Opinion

The Great Debate

from Anatole Kaletsky:

It ain’t over yet: Last-minute promises to Scotland will scar the UK

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Scotland

Astonishing as it was to contemplate the breakup of Europe’s most stable nation-state threatened by last week’s Scottish referendum, we now have an even more extraordinary possibility. In the days since the Scottish voters rejected secession 55 percent to 45 percent, a new threat has suddenly appeared to blight Britain’s political and economic prospects for years ahead. It now looks like Britain may be dissolved by one rogue opinion poll.

The YouGov survey, released shortly before the referendum, found nationalists overtaking the unionists for the first time. (And, as it turned out, the last time.) This triggered total panic among Britain’s establishment politicians.

The outcome was a signed statement on the front page of the Scottish Daily Record by Prime Minister David Cameron, along with the leaders of Britain’s Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, promising immediate legislation to give the Scottish Parliament almost complete control over income tax, health and welfare policies -- on top of the autonomy it already enjoys. They also issued a permanent commitment to channel £1,700 more per head in government spending to Scotland than to England, despite per-capita incomes that are approximately the same.

Deflated "Yes" campaign balloons lie on the grass in George Square after Scotland voted against becoming an independent country, in GlasgowBy signing the statement, Cameron and the other party leaders opened a Pandora’s Box of political and economic controversies that are certain to destabilize British politics. Businesses and investors who have viewed Britain as the most politically predictable and stable nation in Europe are in for a shock.

The Scottish vote, instead of confirming Britain’s historic stability, now looks like the prelude to a long period of constitutional, legislative and fiscal turmoil. This will certainly damage the current government’s re-election chances and could yet threaten a chaotic breakup of Britain.

from Data Dive:

Who’s really dropping the bombs on Islamic State?

Yesterday's beheading of French tourist Herve Gourdel by an Algerian group prompted France to consider an expanded role in the anti-Islamic State air strikes that began this week.

The Arab League, the European Union and NATO all back action against the group, and the U.S.-led coalition boasts over 50 member states, but who is really doing the heavy lifting?

As this Reuters map shows, a couple of the usual suspects — the U.S. and France — carried out Tuesday's initial attacks. But in an expression of just how broadly dislike for the Islamic State extends, they were joined or supported by a number of Sunni-majority countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

from Compass:

To build a coalition against Islamic State, U.S. must try a little humility

U.S. President Barack Obama chairs the U.N. Security Council summit in New York

When President Barack Obama assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council Wednesday, he summoned the full weight of U.S. power to a cause with seeming universal appeal: defeating the barbarism of Islamic State -- or, as Obama calls the militant group, Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

Much of the world, however, will question how Washington can hope to achieve this without launching a wider political agenda for accountable government in the failing states of the Arab world.

They seek U.S. recognition of the diversity of legitimate interests represented today in the Security Council chamber -- and of the wider diffusion of power and capital that defines this age. In short, they look for an American president who can see the world through a genuine pluralist prism.

from Jack Shafer:

War without end: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 . . .

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This must be what perpetual war looks like.

In a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Army Lieutenant General Bill Mayville called the cruise missiles and bombs flung at targets in Syria "the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign." How long will the campaign last? "I would think of it in terms of years," Mayville responded.

Although the bombs exploded on Syrian soil, they didn't target Bashar al-Assad's battered, murderous regime. The bombs were addressed to Syria's enemy, the Islamic State, a nascent nation that has pledged to topple both Iraq and Syria, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, and parts of southern Turkey, and erect a caliphate on the parcel.

But in attacking Syria's enemy, the United States wasn't looking to make friends with Syria. President Barack Obama called for Assad to step down in 2011, and it was only last year that the United States was prepared to bomb Syria for having crossed the chemical-weapons "red line" to kill its own citizens. Not that the United States is remarkably choosey about which nations it counts among its allies. Among the Middle East nations joining with the United States to strike Syria is Qatar, which has allowed one of its sheikhs to raise funds for an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. As you know, the United States is at war with Al Qaeda in all of its flavors, including the Syria-based Khorasan Group, upon which U.S. bombs fell this week. The Khorasan Group is said to be plotting attacks on the United States and Europe.

Air strikes won’t disrupt Islamic State’s real safe haven: social media

jihad tweet President Barack Obama has pledged to destroy Islamic State and ensure fighters “find no safe haven.” But even as U.S.-led airstrikes are underway in Iraq and Syria, it is clear that bombs alone will not do the job. For Islamic State hides out in the most perfect haven: the World Wide Web.

In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.

The Internet has largely sustained the jihadist movement since 9/11. With this powerful tool, jihadists coordinate actions, share information, recruit new members and propagate their ideology.

Until the rise of Islamic State, extremist activity and exchanges online usually took place inside restricted, password-protected jihadist forums. But Islamic State brought online jihadism out of the shadows and into the mainstream, using social media — especially Twitter – to issue rapid updates on its successes to a theoretically unlimited audience.

When U.S. natural gas is shipped overseas, it will cost the 99 percent

Pier at Dominion's Cove Point LNG plant is seen at Maryland's Chesapeake Bay

The Department of Energy appears to be following a “Nigerian strategy” with respect to the nation’s recent windfall of natural gas.

Washington’s policies will benefit the 1 percent who own or run energy companies — and translate into higher costs for most Americans. If you can get a marginally higher price by selling off a valuable natural resource, the department seems to believe, you should do it.

So far, the Energy Department has OK’d every export application that has managed to navigate its complicated approval process. As more natural gas is exported, however, the more foreign appetite for natural gas will bid up U.S. prices, the faster American gas reserves will be depleted and the quicker the U.S. energy-based manufacturing recovery will be choked off.  But all these potential problems seem to count for little when measured against the bottom lines of global energy companies.

from Breakingviews:

Is “stranded costs” a euphemism for fat?

By Rob Cox

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

In the electric utility industry, the term “stranded costs” refers to past investments used to build infrastructure that, as a result of deregulation, may become redundant and of no value. The jargon has surfaced lately in a different, but no less electrifying, context: uppity investor Nelson Peltz’s siege of one of America’s most venerable corporations, DuPont.

The billionaire is enlisting some controversial arithmetic to suggest the $65 billion chemicals giant has grown so bloated over the past 212 years that it can only be saved by being dynamited in two. Central to the thesis that Peltz’s Trian Fund Management has put forward to investors is a determination of whether the so-called stranded costs at DuPont are just a corporate euphemism for fat.

‘The Boss’ is now a senior citizen. His music’s stayed young.

Bruce Springsteen performs with drummer Max Weinberg of E Street Band during the "12-12-12" benefit concert for victims of Superstorm Sandy at Madison Square Garden in New York

On Sept. 23, 2014, Bruce Springsteen turned 65. 

It should no longer be shocking to learn that a rock star has hit retirement age. Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger are all over 70, still performing and, at least in Dylan’s case, releasing albums that seem to matter. It is worth recalling, however, that in the 1960s and 1970s, when these artists first made their marks, it was widely assumed that no one would remember them just a few years later. A 1975 Newsweek cover story, for example, asserted that Springsteen was a product of “hype,” suggesting he would likely be forgotten once the next big thing came along.

Rock stars and their music, however, have proved far more durable. One reason is that rock changed the cultural status of popular music. The ephemeral nature of popular music may have been overstated to begin with — songs by composers such as George and Ira Gershwin or Cole Porter became “standards” long before rock ‘n’ roll. But celebrated singers or bandleaders were viewed as entertainers, and popular songs often addressed nothing more serious than a broken heart.

Singer Bruce Springsteen and the E-street band perform during their concert at Molinon Stadium in GijonThen Dylan, the Beatles and other rockers began to sing about mind-expanding drugs, war, civil rights for African Americans and other controversial issues. Popular music no longer seemed trivial. The triumph of Woodstock and the tragedy of Altamont played out as a story about how youth seemed to represent something radically new and better — and then no longer seemed so.

You never know who you’re going to meet on Turkey’s ‘jihadi highway’

Smugglers carrying blue jerry cans on horses ride back to Syria along the wire fences after ferrying fuel smuggled into Turkey from over the border in Syria, in Hatay province

Turkey’s border with Syria, like all borders, allows passage both ways – at least for the right price.

Refugees fleeing north to escape a three-year civil war and Islamic extremists heading south to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all need a little help to make the crossing.

And in towns like Kilis, located just a few miles from Syria, they find it.

“We smuggle,” a 12-year-old boy wearing Adidas shorts and Velcro sandals told me as he hung out on a metal fence with his friends. “We’re the kids of the area, so we’ll walk where we want. It’s easy.”

from Stories I’d like to see:

Just why does the NFL have tax-exempt status?

NFL Commissioner Goodell speaks during a news conference ahead of the Super Bowl, in New York

1. Checking the NFL’s numbers:

In the wake of the fallout over National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of his players’ domestic violence arrests, there have been multiple reports by journalists, who read the league’s filing of form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, that Goodell was paid $44 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013.

But there are lots of other leads for reporters to pursue based on what is in that filing, which is a report that every tax-exempt nonprofit organization has to file with the IRS.

For starters, there’s the existence of the form in the first place. How could the NFL -- which helps negotiate billions in media and promotion deals for its member teams and which itself reported an operating profit of more than $9 million and $326 million in “program service revenue” -- be given nonprofit tax-exempt status?

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