Opinion

The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

Does Italian capitalism prove that Darwin was right?

By Rob Cox

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

A procession of Italian industrialists and financiers slipped through the alleyways behind La Scala opera house two weeks ago to discuss the legacy of the man whose name adorns the piazza outside the building where they met: Enrico Cuccia. The group, ranging from a former Treasury minister to an iconoclastic fashion mogul, shared stories of the founder of Mediobanca, who’d passed away 14 years to the day. Yet for all the nostalgia that afternoon, absent was any obvious desire to turn back the clock to the days when Mediobanca was the unchallenged puppet-master of Italian business.

That’s surprising given the parlous state of corporate Italy. The uno-due punch of the financial and sovereign debt calamities has thrust the establishment into a profound crisis, one even more sweeping than the Tangentopoli corruption scandal that two decades ago sent dozens of Italy’s top businessmen and politicians into Milan’s San Vittore prison. The uniquely Italian form of capitalism conceived by Cuccia after World War Two is at last being consigned to history.

Though the revolution reshaping the nation’s economy is painful and prolonged, those with the most at stake know that Italy needs dramatic change. Deprived of the protections of the past – whether from the cash-strapped government in Rome or Mediobanca in Milan – Italian companies are at last being forced to play by the rules of global finance. Some 95 percent of the institutional investors who account for the bulk of trading on the Italian Stock Exchange are foreign. The survivors of this Darwinian selection will be the better for it.

Unlike the cyclical spikes in bankruptcy filings that typically accompany wrenching economic change in the United States, the evidence of Italy’s transformation is subtler, if wider-reaching. As companies pass the hat to investors beyond the Alps, they must transform their governance in ways that would have Cuccia turning in his grave on the banks of Lago Maggiore (assuming his body, stolen shortly after its 2000 burial, was ever in fact returned to its resting place).

Netanyahu hopes to avoid Gaza ground operation. Why he might order one anyway.

An Israeli soldier rests atop a tank stationed on a field outside the central Gaza Strip

To understand whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to send ground troops into Gaza, it might help to scrutinize one of his decisions from this week.

While the Islamic Hamas group pummeled Israel with rockets and took deadly hits from Israeli warplanes, the cabinet announced that it had authorized the army to mobilize 40,000 reservists – a huge force by any measure.

A large operation against Hamas would certainly involve reservists. But when Israel genuinely prepares for military campaigns, it does so quietly, often censoring information about call ups and imposing gag orders on journalists.

Want energy independence? Keep the nuclear option and limit exports

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Whether or not you follow the energy markets, it’s very likely you’ve heard the phrase “U.S. energy independence” at one time or another in recent years. Yet the very notion that the United States can be completely self-sufficient when it comes to supplying our domestic need for energy consumption is seriously flawed for a number of reasons ranging from population growth, pure economics, a lack of public policy and a dated permitting process vital to commercialize new energy projects. Collectively, this should have Americans questioning whether U.S. power production can be enough to completely eliminate the need for foreign energy sources.

[poll id="2"]The biggest use for energy is electricity. Using 2013 data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), in order to produce electricity in the United States, we used a total of 4,058,209 thousand megawatt-hours last year of which 39 percent was supplied from coal, 27 percent from natural gas, 19 percent came from nuclear, 7 percent from hydropower, 6 percent from other renewables, 1 percent from petroleum and less than 1 percent from other gases. So, despite the Obama administration’s efforts to help fight carbon emissions, coal still dominates in the United States. In fact, according to a recent EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the allure of cheaper coal has actually fostered its greater use to offset an increase in natural gas prices.

Coal, of course, releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide when it’s burned.

What’s the 2014 election really about? Religious vs. women’s rights

Demonstrators gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the "Not My Boss's Business" rally for women's health and rights in Washington

Religious rights versus women’s rights. That’s about as fundamental a clash as you can get in U.S. politics. It’s now at the core of the 2014 election campaign, with both parties girding for battle.

What generated the showdown was last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The decision instantly became a rallying cry for activists on both the right and left. Congressional Democrats are already proposing a law to nullify the decision. “It’s shameful that a woman’s access to contraception is even up for debate in 2014,” Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said.   Conservative blogger Erick Erickson crowed, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized, consequence-free sex.”

How did the issue become so big so fast? Because it touches some extremely sensitive nerves in the body politic.

from John Lloyd:

Here’s who should be watching the watchers

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The files stolen from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden, the quiet American who has turned the security world inside out, drip out week by week – in The Guardian, on the new website The Intercept, financed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, in the German weekly Spiegel and in the Washington Post. The last of these outlets had the latest installment on Monday. It told us that “ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike” had been swept into the NSA’s computers in far greater numbers than foreigners reasonably suspected of possible terrorist links.

The leaks present the most profound challenges to free societies, because freedom is not a steady state -- once acquired, never lost -- but rather one that constantly waxes and wanes, loses and gains.

The first of these challenges is to journalism itself, and it’s twofold. Snowden, the journalist Glen Greenwald who is an  associate in publishing the files and others in the “radical leaks” community, such as Julian Assange, believe that the extent of the surveillance and the power it gives to the state to oppress citizens is so great that only their form of journalism is capable of exposing the danger and rousing people to opposition. Greenwald writes in his memoir, No Place to Hide, that journalism must be “an act of aggression against the government.”  He thinks that the check the Fourth Estate is supposed to provide to government “is only effective if journalists act adversarially to those who wield political power.” The largest dereliction of journalistic duty is to be “subservient to the government’s interests, even amplifying rather than scrutinizing its messages and carrying out its dirty work.” His view is  an angry, uncompromising challenge to the values and practices of the mainstream media.

Obama’s immigration implosion

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about the economy in Denver

President Barack Obama is self-righteously grumbling that, having been stymied by Republicans in Congress, he’ll enact immigration reform on his own by voice vote in the West Wing. That is, via executive decree — his go-to method of governing given his crushing lack of success on Capitol Hill.

But Obama’s promised executive actions will likely entomb immigration reform, which is already dead for the year, in the great sarcophagus of permanently missed opportunities that houses much of whatever it is Obama wanted to do or should have achieved.

The demise of his immigration agenda was predictable because it was killed by the same incompetence and false assumptions that have characterized his entire presidency. Sure, with an immigration fiat, he’ll achieve some short-term goals. A whole new crop of poor immigrants, also known as larval-stage Democratic voters, will enter the country.

from Jack Shafer:

What’s more rare — a unicorn or an Al Jazeera America viewer?

 A man works at a desk in the Al Jazeera America broadcast center in New York,

Al Jazeera America draws such a teensy audience -- 15,000 on average during prime time, according to Nielsen -- that if you dropped all of the fledgling cable news channel's viewers into a modern NBA arena you'd leave a couple of thousand vacant seats. To place Al Jazeera America's audience in perspective, it's less than half of that once attracted by Al Gore's Current TV, the channel it replaced last August. Ratings leader Fox News Channel pulls in an evening average of about 1.6 million.

Such miserable ratings would be understandable if Al Jazeera America produced its shows on a shoestring, as did Current TV, or if it marginalized itself by broadcasting bonkers propaganda like RT (formerly Russia Today), or if most cable households couldn't receive it.

But none of those excuses apply. Al Jazeera America's executives have claimed that the company was spending "hundreds of millions" to establish 12 U.S. bureaus, not to mention the $500 million it gave Current TV's owners to go away. Unlike the bombastic RT, Al Jazeera America has to date avoided peddling any country's political line, even though it’s owned by the wealthy Kingdom of Qatar, a hereditary monarchy. (If prizes are a measure of journalistic worth, Al Jazeera has already established its legitimacy by winning two Peabody Awards.) And while not available everywhere, Al Jazeera America can be viewed in about 55 million of the country's 100 million pay-TV households.

You’d love to meet me on Tinder. Here’s why you won’t.

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The people behind the smartphone apps Snapchat and Tinder have the power to reshape how we interact with our romantic and sexual partners, and how we seek and have sex itself.

That’s an enormous responsibility — one that requires maturity, good judgment and a healthy respect for gender equality. The problem is, a few of the people behind Snapchat and Tinder seem to have none of the above.

When news broke last week that a former vice president of Tinder filed a sexual harassment suit against the mobile dating app company, the most salacious parts of the complaint quickly spread around the Internet. Whitney Wolfe alleges that her former colleague Justin Mateen, chief marketing officer of the hugely popular app, called her a “whore” (among other slurs) and deliberately concealed Wolfe’s role in founding the company, in part because it would look too “slutty” for a woman to have contributed to the development of a dating and casual sex app. Eventually, Wolfe claims, Mateen and chief executive officer Sean Rad bullied her into resigning from Tinder.

Watch out, that freighter may actually be a warship

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U.S. military operations now increasingly begin and end at sea — aboard a growing fleet of vessels that the Pentagon has specifically outfitted as floating command facilities, barracks and launch pads.

The daring U.S. commando raid into Libya to capture Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the Benghazi terror suspect, opened a window into Washington’s new approach to war and counterterrorism. The Navy warship New York was central to the military’s mission in seizing Khatallah and transporting him to the United States for trial.

New York and other “sea bases,” as the military calls them, are more mobile, better defended and potentially cheaper than long-term U.S. facilities built on foreign soil. These ships sail and anchor in international waters, so they offer legal and diplomatic advantages over former land bases.

from Stories I’d like to see:

How much is contraception coverage and costly violations for BNP Paribas

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1. Does health insurance covering contraception actually cost anything?

In this article about a renewed fight at the U.S. Supreme Court just days after its decision about whether the owners of the Hobby Lobby retail chain had to buy insurance covering certain forms of contraception, the New York Times’ ace court reporter Adam Liptak wrote:

The majority opinion there, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., seemed to suggest that the forms could play a role in an arrangement that was an acceptable alternative to having employers pay for the coverage. Under the arrangement, insurance companies that receive the forms pay for the coverage on the theory that it costs no more to provide contraception than to pay for pregnancies.

Read the sentence I put in italics.

Obamacare was only passed after President Barack Obama and the bill’s lead sponsors in the House of Representatives and Senate agreed to a compromise to assuage religious groups opposed to contraception.

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