Opinion

The Great Debate

Five smart takes explain the Russia-Ukraine conflict from square one

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Ever since the Ukrainian revolution in February this year, the Eastern European country has witnessed spiraling political instability and bloodshed.

Former President Viktor Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally, was driven out by demonstrators in the city’s Independence Square after he refused to sign a political and trade accord with the European Union, which would have brought Ukraine closer to the West.

So far, the conflict has led to the annexation of Crimea by Russia2,593 civilian deaths — not including the 298 victims onboard when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down by an antiaircraft missile — and more than 730,000 kicked out of their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many cities eastern cities, such as Donetsk and Luhansk, where the majority of fighting is taking place, are heavily damaged.

The conflict has also led to the most wide-sweeping Western economic sanctions against Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Below are five must-read Reuters opinion pieces to help you understand this conflict’s origins and its consequences:

US strategy vs. Islamic State: Better right than fast

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In her recently published memoir Hard Choices, former Senator Hillary Clinton recounts the meeting, nine days after the election of 2008, when President-elect Barack Obama first asked her to be his secretary of state. He “presented a well-considered argument,” she writes, “explaining that he would have to concentrate most of his time and attention on the economic crisis and needed someone of stature to represent him abroad.”

No doubt he meant that sincerely — the U.S. financial system was still deep in crisis — but in the context of events this summer, Obama’s assumption that he would be focused mainly on domestic concerns suggests how little even a president of the United States can claim control of world events. The murders of American journalists James Foley and now Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State have put a very fine point on that.

Few U.S. presidents have faced as many disparate foreign-policy challenges as those that confronted Barack Obama this summer. Last month alone, he managed to help remove the too-sectarian leader of Iraq, helped to stand up a more inclusive government there, then launched a campaign of air strikes to support efforts to keep it from folding further into the Islamic State. The month began with a “green on blue” attack in Afghanistan that cost the life of a U.S. general (the first such casualty in 44 years) and ended with a resumption of political hostilities between presidential candidates that took  the Afghan government to the brink of collapse on the eve of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Meanwhile “liberated” post-Gadaffi Libya slid further toward chaos, Israel waged war with Hamas in Gaza, and Russia more or less invaded Ukraine.

Here’s the current status of new drugs to fight Ebola virus and what works best now

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Experts will be meeting this week at the World Health Organization (WHO) to discuss the role of new drugs and vaccines to help control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Last month, the WHO said that it is ethical to provide experimental drugs and vaccines for Ebola, but that there’s also a “moral duty” to conduct clinical trials of these experimental drugs and vaccines to determine whether they’re safe and effective. At the same time, a new study released last week shows that the Ebola virus is mutating rapidly, which could make it more transmissible or reduce the effectiveness of drugs and vaccines in the pipeline.

ZMapp is the drug that’s gotten the most attention so far. It’s a combination of three antibodies, proteins that bind and neutralize the Ebola virus. ZMapp has been administered to seven Ebola patients, and the manufacturer says its supplies have been exhausted. It is too early to know whether Will Pooley—the British nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for patients in Sierra Leone—will survive the disease. Two of the other six ZMapp recipients have died. Those who survived may have done so because they received good supportive treatment, because they were younger and didn’t have other medical problems, or by random chance (which is more likely to happen when you’re dealing with such small numbers). While ZMapp cured 18 primates infected with Ebola virus, there’s still much we don’t know. ZMapp still hasn’t yet been studied in humans.

Other candidate treatments for Ebola include TKM-Ebola, AVI-7537, favipiravir, selective estrogen receptor modulators like clomiphene and toremifene, BCX-4430 and ST-383. In July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put on hold a small trial of TKM-Ebola in healthy volunteers because the drug caused an inflammatory, flu-like response at higher doses—inflammation is also how Ebola causes disease and kills. TKM-Ebola works by shutting down the Ebola virus’ genes through a new technology called RNA interference. The FDA has since modified that hold to allow patients sick with Ebola to receive TKM-Ebola. Early human studies of AVI-7537 were stopped due to budget cuts at the U. S. Department of Defense, which was funding the trials. Favipiravir is used to treat influenza, and selective estrogen receptor modulators have been used to treat female infertility and breast cancer, so we know they are safe to use in humans. And while they show promise as Ebola drugs, they haven’t yet been studied in Ebola patients. BCX-4430 and ST-383 have yet to be studied in humans.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

What’s Europe’s best hope for avoiding a second euro crisis?

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This week’s theatrical resignation threat by Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, combined with deep European anxiety about deflation, suggest that the euro crisis may be coming back. But a crisis is often an opportunity, and this is the hope now beginning to excite markets in the eurozone.

Investors and business leaders are asking themselves three questions: Will European governments and the European Central Bank recognize the unexpected weakness of the eurozone economy as an opportunity to change course? If they do, will they know how to grasp it? And will they be allowed to do what is necessary by the true economic sovereign of Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

First, the opportunity. Europe still has a chance to save itself from a Japanese-style lost decade of stagnation and deflation. And this may well be a last chance, because a lost decade in Europe could produce some very un-Japanese social rebellions and political upheavals. Europe, after all, lacks Japan’s social consensus, national unity and financial cohesion. It is far from clear that Europe could survive 10 years of recession without up the eurozone breaking up and even perhaps the European Union.

It’s harder to reach the American dream if you’re reaching all alone

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“Hours of chaos” is how the New York Times described the work reality of more and more Americans. It highlighted Jannette Navarra, a Starbucks barrista, who is regularly forced to work part-time with fluctuating hours. She usually gets her work schedule three days ahead of the workweek, so she is always scrambling to arrange childcare for her son. Any hope Navarra has of advancing by pursuing a degree is shattered by her inability to schedule classes.

These sorts of lousy jobs are the increasing reality for many American workers. They are labeled “contingent” workers — part-time, temporary, on contract, on call. They generally earn lower wages than fulltime employees, with little or no benefits, and constant insecurity. They now represent one-third, perhaps as much as 40 percent of the workforce.

The Times focused on new technology that allows Starbucks to micro-manage worker hours to fit outlet demand. This really isn’t about technology, however. It’s about power. Workers have less power in the workplace in part because of continued high unemployment. When jobs are scarce, workers have learned to accept what they can get.

Finding hell in Syria’s Qusayr

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Click picture for a gallery of James Palmer’s photographs

In the summer of 2012, I spent three weeks in the besieged Syrian town of Qusayr working as a freelance photographer and writer with a group of young anti-Assad activists in a second-floor apartment next door to a field hospital. Regardless of whether I was working or sleeping, I raced downstairs to shoot photos whenever I thought heard casualties arrive.

The shelling victims often arrived from the countryside plastered in earth and crumpled along the backs of pickup trucks. They were often working in a field when the shell hit and the layers of dirt on them were often so thick you could barely see their faces. One day I saw a small girl who appeared less than 10 draped with soil and speckled with blood. She refused the nurses’ pleas to lie down and kept sitting upright to view the grey, motionless body of the man on the table next to her who appeared drained of his last drop of blood. After every glance she cast upon the corpse, she turned back toward me and screamed louder.

Despite such cries, the most haunting sound in Qusayr was the chopping whirl of the propellers atop a Syrian military helicopter gunship. They echoed over the town nearly every morning after sunrise during my stay.

Crossing paths with James Foley in Syria’s desperate war

PzxkuFKh30zIFwrseFS7uQ-ljcnLRdu59URJQOlVX94.jpg Click the image for a full gallery of James Palmer’s photographs from Syria. I prefer to work alone because I’ve found from past experience it’s just easier.

Still, it was hard not to cross paths with other journalists in Syria in the late summer and fall of 2012, where you were free to roam without government restrictions.

I first saw James Foley – whom the Islamic State executed last week — at a demonstration in Aleppo, a rebel stronghold. He was standing perfectly straight and steadily holding his camera as he filmed a handful of men dancing while drums were pounded and scores of people sang.

He arrived at the ad hoc police station another day seeking an interview with one of the leaders there while I was shooting photos. We shook hands and introduced ourselves then returned to our work. Apparently, neither of us could afford the time to chat.

The best weapon to fight the Islamic State is already in Iraq

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur

In 21st century Iraq, the enemy is not a state, though it calls itself one. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a group of Islamist insurgents whose presence stretches across the border between Syria and Iraq.

The only way to defeat the Islamic State is through military force, but Americans will not be doing the fighting on the ground. General John Allen, who commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan, has observed that, “the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Free Syrian resistance elements of the region are the ‘boots on the ground’ necessary to the success of this campaign.”

Make no mistake: dismantling a nascent Islamic State is a serious undertaking, involving thousands of U.S. personnel and a robust interagency effort. The insurgents are ruthless, resourceful and are adept at weaving themselves into the fabric of the region, making them virtually undetectable until they strike. If President Barack Obama’s strategy is to “contain” ISIL, not destroy it, as the New York Times reported on Aug.  22, he will fail.

As if things weren’t Badenov: Even in good times, Russians are villains in Hollywood

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The fact that Moscow is behaving badly — with President Vladimir Putin meddling in Ukraine’s presidential affairs last December, annexing Crimea in March and now, despite denials, likely supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine — has validated Americans’ view of “evil” Soviets lurking in the new Russian empire. Even before Putin took back Crimea, more than 60 percent of Americans regarded Russia as a bad guy on the world stage.

Politics is largely to blame, but Hollywood may be the true villain in this drama. American culture never adapted to Moscow’s friendlier face. Though the Cold War was over, movie executives decided to ignore that memo. Russia may have been trying to leave behind its bad old days, but in the movies, Russians were still the bad guys.

In Air Force One (1997 – six years after the Soviet Union’s dissolution), a Russian nationalist psycho hijacks the plane of the U.S. president (Harrison Ford) in order to overthrow post-Soviet democracies. In The Saint (1997), based on a suave 1960s British television series starring Roger Moore, the heavy is a communist mafioso intent on diverting Russia from its new liberal course.

Perry’s indictment: Crime and punishment, Texas-style

Texas Governor Perry, a possible Republican candidate for 2016 presidential race, answers questions from reporters following appearance at business leaders luncheon in Portsmouth

It’s a big country, where states have their own legal peculiarities, political cultures and definitions of what makes a debilitating political scandal. Take Texas, for example, where the Republican governor, Rick Perry, has been indicted for abuse of office.

In the past 25 years, we’ve seen politicians and government officials increasingly treat scandal less as catastrophe and more as just another cost of doing business. Perry, however, has taken this to a completely new level: He is wearing his indictment as a badge of honor and has smoothly returned to his 2016 presidential campaign without missing a beat.

His is a compelling change of pace. Consider: It’s been a hell of a decade for scandal among state governors — and virtually all reacted with an advanced degree of alarm. In 2004, Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey, threatened with a lawsuit by another man, promptly held a press conference, revealed himself as a “gay American” and announced his impending resignation. In March 2008, news broke that New York’s Democratic governor, scourge-of-Wall-Street Elliot Spitzer, had patronized call girls. Another press conference, another resignation. Later that year, Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by federal agents and charged with corruption for his attempt to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Blagojevich launched an animated attempt to clear his name before he was impeached, removed from office, tried and sent to prison.

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