As has been covered extensively during the campaign, Mitt Romney believed humans caused climate change before he didn't believe it and before it became a punch-line in his speeches. In response to a question on the climate a science questionnaire from Nature this week, also filled out by Obama, Romney seems to be trying to have it both ways:
I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community. Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response.
So he does believe that humans are causing climate change and that lawmakers should consider the subject, but doesn't believe the science is settled. And even if it were, the science shouldn't dictate a "particular policy response." This is what happens when statements are tailored to avoid any assertions that could later be contradicted by either real-world events or the speaker's own actions.
At the Democratic convention in Charlotte on Thursday evening, Vice President Joe Biden recycled a slogan he's often repeated on the campaign trail. "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive," he reminded a roaring crowd.
The line is more than just a crowd-pleaser. As Democratic pollster Jeremy Rosner notes, the fact that half of Biden's distilled pitch relates to foreign policy speaks to the rare advantage the Democratic Party has on national security in 2012, thanks to accomplishments such as ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders. An Ipsos/Reuters poll last month found that 51 percent of registered voters believe Barack Obama is stronger on foreign policy than Mitt Romney, while 35 percent believe the Republican candidate has the edge. The president also has a 47-38 advantage on national security and a 50-35 advantage on the war on terror.
"This is not so entrenched in the DNA of the modern Democratic Party," Rosner tells Foreign Policy. He points out that when his firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, asked respondents at the end of 2003 which party would do a better job on national security, 54 percent selected the GOP, while 25 percent chose the Democrats (in the 2004 election, George W. Bush racked up double-digit leads over John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, on Iraq and terrorism). That 30-point gap narrowed at times during the 2008 election, Rosner adds, and now the balance has shifted in the other direction.
Rosner says the last time a Democratic presidential candidate enjoyed such a foreign-policy advantage was 1964, when Lyndon Johnson argued that he was far more capable than Republican challenger Barry Goldwater of navigating the Cold War and averting a nuclear crisis. On the campaign trail, Goldwater had gotten himself into trouble for saying that America's intercontinental missiles were "not dependable" (Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara claimed the comment was "damaging to the national security") and that NATO should amass a stockpile of "small conventional nuclear weapons" ("How 'conventional' was the 'small' weapon over Hiroshima?" retorted Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance).
The low point for Goldwater was the Johnson campaign's famous "Daisy" ad, in which images of a little girl picking petals gave way to a mushroom cloud, as Johnson warned of the deadly stakes of nuclear war and a sober announcer encouraged Americans to vote for the president. In his convention speech, Johnson made sure to trumpet his foreign-policy credentials:
I report tonight as President of the United States and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces on the strength of your country, and I tell you that it is greater than any adversary. I assure you that it is greater than the combined might of all the nations, in all the wars, in all the history of this planet. And I report our superiority is growing....
There is no place in today's world for weakness. But there is also no place in today's world for recklessness. We cannot act rashly with the nuclear weapons that could destroy us all.
Just four years later, the Democratic advantage on national security had subsided as the Vietnam War soured. But the Democrats sure were brimming with confidence (and wisecracks) again on the final night of this year's convention. Just look at some of the rhetoric from Thursday's speeches. Here's Obama:
So now we have a choice. My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy.
But from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.
After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al-Qaeda, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.
You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.
Bravery resides in the heart of Barack Obama, and time and time again I witnessed him summon it. This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel.
Kerry, meanwhile, chastised Romney for not mentioning the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan in his convention speech, and called the GOP candidate and his running mate, Paul Ryan, "the most inexperienced foreign-policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades." And that wasn't all:
Mr. Romney -- here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!
"President Mitt Romney" -- three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission -- it was a blooper reel.
Expect to hear much more of this rhetoric as we enter the final months of the campaign. But if 1964 has taught us anything, it's that a national-security advantage, once secured, can prove fleeting.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
So far, Pakistan hasn't been mentioned once at the Republican or Democratic conventions. But what was lost in all the talk last week about Mitt Romney not mentioning Afghanistan in Tampa was the fact that, only days earlier, a campaign advisor had made an interesting case for why the Republican presidential candidate would improve U.S.-Pakistani relations.
After expressing concern about extremism in Pakistan and the security of the country's nuclear weapons, Mitchell Reiss, a former head of policy planning at the State Department, told foreign journalists that a Romney administration would treat Pakistan with a "little bit more respect," according to a Press Trust of India report. In return, Reiss explained, the United States would expect "more cooperation" from Islamabad on Afghanistan.
That posture is a departure from the aggressive rhetoric we heard from some Republican candidates in the primary, when Pakistan was mentioned more than 80 times during a pair of debates in South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, you may recall, called for the United States to zero out foreign aid to Pakistan and predicate future assistance on Pakistani cooperation. "[Y]ou tell the Pakistanis, 'help us or get out of the way, but don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after on your territory where you have been protecting them,'" Gingrich asserted.
At the time, Romney staked out a middle ground on Pakistan. Expressing support for drone strikes (he said the Pakistanis were "comfortable" with the practice), Romney noted that Pakistan was "close to being a failed state" and had several competing power centers. "We have to work with our friends in that country to get them to do some of the things we can't do ourselves," he explained.
This year's Republican platform reflects that sentiment. Sure, the document urges the Pakistani government to "sever any connection between its security and intelligence forces and the insurgents." And it appears to denounce the sentencing of a Pakistani doctor for helping the United States track down Osama bin Laden, declaring that "no Pakistani citizen should be punished for helping the United States against the terrorists." But, crucially, the manifesto adds:
The working relationship between our two countries is a necessary, though sometimes difficult, benefit to both, and we look toward the renewal of historic ties that have frayed under the weight of international conflict.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, who called for a "new partnership" with Islamabad in their 2008 platform, focus on Obama's commitment to hunting down terrorists in Pakistan in this year's edition. The document does state that Islamabad can "be a partner" in establishing peace in South Asia and that the United States will "respect Pakistan's sovereignty and democratic institutions." But there's no mention of restoring U.S.-Pakistani relations, which have deteriorated over the past four years because of the bin Laden raid, the Obama's administration's embrace of airstrikes against militants, and, most recently, the U.S. debate about whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network a terrorist organization.
Why is the GOP advocating a reset, if you will, of U.S.-Pakistani relations? For one thing, the stance plays into Romney's larger argument that the Obama administration has alienated America's allies and emboldened its enemies. The Romney campaign can also fend off charges that the governor hasn't distinguished his Afghan policy from Obama's by pointing to Pakistan. As Romney's campaign website explains:
We will only persuade Afghanistan and Pakistan to be resolute if they are convinced that the United States will itself be resolute. Only an America that appears fully committed to success will eliminate the incentives for them to hedge their bets by aligning with opposing forces.
As for whether the GOP position is a popular one, that's more difficult to discern. Americans overwhelmingly support drone strikes against terrorists, but they're not sure how to feel about Pakistan. Few view the country as a grave threat to the United States, but a Rasmussen poll last year found that 62 percent of likely voters see Pakistan as something in between an ally and an enemy. Sixty-five percent, meanwhile, support cutting off all military and financial aid to Islamabad.
Given those numbers, perhaps treating Pakistan with just a "little bit more respect" is about all the Republicans can get away with.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
On Wednesday evening, former President Bill Clinton will issue a full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama at the Democratic convention in Charlotte. But as the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza recently pointed out, the frayed relationship between the two Democratic leaders -- tested by the bitter 2007-2008 primary contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton -- has never fully mended.
Before Hillary Clinton dropped out of the Democratic primary, the former president did have the occasional good thing to say about Obama when it came to foreign policy. In July 2007, for example, he refused to be drawn into a dispute between Obama and his wife over whether the United States should meet with the leaders of hostile nations without preconditions. All the Democratic candidates, he noted, had "a vigorous agreement on the big question, which is, 'Should we have more diplomacy?' The answer is yes."
But Obama and Clinton clashed over two of the defining issues of the campaign: the Iraq war and Obama's inexperience.
The spat over the war in Iraq began in November 2007, when Clinton told a crowd in Iowa that he had "opposed Iraq from the beginning," even though he was on record supporting the war in 2003. When asked about the comments, Obama quipped, "If he did [oppose it], I don't think most of us heard about it."
Then, during a talk at Dartmouth College in January 2008, Clinton mocked the Obama campaign for celebrating the candidate's opposition to the Iraq war back in 2002 (that same year, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq).
"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment ... and never got asked one time, not once, well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war ... and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?" Clinton asked. "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
Obama had indeed expressed support for the ongoing war effort during the 2004 presidential election, but he had also reiterated his opposition to the original invasion. Obama criticized Clinton for repeating "this notion that somehow I didn't know where I stood in 2004 about the war. He keeps on giving half the quote. I was always against the war."
Clinton also attacked Obama's lack of experience in interviews with Al Hunt and Charlie Rose in the final months of 2007, arguing that Obama was ill-equipped to handle foreign-policy issues like terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Rose noted that experienced officials had orchestrated the war in Iraq, Clinton responded:
I remember the first time Senator Obama said that, said, you know, [former Vice President Dick] Cheney and [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld had a lot of experience. And that has great superficial appeal. But let me make the argument in another context. That's like saying that because 100 percent of the malpractices case, medical malpractice, are committed by doctors, the next time I need surgery, I'll get a chef or a plumber to do it.
Here's the full video (the discussion of Obama begins at 24:00, and the quote above comes at 35:00):
With the debate over the Iraq war, the hand-wringing over Obama's lack of experience, and the rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all things of the past, we'll hear Bill Clinton deliver a very different assessment of Barack Obama this evening. The question now turns to just how effectively he'll make the case for granting the president four more years in office.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Thomas Friedman has an interesting column in today's New York Times that raises the question of whether Mitt Romney is actually as hawkish on foreign policy as he makes himself out to be. Friedman writes:
I know Romney doesn't believe a word he's saying on foreign policy and that it's all aimed at ginning up votes: there's some China-bashing to help in the Midwest, some Arab-bashing to win over the Jews, some Russia-bashing (our "No. 1 geopolitical foe") to bring in the Polish vote, plus a dash of testosterone to keep the neocons off his back.
Some neocons are, indeed, worried that Mitt is only pretending to be a hawk to keep the party onside. Jennifer Rubin, the court scribe of the Romney campaign, channels some of that anxiety in a recent blog post. "[A]mong Republicans," she writes, riffing off of some of the candidate's recent speeches, "it is a segment of foreign policy hawks who are most aggrieved and feel overlooked by the campaign."
From the perspective of some hawks, Mitt Romney needs to state controversial, bold foreign policy positions as sort of a test of his seriousness. If he doesn't say now he'll finish the job in Afghanistan and he'll, if need be, set up a no-fly zone in Syria, he'll shrink from tough positions when in office. They don't think it is enough to have surrogates like former senator Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, and senior adviser Richard Williamson give assurances, speak about Romney's devotion to American exceptionalism and remind conservatives of Romney's early support for the Syrian rebels.
I've heard similar whispers to this effect, and Bill Kristol likely spoke for many on the right when he dinged Romney for failing to even mention the war in Afghanistan during his convention speech, a bizarre unforced error when a perfunctory shoutout to the troops would have been fine.
Doubtless, the various foreign-policy wings of the GOP would battle it out for influence in a Romney administration, and the candidate has done a reasonably good job of staying vague enough that he won't limit his options once in office. But, like Jacob Heilbrunn, I think the realists would win most battles, and here's why.
Josh Barro, a Bloomberg writer and former Manhattan Institute fellow, has been promoting his theory that Romney has a "Secret Economic Plan." In a nutshell, the idea is that Romney can't possibly believe his own rhetoric about immediately imposing severe budget cuts. "To increase his chances of getting elected, he will have to implement policies that are likely to grow the economy," says Barro, and that in part means running up Keynesian deficits. Romney has already indicated that he wants to grow the defense budget, and has railed against defense cuts that he says would kill jobs (Keynesian!). He's also favorably cited a recent Congressional Budget Office report warning that the so-called fiscal cliff would provoke a sharp recession (Keynesian!). It seems pretty clear he doesn't believe in European-style austerity, even though he talks a lot about Obama's deficits and so forth. And the likely Republican-controlled Congress, newly de-radicalized by Obama's departure, would probably go along with heavy deficit spending, just as it did under George W. Bush.
What about foreign policy? Here's where the overseas component of the Secret Economic Plan comes in. Romney isn't going to be interested in getting involved in any foreign entanglements that threaten the Plan. His China comments are nonsense that he obviously has no intention of implementing. He's already said he's fine with Obama's timeline for winding down the war in Afghanistan -- and that means cooperating with No. 1 Geopolitical Foe Russia on the logistically complicated exit. He walked back an aide's comments suggesting he'd green-light an Israeli attack on Iran. He hasn't said much if anything about Pakistan, or about ramping up what remains of the war on terror generally. Even his hawkish advisor John Bolton, in a recent Washington Times op-ed, openly worried that Romney might not pull the trigger himself and bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. His foreign-policy team has bent over backwards to stress that the former governor is not planning to intervene directly in Syria. And his appointment of Robert Zoellick as the head of his national security transition team suggests at a minimum that top realists will play a prominent role in his administration.
It's not a slam-dunk case, I admit. As the New York Times' Peter Baker noted in a smart take on Romney's foreign policy last week, "The challenge is figuring out when the speeches are just words intended to highlight or even invent differences for political purposes and when they genuinely signal a change in America's relationship with the world." But if Romney is serious about earning himself a second term, logic suggests he'll tone it down if and when he gets behind the Resolute Desk.
Correction: Josh Barro informs me he's a *former* Manhattan Institute fellow. Apologies for the mistake.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Republican convention organizers may not have been able to accomplish much business on Monday, but they did make one dramatic statement: activating two prominently displayed clocks that will measure the national debt and how much that debt has accumulated during the four-day event. The clocks, party chairman Reince Priebus explained, will draw attention to the "unprecedented fiscal recklessness of the Obama administration."
The original National Debt Clock, which real estate developer Seymour Durst installed in Manhattan in 1989 to highlight the $2.7 trillion national debt that had piled up under Ronald Reagan, has spawned numerous imitations, including a makeshift clock the Romney campaign constructed last year out of green styrofoam, two flat-screen televisions, and two computers. (The National Debt Clock itself has grown more complex over time; whereas Durst used to collect federal data, calculate the debt level himself, and send the figure to the board by modem, the clock now relies on a computer algorithm that needs to be "trued up" with official statistics once a week.)
The United States, it turns out, isn't the only country to engage in these brooding public displays of indebtedness. In Britain, for instance, the TaxPayers' Alliance trotted out a truck-mounted UK Debt Clock at a rally in London last year to support public-spending cuts. The DebtBombshell website, set up by a "single concerned citizen of no political affiliation," displays the United Kingdom's mounting debt atop a frightening black bomb, partially cloaked in the British flag. In Germany, the taxpayer watchdog group Bund der Steuerzähler strategically installed a whirring debt clock near government buildings in Berlin (there's also an app for that).
The Taiwanese Ministry of Finance, meanwhile, unveiled a National Debt Clock in 2010 to deter wasteful government spending and followed up this year with a Local Government Debt Clock. While the opposition Democratic Progressive Party initially derided the idea, arguing that the clock underestimated the national debt, it has since pointed to the tally as evidence of the country's deteriorating finances. The Swedish National Debt Office has a similar debt counter on its website.
But the mother of all debt meters is the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Debt Clock, which was released in 2009, with a color-coded map to visualize the rising tide of global public debt. Fittingly, the United States -- the country that introduced the national debt clock to the world -- appears in dark red.
Former NBA player and Chinese superstar Yao Ming has a new gig as a goodwill ambassador for the nonprofit organization WildAid, who recently brought him to Kenya to
make all of our photo dreams come true "document the poaching crisis facing rhinos and elephants, as a result of Asian demand for rhino horn and ivory." One unintended consequence of his visit was to make everything in the country appear comically small.
Above, he towers over a baby elephant named Kinango, whose mother was killed by ivory poachers. "He pushes against me partly for contact, but also testing his strength," Yao writes on his blog.
But Yao isn't just surrounded by tiny elephants. He's also accompanied by a number of diminuitive elderly men.
You can read more about Yao's adventures in Africa on his blog.
Kristian Schmidt for WildAid
I had been willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Zero Dark Thirty, the upcoming film by director Kathryn Bigelow about the pursuit of Osama bin Laden that has been the target of scrutiny for some lawmakers because of the level of access given to the filmmakers by the administration. After all, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal's last film, The Hurt Locker, was a fairly nuanced portrayal of the Iraq war, it's not unprecedented for the military and government to cooperate with filmmakers, and the movie's release date had been pushed back until after the U.S. election. The project seemed a bit more respectable than this year's glorified recruitment video Act of Valor.
But the FOIAed documents on the CIA and Department of Defense's cooperation with Bigelow and Boal released by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch today don't really make anyone look good.
The documents follow an earlier release in May, which showed that the filmmakers had been granted access to the commander of SEAL Team Six -- though asked not to reveal his name -- and shown the facility where the planning for the bin Laden raid took place, as well as being granted interviews numerous other officials who rarely speak with journalists.
Today's documents show officials being more than accomodating to the visitors from Hollywood, with then CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf urging colleagues to support Bigelow's film over other competing projects as "It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board." When Boal thanked then CIA director of Public Affairs George Little for "pulling for us at the agency," Little responded, "I can’t tell you how excited we all are (at DOD and CIA) about the project…PS – I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets. :)”.
There's also the matter of whether New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti violated protocol by sharing an unpublished Maureen Dowd column with Harf.
There's no evidence that classified information was shared with Bigelow and Boal, though as Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy told the Daily Beast in May, the unusual access they were given certainly adds to the perception that "The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”
Here on Passport we've had some fun with movies like Georgia's 5 Days at War and China's Flowers of War -- ostensibly independent projects with some Hollywood names attached that were made with the "cooperation" of local authorities and, in the end, very much felt like it. Obviously, we'll find out when the movie is ultimately released, but it's starting to look like Zero Dark Thirty might be in the same genre.
We've already taken a look at the 10 most divisive foreign-policy issues in the 2012 Republican platform, which will be publicly released shortly at the GOP convention in Tampa.
But there's one passage that has flown under the radar so far. Take a close look at the draft platform that Politico discovered on the Republican National Committee's website on Friday, and you'll see that the Republican party arguably lavishes more praise on India than on any country mentioned in the document except Israel and Taiwan. The plan reads:
We welcome a stronger relationship with the world's largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security. We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner. We encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade. We urge protection for adherents of all India's religions. Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry.
The passage particularly stands out when compared with the more businesslike language employed in the GOP's 2008 platform (the 2008 Democratic platform, for its part, praised India as a "natural strategic all[y]"):
We welcome America's new relationship with India, including the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord. Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership.
Why the change in wording? According to the Indian news portal Rediff, Gopal T.K. Krishna, an Indian-American convention delegate from the battleground state of Iowa, worked with GOP staffer Neil Bradley to craft the "unprecedented" platform language.
Krishna initially sent Bradley a 282-word proposal that included an affirmation of the "special relationship" between the two countries, a call for the "free movement of intellectuals" between India and the United States, a reflection on the recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a pledge to help India establish nuclear power plants, and an endorsement of bilateral trade, including the import of "beef, pork, corn, soybeans and wheat" from the States (rather detailed language for a statement of party principles). Bradley, Rediff explains, got back to him with a counteroffer:
Bradley then got back to Krishna saying, "I wanted to raise three potential issues. Immigration is being handled by another subcmte so I worry about including immigration specific language here. The specificity of the trade language could also give rise to each of our country specific sections getting caught up in discussions about emphasising some exports over others."
"Finally, I worry about addressing the Wisconsin shooting here and the possibility that we inadvertently do not address the other recent shootings elsewhere," he said. "I took the liberty of addressing these items while attempting to incorporate your points into style being used for the larger draft. Do you think this might work?"
Krishna then submitted three amendments to this draft which included the all-important language that "we hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner."
Not only does the passage highlight the give-and-take behind the compromise language we'll see in the final platform this week, but it also highlights the growing importance of Indian-Americans as a political bloc. A record number of Indian-Americans competed for U.S. House seats in 2010, and Indian-American leaders such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and California Attorney General Kamala Harris will speak at the Republican and Democratic conventions, respectively. As the Times of India explains, Indian-Americans, who overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, wield more political influence than their numbers might suggest:
Assuming a higher turnout than the usual 40% or so for the general population, only around 500,000 Indian-Americans are expected to vote nationwide in the November election, and in no state or district are they in sufficiently high numbers to influence the outcome.
But what they lack in numbers they contribute in some measure in money and activism. No other ethnic group outside white, African-Americans, and Latinos - including Chinese-American and Filipino-Americans who are numerically larger groups than Indians - have as many political heavyweights.
The Rediff article touches on this very point:
Krishna had informed Bradley that "if the whole platform contains only bland language, it would be disappointing to myself and others like me, who are looking for courageous commitments, faithful friendships and specific statements from the campaign," and added, 'We hope our trips to Tampa will not turn out to be a total waste."
Krishna may have already suffered a setback now that Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's Indian-American governor, has announced that he won't be speaking at the convention as planned so that he can focus on preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac. But if the language Krishna crafted makes it into the final platform, flying to Tampa will have been well worth the effort.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Back in May, when the latest round of controversy over the Law of the Sea treaty was raging in Congress, I took a look at seven other seemingly harmless international agreements on which the U.S. was conspicuous by its absence, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The "Sovereign American Leadership in International Organizations" section of the draft GOP platform released by Politico today, not only explicitly rejects these treaties, but veers pretty close to black helicopter territory:
Under our Constitution, treaties become the law of the land. So it is all the more important that the Congress -- the senate through its ratifying power and the House through its appropriating power -- shall reject agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include the U.N. Convention on Women's Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty as well as the various declarations from the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Because of our concern for American sovereignty, domestic management of our fisheries, and our country's long-term energy needs, we have deep reservations about the regulatory, legal, and tax regimes inherent in the Law of the Sea Treaty and congratulate Senate Republicans for blocking its ratification. We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty, and we oppose any form of U.N. Global Tax.
Assuming Romney follows through on opposition to Law of the Sea if elected, that would be a shift from the Bush administration, which supported it, and also put him at odds with U.S. military commanders. The reference to the ominous "long-range impact on the American family" could be a dog-whistle to homseschooling groups, some of whom fear that these treaties would empower international bureaucrats to interfere with the raising of their children. And despite some debate at the U.N. over the possibility of a global carbon tax, the body does not have the authority to impose such a tax on its members.
Then there's Agenda 21. For those not familiar with this sinister plot, it's a non-binding U.N. agreement passed in 1992, and signed by President George H.W. Bush, that commits signatories to the goal of sustainable development through responsible land use and energy conservation. It doesn't actually legally compel its signatories to do anything, though the fact that various local green initiatives have been promoted as being in accordance with the agenda is evidence enough of a conspiracy for some.
The Times reported in February that Tea Party activists were increasingly referring to Agenda 21 in local debates on issues ranging from bike lanes to smart meters on home appliances:
Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center, a Warrenton, Va.-based foundation that advocates limited government, says he has been a leader in the opposition to Agenda 21 since 1992. Until a few years ago, he had few followers beyond a handful of farmers and ranchers in rural areas. Now, he is a regular speaker at Tea Party events.
Membership is rising, Mr. DeWeese said, because what he sees as tangible Agenda 21-inspired controls on water and energy use are intruding into everyday life. “People may be acting out at some of these meetings, and I do not condone that. But their elected representatives are not listening and they are frustrated.”
Fox News has also helped spread the message. In June, after President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Rural Council to “enhance federal engagement with rural communities,” Fox programs linked the order to Agenda 21. A Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, said the council sounded “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order.”
The movement has been particularly effective in Tea Party strongholds like Virginia, Florida and Texas, but the police have been called in to contain protests in states including Maryland and California, where opponents are fighting laws passed in recent years to encourage development around public transportation hubs and dense areas in an effort to save money and preserve rural communities.
Agenda 21 has been a favorite hobbyhorse of Glenn Beck, who argues that it is a covert means of achieving "centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth" as well as Alex Jones' all-purpose conspiracy theory clearinghouse Infowars, which calls it a "globalist death plan for humanity."
The once fringe movement has been going mainstream this year. The RNC adopted a resolution condemning Agenda 21 in January and Newt Gingrich made frequent reference to it in his presidential campaign, calling it "part of a general problem of the United Nations and other international bureaucracies that are seeking to create an extra-constitutional control over us." He promised to block the initiative as one of his first executive orders if elected. Given how vague that actual text of Agenda 21 is when you read it, it's hard to imagine that anyone would notice if he did.
Of course, those of us downplaying the nefarious globalist agenda behind bike lanes and high-speed rail projects could just be naive. Good thing brave public servants like Judge Tom Head are getting ready.
Everything's coming up roses in the Tibetan capital, according to the government-run China Daily, which has the largest circulation of any English-language newspaper in China:
"Lhasa, the city of sunlight, topped an annual survey of residents' sense of happiness in Chinese cities. The capital of the Tibet autonomous region has ranked at the top of the survey conducted by China Central Television for five consecutive years."
There have been at least 50 self-immolations in Tibet and Tibetan areas of China since March 2009 and massive riots shook Lhasa in 2008. Many Tibetans resent the arrival of Han Chinese into the region as well as restrictive policies that prohibit freedom of religion, freedom of assemgly, or even mentioning the Dalai Lama. Western journalists have been denied access to Lhasa for months, if not years; in all likelihood the current situation in Lhasa is pretty grim.
The survey doesn't mention any of these things. The article states that of the 100,000 households polled from 104 cities "the results showed income level most affected people's sense of well-being (55.5 percent), followed by health (48.9 percent) and quality of marriage or love life (32 percent)." The article doesn't specifically explain why residents of Lhasa are so happy.
In other Lhasa happiness news, on Aug. 19th the city hosted the "2012 Happy City Mayor Forum" where mayors and experts from more than 20 cities and came up with a "Happiness Action Promise" to make residents more joyful.
A judge has sentenced three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison for their "punk prayer":
"The girls' actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules," Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.
She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow's main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.
The U.S. State Department has issued a statement expressing concern over "both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences." Protests have been staged in several cities -- some less productive than others -- and a number of prominent activists including chessmaster Garry Kasparov were reportedly arrested in Moscow.
While the reaction from Pussy Riot is driving the news today, President Vladimir Putin is likely a bit more concerned by another headline. The president's popularity has hit a record low according to the Levada Center, an independent pollster:
Less than half of Russians (48 percent) approve Vladimir Putin's performance as president, down 12 percent since the last survey in May, whilst 25 percent said they were unhappy with his work (up from 21 percent in May).
The results show a major fall in Putin’s approval rating since his first two terms as president, when it was on average was 65 percent, with just 15 percent reacting negatively to him. His popularity peaked at the end of 2008 when it reached 80 percent, with just 10 percent against.
His popularity hit an all-time low of 55 percent in winter 2005, when the government introduced a program to monetize social benefits.
This is likely driven more by economic factors than democracy -- the ruble tanked against the dollar last week, though it's recovered a bit over the last few days thanks to rising oil prices. Putin probably won't face too much of a public backlash over the Pussy Riot verdict. According to another Levada poll, "6 percent had sympathy with the women, 51 percent said they found nothing good about them or felt irritation or hostility."
Sex sells -- but can it sell a bloody Middle Eastern revolution pitting disparate armed factions against an entrenched autocrat?
Last year's successful overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi turned Libya's rebels with a cause into international sex symbols. Now Syrian rebels are getting the star treatment, with one particularly dashing combatant starring in his very own internet meme -- "Ridiculously photogenic Syrian soldier." With his nonchalant stride, close-cropped dark hair, chiseled chin, and steely-eyed intensity, this freedom fighter's sculpted physique gives us some ideas about the guns of the Syrian opposition. An RPG rests casually on one sculpted shoulder, prompting one caption-er to posit:
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton skipped meeting with the Syrian National Council while visiting Turkey this week, we'd be happy to draw some red lines of our own with this coy comrade. And although observers are bracing for the implications of spillover from the conflict throughout the region, we're ... actually pretty worried about that, too.
Perhaps the beleaguered uprising will finally grab headlines now that its most attractive proponent has been identified. Just one more reason the world should keep an eye on Syria -- in this case, a very close eye indeed.
Writing about the ongoing Julian Assange standoff at the Ecuadorean embassy in London yesterday, I wondered if it would be possible to smuggle the Wikileaks founder out of the country via diplomatic mail, if the British government refuses to grant him permission to leave. Dan Trombly alerted me on Twitter that there is precedent for embassies doing this sort of thing, particularly Egypt. This led me to the strange case of Israeli-Moroccan double agent Joseph Dahan.
On Nov. 19, 1964, the New York Times reported on Dahan's discovery at the Rome airport:
Italy expelled today two Egyptian diplomats accused of an attempt to "air express" to Cairo a trunk marked "diplomatic mail" but containing a man who had been drugged bound and gagged. The two officials are Abdel Moneim el-Naklawy and Selim Osman el-Sayed, both first secretaries of the United Arab Republic's Embassy here. The man in the trunk has been identified as Joseph Dahan, 30 years old, a Moroccan. [The man was identified Wednesday by an army officer in Israel as Mordecai Luk, an Israeli renegade] The man told Italian policemen that he was kidnapped in a café in Rome and taken to an apartment and that the following day he was drugged and put into the trunk. He was freed after an airport guard heard him moaning as he was being put aboard an Egyptian airliner. [...]
There was speculation that the trunk, especially fitted with a small seat and adjustable foot and head supports, had been used for other such "shipments," because the exterior appeared worn.
The trunk was addressed to the United Arab Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo. One tag identified the trunk as "Diplomatic Mail No. 33."
In a fairly overwrought editorial on the case, the Times wrote:
When life enlarges upon the wild fancies of the spy thrillers, we are astonished. In the case of the macabre story of Joseph Dahan (or whatever he name may be), whom the Egyptian Embassy encased in a fiendishly constructed trunk and labeled "diplomatic mail" en route from Rome to Cairo, we can also be horrified.
The bland disclaimer of the Egyptian Ambassador could be given some credence but for a sinister fact announced by the Rome police: The trunk "shows almost definitely that it had been used this way before." Is it, perhaps, an old Egyptian custom? Certainly it is one of the oldest of Egyptian stories, which Plutarch made forever famous: About the god Osiris, whose wicket brother Set lured him into a coffin, nailed him up and cast the box into the sea. Osiris, it will be recalled, but then he was a god. Dahan was no god; he was just lucky.
So it seems it is possible, but helps if the person being shipped is willing.
Update: The Guardian reports that an Ecuadorean official says the government will grant Assange's asylum request. However, it "remains unclear if giving Assange asylum will allow him to leave Britain and fly to Ecuador, or amounts to little more than a symbolic gesture."
Update 2: Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa denies having made a decision.
Adding another wrinkle to the question of whether Ecuador will grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently holed up at the country's embassy in London, is how they would get him on a plane out of the country even if they wanted to. Reuters -- or as WikiLeaks calls it, the "favourite UK FCO/MI6 outlet", reports:
"It's not only about whether to grant the asylum, because for Mr. Assange to leave England he should have a safe pass from the British (government). Will that be possible? That's an issue we have to take into account."
Assange is in breach of his British bail conditions and the British police have said he is liable to arrest if he steps out of the embassy, which is located in London's ritzy Knightsbridge area, miles away from any airport.
It appears unlikely that the British government would give Assange safe passage to an airport as that would mean going against the Swedish arrest warrant and a ruling by Britain's own Supreme Court that the warrant was valid.
This has been a major issue in previous asylum cases. Reformist Hungarian communist leader Imre Nagy, who took refuge in the Yugoslavian embassy during the Soviet invastion of 1956, was promised safe passage out of the country but then arrested the moment he stepped out of the compound. Another leader of the Hungarian uprising, Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, had to spend the next 15 years living in the U.S. embassy before he was granted permission to leave the country.
Can you stash a person in a diplomatic pouch? Ecuador's diplomatic service does have some... er... experience in that sort of thing.
Not sure if it's quite fair to say Romney "took a shot" at Japan here, but he's not exactly complimentary toward the staunch U.S. ally. Buzzfeed's Jake Miller writes:
NEW YORK — At a fundraiser this morning, Mitt Romney took a shot at Japan, saying that country's economic decline is not a path the United States will follow under his leadership.
"We are not Japan," he told donors at a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser. "We are not going to be a nation that suffers in decline and distress for a decade or a century. We’re on the cusp of a very different economic future than the one people have seen over the past three years."
One country Romney seems pretty determined not to offend is Poland. In this new ad seemingly aimed at Catholic voters, he praises John Paul II and touts his "endorsement" from former President Lech Walesa.
No one can accuse Romney of forgetting Poland.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has never really been known for self-censorship. He treated his former post as Russian ambassador to NATO as a kind of political performance art, denouncing the group's activities and posting off-color musings and home movies on his Twitter feed.
He's been a bit more circumspect since returning to Moscow as deputy prime minister, but Madonna's recent statement on behalf of Pussy Riot -- the pop singer donned the group's signature balaclava at a concert in Moscow and said she'd “pray for them” -- apparently pushed him too far. Rogozin took once again to Twitter, writing "Every former w. who has aged wants to give lectures about morals, especially during tours and gigs abroad," using an abbreviated form of the Russian word for whore.
This is probably exactly the sort of thing Madonna was hoping for.
A decade of Catholic Church scandals seems to have taken a toll:
Only 47 percent of Irish polled said they were religious people, a 22-point drop from the 69 percent recorded in the last similar poll in 2005, according to the WIN-Gallup International network of opinion pollsters.
Average religiosity in the 57 countries included in the poll was 59 percent, a decline of 9 points since 2005, it said.
The country with the most religious people, according to the poll, is Ghana at 96 percent. Japan has the most atheists at 31 percent.
It will be interesting to see how much longer Ireland's highly restrictive abortion laws will stay in place with the church's power diminishing and an increasing number of women traveling abroad for abortions.
Cameroon's Olympic delegation has confirmed that seven of the African nation's 37 athletes have disappeared from the Olympic Village. Drusille Ngako, a reserve goalkeeper for the women's soccer team, is believed to have been the first to disappear in July, escaping the compound while her teammates travelled to Coventry for a final training match against New Zealand. Swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue, scheduled to compete in the men's 50-meter freestyle, disappeared with his personal belongings next, followed by five eliminated members of the men's boxing team: Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Mewoli Abdon, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo and Serge Ambomo. The news comes after the Ethiopian team's 15-year-old torch bearer Natnael Yemane, a member of the London Organizing Committee's International Inspiration program, disappeared in Nottingham on June 27.
The Guardian speculates that the athletes were motivated to escape the Olympic Village for economic reasons and aim to remain within the European Union. Such disappearances are unfortunately not unusual at international sporting events. After 26 athletes sought asylum during the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne, Australia, nine athletes from Sierra Leon, Tanzania and Bangladesh disappeared from the 2009 tournament. Not all seek legal residence, however, and in 2011, 15 Ethiopian athletes disappeared from the All African Games in Mozambique, a regional hub for illegal immigration. They were rumored to have fled to South Africa in search of employment.
The Olympic games are also known for numerous political defections. Deutsche Welle tracks the first incident to 1948, when Marie Provaznikova, then president of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return to her native Czechoslovakia. In a similiar protest against the Soviet Union, nearly half of Hungary's Olympic delegation defected in 1956 after the failed revolution. The small island of Cuba, however, gets the gold for most defections as low wages and political oppression pushes many talented athletes to seek new teams abroad. Though Cuban coaches have attempted to prevent player-loss by forcing teams to leave competitions early, a national soccer team member managed to file for political asylum as recently as April 2012. Making news for his bronze medal in the men's all-around, U.S. gymnast Danell Leyva is the son of two Cuban athlete defectors
Whether foul play or a transnational job search is at fault, the International Olympic Committee remains in the dark. When asked about the disappearances, IOC spokesman Mark Adams told Reuters: "We are unaware of it."
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
One counterrorism strategy that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama agree on -- not to mention Desmond Tutu, Colin Powell, Kofi Annan and many more -- is that there's a link between extreme poverty and support for violent extremism. But some new data from Pakistan complicates this picture somewhat.
Analyzing a 6,000 person survey, researchers Graeme Blair, Christine Fair, Neil Malhotra, and Jacob N. Shapiro found little connection between wealth and support for terrorism:
Using this approach, we find first that poor individuals hold militants in lower regard than middle-class Pakistanis, even after controlling for a wide range of potentially confounding factors. We further find no evidence that those living in poorer areas are more supportive of militants than others, and the relationship between support and individual-level poverty does not change when we control for community-level income measures. Rather, the contextual factor that matters appears to be exposure to the externalities of militant violence. Leveraging a new dataset of violent incidents, we find first that violence is heavily concentrated in urban areas and second that dislike of militant groups is nearly three times stronger among the urban poor living in districts that have experienced violence than among the poor living in nonviolent districts. It is not that people are vulnerable to militants' appeals because they are poor and dissatisfied. Instead, it appears that the urban poor suffer most from militants' violent activities and so most intensely dislike them.
Depressingly, the data seems to show that the main factor reducing support for terrorism is more terrorism.
Christine Fair also discussed the "poverty breeds terrorism" assertion in a "Think Again" article for FP -- co-authored with former ambassador Husain Haqqani -- back in 2006.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
Russia's most famous prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has released a statement on the trial of punk rock provocateurs Pussy Riot. The billionaire dissident recounts his own experience in the courtroom where the band members now sit:
Segezha, 6 August 2012 – It is painful to watch what is taking place in the Khamovnichesky Court of the city of Moscow, where Masha, Nadya, and Katya are on trial. The word “trial” is applicable here only in the sense in which it was used by the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages.
I know this aquarium in courtroom number 7 well – they made it especially for me and Platon, “just for us”, after the ECHR had declared that keeping defendants behind bars is degrading and violates the Convention on Human Rights.
This is a subtle and sophisticated way of mocking people who dared to file a complaint with the ECHR: ah, okay, so you say that a cage with bars is bad; well then, here’s a cage made of glass for you, a beaker with a little porthole through which you can talk to your lawyers, but you need to twist and contort yourself every which way to actually be able to speak through it. In the summer you feel like a tropical fish in that glass cage – it is hot, and the air from the air conditioner in the courtroom does not circulate through the glass. It was hard for me and Platon – two people – to be in the aquarium together the whole day. I can not even imagine how all three of those poor girls manage to fit in there at once…[...]
If limiting familiarisation with the case and extending arrest is just the usual run-of-the-mill lawlessness, an 11-hour court session without a decent break even for lunch sure looks like the execution of an instruction to complete the judicial investigation, and maybe even the final submissions, before the end of the Olympiad, while the world’s mass information media are busy with other things, and our ignominy does not resonate quite as loudly. The ignominy of a great country, a country of world famous humanists and scientists, turning headlong into a backwards Asiatic province.
I am very ashamed and hurt. And not because of these girls – the mistakes of youthful radicalism can be forgiven – but for the state, which is profaning our Russia with its complete and utter lack of conscience.
It's interesting to note that while Khodorkovsky sympathizes with the defendants, he, like fellow dissident Alexei Navalny -- who's facing his legal difficulties -- stops short of actually supporting their actions. Navalny called Pussy Riot "silly girls" who were being unfairly made an example of, while Khodorkovsky chalks up their actions to "the mistakes of youthful radicalism". The Russian opposition seems willing to decry the treatment of Pussy Riot, but not all that interested in celebrating their activities.
Here at FP, Spencer Ackerman puts Pussy Riot in the context of punk's history of political agitation, arguing that they are today, as The Clash were once described, the only band that matters. Charles Homans looks at some past examples of bands who took on dictators. One imagines Vaclav Havel probably wouldn't have been shy about cheering on the band's "punk prayer."
Mitt Romney has followed up his controversial comments on the link between Israel's economic success and its culture (See Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson for a rebuttal to the argument.) with a short piece in the National Review arguing that the Jewish state "has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law," which has "created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom."
That's a little bit vague (and arguably it was a tradition of mandatory conscription and collectivism that made the desert bloom in the early days) but for a more nuanced understanding of the case for Israel's cultural advantage, it's useful to turn to Romney's advisor Dan Senor. As Michael Shear of the New York Times writes today, "It was Mr. Senor’s book about entrepreneurs in Israel that informed his comments, Mr. Romney explained to the group of Jewish-American donors he had assembled at the King David hotel."
So what cultural factors does the 2009 book Start-Up Nation, co-authored by Senor and Saul Singer, credit for Israel's success? For starters, Senor and Singer reject that the answer is simply Judaism. (In recent days, some have interpreted Romney's comments as a repitition of the old stereotype that Jews are simply good with money.) They write:
[P]inning Israel's success on a stereotype obscures more than it reveals. For starters, the idea of a unitary Jewishness--whether genetic or cultural--would seem to have little applicability to a nation that, though small, is among the most heterogenous in the world. Israel's tiny population is made up of some seventy different nationalities. A Jewish refugee from Iraq and one from Poland or Ethiopia did not share a language, education, culture, or history--at least not for the two previous millenia.
The main factors the authors identify in Israeli culture are bluntness, informality, a love of argument, and a high tolerance for failure:
In The Geography of Bliss, author Eric Weiner describes another country with a high tolerance for failure as "a nation of born-agains, though not in a religious sense." This is certainly true for Israeli laws regarding bankruptcy and new company formation, which make it the easiest place in the Middle East -- and one of the easiest in the world -- to brith a new company, even if your last one went bankrupt. But this also contributes to a sense that Israelis are always hustling, pushing, and looking for thenext opportunity.
Newcomers to Israel often find its people rude. Israelis will unabashedly ask people they barely know how old they are or how much their apartment or car cost; they'll even tell new parents--often complete strangers on the sidewalk or in a grocery store--that they are not dressing their cildren appropriately for the weather. What is said about Jews--two Jews, three opinions--is certainly true of Israelis. People who don't like this sort of frankness can be turned off by Israel, but others find it refreshing, and honest.
This frankness can create a unique workplace atmosphere:
[H]eated debate is anathema in other business cultures, but for Israelis it's often seen as the best way to sort through a problem. "If you can get past the initial bruise to the ego," one American investor in Israeli start-ups told us, "it's immensely liberating. You rarely see people talk behind anybody's back in Israeli companies. You always know where you stand with everyone. It does cut back on the time wasted on bullshit."[...]
The cultural differences between Israel and the United States are actually so great that Intel started running "cross-cultural seminars" to bridge them. "After living in the U.S. for five years, I can say that the interesting thing about Israelis is the culture. Israelis do not have a very disciplined culture. From the age of zero we are educated to challenge the obvious, ask questions, debate everything, innovate," says Mooly Eden, who ran these seminars.
Despite its military tradition, the authors argue, the culture of the Israeli army encourages challenging authority:
[Military theorist Edward] Luttwak says that "in the reserve formations, the atmosphere remains resolutely civilian in the midst of all the trappings of miltiary life."
This is not to say that soldiers aren't expected to obey orders. But as [venture capitalist Amos] Goren explained to us, "Israeli soldiers are not defined by rank; they are defined by what they are good at." Or, as Luttwak said, "orders are given and obeyed in the spirit of men who have a job to do and mean to do it, but the hierarchy of rank is of small importance, especially since it often cut across sharp differences in age and social status."
Senor and Singer argue that the maturity and sense of responsibility Israelis gain from miltiary service, as well as a tradition of international travel, for fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in the country's youth. They also emphasize the informality, the common use of nicknames and lack of strict social heirarchy as important factors:
A bit of mayhem is not only healthy but critical. The leading thinkers in this area... argue that the ideal environment is best described by a concept in "complexity science" called the "edge of chaos." They define that edge as "the estuary region where rigid order and random chaos meet and generate high levels of adaptation, complexity, and creativity."
This is precisely the environment where Israeli entrepreneuers thrive. They benefit from the stable institutions and rule of law that exist in an advanced democracy. Yet they also benefit from Israel's nonhierarchical culture, where everyone in business belongs to overlapping networks produce by small communities, common army service, geographic proximity, and informality.
It is no coincidence that the military -- particularly the elite units...-- have served as incubators for thousands of Israeli high-tech start-ups. Other countries may generate them in small numbers, but the Israeli economy benefits from the phenomena or rosh gadol thinking and critical reassessment, undergirded by a doctrine of experimentation, rather than standardization, wide enough to have a national and even a global impact.
It's worth pointing out that the emphasis in the book is less on demonstrating Israel's superiority to the Palestinians or other neighbors than on the economic lessons the United States could borrow from its culture of entrepreneurship. Whether or not you buy Senor and Singer's argument, it's a lot more nuanced than "Israeli culture superior. Arab culture inferior" -- the takeaway that a lot of observers got from Romney's remarks. Senor's boss might have used his arguments about Israel as the starting point for an interesting conversation on U.S. economic, military, and education policies, if he had done a somewhat better job explaining them.
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
India, the world's largest democracy, suffered its worst blackout in history this week, leaving more than 600 million people without power. To authoritarian and mostly stable China, chaotic India has long been exhibit A in the need for a strong central government: corrupt demagogues leading major states, an armed Maoist rebellion has led to the deaths of thousands of people; some see casualty between situations like these and India's GDP remaining less than thirty percent that of China's.
So it was surprising to see China's often combative state media coverage focus more on the positive. While some stories looked at the nightmare of losing power, more seemed to focus on what China could learn from this disaster: "India's Big Power Outage Sparks a Warning: State Grid Corporation of China [The nations' largest power company] Is Deploying Safety Checks," read a headline from the website of Central People's Broadcaster, a state TV station. "Roundup: Analysis of Investment Opportunities From India Power Collapse" was the headline of a story on the popular Sina web portal. The English language edition of Global Times, a nationalistic broadsheet, suggests China can "use the incident to reflect on their own problems" of development. The negative coverage seems more frequent regarding India's moves in the South China Sea; in response to an announcement that India's state-run Oil & National Gas Corporation would continue working with Vietnam to invest in explorations in the South China Sea, the website of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, featured a blog post titled, "Why Does India Often Pet the Tiger's Butt?" The expression in Chinese means to provoke that which shouldn't be provoked.
Another lesson from this coverage: American media doesn't have a monopoly on animal puns when writing about China.
David Yang writes today that Chinese viewers have been surprisingly impressed by China's less audacious, somewhat quirkier Olympic games (Exhibit A). But while China is currently tied for the U.S. team in the medal count, the media coverage the Chinese team has received has not been so kind.
Although she's never failed a drug test, suspicion continues to follow Chinese swimming phenom Ye Shiwen, who comfortably took gold in the 200-meter individual medley after shattering the world record in the 400-meter on Saturday -- a race in which she swam the final leg faster than men's winner Ryan Lochte.
"History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable,' history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved," said John Leonard, head of the American Swimming Coaches Association, who compared Ye to the famously doped up East German swimmers of the 1970s. BALCO founder Victor Conte, who helped American runners Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery cheat in previous Olympics, suggested that difficult-to-detect blood doping could be involved.
Negative comments about her and Chinese athletes come from deep bias and reluctance from the Western press to see Chinese people making breakthroughs.
If Ye were an American, the tone would be different in Western media. Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in the 2008 Games. Nobody seems to question the authenticity of his results, most probably because he is American.
It's an understandable reaction. China may have some recent history of illegal sports behavior, but so does the United States, including Jones and cyclist Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after he was caught doping. Nonetheless, China's meteoric -- and government-orchestrated -- rise in the sports world makes it a target for scrutiny.
While the Ye situation played out, last night was described as a "evening of shame" for the sport of badminton after several teams, including China's defending gold medalists Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, seemed to be intentionally tanking preliminary matches in order to get a more favorable draw in later rounds. The Chinese team, along with pairs from Indonesia and South Korea, was disqualified from competition today.
Hard to blame Western media bias for that one.
Some unsolicited advice from Russia's president:
NATO forces should stay in Afghanistan until their job is done, Russia President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, suggesting they should stay beyond a planned withdrawal of most combat troops in 2014.
"It is regrettable that many participants in this operation are thinking about how to pull out of there," Putin said at a meeting with paratroopers in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk. "They took up this burden and should carry it to the end."
Perhaps the position of America's "number one geopolitical foe" can help Mitt Romney's campaign better articulate a position on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It's not quite clear from the Reuters story why exactly Putin wants NATO to remain in Afghanistan, though from a strategic perspective, the allies' reliance on the Northern Distribution Network for supplies certainly gives Moscow some international leverage. Russian officials have also repeatedly urged the U.S. to pursue a poppy eradication strategy to wipe out Afghan heroin, which has helped fuel a growing drug epidemic in Russia.
Tim Johnson reports on a community of American gamblers who have found safe-haven in Central America:
Forrester, who grew up in Dillon, Mont., is one of probably 150 American professional online-poker players who flooded Costa Rica after Black Friday: April 15, 2011, when U.S. federal prosecutors went after the founders of the three largest online-poker companies, slamming a lid on the surging business.
Many of the Americans – who are generally male and in their 20s – aren’t happy about leaving their U.S. homes. Unlike Forrester, they voice anger at being denied the chance to earn a living in their home country even while paying taxes there.[...]
The American online poker players in Costa Rica are called “poker refugees,” partly because that’s the name of a relocation service in the capital, San Jose, that helps U.S. players travel to the Central American nation, open bank accounts, find housing and start playing online quickly.
“These guys play anywhere from four to 24 games at one time,” said Kristin Wilson, a former professional surfer from Florida who started the Poker Refugees relocation service.
Wilson’s company ensures that players who move to Costa Rica have nearly foolproof accommodations, to avoid the usual travails of less-developed countries.
“If the Internet or power goes out for 30 seconds, they can lose thousands of dollars. So they have to have two sources backed up to a battery. And they have a USB data card. So if the Internet goes out, they just switch over to the data card,” she said.
Interestingly, Costa Rica is also a major destination for medical tourism, particularly as it provides controversial procedures such as stem-cell treatments which are still illegal in the United States. It seems as if the country has found a niche as a workaround for culturally conservative U.S. laws.
For gambling, at least, this may be changing soon as more states legalize online gambling -- a devlelopment that also has some American Indian tribes worried.
While plenty of attention has been given to the question of what would happen if Syrian President Bashar al Assad's massive -- and fairly well-guarded -- stockpile of chemical weapons fell into the wrong hands, not enough has been given to the danger posed by his army's thousands of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).
Earlier this week, Syrian rebels publicly appealed to Washington to deliver shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles, arguing that such weapons will make a key difference in how quickly the rebels, who are increasingly adept at fighting Assad's ground troops but have been suffering helicopter attacks with little recourse, can topple Assad's government. While the Obama administration has signaled that it may increase support to the rebels -- beyond the flak jackets, radios, medical gear, and (possibly) tactical training it is already giving them -- if they can carve out a safe haven from which to base their operations, it says that it has no plans to provide them with weapons.
The United States isn't in any hurry to arm the rebels with MANPADS for good reason; if just one modern shoulder-fired missile slipped into the wrong hands, it could be used to bring down a civilian airliner, killing hundreds of people.
Even the Syrian regime's aging stockpile of Soviet-made SA-7s could pose a threat to civilian planes, the Federation of American Scientists' Matt Schroeder told FP today. He pointed out that SA-7s have been used to shoot down several civilian planes. There was a famous incident in Baghdad in 2003 where an Airbus A300 cargo plane on contract to DHL was hit by an SA-7 and almost crashed. This incident prompted some commercial carriers such as FedEx to equip their jets with laser-countermeasures designed to defeat shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles.
Videos have already emerged showing Syrian rebels armed with SA-7 units, though it is impossible to tell whether these were taken from Syrian government caches or if the weapons were smuggled into the country. (It should be noted that the weapons shown in the videos lack their grip stocks, meaning that they can't be launched as designed). While SA-7s do pose some threat, their effective shelf life is considered to be 10 to 15 years, according to Schroeder. While most Russian-made SA-7s are decades old, knockoffs have been made outside of Russia in recent years.
As the rebels become a more potent force, there is little doubt they will capture more government weapons or get them from military defectors. So it may only be a matter of time before they acquire some of the SA-18 MANPADS that Syria is thought to have purchased from Russia. The SA-18 is an updated version of the 1980s-vintage SA-16, a shoulder-fired missile that may have successfully downed a British Tornado fighter and an American F-16 during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and a French Mirage 2000D over Bosnia in 1996.
It remains to be seen if the United States has a plan to secure Syria's MANPADS in the event that the Assad government falls -- similar to the one NATO implemented in Libya to secure Muammar al-Qaddafi's stockpile of surface-to air-missiles.
"If the regime collapses suddenly and the weapons are dispersed among many different arsenals around the country and those arsenals are looted relatively rapidly, it'll be very, very difficult to contain it," said Schroeder. "If the regime falls slowly, the U.S. can get on the ground and start negotiating with those folks that, potentially, have access to them, then maybe they can secure more of them or more of them more quickly. There's so much that is not known, a lot of this is speculation."
We've put a call in to the Pentagon and White House to see what they have to say about this. We'll update when we hear back from them.
With general elections potentially on the horizon, a new party has burst onto the Israeli political scene. On Wednesday, the Pirates party, which according to Haaretz "champions ‘the freedom to copy' and ‘the pirating sector,'" applied for recognition as an official political party. Despite its name, the group, led by former Green Leaf party member Ohad Shem-Tov, does not belong to the Pirate Parties International (PPI) movement, which already has an established Israeli chapter. Though the party refuses to speak to non-pirate media, its goals apparently "range from the radical to the delirious," including "the freedom to divide and copy" and social justice.
Shem-Tov is best known for forming the Green Leaf Graduates party before the 2009 following his expulsion from the original Green Leaf party, which campaigns to decriminalize marijuana. During the general elections that year, the Green Leaf Graduates forged an unlikely alliance with the Holocaust Survivors Party, running advertisements espousing a hybrid pro-cannabis, pro-survivors benefits platform.
The Pirate creed is not new to the region. In 2011, PPI member Slim Amamou joined the new Tunisian cabinet as State Secretary of Youth and Sports. PPI also made significant inroads in May, when it won 8 percent of votes in Schleswig-Holstein during German general elections, in addition to 8.9 percent in Berlin and 7.4 percent in Saarland. Israel's Pirate party stands somewhat of a chance, since the election threshold for the Knesset is just 2 percent, but whether it asks the Jewish state to recognize the Church of Kopimism is more of a gamble.
Mitt Romney has already gotten in a spot of trouble in London for suggesting that Britain may not be quite ready to host the Olympic Games. Romney has walked back his comments, but it's not the first time the candidate has said some not-so-flattering things about the Sceptered Isle. In his book, No Apology, he writes:
England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth's land and a quarter of the earth's population.
Its roads and houses are small? The trees probably aren't the right height either.
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The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has been attacked by malware once again.
In a letter made public on the company's website, an unknown Iranian scientist from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) contacted Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer of Finnish security company F-secure, with an unusual complaint:
I am writing you to inform you that our nuclear program has once again been compromised and attacked by a new worm with exploits which have shut down our automation network at Natanz and another facility Fordo near Qom.
According to the email our cyber experts sent to our teams, they believe a hacker tool Metasploit was used. The hackers had access to our VPN. The automation network and Siemens hardware were attacked and shut down. I only know very little about these cyber issues as I am scientist not a computer expert.
There was also some music playing randomly on several of the workstations during the middle of the night with the volume maxed out. I believe it was playing 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC.
Though Hypponen emphasized that he could not verify the attacks upon the Natanz Uraniam enrichment facility in central Iran and Qom, a research facility in an undisclosed section of southwest Tehran, he confirmed that the message was sent from the AEIO.
This sort of thing isn't new. Music was central to 1989's Operation Just Cause, in which U.S. soldiers attempted to coerce Panamanian President Manuel Noriega from his refuge in the Vatican embassy by blaring loud music at the building. In documents acquired by the National Security Archives, U.S. SOUTHCOM admitted U.S. military DJs took requests, blaring a playlist that ranged from Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and, an apparent favorite, AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long.
More recently, U.S. Psychological Operations Company (PsyOps) admitted to the use of heavy metal in Iraq as a mechanism to break uncooperative prisoners' resistance. Similar use was reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross as part of the "cruel, humane and degrading" treatment of Guantanamo inmates. Though the use of heavy metal as a interrogation technique incited some record companies to warn that the United States may owe royalty fees, military officials were unrepentant. As one officer told Newsweek, "Trust me, it works."
Though hackers have been known for their peculiar brand of humor -- see Stuxnet's hidden biblical references -- the use of music in cyber warfare is certainly a new development. Start planning your requests.
Sara Johannessen/AFP/Getty Images
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