Opinion

The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

China Macau tolerance won’t last forever

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Spreadsheets with astonishing forecasts can only tell so much about China’s economic miracle. The sole path to believing, or at least comprehending, the scale of the country’s development is to see it. And so it is with any attempt to grasp Macau’s transformation from a Portuguese trading outpost to the Middle Kingdom’s gambling and entertainment hub.

Each year, this territory of about 30 square km a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong creates the equivalent of one new Las Vegas in gross gambling revenue. Millions of Chinese mainlanders aspire to visit - not just high-rollers but regular punters and even families. Macau will occupy an important role in China’s cultural and economic future. What’s questionable is whether investors will ever access Macau’s riches to the degree once deemed possible.

How can you be both bullish on Macau and bearish on its investment prospects? Simple: like all things China-related, the primary risk factor is the state, or more aptly China’s Communist Party. And when it comes to gambling, which is illegal in China, it is particularly hard to square Beijing’s goals with a business model where billions of dollars of wealth is transferred into the pockets of a few tycoons in the United States and Hong Kong.

This is not to diminish the scale of ambition and execution taking place on the spit of land first lent to the Portuguese in 1557, which was handed back to China in 1999. While Macau granted the first official gambling monopoly in 1962, it expanded the system to six licensees in 2002, including three American-led groups, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage; and three locals, Melco Crown Entertainment, SJM Holdings (the original monopoly) and Galaxy Entertainment. All have listed their Macau operations on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Whither Cantor and setting the price on a cure

U.S. House Majority Leader Cantor gestures as he talks about his defeat in his Virginia Republican primary election during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

1. An Eric Cantor sweepstakes:

Who’s going to hire the soon-to-be unemployed but highly marketable Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.)?

He’s got a law degree, a world-class Washington Rolodex and the kind of visibility that should make him a client magnet for K Street’s law firms and lobbying and public policy shops.

Or will he go to a think tank? That path might be more complicated because the most likely home for a conservative heavyweight, the Heritage Foundation, seems to have veered so far right that it might be awkward to welcome a guy just beaten by a candidate who attacked him from the right.

What’s Bergdahl worth? Everything.

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Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is finally back on U.S. soil, having landed on Friday. Five Taliban members enjoy newfound, if curtailed, freedom in Qatar. Time magazine features Bergdahl on the cover, and, speaking for many, ask “Is He Worth it?”

It’s a question that challenges the seminal premise of all war narratives. The “worth” of an individual soldier is not the issue. Bringing back those who fight for you, alive or dead, has been a central understanding of the rules of war for millennia — and is the basis for many of the most powerful scenes in literature.

Consider The Iliad, Homer’s ur-war narrative, which remains one of the most terrifyingly real depictions of the politics of war. Complicated prisoner exchanges open and close this epic tale of the decade-long war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

from Breakingviews:

Gazprom/Ukraine dispute is proxy for Putin’s whims

By Pierre Briançon 

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Europe has long been used to the perennial drama of “Ukraine versus Gazprom,” but this year’s version is not your run-of-the-mill gas price dispute. Making good on a longstanding threat, Gazprom has said it will deliver gas to Ukraine only if it has been pre-paid. This comes after the Russian energy group failed to settle a dispute with Naftogaz, its Kiev-backed counterpart, over what it claims are more than $4 billion of overdue bills.

As summer nears, the decision will have limited immediate consequences on Europe’s energy supplies. Gazprom says it will continue to provide gas to the rest of the continent and has the means to bypass Ukraine. The two sides may be headed to international arbitration – by far the best way to settle the dispute. Gazprom has some grounds for feeling that it has been too patient with its Ukrainian client.

Obama’s impossible choices on Iraq

Volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants, chant slogans in Baghdad

Iraq was a bold U.S. experiment in nation-building. It turned out to be a flop.

That’s what we’re learning as we watch what the United States achieved there evaporate after nine years of war, after nearly 4,500 Americans were killed, 32,000 wounded and $800 billion in U.S. taxpayer money spent.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he expressed contempt for nation-building. It was a point he made in rally after rally. “I’m worried about the fact I’m running against a man,” Bush said, “who uses ‘military’ and ‘nation-building’ in the same sentence.”

What’s happening in Iraq? Some smart takes to help figure it out.

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The Iraq created in large part by the United States after the 2003 invasion appears to be collapsing.

The U.S. military disabled Saddam Hussein’s forces in short order. Then the straightforward part of the war ended. The American-led Coalition Provisional Authority made some fateful choices soon after Saddam’s government collapsed: to disband the Iraqi Army — one of Saddam’s main methods of keeping the nation together — and remove all Baathists from the government. Since the Baathists previously had a monopoly on power, they were the only ones who knew how to keep the country running.

Those factors, among many others — the withdrawal of the restraining hand of the U.S. military, a Shi’ite-dominated central government that has squeezed out the minority Sunni, and a largely sectarian Syrian civil war across an undefended border — are now playing out as Islamist insurgents sweep across the country in a massive offensive that has encountered minimal resistance from the reincarnation of the Iraqi Army.

How — and why — the U.S. must support Iraq

Mourners carry the coffin of a victim killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up inside a tent filled with mourners in Baghdad, during a funeral in Najaf A disaster is unfolding in Iraq. It is in part a result of the failed Syria and broader Middle East policies pursued by the West in the past four years.

Insurgents reportedly led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (also known as “ISIS”) have occupied Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and may be planning to push further south to the capital, Baghdad. ISIL, a largely Sunni jihadist group more radical than al Qaeda, seeks to establish an independent caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he doesn’t “rule out anything” when it comes to U.S. involvement in the region, and some political analysts are already predicting possible U.S.-led drone strikes or even air strikes.

This Father’s Day, get him what he really wants: paid paternity leave

 Steve Caniglia holds his six-month-old son, Boden, in San Francisco

Recently at the supermarket with my daughter, I bought a box of cereal that looked pretty healthy. When I brought it home, I found myself bothered less by the realization that it was actually borderline dessert, and more by something else on the box: the words “Mom’s Best.”

I get the marketing wisdom: mothers do the grocery shopping. Those who carry the purses control the purse-strings; a variety of sources say women control 73-85 percent of household budgets. And so, those “mom-approved” labels on parenting products seem ubiquitous — from strollers to diapers to books. Since Kix cereal debuted its slogan “Kid tested, mother approved” in 1978, the so-called mom market has become saturated with such pitching.

But the thing that mothers approve of most is a dad who pushes that stroller, changes that diaper and reads that book. And while mothers continue to do a larger share of parenting, fathers are more involved than ever. Still when we talk about parenting, it’s a mom’s world.

from Breakingviews:

China’s Hong Kong experiment faces biggest trial

By Peter Thal Larsen

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

China’s experiment with Hong Kong is facing its biggest trial. The former British colony has mostly thrived in the 17 years since it was handed back to the People’s Republic. But a planned “Occupy Central” democracy protest is about to test Hong Kong’s openness – and China’s patience.

Hong Kong has defied the gloomy predictions of its demise that greeted the 1997 handover. Despite competition from Singapore and Shanghai, it has become a stronger financial and commercial centre. The authorities in Beijing have mostly respected Hong Kong’s special status, which former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping summarised as “one country, two systems”. Many citizens who decamped to Canada or Australia before 1997 have returned.

Post Iraq, U.S. must rely on covert action

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Covert actions are now crucial to U.S. foreign policy. After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington should rely more on CIA-driven covert operations and less on military force in the world’s hotspots.

Ukraine could be a case in point. For covert action means not just collecting information (espionage), but also political or paramilitary efforts that help support political organizations, local media and on occasion, insurgents. Under the CIA’s charter, the government maintains plausible deniability for all these actions.

I’ve long advocated for greater use of this tool of statecraft — and not only because I ran the CIA’s Afghanistan Task Force during the successful effort to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan in 1986-87, along with many other covert operations during my 32 years at the intelligence agency.

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