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.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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
Talking Points Memo is asking if this is Romney's " first big foreign stumble" and the Obama campaign is sending it out to journalists, but it's not exactly clear who exactly made a gaffe or about what.
Here are some comments made by Romney at a San Francisco fundraiser yesterday, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald:
"I met today with the Foreign Minister of Australia. He said something, and I said 'Can I quote you?' and he said yes. He said, 'America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline,''' Governor Romney told attendees at a fundraiser today.
''And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that's not talk we hear about here as much as they're hearing there. And if they're thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America's in decline they're not gonna do it."
In the AP's telling of the story, the speech claimed that Carr "privately warned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that foreign leaders see "America in decline." Carr's office has come out to deny that there was any "warning" implied:
But despite headlines today such as ''Mitt Romney Gets Grim Warning From Australian Leader'', a spokesman for Senator Carr says Australia's Foreign Minister was talking up the US economy, not talking it down. That is, any fears that Australia's foreign minister has been overseas criticising a key alliance parnter, would be misplaced.
''That interpretation is not correct,'' the spokesman told The National Times.
Indeed, Senator Carr has used a similar phrase about the US budget before - on people such as former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick - to indicate his belief in the US economy's strengths and potential.
TPM's Josh Marshall interprets this as Carr coming "forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion." But it seems like he may be mischaracterizing the statement, which was aimed at the media for mischaracterizing his statement. Or something like that. It's all a bit confusing and a sign of how out-of-hand the campaign gaffe-spotting is getting.
In the end, it seems like a pretty inoccuous statement from both Carr and Romney: Foreign investors would be a lot more enthusiastic about the United States if phrases like "fiscal cliff" weren't such a regular part of its political discourse. Which party is more to blame for this state of affairs is another question.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GettyImages
This weekend marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan - a time of fasting, prayer, and self-reflection throughout the Muslim world. But every year, it starts with a controversy: Ramadan begins with the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon, and religious authorities often differ by a day on when that occurs.
In Syria, the predominantly Sunni opposition is embroiled in a guerilla war with the Alawite-led government. The two sides disagree over the future of their country, the nature of the conflict -- and, you guessed it, the start of Ramadan.
"The Syrian National Council announces ... Friday is the first day of Ramadan, unlike what was declared by the regime," read a statement released by the umbrella opposition group. President Bashar al-Assad's government, meanwhile, declared the holy month would begin on Saturday.
There's a regional political dimension at play here: Most of the Arab world's Sunni states -- such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan -- have announced that Ramadan begins on Friday. These countries have been largely supportive of Syria's rebels. Meanwhile, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon's Shiite community -- whose political leaders have supported to the Assad regime -- are starting Ramadan on Saturday.
Just another example of how what seems to be a purely theological dispute quickly becomes politicized amidst Syria's bloody sectarian conflict.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
In a press release issued this morning, Human Rights Watch slammed Yale University, criticizing the administration for "betraying the spirit of the university as a center of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students." The statement indicts Yale's agreement to enforce Singapore's restrictive laws regarding freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly on its new joint-venture with the National University of Singapore -- the first new college to bear the New Haven university's name in three centuries.
The Yale-NUS college's new president, Pericles Lewis, has repeatedly defended the decision, arguing that students "are going to be totally free to express their views" before admitting the campus "won't have partisan politics or be forming political parties on campus." Unsurprisingly, Yale students and faculty (whose 22 registered student political organizations will be barred from founding sister organizations on the NUS-Yale campus), were less than reassured. Already riled by accusations last spring that special confidentiality arrangements for General Stanley MacCrystal's class were a violation of intellectual freedom, student newspapers have openly mocked the administration's decision while professors have organized protests warning the restrictions limit academic freedom and negatively influence faculty hiring and research programs.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, agreed, calling Singapore's laws restricting political groups and demonstrations "draconian" before warning "Yale may find that many of the freedoms taken for granted over its 300 year history are against the law in Singapore. If it truly values those freedoms, and expects its students to, it will need to fight for them."
Something for U.S. universities to keep in mind as more and more expand into international campuses.
Franck Prevel/Getty Images
Former New Hampshire governor and White House Chief of Staff-turned-campaign surrogate John Sununu was doing okay on a conference call with reporters, responding to the Obama campaign's suggestions that Mitt Romney may be guilty of a felony on his tax returns by quipping that Obama "comes out of that murky political world in Chicago where politician and felony has become synonymous." Then things went a bit off the rails:
The call was organized by the Romney aides to attack Obama's handling of the economy, which they argue has stifled job creation and hurt small business. But Sununu seemed to take it a step further, telling reporters at one point, "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
Asked to clarify his statement, Sununu walked it back, explaining he only meant that he wished Obama would adopt the "American formula" for creating businesses and introducing an environment where "entrepreneurs can thrive."
In other words, Washington now gets to remember who John Sununu is again.
Spain's King Juan Carlos is showing solidarity with his financially-distressed country by announcing salary cuts for the royal family today. As civil servants protest pay cuts and the government struggles to stabilize the precarious economy, the royals have decided that the king and prince will take a 7-percent reduction in their salary, according to Spanish news sources. This year, King Juan Carlos and his son Prince Felipe will have to live on approximately $350,000 and $160,000 respectively.
With nearly one-quarter of the workforce currently unemployed, Spain's austerity measures are hitting the public hard. But while Madrid burned (figuratively, thankfully) under peril of financial collapse, the royal family drew ire this spring when the King was injured on an elephant hunt in Botswana.
Calls for the end of the monarchy and return of the republic ensued. Of course, with an annual budget of only $10 million, doing away with the entire monarchy would amount to savings of about .008 percent of the cost of the deal to bail out Spain's banks.
According to El Pais, the cuts to the royal budget, which were decided upon in April, will affect only the protocol budget and 11 senior officials of the monarchy. Frustration with the royals had already compelled the government to release information about the King's finances in December of 2011.
The royal family's self-imposed austerity measure will also include a 7-percent cut to protocol funds, which cover the royal party costs, for the entire royal family. How the news will play among the financially distressed Spanish public remains unclear.
PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
Some Saudi Arabian officials evidently feel that their country's blasphemy laws -- which treat transgressions as hudud or "limits," punishable by death in some cases -- are too lax. To rectify the situation, Reuters reports, the government is considering regulations that would criminalize insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, or elements of Sharia:
'Within the next two months the Shura Council will reveal the outcome of study on the regulations to combat the criticism of the basic tenets of Islamic sharia,' unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter told al-Watan, adding that there could be ‘severe punishments' for violators.
Criticism penalised under the law would include that of the Prophet, early Muslim figures and clerics, it said.
‘The (regulations) are important at the present time because violations over social networks on the Internet have been observed in the past months,' the sources said.
What is puzzling about the proposed legislation is what exactly it would fix. Saudi officials do not appear to be hamstrung by the existing legal apparatus, which metes out justice to dozens of blasphemers every year. In fact, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, meaning that judges already issue rulings based on their own interpretation of the Quran. According to Human Rights Watch, this means that blasphemy convictions are often handed down without citing any legal basis. As a result, anything from insulting the Prophet's companions, to mocking religion, to using "un-Islamic terminology" can get you convicted of blasphemy.
Nor do lily-livered judges or lenient sentences appear to be the problem. In 2008, for instance, a Mecca appeals court upheld the death sentence for Sabi Bogday, a Turkish national, who allegedly insulted God during an argument. In this case, the testimony of two witnesses was sufficient to prove Bogday's guilt.
In fairness, the death sentence for blasphemy seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Flogging and prison time are more standard fare. Still, the argument that Saudi's blasphemy laws are too permissive has a decidedly hollow ring.
Indeed, even the charge that social media is frustrating efforts to keep Saudi's public sphere squeaky clean doesn't hold water. Earlier this year, for instance, 23-year-old Hamza Kashgari was extradited from Malaysia to stand trial after he tweeted that the Prophet was merely inspirational, not divine.
The rumblings in Riyadh, then, probably have less to do with a perceived blasphemy pandemic and more to do with the ruling family's growing unease with the democratic transitions now underway in much of the Middle East. Although it has historically kept the country's religious establishment at arms-length, recent events have convinced the royal family to take all the support it can get.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
Government-funded outlet Russia Today reports that religious activists in a southern Russian city have called for national ban on Facebook after the popular social media website introduced a new icon system that represented gay couples through the use of gender-appropriate stick figures. Warning that website was "flirting with sodomites," organizers in Saratov delivered a statement to Facebook's Russian headquarters demanding the website remove all content related to "gay propaganda."
Facebook, unsurprisingly, ignored the ultimatum, spurring organizers to escalate their efforts. "We demand only one thing: Facebook should be blocked in the entire country because it openly popularizes homosexuality among minors," campaign organizer Vladimir Roslyakovsky told reporters. "The U.S. goal is that Russians stop having children. [They want] the great nation to turn into likeness of Sodom and Gomorrah."
Laws restricting gay rights have been on the rise in Russia. The European Human Rights Court's 2010 ruling against the Russian government's ban on gay pride events has been largely ignored and in March, St. Petersburg criminalized "the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors," imposing a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles for any found guilty of vaguely-defined "public action." Siberia's regional legislature quickly followed suit in April and the regions of Novosibirsk and Arkhangelsk have imposed similar restrictions. Requests for legal permits to hold Gay Rights Parades have been revoked or denied and illegal protesters arrested in what Human Rights Watch has labeled a systematic breach of international law.
With the Duma reportedly contemplating national action, it's not surprising that anti-gay activists are feeling optimistic. "I am confident that Russian laws and reasonable citizens will be able to protect their children from a fierce attack of sodomites," Roslyakovsky concluded.
Chinese officials were caught Friday with their pants down when the Defense Ministry was forced to admit in a brief statement that a naval frigate has run aground on the south eastern edge of the Spratly Islands-- waters the Philippine government claims exclusive sovereignty over. Though Chinese officials described the vessels as a part of a "routine patrol," the incident comes barely two weeks after the Philippine navy openly accused China of ignoring a June agreement to withdraw all ships from the Scarborough Shoal.
The "thoroughly stuck" grounded ships are an awkward reminder of growing aggression in the South China Seas. The Chinese Defense Department's terse statement Friday was released just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach agreement in Phnom Penh and were forced to conclude without a customary joint statement for the first time in the organization's 45 year history.
ASEAN officials are pointing fingers at China, who they accuse of blindly denying the organization the right to mediate maritime disputes and refusing to participate in negotiations at large. In open defiance of the five-day conference, 20 Chinese shipping vessels returned to disputed waters Wednesday as state papers reminded readers that "China is considering setting up a legislative body in the newly established city." Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seemingly innocuous proposal that "the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threat, and without use of force" was decried by the state-run China Daily as "inappropriate and ill-intentioned."
Despite the harsh words, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi concluded the conference by reminding reporters of his desire to establish "win-win" U.S.-Sino cooperation. Considering their actions this week, it might be at another state's loss.
The party may be coming to an end for Teodorin Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea's heir apparent and the world's richest minister of agriculture and forestry. The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint against Teodorin, son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in June, seeks tens of millions of dollars in assets in the Untied States the feds say were purchased with dirty money laundered in the United States. Now, French prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Teodorin, after he refused to be interviewed by magistrates on graft charges:
Since 2010 French judges have been probing allegations of corruption under President Obiang, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.
Investigating magistrates Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman issued the warrant on Thursday, four months after beginning proceedings and after Obiang refused a second summons for questioning.
The charges were brought by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges the leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.
TI alleges Obiang owned more than four million euros worth of vehicles in France, while altogether the three leaders had accumulated French assets worth 160 million euros ($210 million). [...] In September last year, 11 of the family's luxury cars were seized in Paris as part of the probe. Police in February searched an Obiang residence in an upmarket Paris district, removing vanloads of possessions.
Obiang is claiming immunity sovereign immunity as vice president of Equatorial Guinea. He also enjoys diplomatic immunity as the recently appointed deputy head of mission to Paris-headquartered UNESCO. As sovereign immunity is generally recognized except in cases of war crimes or crimes against humanity, it seems pretty unlikely that prosecutors could make charges stick. Short of going all Danny Glover, the best foreign governments can probably do is take away Teodorin's toys and revoke his priveleges.
If, as expected, internationally-indicted Teodorin takes over from his father as president of the budding petrostate and U.S. ally, things should really get interesting.
Baghdad's electricity ministry pulled a strange PR stunt this week by displaying the American newscaster Katie Couric's face on giant billboards around the city in a campaign to "inspire the people to imagine a better future for electricity," according to a ministry spokesman.
Intermittent electricity supply means that Iraqis battle summer temperatures upwards of 108 degrees Fahrenheit without much air conditioning. Power outages are commonplace, and most Baghdad homes have working electricity for only a few hours a day.
The ministry's latest plan to prevent public uproar over the country's sub-par infrastructure (which erupted last spring and forced the electricity minister to resign) was to post unauthorized images of NBC's former "Today Show" host Katie Couric throughout Baghdad that advertise the ministry's public relations television program. While the smiling face of "America's Sweetheart" may not be doing much to solve the electricity problem, it seems to be lifting spirits.
"It doesn't give me hope about electricity, but I like to see her beautiful face," a fruit vendor told New York Times reporter Tim Arango. Another storeowner said, "Whoever comes here says, ‘What a beautiful face,' She's smiling. She gives us hope."
The ministry spokesman explained that they had considered depicting an Iraqi new caster on the banner, but her family opposed displaying her image publicly. The picture of Couric, who is wearing a brown blazer in the advertisement, was acceptable for the streets of Baghdad. The ministry's web designer said her image was "perfect for us."
Unlike U.S. television star Kim Kardashian, who sued Old Navy for using a model that merely looked like her, Katie Couric jokingly told reporters she was going to call her lawyer. After describing the move as "bizarre and slightly amusing," Couric said on a more solemn note, "It did remind me of how serious the situation still is there."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Image
Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.
The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008. The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.
The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.
This group represents almost half of the world's population and includes the world's three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies -- China, Indonesia, and India.
However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum. Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category. Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country's wealthy. The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.
Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country's GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality-- and their attitudes towards the rich.
*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)
Clausewitz said that war is the extension of politics by other means. But Jordanian lawmaker Mohammed Shawabka seems to have gotten the Prussian military strategist's aphorism backwards. Last Thursday, Shawabka heaved his shoe and then pointed a pistol at Mansour Seif-Eddine Murad, an activist-turned-politician, during a televised debate about the violence in Syria.
According to The National the two traded insults on Jordanian satellite channel Jo Sat with Murad eventually accusing Shawabka of being an Israeli Mossad agent and a thief. Violence quickly ensued:
"Mr Shawabka first threw his shoe at Mr Murad, who dodged with aplomb, and then pulled a gun. Furniture toppled as the show's host desperately tried to separate the two. And then the credits rolled."
On Monday, the AP reported that Shawabka is being investigated for his role in the altercation. According to the prosecutor, Shawabka could be charged with attempted murder, although he conceded that this might be a stretch because the lawmaker did not appear to take aim at his fellow debater.
The incident ups the ante on what has already been an exciting year for parliamentary antics. In June, former parliamentarian and current spokesman for Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party Ilias Kasidiaris grew enraged during a televised debate and threw water on one guest before slapping another in the face repeatedly.
Only weeks before a brawl broke out in the Ukrainian parliament as lawmakers debated a bill that would make Russian and "equal" second language in roughly half of the country. According to the New York Times, the so-called "rumble in Rada" left "at least one opposition politician bloodied and saw another flipped over a banister, his feet flailing in the air."
In Lebanon things heated up in November 2011, when Mustafa Alloush from the pro-Western Future Movement and Fayez Shukr of the Baath Arab Socialist Party began hurling insults-as well as water, pens, and paper-across the table from one another as they discussed the Syrian situation on Lebanese TV.
In recent years, parliamentarians have also come to fisticuffs in Somalia, Iraq, South Korea, Czech Republic, Bolivia, Argentina, Georgia, Taiwan, and Nigeria, To my knowledge, however, Jordan's Mohammed Shawabka is the only one who has introduced firearms into the mix.
The fledgling country's EU-esque flag will not be making the rounds in London's Olympic Stadium on June 27, RFE/RL reports, a major diasppointment to athletes like table tennis player Azari Blerta, shown above:
Kosovo had hoped to send a team of six athletes to the London 2012 Summer Games. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in May rejected the country's application to participate in the July games.
Although 91 countries have recognized Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared its independence in 2008, it has not gained admission to the United Nations.
Malesor Gjonbalaj, an adviser to Kosovo's minister of culture, youth, and sport, says his government feels the IOC decision was arbitrary.
"The Olympic Charter says a country must be recognized by the international community. This notion can be interpreted anyway one pleases," Gjonbalaj says.
The IOC's decision does seem a bit arbitrary as Kosovo is already recognized by the international federations of a number of sports including table tennis, weightlifting, archery, judo, sailing, and now boxing. Soccer association FIFA recently ruled that its members could play friendly matches with Kosovo, prompting protests from the Serbian government.
On the political front the International Steering Group of 25 countries recently agreed to stop supervising Kosovo's independence, another step toward full sovereignty. Olympic participation is clearly not limited only to universally-recognized U.N.-member states, as the Palestinian team has competed in every Olympics since 1996.
This year, judoka Maher Abu Remeleh will become the first Palestinian athlete to earn a spot at the games based on athletic prowess alone, rather than special invitation. The only Kosovar athlete in London will be Majlinda Kelmendi -- also in judo -- who will fight on behalf of Albania.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
Imagine, for a moment, that 9/11 Commission Report Chairman Thomas Kean had begun his group's historic 2004 report by blaming the country's inability to prevent the attack on the "ingrained conventions of American culture" -- perhaps on the arrogance of American exceptionalism or fear of government regulation. At the very least it would have provoked a serious media backlash if not yet another investigation.
That's essentially what Japanese government science advisor Kiyoshi Kurokawa did in his preface to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Report, released late last week. He writes:
What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan.”
Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture:
our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with
the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.
Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same. [...]
Many of the lessons relate to policies and procedures, but the most important is one upon
which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply.
The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset
that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.
Parts of the report are quite damning, particularly on the cozy relationship between government nuclear regulators and the plant operators. But Kurokawa's lament about Japan's culture of conformity is provoking something of a backlash -- at least from international observers. A Bloomberg editorial describes it as "both a copout and a cliche" noting that "notwithstanding the commission’s lament about the Japanese “reluctance to question authority,” many citizens did repeatedly express their concerns about the safety of Tepco’s Fukushima reactors, including legislators from Japan’s Communist Party. Their warnings were brushed aside by those in power." FT Tokyo correspondent Mure Dickie worries that turning Fukushima into a specifically Japanese failure risks making other countries complacent, just as regulators were too quick to bruch aside the Chernobyl meltdown as a typical case of Soviet sloppiness that could never repeat itself in Japan's more technologically and bureaucratically advanced system.
These are good points, though it also seems worth pointing out that Kurokawa's "any Japanese person could have made the same mistakes" argument is itself a kind of groupism. Ironically, a report urging Japan to reflect on the lack of accountability in its bureaucratic culture seems to strive not to hold anyone in particular accountable.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Energy resources are a hot commodity in the Levant Basin days, and with 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and 5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at stake, the Israeli defense ministry is asking for a "one-time budget increase" of about $760 million to boost its naval capacity in the Mediterranean Sea so it can better protect the country's offshore natural gas platforms. Though Israel purchased its fourth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany earlier this year to the tune of over $500 million, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz are on board with the plan, which "calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area."
Natural gas discoveries in the early twenty-first century have created a military debacle for Israel, which does not have demarcated maritime boundary with Lebanon. All of the multinational gas platforms are privately owned and fall within Israel's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from the coast, but they are located beyond Israel's territorial waters, which only stretch 12 nautical miles from land.
Israel's first offshore natural gas discovery, Tamar, is not slated to come online until 2013, but the defense institution fears that the platforms are already targets for terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, which receives long-range missiles from Syria. The Israeli navy does not traditionally get the lion's share of the defense budget, and top officials are worrying. As one anonymous senior Israeli military planner told Reuters, "We will do our best, but not without a major boost to our capabilities." In May, senior naval officer Capt. Sassi Hodeda told the Los Angeles Times that the navy wants to improve its radar systems and use unmanned surface vehicles to patrol, but added that they require "special technology" the navy does not have.
If the navy does receive the extra funding, the vessels it purchases "will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles." According to the Jerusalem Post, the options include designing the ships in the U.S. using foreign military aid, and building them in South Korea, but if Israel is really looking for international help, maybe it should consider ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty first.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, a group commissioned by the U.N. Development Program and chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has released a study today on the role laws and institutions play in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Among other topics, the paper discusses the countries where transmitting HIV is considered a crime. It seems the United States is something of a trendsetter and global leader on that front:
Some jurisdictions apply existing general offences to criminalise HIV exposure or transmission—from “administration of a noxious substance” (France) to attempted homicide (United States). Others have chosen to target HIV: the frst HIV-specific laws were passed in the United States in 1987, with many other nations quickly following suit. The past decade has seen a new wave HIV-specific statutes, notably in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America.
Today, countries and jurisdictions in every region of the world have promulgated HIV-specific criminal statutes. They’re on the books in 37 of the 50 United States; in Africa, 27 countries have them; in Asia and the Paci?c, 13; Latin America, 11; and Europe, 9. According to a 2010 report by the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), at least 600 people living with HIV in 24 countries have been convicted under HIV-specific or general criminal laws, with the greatest numbers reported in North America.
The report condemns these laws, arguing that they discourage people who are HIV-positive from participating in treatment programs or disclosing their status to their sexual partners.
The the United States convicts more people for transmission of HIV than any other country -- under various state laws -- followed by Canada. Surprisingly, Sweden and Norway have the highest conviction rate compared to HIV-positive population. The global comission's report notes that "In Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, migrants and asylum seekers have been disproportionately represented among those prosecuted for HIV transmission and exposure.
Denmark suspended its law criminalizing HIV transmission in 2011. The law had been one of the world's harshest, making it a crime to expose another person to risk of HIV infection, even if there was no actual transmission.
The reports also cites laws that stigmatize gays, transgendered people, migrants, prisoners, and drug users as contributing to the spread of HIV.
The machinations of the countries on the International Whaling Commission are always fun to follow for displays of unvarnished political cynicism. (Funny how small island nations suddenly decide they feel strongly about whaling rights after Tokyo increases their aid packages.) The big news this year is that South Korea is looking to join in the international whaling club, (which includes Iceland, Norway and Japan) using Japanese-style "scientific whaling" as a rationale. The FT reports:
Seoul’s ministry of agriculture and fisheries said on Thursday that scientific research was badly needed to protect local fishermen from the damage that the increasing number of whales inflicts on fish stocks. It added that it would submit its scientific whaling plan to the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee next year and accept the committee’s decision.
Ah yes, it's those nasty whales who are depleting Pacific fish stocks rather than, say, conveyer belt sushi joints.
The BBC's Richard Black writes:
The Korean "whales eat fish" argument is one of the most easily debunked in the book, and I'm sure the Koreans know it - as must the Japanese officials who used to deploy it as a justification for whaling.
South Korea already has a scheme in place in which whales "accidentally" snared in fisherman's nets can be legally sold to markets and restaurants.
DAVID HANCOCK/AFP/Getty Images
Remember when political demonstrations over democracy, Tibet, and Sudan turned the Beijing Olympics into an embarrassment for the Chinese government? Or when South Africa's treatment of Zimbabwean refugees, high levels of violent crime, and construction delays turned the 2010 World Cup into a black eye for the Rainbow Nation? Yeah, me neither. But I do remember when some brilliant observers of international news were predicting it.
Just a few weeks ago, Ukraine's co-hosting of the 2012 Euro Cup seemed like a PR disaster in the making, with European leaders threatening to boycott over the treatment of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and fans being warned that they might "come home in a coffin" because of crime and racist attacks.
As it turns out, the event that wrapped up in Ukraine yesterday went just fine. Daisy Sindelar of Radio Free Europe writes:
But in the end, no significant racist incidents or crowd violence were reported in Ukraine, and the final is now on the books, with Spain soundly defeating Italy 4-0 on July 1.
On June 30, Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, the European football federation, praised Ukraine and Poland for hosting "a fantastic tournament which has been unique in its atmosphere and will remain in our memories.”
To be sure, the tournament had its flaws, with overpriced lodging and poorly organized transportation discouraging many potential tourists from contemplating trips to matches in Kyiv, Lviv, Donetsk, and Kharkiv.[...] The high price of accommodations remained one of the biggest turnoffs throughout the tournament, despite efforts by officials to coax hotel operators down from rates that soared above $1,000 a night.
But the price gouging had an unexpected consequence, prompting hundreds of Ukrainians to offer their homes up for free as part of a grassroots, online initiative that included volunteer translation services and impromptu city tours. Dmytro Vasylev, the founder of the Friendly Ukraine initiative, says the project helped alleviate fears among ordinary Ukrainians that the government, in its ham-fisted response to the pricing and racism scandals, would squander what was meant to be a golden opportunity for the post-Soviet country.
If anything, it was co-host Poland, a democracy and staunch U.S. ally, that had a more problematic Euro, with predictable riots accompanying a Russia-Poland match in Warsaw. As for racism, it was Spain and Croatia, not the host countries, that were fined after their fans made monkey noises at Italy star Mario Balotelli.
Despite all the talk of boycotts, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, all attended yesterday's final -- along with Belarus' Aleksandr Lukashneko. (There were a few appearances by world-renowned topless protest collective FEMEN.)
None of this changes the fact that Tymoshenko is in jail. (Her appeal was postponed last week until after the end of the tournament) or the democratic rollbacks and attacks on the free press under President Viktor Yanukovych.
But I think we can fairly say at this point that -- absent a major boycott like the 1980 Moscow Olympics -- international sporting events don't do much to focus international attention on political conditions in a country. There's been talk that the 2014 Sochi Games might shine a light on political conditions in Putin's Russia and the violence in the North Caucasus, but at this point my money is on the Kremlin, the IOC, and the corporate sponsors making it work. (How they plan to hold winter games in a subtropical environment is another question.)
Lars Baron/Getty Images
Next month, "22 nations, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel" are participating in RIMPAC, the world's largest international naval exercise in Hawaii. But one country's forces have been barred from entering Pearl Harbor, where 42 surface ships from 11 nations -- including first-time participant Russia -- will be based during the excercise. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser's William Cole explains:
In 1985, citing its nuclear-free policy, New Zealand denied port access to the American destroyer Buchanan because the Navy would neither confirm nor deny that the ship was nuclear armed.
The United States said it was suspending its security obligations to New Zealand under what was known as the ANZUS treaty (Australia, New Zealand, United States) until U.S. Navy ships were readmitted to Kiwi ports, and it ended most bilateral activities.
Wilkinson said that while the nuclear-free policy remains, the 2010 Wellington Declaration "established a new framework for an expanded relationship and nearly normalized the relationship."
"We continue to partner within existing limitations, which include not allowing New Zealand Navy ships to visit U.S. military ports," she said.
New Zealand's two warships (including the frigate Te Kaha, pictured above) will be docked closer to Honolulu, which doesn't sound all that rough. The two countries signed their latest military cooperation agreement on June 19, but apparently things have quite been normalized completely.
Hat tip: Lauren Jenkins
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.