Opinion

The Great Debate

China’s air defense zone: The shape of things to come?

China’s announcement of an air defense identification zone (AIDZ) that covers substantial portions of the East China Sea has unleashed a storm of concern among China’s neighbors — as well as in the United States.

For China’s action reflects the deeper challenge now posed by its growing military capability and international activism. Vice President Joe Biden was on solid ground when he objected strenuously to this new air defense zone during his recent trip to the region.

Washington and Beijing each insists it wants to build a “new kind of major power relationship.” If they are to succeed, however, and enhance peace and stability across the region, they must develop new strategies to manage their growing tensions.

China defended its new defense zone by asserting that its actions are consistent with international law. Beijing’s arguments are unconvincing, however, because they don’t address the reasons why this particular air defense zone is so troubling.

In contrast with the usual defense zone — which helps build stability by reducing the chances of accidents based on mistaken identity — the unilateral and assertive nature of the new Chinese effort increases the risk of conflict.

Is there a way around the sale of ‘blood gold’?

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for that special person in your life? You can pick up an 18-karat gold designer bracelet at a swanky Fifth Avenue jeweler that is sure to do the trick. Yours for $995.

These days, even if gold prices are down a bit from recent highs, it’s hard to find a trinket that doesn’t swallow the paycheck. Now there’s something else you have to consider: it could be dripping in blood.

As 2013 draws to a close, gold is at the end of a 13-year price party that has powered a burst of exploration and gold mine development on every continent except Antarctica. It has also driven some of the world’s most brutal mining practices, as armed militias enslave whole populations, driving them to mine at the point of a gun. In the circles that monitor such activity, a phrase has emerged that should send fear into the hearts of miners and bullion dealers: blood gold.

Don’t ignore America’s youth unemployment crisis

Recently, Reuters columnist Zachary Karabell proclaimed that “The Youth Unemployment Crisis Might Not Be a Crisis.” Having spent much of the past several years writing about record levels of youth unemployment and speaking with hundreds of struggling young adults across the country, I was intrigued to say the least.

In reality, the article itself does an excellent job demonstrating why youth unemployment is a crisis in America. Unemployment for 15- to 24-year-olds is nearly 16 percent, twice the national average. College graduates are doing slightly better, but young people with just a high school diploma face unemployment rates of nearly 30 percent. High schools dropouts fair even worse. Young people of color face truly shocking labor market conditions: for African American teenagers, the jobless rate is 40 percent. Economists predict this could have serious long-term consequences for the economy. One study claims that nearly 1 million unemployed young Americans will lose $22,000 each in earnings over the next ten years. Youth unemployment is an unmitigated disaster for young people and the economy as a whole.

Decades of economic data on youth joblessness shows that: 1) lack of work early in an individual’s career leads to lower future wages; and 2) entering the job market during a recession scales up individual challenges to entire generations. The data is as solid as it is disturbing.

Turkey cashes in on the Iran talks

You may have thought the Geneva deal struck last month between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) was a sweet one for Tehran — getting billions in sanctions relief in exchange for mere promises to halt its nuclear program.

But Turkey may be an even bigger winner. It just needs to open its doors and wait for Iranian funds to pour in.

Iran was Turkey’s third largest export market in 2012. In fact, Turkey is reportedly exporting more than 20,000 products to Iran right now; among them gold and silver. It turns out that the Geneva deal also loosened sanctions on precious metals.

Ukraine’s Protests: Not (yet) a revolution

In the three weeks since Ukraine formally suspended talks aimed at signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, two important facts have become clear.

First, it is now apparent that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, had no effective strategy to resist intense pressure against the EU deal from Moscow. The Kremlin promised big cash loans, a gas discount and debt forgiveness, while explicitly threatening to block Ukraine’s access to the Russian market and implicitly threatening to stoke separatism in regions of the country.

Second, as street demonstrations gain momentum in Kiev and other cities, it has become clear that a strong, diverse and increasingly vocal plurality of Ukrainians will not accept their country’s continued isolation from the West. The authorities have confronted street protestors with shocking violence, and have offered no significant political concessions. Yet the prospect of real reform driven by the EU association has now become a key symbol for Ukraine’s national identity.

from David Rohde:

Honor Mandela by stopping a genocide

As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles north was being torn apart by religious hatred.

Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic, clutching machetes and crude, homemade weapons, prepared to fight off marauding Christians. Christians were forming self-defense militias in other parts of a country the size of Texas, to prevent Muslims from slitting their throats.

“We drove through some villages where every single person has picked up arms,” Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told me in a telephone interview from the republic on Tuesday. “Children as young as 11 have picked up daggers or have knives or even hunting rifles.”

Let free markets and technology reduce gun violence

Ron Conway, an angel investor in some of the most successful startups of the past decade, from Google to Twitter, was holding a Christmas party in his San Francisco apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge on Dec. 14. One of his guests that evening was former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

What was supposed to be a festive occasion turned solemn as Conway convened a prayer for the families of Newtown, CT and exhorted the leading lights of technology and venture capital gathered in his home to ingeniously help tackle the problem of gun violence.

There may be a lot of problems that deep pockets and tech startup ingenuity can’t help solve, but the epidemic of senseless mass shootings needn’t be one of them.

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations — with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view — and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Mandela and De Klerk: Essential partners

When Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. De Klerk began their historic negotiations to end apartheid, each man professed respect for the other. Indeed their relationship appeared not only professional, but personal.

Yet as the negotiations dragged on through 1992 and 1993, tempers grew short, and South Africans grew increasingly frustrated with the slow progress toward the liberation that had seemed so promising just a few years ago. Most worrisome, violence was growing between the supporters of Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkhatha Freedom Party.

Much of the turmoil flamed in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, but it also spread dangerously into the outskirts of Johannesburg, which soon turned into a patchwork of no-go areas. On my effort to visit the area, for example, we were stopped by gunfire and forced to retreat. By the time of the elections in 1994, at least 3,000 people would be killed.

Correcting three myths about the housing market

The U.S. Senate should move quickly to confirm Mel Watt as the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), but not for any of the political or procedural reasons usually discussed. A quick confirmation is required because we need new leadership on U.S. housing policy — a policy that on some crucial points is headed in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons.

In the years since the collapse of the housing bubble, major Wall Street firms have prospered while millions of homeowners are still dealing with the wreckage of a damaged housing market. That’s in part because nothing as large as a national housing market turns quickly. But it’s also because persistent myths about the market are obscuring the data and driving policy in the wrong direction.

Here are three such myths, and the right way to think about them:

1.    The foreclosure crisis is over.

Most news stories today focus on overall foreclosure numbers dropping and home prices rising, but the truth is more nuanced. Prices are indeed up in some wealthier neighborhoods, and foreclosures are dropping in many communities.

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