Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza CityNot that those days were bliss — but at least peace was plausible.

The tragic truth is that positions have hardened now. Today’s rulers, singularly unimaginative and reactive, are not vessels aching to be filled with the potion of peace. Both Rabin and Arafat learned in brutal fashion that working toward peace is a perilous, risky business.

After this past decade, can the two sides ever be courageous enough to move beyond their twisted mutual history toward shaky and precarious chairs at the peace table?

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.”

Stop the Pentagon program that militarizes U.S. police forces

Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson, Missouri

The article originally ran last October. It has been updated by the authors.

There is a growing bipartisan public outrage about the local police force’s fiercely militarized response to protestors in Ferguson, Missouri.

From Democrats to Republicans, progressive to libertarian, citizens across the political spectrum are denouncing the efforts to stop demonstrations over the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed, African-American teenager.

Legislators are also speaking out against this militarization of police. Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.) described the situation as “frightening.” Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) a moderate, called the police tactics “the problem instead of the solution.”  Meanwhile, libertarian Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) stated flatly in an op-ed, “We must de-militarize the police.”

Remember the movie ‘Outbreak?’ Yeah, Ebola’s not really like that.

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The Ebola outbreak continues to spread in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries hardest hit by the disease. More than 1,000 people have now died from the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its highest-level alert for a response to the Ebola crisis. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The disease is intensifying in West Africa, but the epidemic poses minimal risk to Americans. So why are we so afraid?

Scientists think about the risk of Ebola in terms of how likely someone will get it and die. That probability of someone in this country dying from Ebola is miniscule. But how the average person thinks about risk is more complicated. Other factors — including fear of the exotic, dramatic and gruesome — heighten our anxieties and capture our imaginations.

The Zaire strain of Ebola out of control in West Africa is the most virulent form of the virus and comes from the “heart of darkness” itself. Many Americans still think of Africa as a failed continent plagued by disease, poverty and war — and we’re afraid of it. There’s a certain xenophobia to our fear of Ebola. Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Larry Buschon (R-Ind.) have gone so far as to voice concerns that the children from Central America crossing the U.S.-Mexico border might be carrying the Ebola virus. Gingrey is an obstetrician and Buschon a heart surgeon. But there is no Ebola in Central America.

Less than human: Do some police take a step beyond simple prejudice?

Riot police clear a street from demonstrators in Ferguson

When I tried to engage a friend in a conversation about the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, my friend wearily waved his hand for me to stop.

“Can’t do it,” he said politely. “It happens so often I’m inured to the pain.  If I think too long about it I might just …” His voice trailed off.

My friend is a black man. He is raising a black man. His response is one of three that tended to follow Saturday’s tragic news. You can either protect yourself by neutralizing your rage, as he did.  You can defend your community and your principles by protesting. Or you can look away entirely, inured to the sense that Brown’s death is a sad but inevitable casualty of policing in poor black neighborhoods.

For once, the situation in Iraq wasn’t caused by an intelligence failure

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate

President Barack Obama, in an interview earlier this year with New Yorker editor David Remnick, offered an unfortunate comparison. “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate,” the president said, “is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

The president’s jayvee jihadists were the Islamic State militants.

Remnick called the analogy “uncharacteristically flip.” After all, the group’s flag then flew over Fallujah.

Today, the Islamic State boasts a net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a cadre of battle-hardened fighters that dwarfs the membership of core al Qaeda and an international following large enough to support a brick-and-mortar gift shop in Turkey.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Can I invert myself and not pay taxes?

The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in New York

The hot tax-dodging business trend of the summer is inversion. A U.S. company buys a company in a country with a lower corporate tax rate, relocates its headquarters there and funnels its income through the new head office. As long as it does not repatriate profits, the self-exiled company can avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes.

The United States is the only country that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income.  Wherever you earn money, the Internal Revenue Service wants a slice of it. But if, as the 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said and U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled in Burwell v Hobby Lobby and Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission, corporations are people, shouldn’t the converse be true? Why can’t all Americans relocate their places of domicile abroad and dodge taxes just like a company?

If only it were that easy.

Let’s take it one step at a time. There has been considerable alarm at U.S. companies’ rush to the exits. Under a fiduciary duty to maximize dividends and share prices for stockholders, businesses are seeking to avoid the 35 percent federal corporate income tax they are liable for here. Many American business leaders believe high corporate tax rates put their companies at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world. As do many business-leaning, tax-hating and federal government-loathing politicians.

from Breakingviews:

Alibaba payments cleanup makes for neater IPO

By Peter Thal Larsen

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

Alibaba just can’t stop tinkering with its corporate structure. Weeks before the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut is due to start a roadshow for an initial public offering, it has tidied up relations with its payments affiliate. Though the new arrangement is still messier than shareholders might want, it should make for a neater IPO.

Alibaba’s relationship with Alipay is complex and sensitive. The unit processes more than three-quarters of the transactions on the Chinese group’s websites, but has been owned by a private vehicle controlled by founder Jack Ma since 2011. That business, known as Small and Micro Financial Services Company (SMFSC), is also home to other ventures like its fast-growing money market funds. For customers, the units connect seamlessly. The corporate links are more complicated.

With or without Maliki, Iraq will tear itself apart

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The word out of Washington is Nouri al-Maliki must go. A new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, will unify Iraq with American help.

We’ve seen this movie before — an attempt at a quick fix of Iraq’s problems. Like every other quick fix tried, this one will fail, too. The United States is ignoring the inevitable: Iraq will eventually dissolve into separate nation-states. Efforts are needed to manage that process, not to hope it will go away.

Some history. Following the regime change of 2003 and the elimination of Saddam Hussein, the United States failed to create any civil structure to fill the vacuum. Religious, ethnic, tribal and geographic tensions in Iraq were unleashed (I’ll label it all Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd as shorthand, though the reality is much more complex.) A U.S.-patched-together “government” (the Governing Council, of which Abadi was a part) accomplished little more than marking the first failed quick fix in the Iraq story.

Robin Williams: Appreciations of his talent, his work and his life

File photo of actor Williams arriving at premiere of "World's Greatest Dad" during Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah

Robin Williams, the 63-year-old comedian and Oscar-winning actor who died Monday in an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California was rare. Not just in his talent, his success, or his fame or fortune, but in how universally he was loved by the public.

Since he leapt to the world’s (not just America’s) attention in the late 1970s, he never disappeared from the public eye for long. We all knew that he’d struggled with drugs and depression. At least we could have known if we were interested. His battles were out there, on the record.

Today, though, many writers are choosing to remember him for his work and the joy he brought.

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