley’s killing?

Still image from undated video of a masked Islamic State militant holding a knife speaking next to man purported to be James Foley at an unknown location

Somewhere in the desert of eastern Syria, a militant from the Islamic State beheaded the American journalist James Foley this week. The killer and his terrorist group are responsible for Foley’s death. They should be the focus of public anger.

But Foley’s execution is also a chilling wake-up call for American and European policymakers, as well as U.S. news outlets and aid organizations. It is the clearest evidence yet of how vastly different responses to kidnappings by U.S. and European governments save European hostages but can doom the Americans. Hostages and their families realize this fully -- even if the public does not.

“I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed,” Foley said moments before he was killed in a craven video released by the militant group on Tuesday. “I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn’t American.”

Pity Moscow’s foodies as Putin’s sanctions bite deep

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I find Vladimir Putin annoying at the best of times, but this month my distaste has blossomed into unbridled loathing. By imposing sanctions on food imports from the United States, European Union, Canada and Japan, Russia’s kefir-drinking head of state scuppered my chances of making a decent plate of cacio i pepe or a batch of brownies for the next calendar year. The specter of Soviet-era scarcity is already making itself felt in eerie ways in supermarkets all over Moscow.

An entire section of the once expansive dairy aisle at one market is empty and shuttered with a sign citing “technical difficulties” where once Irish butter, French creme fraiche and Finnish skim milk stood proudly alongside Russian sour cream, kefir and milk. The Indian host of a sushi restaurant in my neighborhood, hugely popular with Japanese businessmen and diplomats, shook his head in despair, as he relies heavily on fish imports from Norway for his delectable sashimi and sushi. Heading back to Moscow from Italy yesterday, I loaded up my suitcase with 10 pounds of parmesan, vacuum-packed smoked ham and elegant jars of sage, rosemary, basil and mushroom pesto. Less than a week ago, they were all available at select grocery stores and wholesalers. Now, everyone is scrambling.

“Uh…uh..agh…aghhhhhhhh….?” was all my buddy, Michelle, who is a chef at the American Embassy, could spurt when she heard the news. She couldn’t stop long to chat; she was on her way to loop through all the upscale supermarkets to stockpile the Belgian baking chocolate she relies upon to make her legendary cakes and cookies.

from John Lloyd:

‘Braveheart’ they’re not. What’s Scotland’s problem with a United Kingdom?

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The collapse of empires has been regarded as a good thing for at least a century, much strengthened by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s efforts at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War One, where he sought to inscribe into international practice and law the right of all peoples to achieve a national state.

The lifting of the incubus of Soviet Communism in 1991 from the states of Central and Eastern Europe was opposed only by a few worried political leaders and rather more dispossessed Communists, but even they either put on a smile or kept their heads down. George H.W. Bush, in the White House when the Soviet center would no longer hold, tried to stem the communist tide by embracing his new friend, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to avoid chaos in the east -- in vain. Nationalism, which the Soviet Union’s ideologists had regarded as one of the cardinal sins and had filled the gulags for decades with those suspected of harbouring its sentiments, triumphed.

Now comes Scotland’s turn. The residents of Scotland, on Sept. 18, will vote on the simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Never an excuse for shooting unarmed suspects, former police chief says

A police officer points a spotlight at a more vocal and confrontational group of demonstrators during further protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near FergusonI was the police chief in Kansas City, Missouri, when an unarmed African-American teenager was shot by a cop for a non-violent issue. The result was a peaceful and constructive public dialogue — the opposite of what is happening now in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

I was then the youngest big-city police chief in America, having just arrived from New York City, where I had been a deputy inspector in the New York Police Department during a high-crime period. But I had no real honeymoon in Missouri.

Just a few days after I took charge, on a crystal clear day in 1973, a uniformed officer responded to a daylight break-in of a home. The officer raised his shotgun and fired at a youth running away. He killed Rory Lark, age 15, unarmed and slight, at 115 pounds.

In Iraq, U.S. is spending millions to blow up captured American war machines

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Last week was a weird one for American military hardware.

In the United States, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), AR-15s and camouflage body armor all made an appearance on the streets of a suburb in the heartland, helping to give a tense situation the push needed to turn into a week of riots. American citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, feeling they were being occupied by a foreign army, rather than their friendly neighborhood cop on the beat.

Riot police stand guard as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

MRAPs didn’t get a better rap overseas, either. In what’s still being called Iraq — at least for the sake of convenience — the U.S. Air Force has resumed bombing missions in the northern part of the “country.” The aim of the missions is stated as being the defense of a minority group known as the Yazidis, who practice a religion unique to themselves and are under threat by the Islamic State, a jihadi group that controls a large chunk of territory in Syria and Iraq.

The extremist cadre Islamic State — which has declared itself to be the new caliphate, representing God’s will on earth — has had an incredible string of military successes over the last few months. They’ve taken a lot of territory. They’ve slaughtered a lot of people, including civilians. They’ve imposed what they say is Islamic law — though many Islamic scholars would beg to disagree.

Peace may be the true threat to Hamas, Israel’s leaders

Relatives of a Palestinian woman, who medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during her funeral in Khan Younis

It’s time to wonder whether Israel and Palestine will ever be able to move out of the moral abyss into which they’ve plunged themselves, and address the threat of peace.

“Threat” is the right term. Because peace is dangerous for leaders in the Middle East.

It always has been. But back in the early 1990s, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who hated everything the other stood for, knew that each had his reasons for working for peace. Just possibly, they imagined, peace would be better than war for future generations. Certainly it would not be as wasteful.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Can central bankers succeed in getting global economy back on track?

Stanley Fischer, the former chief of the Bank of Israel, testifies before the Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination in Washington

Why is the world economy still so weak and can anything more be done to accelerate growth? Six years after the near-collapse of the global financial system and more than five years into one of the strongest bull markets in history, the answer still baffles policymakers, investors and business leaders.

This week brought another slew of disappointing figures from Europe and Japan, the weakest links in the world economy since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, despite the fact that the financial crisis originated in the United States. But even in the United States, Britain and China, where growth appeared to be accelerating before the summer, the latest statistics -- disappointing retail sales in the United States, the weakest wage figures on record in Britain and the biggest decline in credit in China since 2009 -- suggested that the recovery may be running out of steam.

As Stanley Fischer, the new vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, lamented on August 11 in his first major policy speech: “Year after year, we have had to explain from mid-year onwards why the global growth rate has been lower than predicted as little as two quarters back. ... This pattern of disappointment and downward revision sets up the first, and the basic, challenge on the list of issues policymakers face in moving ahead: restoring growth, if that is possible.”

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