Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

America hasn't exactly snubbed Al Jazeera America. The rebuke has been more akin to a shrug. Go ahead and spend your millions, the nation seems to be saying to the channel. Hire all the network retreads you want, people like John Seigenthaler, David Shuster, Antonio Mora, Ray Suarez and Joie Chen, so that if by a long shot viewers stumble upon your channel, they'll recognize some familiar faces. The country will still shrug.

Stock your newsroom with all the experienced journalists your billions can buy, flood the zone with your reporters, and build modern broadcast studios. Still more shrugs. Madison Avenue is shrugging, too. Commercials for "major brands are still a rarity on the network," Advertising Age reported.

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.

Nine interviews that will make you smarter

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Imagine a place where retired-four-star General Stanley McChrystal, warmly shakes your hand and insists you call him Stan. He means it, too, joking when the word general pops out of your mouth while you position him properly in front of the cameras for a brief interview. He wants to talk about getting young people involved in public service through a program where they would dedicate a year of their lives to improving the country. But he’s game to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. He served in both — becoming the man in charge in Afghanistan before comments he made to Rolling Stone that were critical of the Obama administration ended up costing him his job.

McChrystal makes a strong impression, and a positive one. And he’s not the only one who wants to talk with at least the appearance of frankness. In Aspen, Colorado, for the 10 days of the annual Ideas Festival, we’re all equals — of a sort. In my five days there, I met no one who wanted to be called mister, senator or any other title. It was first names all around, with the good and great wearing khakis, or even shorts. If people were trying to impress, it was mostly through trying hard to not impress at all.

The people I, Andy Sullivan, Lily Jamali and Zach Goelman interviewed work in the fields of art, science, international affairs, politics and romance. We’re all Reuters journalists with more than 50 years of experience among us. We’ve all interviewed interesting and powerful people before, but never such a diverse group in such a beautiful setting, nor in such quick succession.

How Uber can help the GOP gain control of the cities

Taxi drivers protest against transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft along with Assembly Bill 2293 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California

Republicans occupy the governor’s mansion in a majority of states and control both chambers of state legislatures where a majority of Americans live. In a country that is becoming more urban, however, Democrats have a major advantage: Their party runs most big U.S. cities. Of the 15 largest U.S. cities, only two — San Diego and Indianapolis — have Republican mayors, and 13 of the 15 have Democratic-controlled city councils.

Yet despite the Democrats’ urban dominance, cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.

Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers?

from Anatole Kaletsky:

How EU politics pushed Merkel to lift Germany’s austerity policies

German Chancellor Merkel and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Luxembourg

Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy who took the revolving presidency of the European Union this week, seems to be the sort of man that Napoleon was referring to when he reputedly said that the key qualification he sought in recruiting a general was good luck.

Renzi become prime minister without even needing to win an election because Silvio Berlusconi and all other rivals self-destructed. He took power just after Italy passed the lowest ebb of its economic fortunes. In May, he was rewarded for his good fortune by Italy’s voters, who anointed him with a strong democratic mandate in the same European elections that discredited almost all Europe’s other national leaders. Now he is taking the helm in Europe, as an economic recovery is starting and the European Central Bank is swinging decisively in support of growth.

But even a politician as lucky as Renzi could not have counted on his latest and most unexpected windfall: the unintended consequence of last week’s failed campaign by British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission.

If Iraq must be divided, here’s the right way to do it

Shi'ite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight ISIL, hold a sign during a graduation ceremony in Najaf

As Iraq spirals toward chaos and its Kurdish region talks independence, the issue of partition, or federalism, has resurfaced. This is a concept that then-Senator Joe Biden strongly advocated in 2006. Though it would be difficult to accomplish, federalism could still be a helpful element as Iraqis struggle through their current tragic mess.

The appeal of federalism could grow if Iraqi leaders in Baghdad cannot agree soon on a government of national unity, ideally one without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has proven so divisive. Whether a “soft partition” — meaning the creation of a Sunni autonomous zone to complement the existing Kurdish one — or “hard partition” –meaning the formal redrawing of regional lines — it would seem a natural idea. Not only because of the recent violence, which has caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes, but also the arbitrariness with which state borders were drawn by the European powers after World War One.

We did a study of the possible soft partition of Iraq in 2007, and found that the new Sunni autonomous zone would need the following:

from John Lloyd:

Could Vladimir Putin give peace a chance in Ukraine and beyond?

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What would it take for Russia to walk a way from violence and seek peaceful coexistence with its neighbors? It's certainly hard to see a way out right now.

The dogs of war in the east have been let slip again. On Monday, Petro Poroshenko, the recently elected Ukrainian president, said a 10-day unilateral truce with the separatist, pro-Russian forces in the eastern part of his country had ended: Force would now be required to “free our lands.”

Ukrainian units were moved in to try to bring the cities and areas controlled by the heavily armed separatists under control. By Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian military was reporting air and artillery strikes.

One more reason the Democrats may be toast this fall

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington

Democrats are apprehensive about this year’s midterm elections.

They should be.

Every indicator points to Republican gains in Congress. Two reasons are well known: President Barack Obama’s unpopularity and the historical record of midterm elections, when the president’s party almost always loses seats.

The third major reason is the two-four-six rule. Those are the different base years for different offices: two years for the House of Representatives, four years for most governors, six years for the Senate. These base years dictate how vulnerable each party is.

Here’s how it works: House members last faced the voters two years ago, in 2012, when Obama won re-election. With Obama’s strong voter turn-out, Democrats gained eight House seats. In the 2014 midterms, however, with their expected older and whiter electorate and Obama’s low poll numbers, Democrats are facing a tough November.

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