Opinion

The Great Debate

Russians love their children, too – but that alone won’t stop a nuclear war

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Back when most of today’s Western decision-makers were in college, Sting had a hit song with “Russians.” It began:

In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Khrushchev said we will bury you
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

It sometimes seems that most Western analysis of Russia has the sophistication of this song.

The simplicity of the idea that all humans are essentially the same, and that a common understanding is thus always within reach, is seductive. Its appeal stems from the fact that few things are harder than knowing someone whose views of the world are profoundly different from yours. This is why it has been so difficult for a veritable army of Western experts to explain or predict Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior.

Since Russia annexed Crimea in March, a narrative has emerged in the West that seems to provide a basis for understanding and negotiating with Putin. According to it, Russia is pursuing its strategic interest in keeping Ukraine unallied with the West  because it needs a “buffer zone” between itself and members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Some analysts have gone so far as to essentially blame the entire crisis on the West, which, so goes the narrative, ignored Russia for too long. NATO bombed Yugoslavia in 1999 without so much as paying lip service to bringing Russia in on the decision. It expanded in 2004 to include three Baltic states that border Russia, disregarding Russia’s express opposition. And when the West reached for Ukraine, the sleeping bear had finally had enough and so it reared up.

Why vote yes? Scotland’s voice is drowned out in the United Kingdom.

'Yes' campaign people gather for a rally outside the BBC in Glasgow

There are hours to go until people in Scotland answer the question posed to them in an historic referendum: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Some weekend polls revealed a lead for No, while others put Yes ahead. With the race too close to call, what is clear is that a pro-independence vote, once considered fanciful, now is a serious possibility.

So why has support for Yes grown with such momentum?

There are obvious economic gains to be had from independence. Domestic oil reserves combined with well-developed service and manufacturing industries would help make the country one of the wealthiest in the world. But the gains in democracy are just as alluring as the economic ones.

Rape myths hide crimes. Just ask these children.

Children hold placards during a procession urging legislators to prioritize anti-child pornography bill passage in Quezon City

Some myths are so powerful that they change our perception of reality. Under their influence even the most obvious truths — or crimes — can be rendered invisible. Such as rape.

Hidden in Plain Sight is an aptly titled new study by the United Nations International Children’s Fund. It shows that one in 10 girls and young women interviewed reported being sexually abused before age 20. “These are uncomfortable facts,” one UNICEF official said of the report, the largest study on global child abuse to date. “No government or parent will want to see them.”

Even if we want to see these facts, however, the many myths about rape prevent us from doing so.

NATO could have trouble combating Putin’s military strategy

A Canadian Air Task Force jets CF-18 stands in the Siauliai air base

Since Russian troops seized Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula in late February, and separatists backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin began waging a bloody insurgency in the country’s east, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has walked a fine line.

The transatlantic military alliance has sent hundreds of troops to Ukraine to train alongside Kiev’s forces. But at a major summit in early September, NATO declined to offer Ukraine membership. The alliance doesn’t really want to go to war over Ukraine.

If Russia were to expand its coercive campaign, however, and invade neighboring Estonia — where a security officer is said to have been abducted by Russian forces, a little more than a week ago — NATO’s 27 other member states would have little choice but to deploy troops in combat. They are obligated under Article 5 of NATO’s 1949 founding charter to defend each other from attack.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why breaking up Britain could tear apart the EU, too

A bunch of 'Yes' balloons are seen as Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond campaigns in Edinburgh, Scotland

While recent opinion polls have swung slightly back toward the "no" camp, there remains a distinct possibility that Thursday's Scottish referendum will trigger a previously unthinkable breakup of Britain.

If this were to happen, the biggest risks for global businesses and investors do not lie in the economic problems created by Scotland’s choice of currency or the inevitable arguments about sharing North Sea oil revenue and the British national debt. These are crucial challenges for Scotland and have been much discussed in financial institutions and think tanks. But the crucial issue for the world economy and financial markets is about the resulting impact on the European Union -- and especially on Britain, which would remain the world’s sixth largest economy even if Scotland departs.

These political risks, which I discussed here last week, can be broken down into four questions: What would Scottish independence, if it happens, mean for British politics and economic management over the nine months, until the May 2015 general election? What effect would it have on the election results? How would all this turmoil affect Britain’s fraught relationship with Europe? Would Scottish independence act as an inspiration for secessionist movements in other European countries?

from Jim Gaines:

A constitutional amendment to take Big Money out of politics dies quietly

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This week the U.S. Senate considered a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Congress and state legislatures to limit the power of money in politics. The debate was not much covered in the media because the outcome was so predictable. But the party-line vote that killed it should not go unnoted.

A remarkable majority of the American public — 79 percent according to Gallup — want campaign finance reform. The right and left, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, even Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly agree that, left unchecked, Big Money corrupts politics and undermines democracy.

That was one of the few things Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed on, and both the American and French Revolutions were fought in part to get the financial power and privilege of aristocracy out of governance.

from Jack Shafer:

Roger Goodell, the NFL’s judge and jury, becomes his own executioner

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Oh, yes, let's torch and pitchfork the NFL for its handling of the Ray Rice case and not rest until NFL Commission Roger Goodell pays for his incompetence or his bad judgment — whichever proves greater — with his resignation. Then, after a good night's sleep, let's ask ourselves why, after cementing his reputation across the league as a hanging judge, did Goodell pick the Rice case to appear insufficiently authoritarian?

Rice, who dealt his then-fiancée Janay Palmer a knockout punch in an Atlantic City casino elevator last February and dragged her out and dumped her like a tackling dummy, may be one of the least sympathetic players ever to appear for judgment in the court of Goodell. Rice hadn't gotten caught violating the league's drug policy, as did Cleveland Browns star receiver Josh Gordon, and for which he earned a one-year suspension this summer. Goodell banned Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from four games of the 2010 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Roethlisberger's offense? A college student accused him of assaulting her in a nightclub. The quarterback was not convicted of anything. He wasn't even charged. But Goodell punished him.

In June 2007, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson earned an eight-game suspension from Goodell for being arrested on gun-related charges. In 2008, New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended for four games after accidentally shooting himself. In 2009, quarterback Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely (and later reinstated) for dogfighting. In 2012, following accusations that the New Orleans Saints had paid "bounties" to players for delivering injury-inflicting hits on opponents, Goodell suspended three of its coaches, several players, yanked draft selections from the team, and fined it as well. The player suspensions were vacated, but Goodell's reputation as a hard-ass was only enhanced.

from Breakingviews:

Ecuador economic “miracle” meets maturity

By Rob Cox

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

Turn on state television here, and within an hour or so a public service message will appear extolling the “Ecuadorean miracle” of President Rafael Correa. The advertisements highlight big new infrastructure projects and endorsements by experts, even an American or two.

Coming on one of the many formerly private channels that Correa tucked under government control during his seven years in office, it’s easy to dismiss this as propaganda. Yet here’s the thing: nearly every ordinary Ecuadorean I met during a recent stay was able to answer the Reaganesque question, “Are you better off now?” in the resounding affirmative.

To beat Islamic State, Obama needs Iran

Masked Sunni gunmen pray during a patrol outside the city of Falluja

President Barack Obama delivered a speech Wednesday night designed for an American public that has been losing confidence in its commander in chief.  Much of his address was about attitude — we are tough, we will act, we will prevail, but we will do all this with airpower, not boots on the ground (or not many) and in cooperation with friends and allies. This mission will not be a repeat of Afghanistan or Iraq (President George W. Bush’s wars), Obama promised, but will be more like Obama’s campaigns against al Qaeda — don’t forget he killed Osama bin Laden! — and the continuing strikes against radical Islamists in Somalia and Yemen.

But the president must know that the Islamic State cannot be treated like the insurgents in Somalia and Yemen. The reason this group has caused such concern is that it is not just one more localized group of violent guerrillas. It is an embryonic state that is beginning to govern large areas of the Sunni heartlands of Iraq and Syria. So it will not easily be bombed into oblivion, nor will it suffice to take out its top leader with a skillfully executed commando raid, as in Pakistan.

Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa provinceBoots on the ground will be needed to retake the territory now under Islamic State control. But the president has said they will not be our boots. So whose?

from John Lloyd:

No gimmicks, just 10 good reasons why Scotland shouldn’t leave the UK

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Readers of a romantic bent, perhaps Scots or descendants of Scots, may think that it would be cool for Scotland to vote for independence from the United Kingdom next Thursday.

If so, here are 10 reasons why they’re wrong. It would mean nationalism  – the call to old loyalties deeper than any civic and cross-national identities – would win. The Scots nationalists are nothing like the proto-fascist groups at large in Europe: indeed, their party is social democratic, liberal in social policy. But the demons unleashed will be stronger than their politics. The countries of Europe have many secessionist movements. Spain has two, in Catalonia and in the Basque country. Belgium is divided between the French Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish. Italy has an old secessionist movement in German-speaking Alto Adige and a new one in the north, claiming a territory called Padania. France has an occasionally violent movement in the island of Corsica. Others will come along. All would be hugely encouraged by Scots independence. It would consume Europe for decades. The UK has been, in the past century, an imperial power, claiming ownership of large parts of the globe, fighting and imprisoning those who sought liberation in Africa, India and elsewhere. U.S. President Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned and tortured by the British in Kenya because he was suspected, it seems wrongly, of being a member of a militant pro-independence group, the Mau Mau.But in the latter part of the 20th century and in the 21st, Britain ceased to be part of the problem and strove to become part of the solution. The ‘solution’ is to find a way to manage the world out of confrontation and division into a common effort to attack its real problems – ecological damage, poverty, drought, Islamist and other terrorism. The loss of Scotland would diminish it, weaken its presence internationally, weaken what it does and can do for global governance. The UK is a major and founding member of NATO: it’s a nuclear power. Yet all of its submarine-based nuclear armament is based in Scotland, at a base near Glasgow. Moving it – as an independent, anti-nuclear Scottish government would demand – would take years and many billions of pounds to execute. And this at a time when NATO is seeking more commitment, more defense spending from its members to counter the growing threat from Russia. The United States, presently blamed by critics inside and out for being weak in the face of global challenges – from Islamist terror, from Russia, from China – has under Obama’s presidency sought to convince the Europeans that they must take greater responsibility. Scots independence would be an example of a people taking less: it would present the malign example of a region, by claiming independent status, ducking out of taking the hard choices in the world – while seeking protection from those still constrained to make them. The UK has been a large part of ‘the West’ – that group of nations, which include ‘Easterners’ like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand and others – that privilege democracy, a strong civil society and rule of law. For the UK to lose Scotland would point up to a failure of democracy, at a time when the growth of China and the challenge of Russia is putting it’s primacy in doubt. With the discovery of major oil reserves off Scotland in the early 1970s, most of the UK’s oil has come from the fields off the Scots shore. There are still large reserves – how large, is still being proven. Scotland would demand total control of these reserves – they would be mainly within its territorial waters. It’s another malign example of a region rich in mineral reserves severing links with the larger state of which it was part in order to enjoy the easy income. It’s what the Oxford economist Paul Collier called, in a recent talk, ‘a dirty little resource grab’ – one sure to be copied elsewhere. Scotland has a large financial sector, even after the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, still one of the world’s banking giants. The turbulence and uncertainty which independence would cause would prompt several big banks and financial institutions to relocate to England: and foreign-owned businesses would also take precautionary measures. It wouldn’t be disaster: but it would mean that the UK, presently growing more strongly than any other European state but still recovering from recession, would be badly knocked back. Modern terrorism has targeted the UK: it’s seen by radical Islam as both a threat to their plans to create a fundamentalist Caliphate and to make of the Moslem populations round the world – there are nearly 3m Moslems in the UK – adherents to their cause. As UK security chiefs have warned, an independent Scotland with  new and small security services would be hobbled in efforts to combat extremism – and would be seen as a pressure point. Finally, there’s the more indefinable damage: to civility and to common culture. The nationalist campaign has raised tempers on both sides of the divide – within Scotland itself, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK, especially England. Nationalists like to see England as still an imperial hangover, un-modernized, run by ‘posh’ Conservatives for whom most Scots didn’t vote. Independence would make this still worse: many English say they want Scotland to go, because they’re tired of their complaints. It would be a long time before that died down: and something precious, a recognition of difference within unity, would have been lost.
This much is at stake. The world will not benefit, now or in the future, from an independent Scotland. But there’s nothing it can do about it, but wait to see what choice that nation makes.

This much is at stake. The world will not benefit, now or in the future, from an independent Scotland. But there’s nothing it can do about it, but wait to see what choice that nation makes.

PHOTO: 'No Thanks' badges are displayed during campaigning by Alistair Darling, the leader of the campaign to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom, in Edinburgh, Scotland September 8, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne 

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