French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a tough reelection campaign as he struggles to contain the unraveling economic situation within the E.U. His opponent, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande is leading in the polls. So who should Sarko call to help him out in his campaign? Why, none other than his good friend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Over the weekend, Hermann Gröhe, the general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) announced that Merkel would appear at campaign events with Sarkozy as he looks to retain his place in L'Elysee. From the Global Post:
"France needs a strong president at its head, and...The UMP and France are in good hands with Nicolas Sarkozy, who has demonstrated foresight," Gröhe said, according to Le Figaro.
Merkel's announcement caught Paris by surprise, least of all because Sarkozy has yet to officially declare his candidacy, Business Insider reported.
The close relationship between "Merkozy" has been well documented, and the two have been at center stage to contain the ongoing debt crisis. Of course, this new arrangement hasn't gone without raising a few eyebrows. In an interview reported by the Wall Street Journal, Sarkozy seemed more embarrassed by the announcement, and questioned if Merkel "voted in France." Though, as the AFP reported, Sarkozy did support Merkel back in 2009 during her own successful reelection campaign.
While the announcement may have caused some talk amongst the chattering classes in Europe, having foreign leaders interject themselves into political campaigns is nothing new. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had the very vocal backing of then-Ukrainian presidential candidate Victor Yanukovich in 2004. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' took it upon himself to comment on the 2006 Peruvian election, and the recent election of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.
Merkel is an accomplished leader, but she is far from the "hyper-president" that Sarkozy is, and certainly not the type of campaigner that the French electorate are used to. Perhaps she could take a page out of the Herman Cain playbook and use a Pokemon quote in a speech.
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Put your phones and personal electronics away in North Korea, or risk a messy ending. The Telegraph reported this morning that cell phone users in North Korea will be deemed "war criminals," as part of the new rules being implemented for the 100 days of mourning following former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's death.
Of course, it's easy to see why the regime is becoming so antsy about cell phone usage. The Arab Spring protests were energized by Twitter and Facebook via cell phones, and other mass movements including the Occupy protests were spread through this medium as well. But the more pertinent question is, how effective will this crackdown actually be?
As Peter Beck wrote in 2010, there were over 300,000 cell phone users in North Korea, all on a network developed by Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom. Reuters reported last November that the number has since grown to nearly a million people on the 3G capable network. Analysts at the time said that the network posed little of a threat to the regime, mainly because officials had controlled outside information so tightly. Additionally, severe limitations on the internet restrict access to any domain except a handful of historical sites that are accessible to a select few people. However, as the Nautilus Institute's Alexandre Mansourov said in a report, "The DPRK mobile communications industry has crossed the Rubicon and the North Korean government can no longer roll it back without paying a severe political price."
Of course, its not to say that the North Koreans won't try their hardest to ban the technology. They did it in 2004 following the explosion of a passenger train, which officials suspected was due to a bomb controlled via a cell phone. To the regime's chagrin, cell phone usage continued to grow in the expanding North Korean black market, with relay stations set up on the Chinese border that connected North Koreans with their counterparts in the South.
Feng Li/Getty Images
What foreign policy-related words are you most likely to hear during tonight's State of the Union address? Since the economy is the dominant issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, you may not be hearing all that many. But to answer the question, we sifted through President Obama's major foreign-policy speeches, talks at multilateral events such as G-8 and G-20 summits, remarks with foreign leaders, and pivotal addresses such as the State of the Union, generating word clouds for every six months of the Obama presidency (click on the images below to expand). One thing is certain: Based on the word clouds below, Obama is definitely a "people" person.
Jan. 20, 2009 - June 30, 2009
Within days of entering office, President Obama gave a speech at the State Department announcing the confirmation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the appointments of George Mitchell and the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoys, and the closing of Guantánamo Bay. In April, Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to announce the beginning of nuclear arms talks that would culminate in the New START treaty in 2010. Several days after that meeting, Obama delivered remarks in the Turkish parliament about the economy and the Middle East. In June, Obama gave his much-hyped speech in Cairo about America's relationship with the Muslim world.
Obama began July at his first G-8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, where he delivered remarks on the environment and global economy. He later addressed the U.N. General Assembly for the first time on the topic of multilateralism and spoke at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on the administration's strategy for the war in Afghanistan, which included a troop surge. A week later, Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm.
Jan. 1, 2010 - June 30, 2010
The new year brought the devastating earthquake in Haiti and Obama's first State of the Union address, in which he spoke at length about the economy and the need to pass health care reform. The president held meetings with a host of leaders including India's Manmohan Singh and China's Hu Jintao, and signed the New START treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. In June, he placed additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and gave a speech at the G-20 meeting in Toronto in which he emphasized the need for cooperation in responding to the churning global economic crisis.
A light summer turned into a busy fall as Obama delivered his second speech at the U.N. General Assembly, which focused more on international security and terrorism than his previous address. Shaking off a dismal midterm election for the Democrats, Obama flew to Asia where he spoke in front of the Indian parliament. The president capped off 2010 by announcing a free trade agreement with South Korea, which Congress passed the following year.
Jan. 1, 2011 - June 30, 2011
The first six months of 2011 were consumed by the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled the governments of Egypt and Tunisia. Obama's second State of the Union address primarily revolved around increasing American competiveness and jobs. He addressed the Arab Spring directly in May -- the same month that he went on television to announce the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Obama also outlined his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at an AIPAC Policy conference after his peace proposal angered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During his third address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama revisited the Arab Spring and spoke about how the world had changed since the 9/11 attacks (Muammar al-Qaddafi died a month later). In November, Obama traveled to southern France to meet with the G-20 on the global financial crisis. Several subsequent speeches highlighted the administration's strategic pivot toward Asia, including remarks at Trans-Pacific Partnership and APEC meetings and an address to the Australian parliament, during which Obama announced a new U.S. Marine base in northern Australia.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
When space programs have some sort of setback, it's usually tied to an arithmetic error, or because of the sheer complexity of launching something into outer space. For Russian Federal Space Agency Director Vladimir Popovkin, however, the problems facing Roskosmos lie with the intrigues of his rivals. In an article published by the AFP, Popovkin hinted that the space agency's recent failures are due to foreign interference. From the AFP:
Roskosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin told the Izvestia daily he could not understand why several launches went awry at precisely the moment the spacecraft were travelling through areas invisible to Russian radar.
"It is unclear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are travelling through what for Russia is the 'dark' side of the Earth -- in areas where we do not see the craft and do not receive its telemetry readings," he said.
"I do not want to blame anyone, but today there are some very powerful countermeasures that can be used against spacecraft whose use we cannot exclude," Popovkin told the daily.
Of course, Popovkin may simply be trying to distract the Kremlin as his space agency comes under greater scrutiny after a rough 2011. In April, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin fired the agency's director after a defense satellite was sent into the wrong orbit. Several months later, a Mars probe got stuck in Earth's orbit (fragments of the probe are expected to hit Earth on Sunday). The humiliations come as Roskosmos' importance increases after the retirement of NASA's space shuttle program. The agency has also been working to launch GLONASS, Russia's competitor to the GPS used by the U.S. military and consumers.
While there has been some space rivalry in recent years, there haven't been any known instances of countries directly sabotaging space flights, as Popovkin claims. Once we reach that point, it won't be long before we hit Moonraker status.
While the investors and credit ratings agencies may be mulling over the economic turmoil gripping France, one set of investors is seeing opportunity. In Le Monde, Arthur Frayer profiled the efforts of Qatar to create a 50 million euro investment fund for the banlieues, France's poverty-stricken, largely-immigrant suburbs.
The initiative, formally announced in December, began after the National Association of Elected Local Diversity (French acronym ANELD), a group of officials who are descendents of immigrants to France wrote to the Ambassador of Qatar to France earlier this fall. In their initial correspondence, they asked for help for the people of the poor banlieus, areas that have suffered nothing but "abandonment from the French state." These neglected suburbs have been especially hard hit by France's weak labor market.
"For once, our identity was promoted and was no longer a handicap," Kamel Hamza, the president of ANELD told Le Monde about the announced investments.
The fund would invest in small entrepreneurs living in the banlieu, encouraging small businesses to access capital that they would not have necessarily had access to. Already, ANELD has received hundreds of applications for possible projects.
However, the initiative has received mixed reviews. Renaud Gauquelin, a former local official, was appreciative of the money, but was more critical of the state of affairs which required foreign investment to rescue the neglected areas. Former Senator Claude Dilain saw it as another example of the "disconnect" between French society and the suburbs. Previously, the State Department had reached out to these disaffected suburbs to stem anti-American sentiment
The Qatari investment is part of a broadening effort by the small country to expand its international presence through investment and diplomacy. Besides opening an office in Doha to broker talks between the U.S and the Taliban, it is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and gradually expanding its international development assistance programs.
Coca Cola has recently been criticized by political activists for its ongoing support of Swaziland's King Mswati III. The king has come under international and domestic scrutiny for his lavish lifestyle in a country cited as one of the poorest in the world. While the company states that the King doesn't receive any direct benefit from the company's operations, activists still say that its presence constitutes a vote of confidence for the regime. The company has flown the Mswati out to its headquarters in Atlanta, and has taken out ads in Swazi newspapers celebrating the monarch's birthday.
According to activists cited by the Guardian, Coca-Cola alone contributes to nearly 40 percentof Swaziland's GDP. Though a real figure is undoubtedly difficult to procure, (especially since Coke isn't releasing any information), some studies have found that the number is a bit further from the truth.
Nearly half of Swaziland's exports are based on sugar and drink concentrates, the vast majority of which belongs to Coca-Cola. It's membership in several common markets, including the South Africa Customs Union (SACU) which includes South Africa and Botswana, has allowed it to ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product per year. As a result, Swaziland is the lead exporter of Coca-Cola products in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In a USAID Report from April 2008, researchers estimated that 35 percent of Swaziland's foreign exchange earnings came from Coca Cola's operations within the country. Foreign Exchange earnings are the proceeds from the exports of goods, and returns on investments in convertible currencies. From the report:
In 1987, Coca-Cola made one of the biggest capital investments in Swaziland to-date by establishing a plant dedicated to the production of concentrates used in Coca-Cola beverage products. Coca-Cola Swaziland, also known, as "CONCO" is the largest supplier of Coca Cola concentrates in Africa, with production plants also located in Egypt and Nigeria. Having recently celebrated 20 successful years of operations in the Kingdom, CONCO is by far the largest foreign exchange earner for the Kingdom, contributing to 35 percent of GDP21.
It's a bit more difficult trying to figure out what portion of GDP Coca-Cola is actually responsible for. The World Bank estimated that exports contributed to 58 percent of Swaziland's GDP in 2010, which in dollar terms would be approximately $2.1 billion. Assuming that 38 percent of exports were still drink concentrate as the USAID stated, Coca Cola would still be responsible for nearly 22 percent of Swaziland's GDP, just by selling bottles of Coke to Eastern and Southern Africa. This of course doesn't include the numbers from Coke purchasing Swazi sugar, labor, marketing and everything else that goes into making the nectar of college students everywhere. It's certainly a bigger footprint than the 18 percent the Swaziland Sugar Association estimates, but a lot less than the 40 percent number going around in the media. It's key to note that this number is not the amount that they pay in taxes to the Swazi authorities, as the number is being portrayed.
While it doesn't help that statistics in Swaziland aren't exactly easy to come by, having one company control such a large portion of a country's total output in the 21st century is still striking.
BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images
Word came out yesterday that confidential war plans were stolen from the British embassy in Tehran. Fortunately for London, the plans were 70 years old, and were designed to invade Northern France in 1945, instead of Tehran in 2011.
Guardian reported that a copy of Operation Overlord, a plan to send over a
hundred thousand troops into France during World War II, was stolen from the British
embassy in Tehran after the embassy attacks last week. The embassy attack on November 29th was perpetrated by Iran's volunteer Basij militia, who raided the British embassy,vandalized its interior, and severely escalated tensions between Iran and the West. Soon after, the U.K began cutting its diplomatic ties by recalling its mission in Tehran, and expelling Iranian officials from London.
The premises for Operation Overlord were agreed upon at the 1943 Tehran conference by the leaders of World War 2's Allied powers. A copy of the plan was located in a safe in the British ambassador's office, but was taken out the night prior to the embassy attack for a dinner commemorating the 68th anniversary of the Tehran conference.
Unfortunately for the thieves, the plans will probably yield a little less than they could find watching the History Channel, or playing Medal of Honor for a couple hours. That's probably why they took a Pulp Fiction movie poster as an insurance policy.
ABOLFAZL NESAEI/AFP/Getty Images
Money for clean energy is creating political messes all over. Of course, there are the Obama administration's ongoing troubles over loans to now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra. Now comes a report from Reuters saying that green energy loans to bolster China's businesses may be in danger of defaulting, due to falling demand from Europeans, their biggest customers.
From the report:
State banks provide easy loans to the sector amid the Chinese government's push to develop clean energy. Provincial governments that have helped build solar companies are also pressuring banks to continue lending, which may add to the woes of the struggling industry.
The glut of production and swelling inventories of the panels that turn sunlight into electricity have already driven down prices by about 40 percent so far this year. Analysts expect prices to slide by another 10 percent by early next year.
"Over the next six months, there won't be profits to be made," said CLSA's solar analyst Charles Yonts. He expects some companies to start defaulting on loans and put themselves up for sale.
"Balance sheets across the solar sector are already stretched to breaking."
This comes on top of other setbacks for China's green energy aspirations this year. In September, the Chinese had to shut down a solar panel plant following protests against the its pollution. Other economic concerns including the rising number of "ghost cities" amidst the Chinese property bubble, are rattling the markets and prospects for growth.
The Guardian reported in September that in 2010, the China Development Bank gave out nearly $30 billion in loans to the top 5 manufacturers of solar panels. Several weeks ago, industry groups representing the U.S solar industry raised concerns to the U.S Commerce Department about possible dumping by Chinese manufacturers.
Despite the concerns, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan announced a $1.7 trillion "strategic investment" today, which included money to be directed towards the alternative energy fields. Questions on how the banks will manage more green energy loans on their balance sheets still remain unanswered.
After all, as the in the U.S. case, a certain number of failures are inevitable in an alternative energy investment this big. And it's not as if Wang has to go in front of Congress to explain himself every time one of these deals doesn't work out.
Feng Li/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.