Over the past six months, Syria has erupted into chaos. As protesters took to the streets to demand the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army and police responded with deadly force: The United Nations now estimates 2,600 people have perished in the violence.
But what the protest movement has lacked so far is a unified front that could express the Syrian opposition's vision for the country's future, and press for international action against the Assad regime. While Syria's historically fractious opposition groups have been unsuccessful in overcoming their differences, a new coalition has an opportunity to establish a united front. On Thursday, a group of 140 dissidents announced the establishment of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first organized effort to challenge the ferocity of Assad's "killing machine."
Foreign Policy exclusively obtained a document that lays out the SNC's structure, membership, and goals. It also received the SNC's "National Consensus Charter," which describes the principles that will guide the council's actions.
The first document says that the council is currently made up of 140 members. It provides the name of 71 members, but states that the rest have been kept secret "for security reasons." 60 percent of the SNC's membership resides inside Syria, while 40 percent lives abroad. A slim majority -- 52 percent -- of the council's membership is made up of representatives of the grassroots movements that have driven the recent protests, while the rest includes members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Kurdish National Bloc, the Damascus Declaration group, and other prominent opposition figures. The SNC will be divided into eight main offices, including bureaus to undertake tasks such as media relations, policy planning, and legal affairs and human rights.
SNC's charter describes the formation of an anti-Assad umbrella coalition as "a pressing necessity and its absence is an offense against the revolution." It details three main principles: a unified effort to overthrow Assad's regime, the desire to maintain the peaceful nature of the revolution, and a national initiative to create a democratic state that respects the equality of Syria's diverse ethnic and religious groups. The council also asserted its aim to develop a roadmap for democratic change within Syria.
Ausama Monajed, a member of the newly created council and the executive director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre, detailed what the council hopes to accomplish in a conversation with FP.
Foreign Policy: What message do you want to send the Syrian people, and the rest of the international community?
Ausama Monajed: The Syrian National Council aims to present the reality of Syria to international media outlets and policy makers, to be able to have an impact on global policies by providing governments with the right information and analysis; to draft roadmaps for a just Syria; and to boost the morale of Syrian demonstrators by presenting them with a unified body that will support their activities.
FP: Why does the council oppose military and foreign intervention in Syria?
AM: Syrians oppose military intervention because of the negative experience countries in the region have had. The council only reflects the demands of the Syrian street.
Assad's regime is built on self-interest, not on a minority, as perceived. Alawites [Assad's religious sect] are starting to peel away from the regime and many are starting to oppose it, realizing that Assad will flee, leaving them to deal with the aftermath of his sectarian actions. A coup is a possible scenario, a sudden collapse is also a possibility.
FP: What groups are represented in the council? How will the council, made up of so many voices, effectively form a united oppositional front to Assad?
AM: All Syrian groups. The differences in views of the council members are insignificant at this time, as all parties involved - or actually all Syrians -- agree on certain principles, such as that the Syrian revolution should remain peaceful, national unity is to be stressed and all sectarian or exceptionalist tendencies are to be extricated, while foreign military intervention will be rejected.
The charter added that all minorities and parties in Syria will have their rights guaranteed without any discrimination -- and that includes recognition of the Kurdish identity, and reaching a fair solution to Kurdish issues within the scope of national unity.
FP: Who will lead the council? Will the names of the council members still within Syria be released? Is there a formal list of the dissident members residing outside of Syria? Will more members be chosen in the near future?
AM: Leadership elections will take place in a few days. While the names of some of the members have been revealed, we did not reveal the rest of the names for security reasons.
FP: Ahmed Ramadan, a council member, has spoken of the possibility of a TV channel being launched to address the demands of the Syrian people. Is this true?
AM: Everything is possible.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
According to a number of blogs, for a brief period today there was an app/game available in Apple's iTunes store illustrating some of the more controversial aspects of the iPhone's supply chain. Here a description from the website of producer MolleIndustria:
Phone Story is a game for smartphone devices that attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform. Under the shiny surface of our electronic gadgets, behind its polished interface, hides the product of a troubling supply chain that stretches across the globe. Phone Story represents this process with four educational games that make the player symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.
Keep Phone Story on your device as a reminder of your impact. All of the revenues raised go directly to workers' organizations and other non-profits that are working to stop the horrors represented in the game.
Remarkably, the game made it past Apple's initial review, but was removed today. Kyle Orland at Gamasutra writes:
But shortly after the game was announced and made available for purchase on the App Store earlier this morning, MolleIndustria tweeted that it had been removed for violating four separate app store review guidelines (as noticed by sister site IndieGames.com).
The cited guidelines prohibit apps that "depict violence or child abuse," "present objectionable or crude content," "contain false, fraudulent of misleading representations" or fail to "comply with all legal requirements."
Maybe they could produce a spin-off for Android market, where the requirements are less stringent? It's not like Apple's the only company using African coltan and FoxConn labor to make its phones.
Hat Tip: Several folks via Twitter
Last night's CNN-Tea Party Republican debate did little to disabuse anyone of the notion that the Tea Party movement is not overly concerned with anything happening outside U.S. borders -- other than building a great big fence on those borders.
While there was an inordinate amount of time spent discussing a Texas HPV vaccination program that has little relevance to federal-level policy, there was no discussion of trade and the word "Libya" was never mentioned. There was no discussion of Europe's debt crisis or any reference to the developing world. Climate change, which many of the candidates don't believe in, in any case, was completely ignored. China, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Iraq were mentioned only in passing.
Frustratingly, most of the discussion of Afghanistan and terrorism was dominated by Santorum, Paul, Gingrich, and Hunstman -- though, given that this was the Tea Party debate, we also heard surprisingly little from Bachmann or Cain on these issues last night. The views of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry -- the two candidates on stage with a realistic chance of becoming president next year --are still frustratingly opaque on several key issues, although as Dan Drezner notes, foreign-policy campaign promises tend to be particularly meaningless.
In any case, let's go to the highlights!
RON PAUL on America's Vatican-sized Iraq embassy:
So we have to cut the spending, and a good way to start, there's a little embassy we built over in Baghdad that cost us a billion dollars. It's bigger than the Vatican. That's what's bankrupting this country, and that's the easy place to cut. That's where we should be cutting.
NEWT GINGRICH forgets about the Canadian menace:
We have a simple choice. We can depend on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, or we can encourage development in the United States of manufacturing, as Rick said. We can encourage development of oil and gas. We can do it by saying we're going to let you keep more of your money if you create more of what we want. I'm for an energy- independent America, and that means I favor people who create energy.
RICK SANTORUM is against storm troopers:
I've said this from the very beginning. What -- I'm the son of an Italian immigrant. I believe in immigration. I believe that immigration is an important part of the lifeblood of this country. But what we have is a problem of an unsecure border. Unlike Governor Perry, I believe we need to build more fence. I need -- I believe that we need to secure the border using technology and more personnel. And until we build that border, we should neither have storm troopers come in and throw people out of the country nor should we provide amnesty. What we should do is enforce the laws in this country with respect to employers, and we should secure the border. And then after the border is secured, then we can deal with the problems that are in this country. But I -- I think it's very important that we understand and we explain to folks that immigration is an important lifeblood of this country, something that I strongly support and something that we have to do legally if we're going to have -- have respect for the law.
RICK PERRY: Um … have you guys seen the border? It's really long.
Yes, sir. There's not anybody on this stage that's had to deal with the issue of border security more than I have, with 1,200 miles of -- of Texas and Mexico. And our federal government has been an abject failure at securing our border.
We've had to spend some $400 million of Texas taxpayer dollars to send Texas Ranger recon teams down there. Strategic fencing in the metropolitan areas absolutely has a role to play. But the idea that you're going to build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and go left for another 800 miles to Tijuana is just not reality. What you have to have is boots on the ground. You've got to have 450 Border Patrol agents trained up, 1,500 National Guard troops. You've got to have the aviation assets in the air putting real-time information down to the law enforcement. We understand and know how to secure that border, but we can't do it alone. And the federal government has to step up and do what their constitutional duty is, and that is to secure the border with Mexico.
SANTORUM includes the night's most cringe-inducing Freudian slip and weirdest metaphor in one answer:
SANTORUM: Well, I mean, what Governor Perry's done is he provided in-state tuition for -- for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote -- I mean, the Latino voters. But you track Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration in this country. You talk about the importance of -- as -- as Newt has talked about for many years, having English as the -- as the official language of this country.
I say that as, again, my -- my father and grandfather came to this country not speaking a word of English, but it was the greatest gift to my father to have to learn English so he could assimilate into this society.
We're a melting pot, not a salad bowl. And we need to continue that tradition.
PERRY gets booed for wanting immigrants to be educated, productive members of society:
In the state of Texas, if you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there.
And the bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. And that's what we've done in the state of Texas. And I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.
JON HUNTSMAN's treason joke falls flat:
Well, first of all, let me say for Rick to say that you can't secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment. Rick, we can secure the border. We can secure the border through means of fences, through technology, through the deployment of our National Guard troops, we can get it done. In fact, when the elected president of the United States, I would work with you and the other three border governors to ensure that through your law enforcement officials you can verify that that border is secure.
MITT ROMNEY: In their hearts, Latinos know we're right:
The question began by saying how do we attract Latino voters. And the answer is by telling them what they know in their heart, which is they or their ancestors did not come here for a handout. If they came here for a handout, they'd be voting for Democrats. They came here for opportunity and freedom. And that's what we represent. And that's why we'll win collecting support from Latinos across the country.
With regards to illegal immigration, of course we build a fence and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who come here illegally. That only attracts people to come here and take advantage of America's great beneficence. And with regards to giving driver's licenses to people that are here illegally, that creates a patina of legal status. There are sanctuary cities in some parts of the country.
GINGRICH will meet the threats of tomorrow with … congressional hearings:
I think we are at the edge of an enormous crisis in national security. I think that we are greatly underestimating the threat to this country. And I think that the day after we celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we should be reminded exactly what is at stake if a foreign terrorist gets a nuclear weapon into this country.
We have failed for a decade to deal with North Korea. We have failed for a decade to deal with Iran. The developments in Egypt and Turkey are much more dangerous than anybody is looking at in this country. And I think we need, frankly, to ask for a very serious national dialogue.
I'd like to see both the House and Senate right now holding hearings on three levels of security. What do you do in Mexico where there's a civil war underway next door to us? What do you do in the Middle East where we have totally underestimated the scale of the threat? And what do you do about our national domestic industrial base which is crucial if we're going to be competitive with China?
RON PAUL does his Ron Paul thing:
First thing I would like to do is make sure that you understand there's a difference between military spending and defense spending. I'm tired of all the militarism that we are involved in. And we're wasting this money in getting us involved. And I agree, we are still in danger, but most of the danger comes by our lack of wisdom on how we run our foreign policy.
So I would say there's a lot of room to cut on the military, but not on the defense. You can slash the military spending. We don't need to be building airplanes that were used in World War II -- we're always fighting the last war.But we're under great threat, because we occupy so many countries. We're in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We're going broke. The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us. And they have been doing it. They have more attacks against us and the American interests per month than occurred in all the years before 9/11, but we're there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we're kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?
So I would say a policy -- a foreign policy that takes care of our national defense, that we're willing to get along with people and trade with people, as the founders advised, there's no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world, and no nation-building. Just remember, George Bush won the presidency on that platform in the year 2000. And I still think it's a good platform.
SANTORUM, again, uses up way too much ammunition fighting with Ron Paul:
SANTORUM: On your Web site on 9/11, you had a blog post that basically blamed the United States for 9/11. On your Web site, yesterday, you said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11. Now, Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible. The president of the United States -- someone who is running for the president of the United States in the Republican Party should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11. We should have -- we are not being attacked and we were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked, as Newt talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists. And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for. And we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that. BLITZER: Thirty second, Mr. Paul. PAUL: As long as this country follows that idea, we're going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they're attacking us because we're free and prosperous, that is just not true. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit -- they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing -- (BOOING)
PAUL: I didn't say that. I'm trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing, at the same time we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years. Would you be annoyed? If you're not annoyed, then there's some problem.
HUNTSMAN: Things will work out for the women of Afghanistan once America gets its shine back:
SAHAR HEKMATI, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Hi. My name is Sahar Hekmati. I was brought here from Ronald Reagan. I am from Afghanistan. And my question to you is, as the next president of the United States, what will you do to secure safety and protection for the women and the children of Afghanistan from the radicals?
HUNTSMAN: We are 10 years into this war, Sahar. America has given its all in Afghanistan. We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it's to them that we offer our heartfelt salute and a deep sense of gratitude. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan. We don't need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation- building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, which it is in this country. I like those days when Ronald Reagan -- you talked about -- when Ronald Reagan would ensure that the light of this country would shine brightly for liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets. We're not shining like we used to shine. We need to shine again. And I'm here to tell you, Sahar, when we start shining again, it's going to help the women of Afghanistan, along with any other NGO work that can be done there and the collaborative efforts of great volunteer efforts here in the United States. We can get it done, but we have to make sure that the Afghan people increasingly take responsibility for their security going forward.
PERRY kinda, sorta, maybe supports troop withdrawal:
Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country's military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home, and continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need, whether it's schools for young women like yourself or otherwise.
ROMNEY shills for the Anglophile vote (background on Churchill-gate here):
You know, one of -- one of my heroes was a man who had an extraordinary turn of phrase. He once said about us, he said, you know, you can count on the Americans to get things right after they've exhausted all the alternatives. And now and then we've made a couple of mistakes. We're quite a nation. And this man, Winston Churchill, used to have his bust in the Oval Office. And if I'm president of the United States, it'll be there again.
In case you missed 'em, here were the highlights of last week's debate.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Warning: Mild spoilers ahead
Aside from being about the most effective advertisement for Purell ever devised, Steven Soderbergh's very good new film Contagion can also be read as an argument for the necessity of strong states and government intervention in an era of global threats.
The film begins with an American businesswoman played by Gwyneth Paltrow returning home from a business trip to China, bringing along a deadly new strain of bat-pig flu that quickly becomes an out-of-control epidemic, killing millions around the globe. It's subtly suggested later in the film that Paltrow's company may have inadvertantly played a role in the virus' creation. ( Robin Cook's November 2009 FP cover story sketches out a similar scenario.)
Soderbergh shifts genres in his career almost as quickly as the virus in the film mutates into ever-more-deadly forms, but Contagion could function as a companion piece to his drug war epic Traffic as entries in a form that could be called the globalization thriller -- sprawling multi-character, multi-country examinations of a topical theme.
But the two movies, while structually similar, have a very different sensibility. Whereas the 2000 film took a skeptical view of the ability of the U.S. government to combata problem driven by economic necessity and human weakness -- a failure personified by the hypocritical right-wing judge played by Michael Douglas -- Contagion continually drills home the message that trained government officials are the only thing standing between us and the very scary things in the world.
In her review of the film for the New York Times, Manhola Dargis compares Contagion with paranoid 70s thrillers like All the President's Men and the Parallax View, noting that "in the 1970s it was the government that played the villain while this time it’s on the side of right."
Indeed the depiction of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization in the film is strikingly positive. When the strong arm of the state is represented by the photogenic trio of Marillon Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, and Kate Winslet selflessly putting their lives on the line to save others, who could say no? To the extent that these characters have any flaws, it's that they're too compassionate -- Lawrence Fishburnce's CDC director violates an information embargo to warn a loved one.
When the officials in the film confine citizens or restrict their movements, it's for their own good. When they conceal information, it's completely understandable. (Though a good portion of the film takes place in China, there's no discussion of the role that Beijing's authoritarian secrecy played in worsening the 2003 SARS outbreak.)
In films like Traffic and Erin Brockovich, Soderbergh celebrated characters who stood up to state and corporate power. In the world of Contagion, the dangers posed by a world of unrestricted trade, travel, and environmental devastation, make state power a necessity.
The only character in the film who questions whether the government really has people's best interests at heart is the blogger portrayed by Jude Law. But rather than a Brockovichian hero, Law is a paranoid creep, raising nagging questions about the selfless officials who know best and putting people at risk. (Fishburne, at one point, suggests he may be a bigger threat than the virus itself.)
Stretch out Law's English vowels into Australian ones and it's not hard to picture Law's character as a medical Julian Assange, disrupting the legitimate functioning of government by indiscriminately disseminating classified information. Indeed, the film suggests, the unfiltered nature of the Internet itself may make it unacceptably dangerous during a time of crisis. ("On the Internet? And you believe it?" Cotillard scoffs in one scene.)
As Dargis suggests, it's hard not to see the film as a liberal Hollywood response to the anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party and this election cycle's iteration of the Republican Party. It also may be pertinant that the word "contagion," in recent political rhetoric, has referred less often to medical disease than to the spread of financial chaos from the U.S. housing market to the global economy. At a time when the role of government in regulating the economy is a major topic of debate, the film packs a metaphorical punch.
Coming out of the weekend of 9/11, it's also probably safe to say that this is a film that would not have been made under the Bush administration. Contagion may be very much the vision of a left-wing Hollywood director, but as a film that makes the case for granting the state extraordinary powers to in order to combat an unseen, little understood, and highly-dangerous threat from abroad, it's also a film Dick Cheney could love.
The Egyptian government is planning to stop issuing visas for tourists on arrival:
Tourists "will have to apply at embassies and consulates for visas," he said.
Tourists from many states, especially Western countries whose nationals contribute the bulk of Egypt's vital tourism revenues, are still allowed to obtain visas on arrival until the new regulations are in place.
"We want to regulate entry," said Higazi, adding that he could not say when the new instructions will be passed on to airport officials.
"We are asked for visas everywhere and it is our right to ask for visas. No airport in the world would give me a visa on arrival," he said.
Tourism accounts for about 7 percent of Egypt's GDP, but the sector has been hit hard since this year's revolution. Even with a planned exception for group tours, this doesn't really seem like the best way to convince jittery travelers to return.
Obtaining visas in advance is enough of a hassle for countries that aren't major tourist destinations. When you're talking about a country that, in a good year, can draw up to 9.7 million visitors, I'd imagine we're going to see some pretty overwhelmed consulates.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
As expected, last night's GOP debate focused mostly on domestic policy and the big headline was the argument over Rick Perry's description of the Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." But there were some notable exchanges on the subjects of foreign policy and national security (as usual, Ron Paul had all the best lines.) Here were a few highlights:
JON HUNTSMAN: Did you know I speak Chinese?
[Romney] doesn't get the part that what will fix the U.S- China relationship, realistically, is fixing our core right here at home, because our core is weak, and it is broken, and we have no leverage at the negotiating table.
And I'd have to say, Mitt, now is not the time in a recession to enter a trade war. Ronald Reagan flew this plane. I was in China during the trip in 1984. He went on TV, he spoke to the Chinese people -- I'd love to do that too, in Chinese itself -- and he talked in optimistic, glowing terms.
[...]We've got to remember, that to beat President Obama, we have to have somebody who's been in the private sector, understands the fragility of the free market system, has been a successful governor as it relates to job creation, and knows something about this world.
I've lived overseas four times, I've been an ambassador to my country three times, I think I understand that.
RON PAUL: Sex, lies, and 9/11
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul, this same line. You want to demolish the TSA. What would exist in its place?
PAUL: With the airlines that are responsible for carrying their cargo and their passengers. I mean, why -- why should we assume that a bureaucracy can do better? And look at the monstrosity we have at the airports. These TSA agents are abusive. Sometimes they're accused of all kinds of sexual activities on the way they maul people at the airport. So the airlines could do that. [...]
Just remember, 9/11 came about because there was too much government. Government was more or less in charge. They told the pilots they couldn't have guns, and they were told never to resist. They set up the stage for all this. So, no, private -- private markets do a good job in protecting -- much better than this bureaucracy called the TSA, let me tell you.
PAUL: Turn down the AC, turn off the war
But I'll tell you how we should do it. We're spending -- believe it or not, this blew my mind when I read this -- $20 billion a year for air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq in the tents over there and all the air conditioning. Cut that $20 billion out, bring in -- take $10 off the debt, and put $10 into FEMA or whoever else needs it, child health care or whatever. But I'll tell you what, if we did that and took the air conditioning out of the Green Zone, our troops would come home, and that would make me happy.
RICK PERRY: Drone war in El Paso
Well, the first thing you need to do is have boots on the ground. We've had a request in to this administration since June -- or January of 2009 for 1,000 border patrol agents or National Guard troops, and working towards 3,000 border patrol. That's just on the Texas border.
There's another 50 percent more for the entire Mexican border. So you can secure the border, but it requires a commitment of the federal government of putting those boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air.
We think predator drones could be flown, that real-time information coming down to the local and the state and the federal law enforcement. And you can secure the border. And at that particular point in time, then you can have an intellectually appropriate discussion about immigration reform.
For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it's ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country, or he was an abject liar to the American people. It is not safe on that border.
MITT ROMNEY: Turn off the magnet
ROMNEY: Well, first, we ought to have a fence. Secondly...
DIAZ-BALART: The whole fence, 2,600 miles?
ROMNEY: Yes. We got to -- we got to have a fence, or the technologically approved system to make sure that we know who's coming into the country, number one. Number two, we ought to have enough agents to secure that fence and to make sure that people are coming over are caught.
But the third thing, and I learned this when I was with border patrol agents in San Diego, and they said, look, they can always get a ladder to go over the fence. And people will always run to the country. The reason they come in such great numbers is because we've left the magnet on.
And I said, what do you mean, the magnet? And they said, when employers are willing to hire people who are here illegally, that's a magnet, and it draws them in. And we went in and talked about sanctuary cities, giving tuition breaks to the kids of illegal aliens, employers that, employers that knowingly hire people who are here illegally. Those things also have to be stopped.
NEWT GINGRICH: Outsource immigration to the credit card companies:
I think we have to find a way to get to a country in which everybody who's here is here legally. But you started by referencing President Reagan.
In 1986, I voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which in fact did grant some amnesty in return for promises. President Reagan wrote in his diary that year that he signed the act because we were going to control the border and we were going to have an employer program where it was a legal guest worker program. That's in his diary.
I'm with President Reagan. We ought to control the border, we ought to have a legal guest worker program. We ought to outsource it, frankly, to American Express, Visa, and MasterCard, so there's no counterfeiting, which there will be with the federal government. We should be very tough on employers once you have that legal program.
We should make English the official language of government. We should insist -- (APPLAUSE) --We should insist that first-generation immigrants who come here learn American history in order to become citizens. We should also insist that American children learn American history.
And then find a way to deal with folks who are already here, some of whom, frankly, have been here 25 years, are married with kids, live in our local neighborhood, go to our church. It's got to be done in a much more humane way than thinking that to automatically deport millions of people.
RICK SANTORUM: Immigration ain't what it used to be
Look, I'm the son of an Italian immigrant. I think immigration is one of the great things that has made this country the dynamic country that it continues to be, people who are drawn because of the ideals of this country. And so we should not have a debate talking about how we don't want people to come to this country, but we want them to come here like my grandfather and my father came here. They made sacrifices. They came in the 1920s. There were no promises. There were no government benefits.
They came because they wanted to be free and they wanted to be good law-abiding citizens. So we have to have a program in place that sets that parameter that says, you're going to come to this country, come here according to the rules. It's a very good first step that the first thing you do here is a legal act, not an illegal act.
MICHELE BACHMANN: The real problem with childern of immigrants is narcoterrorists. (Also, old Cuban Bay of Pigs vets in Miami speak for all Hispanic Americans.)
HARRIS: Congresswoman, you said the fence -- that you believe the fence is fundamental as an integral part of controlling the border. Let's say that in 2012 or 2013, there's a fence, the border is secure, gasoline is $2 a gallon. What do you do then with 11 million people, as the Speaker says, many of whom have U.S.-born children here? What do you do?
BACHMANN: Well, again, understand the context and the problem that we're dealing with.
In Mexico right now, we're dealing with narco terrorists. This is a very serious problem. To not build a border or a fence on every part of that border would be, in effect, to yield United States sovereignty not only to our nation anymore, but to yield it to another nation. That we cannot do.
One thing that the American people have said to me over and over again -- and I was just last week down in Miami. I was visiting the Bay of Pigs Museum with Cuban-Americans. I was down at the Versailles Cafe. I met with a number of people, and it's very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well.
HERMAN CAIN: I am also in this debate
Let's make sure -- let's solve all of the problems. It's not one problem.
I do believe we can secure the border with a combination of boots on the ground, technology, and a fence, but we've got three other problems. And to get to it, we've got to secure the border.
Secondly, let's promote the path to citizenship that's already there. We don't need a new one, we just need to clean up the bureaucracy that's slowing the process down and discouraging people.
The third thing we need to do, enforce the laws that are there, and the way we do it, empower the states. I believe that the people closest to the problem are the best ones to be able to solve that problem. Empower the states to do what the federal government hasn't done, can't do, and won't do. This is how we solve the entire problem.
HUNTSMAN: Watch what you say about immigrants
I would just have to say that I disagree with so much of what has been said here today. President Reagan, when he made his decision back in 1987, he saw this as a human issue. And I hope that all of us, as we deal with this immigration issue, will always see it as an issue that resolves around real human beings.
Yes, they came here in an illegal fashion. And yes, they should be punished in some form or fashion. I have two daughters that came to this country, one from China, one from India, legally. I see this issue through their eyes.
We can find a solution. If President Reagan were here, he would speak to the American people and he would lay out in hopeful, optimistic terms how we can get there, remembering full well that we're dealing with human beings here. We have to agree.
But let me just say one thing about legal immigration. Let's not lose sight of the fact that our legal immigration system is broken. And if we want to do something about attracting brain power to this country, if we want to lift real estate values.
For example, why is it that Vancouver is the fastest-growing real estate market in the world today? They allow immigrants in legally, and it lifts all votes (ph). And we need to focus as much on legal immigration.
PAUL: Dude...what if WE'RE the ones behind the fence?
But there is a mess down there, and it's a big mess. And it's the drug war that's going on there. And our drug laws are driving this. So now we're killing thousands and thousands of people. That makes it much more complicated. But the people who want big fences and guns, sure, we can secure the borders -- a barbed-wire fence with machine guns, that would do the trick.
I don't believe that's what America is all about. I just really don't.
We can enforce our law. If we had a healthy economy, this wouldn't be such a bad deal. People are worrying about jobs. But every time you think about this toughness on the border and I.D. cards and real IDs, think that it's a penalty against the American people, too.
I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. In economic turmoil, the people want to lead (ph) with their capital. And there's capital controls and there's people control. So, every time you think of fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in.
HUNTSMAN channels John Kerry
I think we've lost our confidence as a country. I think we have had our innocence shattered. I think, 10 years later, we look at the situation and we say, we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. This is not about nation-building in Afghanistan. This is about nation-building at home.
Our core is broken. We are weak. We have got to strengthen ourselves. I say we've got to bring those troops home. (APPLAUSE) In Afghanistan -- in Afghanistan, the reality is it is an asymmetrical counterterror effort. We need intelligence. We need special forces. And we need some training on the ground. But I think one way to commemorate our 10-year anniversary of 9/11, remembering the 3,000-plus people who died in New York and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, is to say it's time for this country to set a goal for ourselves: We're going to get our core fixed. We're going to do some nation-building right here at home.
PERRY gets philosophical, gives props
HARRIS: Governor Perry, as we approach the 9/11 anniversary, I'd like to stick with national security for a moment. You recently said, quote, "I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism." Looking back, do you think President George W. Bush was too quick to launch military intervention without thinking through the risks?
PERRY: I was making a comment about a philosophy; I don't think America needs to be in the business of adventurism.
But let me just say something about the president of the United States. And I know he's -- he's taken lots of slings and arrows here today. But one thing that I want to say that he did do that I agree with is that he maintained the -- the chase and -- and we took out a very bad man in the form of bin Laden, and I -- and I tip my hat to him.
I give more props to those Navy SEALs that did the job, but -- and the other thing this president's done, he has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We'll never have to have that experiment on America again.
And I might add that he kept Gitmo open against the will of his base, and I'm glad he did that. America's safer for it.
HARRIS: Sir, just if I could quickly follow on that, you said you were making a philosophical comment, but it's hard to understand philosophy without understanding specifics. Where are some of the places where you think we've seen military adventurism?
PERRY: As I said, that is -- that was a philosophical statement that Americans don't want to see their young men and women going into foreign countries without a clear reason that American interests are at stake. And they want to see not only a clear entrance; they want to see a clear exit strategy, as well.
We should never put our young men and women's lives at risk when American interests are not clearly defined by the president of the United States, and that's one of the problems this president is doing today.
BACHMANN is on the Select Committee on Intelligence. No, really, she is.
Well, I want to say, as devastating as our economy is with the policies of Barack Obama, I think that he has actually weakened us militarily and with the United States presence globally. We have, for many years, maintained global order in the world with our United States military. We have the finest military. But in this last debt ceiling debate, one of the alternatives that came forward that we're going to be looking at with this new super committee of 12 different members of Congress is to see that our military could be hit with a huge reduction in resources.
The president has not done what he needs to do to keep the United States safe. If you look at the biggest issue in the Middle East, it's a nuclear Iran, and the president has taken his eyes off that prize.
As a matter of fact, what he's done is he's said, in fact, to Israel that, they need to shrink back to their indefensible 1967 borders. I sit on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. We deal with the nation's classified secrets. And I firmly believe that the president of the United States has weakened us militarily and put us more at risk than at any time.
BACHMANN: A matter of caliphate
Well, I believe that it was wrong for the president to go into Libya. Number one, his own secretary of defense, Gates, said that there was no American vital interest in Libya. If there is no vital interest, that doesn't even meet the threshold of the first test for military involvement. The other thing is, we didn't know who the rebel forces were in Libya. Take a look at where we're at in Libya today.
Take a look at the oil revenues. We don't know if they will get in the hands of people who will have designs on radical Islam and the implication of a global caliphate. These are very serious issues, and I think it was wrong for the president of the United States to go into Libya.
SANTORUM makes us picture Ronald Reagan as a witch
Well, we're in the Reagan Library, and I'm hearing from at least a couple of people on this panel a very isolationist view of where the Republican Party should be headed about pulling troops out with Governor Huntsman and with Ron Paul.
The bottom line is, Ronald Reagan was committed to America being a force for good around the world. We were a society that believed in ourselves and believed that we can spread our vision to the rest of the world and make this country a safer country as a result of it.
We didn't have missions where we put exit strategies saying this date is when we're going to leave. We didn't say that we are the problem and the cause of the problems that confront us around the world.
We were -- we are a source for good. We could have been a source for good from the very get-go in Libya, but this president was indecisive and confused from the very beginning. He only went along with the Libyan mission because the United Nations told him to, which is something that Ronald Reagan would have melted like the old Wicked Witch of the West before he would have allowed that to happen.
It might be the end of American hegemony in the global political and economic order, but unemployed and underpaid Americans can at least take heart at today's news.
Social networking site Badoo.com conducted a poll of 30,000 people in 15 countries to name the coolest nationality. Surprise! - despite a sinking economy, pathetic politics, and increasingly suspect pop culture exports -- Americans are still number 1.
According to Reuters, the top ten coolest nationalities are:
The five least cool?
According to Reuters:
"We hear a lot in the media about anti-Americanism," says Lloyd Price, Badoo's Director of Marketing. "But we sometimes forget how many people across the world consider Americans seriously cool."
"America," says Price, "boasts the world's coolest leader, Obama; the coolest rappers, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg; and the coolest man in technology, Steve Jobs of Apple, the man who even made geeks cool."
It's unknown how Obama's coolness factors into his job approval ratings by Americans - the most recent polls say that more than half of the country disapproves of him as leader of the pack.
The Moscow Times reports on a diplomatic cable obtained by the Russian newspaper Kommersant featuring a bit of amateur psychology on why the prime minister seems so ill-disposed toward Estonia:
A cable dating back to December 2009 cites the Estonian Foreign Ministry's undersecretary and ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Harri Tiido, as saying that "Estonia seeks pragmatic relations with Russia and has managed a number of productive working level meetings over 2008."
But relations remained "difficult at the political level" because of Putin, who alone decides the policy toward Estonia even after trading the presidency for the prime minister's post in 2008, Tiido said.
"Putin has a personal gripe with Estonia," Tiido is quoted as saying.
Putin's father, also Vladimir, fought in the Red Army during the war and parachuted into Estonia for an unspecified operation. But locals, still disgruntled with the country's occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940 — a year before the Germans invaded Estonia — handed him over to the Nazi forces, Tiido said. Putin's father later managed to flee but was injured as he left, he said.
Eh...maybe. Putin has never seemed particularly fond of any former Soviet republic that actively seeks to escape Russian influence. Does he have particular emnity toward Estonia? At least he's never threatened to hang any of the country's leaders by the balls.
Russian-Estonian relations hit a low point in 2007 following the removal of a controversial Soviet war memorial in Tallinn. The move prompted an official rebuke from Moscow and was followed shortly after by a massive cyberattack, allegedly orchestrated by Russian nationalists.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, August saw two significant milestones in the wars launched by the United States since that day. In Iraq, August was the first month that no U.S. troops were killed since the initial invasion in 2003. CNN reports:
A total of 4,464 American troops have died in Iraq since the invasion, including 56 since the United States declared an end of combat operations exactly a year ago, according to a CNN analysis of Pentagon statistics.
But none died in August, either due to hostile action or from accidents.
In Afghanistan, on the other hand, August was sadly the deadliest month yet. From the L.A. Times:
Sixty-seven U.S. troops died last month in the Afghanistan war, nearly half of them killed when the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter, making August the deadliest month for Americans in the nearly decadelong conflict.
The attack on the helicopter, which took place Aug. 6 in Wardak province, west of the capital, was also the deadliest single event of the war for U.S. forces. The 30 service members who lost their lives in the attack — the majority of them Navy SEALs, including some from the unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden — were flying in to help Army Rangers under fire.
Previously the most deadly month for American forces in Afghanistan was July 2010, when 65 troops died, according to the independent website icasualties.org, which tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In total, 6,219 U.S. troops have been killed in both wars.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
There are other challenges that require a unified approach, especially in the area of health care. A lack of preventative medicine means conditions that could have been eliminated through childhood immunizations show up in disturbing numbers later in life. Limited availability of medical specialists means conditions like heart disease and diabetes go untreated at alarming rates. In Texas, we recently placed a strong emphasis on preventative care when we expanded access to Medicaid for more low-income children by making the Medicaid enrollment process simpler. We allocated an additional $4 billion to the Medicaid program, and more than $900 million to the Children's Health Insurance Program. I urged legislators to pass a telemedicine pilot program that will enable, through technology, a sick border resident of limited financial means to receive care from a specialist hundreds of miles away. But the effort to combat disease and illness requires greater cooperative efforts between our two nations. It is a simple truth that disease knows no boundaries. An outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis, for example, endangers citizens of both our nations. We have much to gain if we work together to expand preventative care, and treat maladies unique to this region.
Legislation authored by border legislators Pat Haggerty and Eddie Lucio establishes an important study that will look at the feasibility of bi-national health insurance. This study recognizes that the Mexican and U.S. sides of the border compose one region, and we must address health care problems throughout that region. That's why I am also excited that Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar is working on an initiative that could extend the benefits of telemedicine to individuals living on the Mexican side of the border.
Perry also touted a DREAM Act-like initiative:
We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, “we don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.” And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers. That’s why Texas took the national lead in allowing such deserving young minds to attend a Texas college at a resident rate. Those young minds are a part of a new generation of leaders, the doors of higher education must be open to them. The message is simple: educacion es el futuro, y si se puede.
As far as the cross-border healthcare initiative goes, Perry's spokespeople can brush it off, pointing out that the idea never went past the study phase. But this isn't certainly a long way from the Rick Perry of today, who's better known for his proposal to send U.S. troops into Mexico.
Will this hurt Perry's conservative credentials? One Tea Party activist tells the Dallas Morning News that "More checking under the hood needed before we buy the car." Then again, this is a race where a former Utah governor whose signature achievements in office were the state's largest ever tax cut, a ban on second trimester abortions, and expanding gun rights is considered a moderate than a former Massachusetts governor whose signature achievement was the precursor to Obamacare. Once a candidate's ideological identity gets established, it's pretty hard to shake.
Ralph Barrera-Pool/Getty Images
The ongoing trial over the murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze -- one of the key events in the lead-up to the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution -- took another twist with suspect Olexiy Pukach fingering former president Leonid Kuchma as the mastermind of the murder. RIA-Novosti reports:
Olexiy Pukach, who has confessed to carrying out the killing, testified in court on Tuesday that he was acting on Kuchma's orders, according to a witness in the trial that is closed to the public.
Pukach, a former general at the Ministry of the Interior, was arrested in 2009 after six years on the run and was said by Ukrainian prosecutors to have confessed to personally strangling and beheading Gongadze.
"He clearly said: it was Kuchma," the witness, Olexiy Podolskyi, told RIA Novosti.
Kuchma has been charged with abuse of power -- but not murder -- in connection with Gongadze's killing. Audio recording made public in 2000 feature a voice resembling Kuchma's suggesting that Gongadze be "kidnapped by Chechens".
As Nadia Diuk discussed back in April, the prosecution of the former president doesn't seem to fit the pattern of Ukraine's current government, led by onetime Kuchma-ally Viktor Yanukovych, which has been accused of abuse of power and the selective prosecution of enemies like former Prime Minister and Orange icon Yulia Tymoshenko.
Putting Kuchma behind bars might allow the Yanukovych government to deflet some of the criticism it's received over the jailing of Tymoshenko. In any case, with these two on trials, it seems like Ukraine is set to continue refighting the battles of 2004.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
On Sunday, Baburam Bhattarai of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal -- generally referred to as the Maoists -- was elected prime minister. The Maoists gave up their decade-long armed rebellion after a 2006 peace deal that Bhattarai helped negotiate. But the integration of 19,000 former fighters back into society and the details of a new constitution remain sticking points in the efforts to create permanent democratic institutions. The Maoists are also, it turns out, still considered a terrorist group by the United States.
QUESTION: With the inclusion of Maoists in the newly-formed government in Nepal, is the U.S. considering lifting the FTO designation from these Maoist groups?
ANSWER: The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is not included on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, but remains a designated Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 and is included on the Terrorism Exclusion List, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act. While the Party has taken some positive steps, we continue to have areas of concern which must be addressed before the Party could be de-listed.
What does that mean exactly? According to the State Department website:
Individual aliens providing support to or associated with TEL-designated organizations may be found “inadmissable” to the U.S., i.e., such aliens may be prevented from entering the U.S. or, if already in U.S. territory, may in certain circumstances be deported.
So I'm guessing there'll be no Oval Office meet-and-greet for Bhattarai.
The Maoists are in pretty odd company on the list, which includes several obscure European leftist groups like Italy's Revolutionary Proletarian Nucleus, now-defunct rebel armies like Sierra Leone's RUF, and a Yemeni honey company once associated with Osama bin Laden.
Delisting may be a useful carrot to hold onto with regards to the Maoists, but generally speaking, it may be time for an audit of the list.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) and the leader of the Night Wolves biker group, Alexander Zaldostanov (R), also known as the Surgeon, ride motorcycles on August 29, 2011 at a bikers' festival in the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, Russia. Putin described leather-clad bikers as brothers and boasted of the 'indivisible Russian nation' after roaring into a biking rally on a Harley Davidson.
Motorcycles can reach a certain point in size where they cease to look badass and begin to resemble golf carts or Rascal scooters. Vova may have passed that point.
Check out this slide show from last year for more prime ministerial trike action.
Update: Here's video, via RFE/RL:
IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty Images
Over the weekend, Marc Lynch explored how Jay-Z and Kanye West's rap alliance on their album Watch the Throne represents a blueprint for U.S. hegemony in a changing world. But left unexamined was the line from their recent album that most directly relates to foreign policy: On the track Murder to Excellence, Kanye raps, "It's a war going on outside we ain't safe from / I feel the pain in my city wherever I go / 314 soldiers died in Iraq, 509 died in Chicago."
Kanye's numbers, which are from 2008, are broadly accurate. The Chicago Police Department reported that there were 510 homicides in the city, while the casualty count website iCasualties confirmed that 314 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq that year (why Kanye discounts the eight fatalities from other U.S. coalition partners is a conversation for another day). But to paraphrase a popular saying: There are lies, damned lies, and Kanye West's statistics.
The real problem with Kanye's math is that he ignores the deaths of Iraqis, who would presumably still be alive if the United States hadn't decided to invade the country. The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index estimates that 6,400 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in war-related violence in 2008.
That figure still underestimates the violence in Iraq, because it only counts civilian deaths related to the Iraqi insurgency. "Earlier in the war, we did tend to count individual acts of criminal murder, as they reflected a deterioration of law and order which had implications for the insurgency," said Brookings Institution fellow Michael O'Hanlon, the author of the Iraq Index. However, by 2008, the main sources of information regarding Iraq discounted non-insurgency related homicides.
But Kanye wasn't entirely wrong to compare the violence in Iraq and Chicago. If one compares war-related deaths in Iraq and Chicago homicides in 2008, there is a remarkable similarity between the rates of violence. According to the U.S. census, Chicago's population was 2.7 million in 2010 -- down from 2.9 million in 2000, as residents continued to relocate to the suburbs. With 510 homicides in the city, that means one Chicagoan was killed for every 5,294 people living in the city.
Now, let's compare that to the civilian casualties in Iraq. The World Bank reports that Iraq had a population of approximately 31 million in 2008. With 6,400 Iraqi civilians killed in war-related violence, that means one Iraqi was killed for every 4,844 citizens of the country - a more dangerous environment than Chicago, but not by much.
It should come as no surprise that it was dramatically more dangerous to be a U.S. soldier in Iraq than a Chicago resident or an Iraqi civilian in 2008. According to the Iraq Index, U.S. troop strength in the country averaged approximately 150,000 for the year. If the United States suffered 314 casualties in 2008, that means one soldier was killed for every 478 soldiers in Iraq.
Kanye, of course, is arguing on Murder to Excellence that Americans should be less concerned with political developments in Mesopotamia and more concerned with the deterioration of their own cities -- a fairly conventional point in today's political environment. But if he can fit the statistics above into verse, he'll truly deserve the rap throne that he's so keen on claiming.
As you may have read, Steve Jobs resigned yesterday as CEO of Apple. To get the obvious out of the way, Jobs was both a brilliant businessman and a technological visionary who created products beloved by millions, myself included. We should all wish him nothing but the best in his retirement and his ongoing battle with cancer.
However, I can't help but think back to 2008, when Jobs's longtime rival Bill Gates left Microsoft to concentrate full time on his philanthropic efforts. Whatever you think of the approach of the Gates Foundation, it's hard to think of a business leader who has made more of a commitment to using his wealth to make the world a better place. Jobs is lauded too, but more for his highly anticipated keynote addresses to rapturous adherents.
In its farewell to Jobs, TechCrunch invokes Wilhelm Stekel's quotation, "The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one." But what exactly is the cause Jobs lives for?
His biographer Leander Kahney has one answer:
Jobs' ambition was to make high technology universal. At the beginning of his career, he pushed his buddy Steve Wozniak to design in 1977 the first personal computer for ordinary people. The Apple II, one of the first mass-produced home computers, had to have a nice, well-designed case and be up and running straight out of the box. This was at a time when other companies were selling PCs that had to be soldered together by the user.
Jobs had the same vision and ambition -- to bring technology to the masses -- in every year that followed.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, that might have been true -- but today, it's hard to argue that Apple's expensive products are egalitarian. Its personal computers are user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, but there are plenty of cheaper, more practical alternatives out there. And as this XKCD cartoon points out, as more and more of what we want from computers moves online, the actual device you're using is going to become far less important.
As for the iPhone, it's great. I love mine. But is it improving the world in some tangible way? If there's a phone driving innovation among the global masses it's the exceedingly generic Nokia 1100, not anything with a touch screen. Even the upwardly-mobile in the developing world tend to favor the open membership plans and free messaging service provided by BlackBerry.
I think that because Jobs is a cool guy who wears jeans to work, practices Buddhism, and took acid in the 1970s, and because of the craftsman's care Apple puts into its product design and marketing, there's a tendency to think that Apple had some social utility beyond creating pretty, high-end gadgets. (Apple itself has helped spread this perception since its famous 1984 ad, which promoted the choice of buying a Macintosh as a way to combat a drab Orwellian future.)
Several days before the retirement announcement, the popular tech blogger Anil Dash wrote (my emphasis):
So, who is this man? He's the anchor baby of an activist Arab muslim who came to the U.S. on a student visa and had a child out of wedlock. He's a non-Christian, arugula-eating, drug-using follower of unabashedly old-fashioned liberal teachings from the hippies and folk music stars of the 60s. And he believes in science, in things that science can demonstrate like climate change and Pi having a value more specific than "3", and in extending responsible benefits to his employees while encouraging his company to lead by being environmentally responsible.
Every single person who'd attack Steve Jobs on any of these grounds is, demonstrably, worse at business than Jobs. They're unqualified to assert that liberal values are bad for business, when the demonstrable, factual, obvious evidence contradicts those assertions.
It's a choice whether you, or anyone else, wants to accept the falsehood that liberal values are somehow in contradiction with business success at a global scale. Indeed, it would seem that many who claim to be pro-business are trying to "save" us from exactly the inclusive, creative, tolerant values that have made America's most successful company possible.
I'm not sure exactly what Dash means by "values." Apple does make great products. So do many companies run by cigar-chomping, Ayn Rand-reading Republicans. (Or even Nazis!) Apple also subcontracts work to a company where working conditions are so dire that nets had to be installed to prevent its workers from committing suicide. It uses minerals mined from one of the world's deadliest conflict zones. Its ethics record in working with the Chinese Communist Party is hardly stellar. In contrast to Gates, he's notoriously disdainful of philanthropy, both corporate and personal.
As Will Wilkinson of the Economist sarcastically tweeted yesterday, "Ruthlessly competitive, patent-monopolist, multi-billionaire executives are worth fawning over, if they've got design sense."
Of course, Apple is a business, not an NGO. But compare its public image with that of another iconic brand: Nike. Both dominated their competitors through the use of iconic design, both inspire rabidly loyal followings -- American teenagers have been murdered for their Nikes; Chinese kids have sold organs for iPads -- and both outsource production to developing countries in order to skirt U.S. labor laws. But while Jobs is feted as a progressive icon, Phil Knight is a punching bag for activists like Michael Moore. (Will the Huffington Post ever run a column titled, "My Air Force 1s Changed My Life"?)
Again, I say this not to bash Jobs. I think his talents at technology, design, marketing, and business are worthy of admiration. But I do think it's worth asking why so many people who are normally suspicious or disdainful of large, profit-maximizing corporations are ready to shower this one with adulation.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il traveled to Russia this week, his first visit to his country's former Cold War ally in nine years. Kim rode an armored train to eastern Siberia to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, crossing the Russian border on Sunday, Aug. 21, touring the Bureyskaya hydroelectric power station, and meeting with Medvedev on Wednesday. Medvedev flew 3,500 miles across Russia to a Siberian military base for the meeting.
Kim promised Medvedev a moratorium on the production and testing of nuclear weapons, a move that could help restart nuclear disarmament talks, stalled in 2009. North Korea has been isolated both economically and diplomatically since March 2009, when it conducted a second nuclear weapons test. Both the United States and South Korea demand concrete action from North Korea before they return to the six-party talks.
Kim's weeklong trip to Russia is also expected to focus on trade talks and gaining economic and political support from Russia. North Korea is facing chronic food shortages and factory closures thanks to punishing international sanctions. Russia pledged 50,000 tons of wheat to North Korea and also discussed energy and infrastructure projects, including a pipeline carrying Russian gas to South Korea through the North.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Kim is also concerned about the downfall of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and Middle East unrest in general. While North Korean media has not been reporting on the Arab Spring, news of the uprisings has been spread through radios and word of mouth from people who have illegally crossed into China and back. "That dynamic is probably much more alarming to Kim Jong Il than anything else," Lee Jong-min, dean of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, told the Monitor. "He's prompted by the need to bolster his power."
Kim has visited China five times since 2002, the year of his last trip to Russia, when he met with then-President Vladimir Putin.
More photos below the jump:
Libyan rebels have reportedly surrounded Muammar al-Qaddafi's compound at Bab al-Azizya. Despite yesterday's confusion, it appears likely that his regime is entering its final days, if not hours. So whom is Qaddafi going to reach out to? Apparently, the president of the Russian Chess Federation. Reuters reports:
Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said on Tuesday Muammar Gaddafi had told him by telephone that he was still in Tripoli, alive and well, and had no plans to leave the city.
Ilyumzhinov, who has visited Libya during the NATO bombing campaign and met Gaddafi, said the leader's eldest son Mohammad had called him by telephone on Tuesday afternoon.
The two played a game back in June, with Qaddafi reportedly employing the Sicilian defense. Ilyumzhinov is the former leader of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, but he's out of power now so it's unlikely he could be of much help in arranging an escape for the Libyan leader.
I've got another theory. Ilyumzhinov claims to have had an encounter with extraterrestrials with whom he communicated telepathically back in 1997. Qaddafi may be hoping that the chess king of Kalmykia can arrange for him to leave the planet entirely.
Ever since Libyans seemingly wrested control of Tripoli from Muammar al-Qaddafi on Aug. 21, most observers seemed content to give Libyans some time to savor their victory before getting down to the hard questions of reestablishing the rule of law in the country. That grace period officially ended at 7:28 pm on Aug. 22, when Sultan Al Qassemi tweeted, "Breaking Al Arabiya: AFP: Saif Al Islam Gaddafi wasn't captured and is now in Tripoli."
The AFP report rebutted rebel claims that Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi's second-eldest son and former heir apparent, had been captured. It described seeing him inside Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, which was later confirmed by video. Saif would then make a surprise appearance at the Rixos Hotel in central Tripoli, saying that his father was still in the capital and that the government had lured the rebels into a trap by entering the city.
The revelation that Saif remains free is not only a wakeup call that the rebels' control over the capital may be more tenuous than it first appeared - it is a bad omen for the Transitional National Council's reliability going forward. TNC chairman Mustafa Abdeljalil had personally confirmed that Saif was captured, saying that the rebel leadership had "given instructions to treat him well." It's not only the TNC with egg on its face: The International Criminal Court also announced that Saif had been captured, and was reportedly negotiating his transfer to The Hague.
To make matters worse, Saif isn't the only Qaddafi son that the rebels have had difficulty holding on to. Mohammad Qaddafi, who gave a phone interview to al Jazeera after being captured by the rebels that was interrupted by gunfire, would later escape with the help of Qaddafi loyalists.
Like the ending of any good horror movie, it appears the Qaddafi regime has resurrected itself for one last lunge at the rebels. In all likelihood, however, Saif and his cohort have lost too much territory and too many resources to pose a long-term threat to the TNC. The question of how the TNC could get such a crucial issue so wrong, however, will be with us for some time.
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The NATO intervention in Libya was an early defining issue for the 2012 GOP field, dividing the party's neoconservative wing from the new, more isolationist spirit embodied by the Tea Party. With the conflict now, seemingly, in its closing hours, a few of the candidates are already out of the gate with reactions. Rick Perry, a more committed hawk than many of his Tea Party compatriots, said that today's events are cause for "cautious celebration":
The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.
The statement makes no mention of the Western intervention or whether he believes President Obama played a constructive role. As Josh Rogin notes, Mitt Romney seems even less enthusiastic, pivoting quickly to Qaddafi's crimes of the 1980s:
"The world is about to be rid of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done,"
Jon Huntsman, who at this point can more realistically be considered a candidate for secretary of state, has opposed the intervention in past statements, but seemed much more positive than his rivals today:
"The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful - as the whole world should be - that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it."
Of the top GOP contenders, the most stridently anti-intervention have been Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul. As far as I can tell, neither has made statements yet today. The latest developments won't change much for Paul or his supporters, who oppose humanitarian intervention on principle and would have still been against this war if it had toppled Qaddafi in a matter of hours and cost $20.
Things are a little more complicated for Bachmann, who has suggested that there are "elements of al Qaeda in North Africa and Hezbollah in the opposition forces" and has accused the administration of "creating a toehold for al Qaeda in North Africa to take over Libya." Will she stick to that characterization now that the rebels are in power?
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With the Libyan rebels now largely in control of Tripoli, and two of Muammar al-Qaddafi's sons in custody after a stunning final assault of the capital, the answer seems clear: absolutely.
Many have criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of "leading from behind" in Libya, but that strategy now seems utterly vindicated. It was Libyans themselves, with significant help from NATO, Qatar, and the UAE, who liberated their country from Qaddafi's grip -- a fact about which they are fiercely and justly proud. It required little from American taxpayers: As of Thursday, NATO operations had cost the United States around $1.1 billion, according to CFR's Micah Zenko -- a rounding error.
Of course, there will be problems. Not only is Tripoli not yet fully secure, but two regime strongholds -- Sirte and Sabha -- appear to remain in regime hands. Libyan state TV is still, incredibly, on the air. The "brother leader" remains at large, as do his sons Muatassim and Khamis Qaddafi, as well as his intelligence chief and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi. They may try, Saddam-style, to mount an insurgency (though the speed of Qaddafi's collapse in Tripoli suggest they will find few takers).
The National Transitional Council won't have an easy time of governing, either. Not only is it not clear how much loyalty it commands among the fighters, but Libya has effectively no institutions: It was a state run for the benefit of the Qaddafi family and its shrinking circle of friends and allies. There is little history of political pluralism in Libya, and no doubt many grievances and cleavages lurk below the surface. (Reuters journalist Michael Georgy raises some important concerns to this effect here.) There will likely be intense disagreements over how to distribute Libya's oil wealth, how to account for the last 42 years of despotic rule, how to incorporate Islam into the state, and how to disarm and integrate the disparate fighting brigades that overthrew Qaddafi. There will be a temptation to overly centralize power, fueled by oil receipts concentrated in a few hands. Hopefully, any conflicts that arise will be resolved peacefully.
But these problems seem manageable over time, and it is in any case hard to imagine any Libyan government worse than Qaddafi, whose rule was not only deeply repressive and arbitrary at home but also destabilizing abroad. I disagree strongly with those, like CFR's Richard Haass, who would like to see some kind of foreign stabilization force -- not only is it not going to happen, but it's best if Libyans handle their own affairs as much as possible. They will make mistakes, but these will be their own mistakes. It's now their country once again.
And that's the best news about the fall of Qaddafi. It is the only case so far in which Arab revolutionaries themselves will get the chance to overhaul the old order. In Tunisia and Egypt, the old regimes are still very much in power -- at least until new elections are held and new constitutions are written. And even then, gaining full civilian control over the military and the security apparatus will be a years-long struggle. Libya has the chance to wipe the slate clean, and given what a terrible system is being overthrown, that alone seems like reason enough to celebrate.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Something very ugly seems to have gone down during an exhibition basketball game between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Chinese professional team Baiyi. The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg has more photos up on his blog. Here's an account from an admittedly partisan Georgetown fan who blames the incident on lopsided officiating by the Chinese refs.
In any event, it's probably lucky for U.S.-China relations that this wasn't the same game attended by Vice President Joe Biden.
Update: Here's video, via Ray Kwong:
Tehran responds to the ongoing violence in London:
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast urged the British government to order the police to stop their violent confrontation with the people, IRNA reported in the early hours of Tuesday.
Mehmanparast asked the British government to start dialogue with the protesters and to listen to their demands in order to calm the situation down.
The Iranian official also asked independent human rights organizations to investigate the killing in order to protect the civil rights and civil liberties.
Well played, guys.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The noose around Bashar al-Assad's neck is getting tighter.
With the extraordinary midnight statement Sunday by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, demanding the "stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed" in Syria and withdrawing the Saudi ambassador from Damascus for "consultations," the Syrian president's isolation is nearly complete. The remarks came after a milder Gulf Cooperation Council statement last week that, in hindsight, ought to have been seen as a warning.
Kuwait also withdrew its ambassador Monday, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was on his way to Damascus to deliver "a very sharp message" to Assad, in the words of an anonymous senior Turkish diplomat quoted by Hürriyet Daily News.
“[Turkey and Syria] will sit down and talk for one last time … even though one should not exclude dialogue, even in wartime,” another Foreign Ministry official told the paper. “The talks will show whether the ties will be cut loose or not … If a new [Turkish] policy is to be outlined on Syria – that’s the last meeting.”
Yet for all the drama of leading Middle Eastern powers finally expressing their exasperation with a brutal crackdown that has lasted for nearly 5 months -- and escalated dramatically during the holy month of Ramadan -- none of these countries are yet calling for Assad's ouster, as France and the United States have done. Arab states are still signaling that the Syrian regime has a chance to stay in their good graces by carrying out those two favorite words of disingenuous tyrants everywhere: "dialogue" and "reform."
As Nabil el-Araby -- whose tenure as Arab League chief thus far has been characterized by toadyishness and willful naivete -- put it Monday, "Do not expect drastic measures but step-by-step persuasion to resolve the conflict."
Once you're done laughing at the notion that the League of Arab Dictators has any idea what will satisfy the Syrian people, consider this: Does anyone really still think Assad is capable of solving this thing? Not only is the Syrian regime pushing back against the external criticism, insisting it is responding to "sabotage acts" by armed Islamist gangs, but the crackdown has empowered the very elements of the regime least amenable to a democratic transition. Moreover, as Assad himself noted in his interview with the Wall Street Journal in January, it is fruitless to make changes under pressure:
If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform. This is first. Second, if you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action; and as long as what you are doing is a reaction you are going to fail.
I expect that over the next few days, we might see fewer provocative moves -- like this weekend's bloody assault on the eastern city of Deir az-Zour, which seems to have provoked King Abdullah's ire -- from the Syrian regime. Perhaps Assad and friends will announce a fresh round of "reforms" -- always, of course, with trap doors and escape hatches that render them meaningless. But at this point, Assad seems doomed; after so much bloodshed and anger, any genuine political solution will inevitably lead to his ouster. His wisest course of action now is to find a safe place to spend his retirement (perhaps Vogue will give him a job?).
I imagine a loose coalition of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States will now be working toward a soft landing for Syria -- looking for high-level defectors who could negotiate with opposition leaders and carry out what political scientists call a "pacted transition." But it's hard to imagine this working either, given that the military and security services are so tightly controlled by the Assad clan and that the opposition is so diffuse and fragmented. There is nothing comparable to the relatively upright Tunisian and Egyptian militaries in Syria, whose army has been shelling cities and towns across the country. And there is nobody for the regime to negotiate with who can guarantee calm on the streets.
The whole Baathist system has to come down, and it probably will. The only questions now are how long it will take, and how much more innocent blood will be shed in the process.
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The trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister and onetime Orange Revolution folk hero Yulia Tymoshenko took a dramatic turn today when she was taken into custody for contempt of court. Her crime? Tweeting the witness:
According to the court decision, the reason for the arrest was "systematic violations by the accused, including impeding the questioning of witnesses."
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Energy Minister Yuriy Boiko earlier made unexpected appearances as witnesses to back the prosecution's case at the trial.
She had exasperated the court by repeatedly mocking on Twitter the youthful judge in the trial. But the immediate cause of the arrest appeared to be her description of Azarov as "an old, fully-certified, corrupt man."
"Let's go now to the motion on execution by shooting," joked Tymoshenko in response to the request by the prosecution for her arrest. "Give her (the prosecutor) the revolver."
If convicted of the charges against her -- which involve the improper use of a stamp on a document addressed to the country's energy minister to indicate her decision had been approved by the entire cabinet -- she could be sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison, or at the very least, barred from contesting next year's parliamentary elections.
One might be tempted to add her to the list of public figures who have recently found themselves in political hot water for ill-advised twitter activity, but it seems like she knew exactly what she was doing.
ALEXANDER PROKOPENKO/AFP/Getty Images
The sight of Hosni Mubarak, lying prostrate on a gurney inside a cage in a makeshift courtroom while his sons Alaa and Gamal stood dutifully by, electrified the Arab world Wednesday, raising the prospect that the ousted Egyptian dictator may soon be held accountable for his crimes.
Yet for all the palpable excitement over Mubarak's trial, as well as that of several other top regime figures like former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, the chaotic scenes in the courtroom -- and the rock fight outside of it -- did not exactly inspire confidence in the Egyptian justice system. In one particularly bizarre moment, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Mubarak's victims claimed that the man in the cage was an imposter, and that the real president of Egypt died in 2004. At other points, Mubarak was caught on camera picking his nose. Dozens of lawyers on both sides crowded the bar and shouted their demands, forcing the judge to shut them up.
The trial, which will resume tomorrow for Adly and for the Mubaraks on Aug. 15, is being held under the military rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the junta that deposed Mubarak in February at the height of a popular street uprising demanding his ouster. Although the SCAF adamantly denies meddling in the civilian court system, its claims of neutrality are about to be put to the test: Mubarak's lawyer is demanding that Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, the defense minister who is now Egypt's de facto ruler, be called to the stand, along with former intelligence cheif Omar Suleiman, who briefly assumed the vice presidency during the 18 days of the revolution.
Interestingly, Mubarak's defense team claims that it was Tantawi who was technically the ruler of the country from Jan. 28 onward, meaning that the infamous Feb. 2 "Battle of the Camels" in Tahrir Square happened on the field marshal's watch. That strategy seems dubious, however, given that this legal status was never communicated at the time -- and it was not until Feb. 11 that Suleiman appeared on state television to announce that Mubarak had "resigned his position as president of the republic." [UPDATE: Al Jazeera's Evan Hill says that the defense is actually arguing that Tantawi was in charge of security, not that he was running the country.]
Still, it will be fascinating to see if Tantawi, Suleiman, and other senior figures like former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq will be dragged into the courtroom drama. The Egyptian regime was, and still very much is, a police state backed by the military. The circle of criminality and repression goes far wider than just a few dozen people. Mubarak isn't being tried for the 30 years of dictatorship, stagnation, and ruin he brought upon his country, but for the actions his subordinates took, allegedly under his orders, during the three weeks that brought him down. But there are no doubt many dark secrets that will come out during this trial, if the SCAF will allow it. Ironically, it might be the Big Man himself who, in trying to save his own neck and that of his sons, brings the rest of the system down with him.
Egyptian State TV
Israel's Mossad intelligence agency carried out the assassinations of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent months, which has led to "the virtual decimation of the Islamic republic's elite physicists," according to Germany's Der Spiegel. The latest victim -- 35-year-old physicist Darioush Rezaei -- was shot in the throat in front of his daughter's kindergarten in Tehran on July 23. The attackers fled on motorcycle. Iran said Rezaei was a student, not a nuclear weapons expert, but the Associated Press reported last week that international sources confirmed he was indeed involved with the country's nuclear weapons program, working specifically on a key component for detonating a nuclear bomb -- high-voltage switches.
According to Der Spiegel, Rezaei is the third scientist to die in the past year and a half (and the fourth to be targeted). The others were:
- In January 2010, the nuclear physicist Masoud Ali Mohammadi died when a remotely detonated bomb rigged to a motorcycle exploded next to his car. Western experts considered Mohammadi to be one of Iran's top nuclear scientists.
- On Nov. 29, 2010, unknown perpetrators committed two attacks which involved motorcyclists attaching explosive devices to their victims' cars while driving. Majid Shahriari, a professor of nuclear physics who specialized in neutron transport, which is relevant for making bombs, was killed when his car exploded. His wife was seriously injured in the attack.
- Fereidoun Abbasi was targeted in a simultaneous attack. Abbasi, an expert in nuclear isotope separation, noticed the suspicious motorcyclist, however, and he and his wife jumped out of the car. They were both injured in the explosion. After Abbasi recovered, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed him as one of Iran's vice presidents as well as head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.
Iran's reaction to the deaths has been somewhat confused, say analysts. Perhaps due to embarrassment, some leaders have downplayed the accusations of outside countries being involved in past deaths. But after Rezaei's murder, Iran squarely blamed Israel, the United States, and their allies. The United States has denied any involvement. Israel has been somewhat coyer, according to Der Spiegel.
‘Israel is not responding,' Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier this week when asked if his country had been involved in the latest slaying of an Iranian nuclear scientist. It didn't exactly sound like a denial, and the smile on his face suggested Israel isn't too bothered by suspicions that it is responsible...
Der Spiegel based its report on "sources in Israeli intelligence," who told the German magazine that the deaths are part of a campaign to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. In the past, analysts have speculated that the Stuxnet computer virus, which harmed computer systems that were part of Iran's nuclear program, was developed and deployed by Israel (and possibly the United States). The virus reportedly shut down the country's main nuclear reactor at Bushehr last year, before Iran was able to get the damage under control.
A tracksuit-clad Hugo Chávez is seen doing leg lifts, neck rolls, and some other mild exercises in a video recently released by the Venezuelan government. "Healthy government, healthy body, healthy mind," Chávez says between routines. Other members of his cabinet appear in the workout video as well, though from the snippet we've seen no one really seems to be working up much of a sweat. At one point, the group walks slowly around a circle at a snail's pace, following Chávez. P90X, this is not (in fact, it doesn’t even look as vigorous as Jane Fonda's routine), though, given Chávez's cancer fight, the 57-year-old Venezuelan leader probably needs to take things slowly.
Chávez, who celebrated his birthday on July 28, said he completed his first round of chemotherapy last month and will soon begin a second round. He is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, where he had a tumor removed on June 20 -- though he has yet to say what kind of cancer he has.
In televised remarks last week, Chávez said: "I'm in the best mood possible.… My mood is unbeatable." Chávez has said he plans on running again for president in 2012. His approval remains at about 50 percent, according to a recent opinion poll -- meaning there has been little negative reaction so far to his cancer. Analysts had said his initially cagey explanations for what he was doing in Cuba were because he feared looking weak and sick -- which may be one reason for the recent exercise video. Chávez also said he had lost 30 pounds recently.
"I was too fat. I'm doing exercise, rehabilitation," he said.
Yes, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a man's man, and it's driving the ladies crazy, if two pro-Putin stunts from the last week are any guide. The first came from Putin's Army, a group of young, female Putin supporters who formed on VKontakte, Russia's version of Facebook. They released a professionally-made video calling on "young, smart, and beautiful" girls to tear off their shirts and back a Putin campaign for the presidency. (After all, how else would you show your support? Elections?) But they may have been one-upped by a similar group called I Really Do Like Putin, who staged a bikini car wash in downtown Moscow. The women gave free car washes for Russian-made cars to show their support for Russia's domestic car industry.
Russia Today presents the footage, followed by an attempt at banter from the anchors that almost upstages the car wash footage:
With elections a year away in Russia, the campaign wing of Putin's establishment are relying on an unorthodox PR strategy to rebrand the party and win more (non-rigged) votes. Posters up now in central Moscow depict President Dmitri Medvedev as an armor-clad superhero, spoofing the new movie Captain America by calling Medvedev "Captain Russia: First Ruler." But it's not clear who's behind the Putin's Army video. Though speculation abounds, Putin has not declared his candidacy for the presidency yet, and Kremlin authorities have strongly denied involvement.
Of course, if women tearing off their shirts doesn't work, there's always Putin's chest. What a stud.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
In al-Shabab-controlled regions of Somalia, anything deemed un-Islamic is outlawed. This includes mustaches, the World Cup, wearing bras, and dancing at weddings. The militant Islamist group recently added something new to that list: Samosas.
How can a seemingly harmless pastry be un-Islamic? Apparently, it's the shape. Samosas are fried in a triangular shape, which al-Shabab finds to be strikingly similar to the Christian Holy Trinity. Samosas, known as sambusas in the region, are often enjoyed to break the fast during Ramadan. But now, those caught selling, cooking or eating sambusas could face harsh punishment -- if history is any guide. The militant group follows a strict interpretation of Islam, enforcing their moral rulings to the utmost degree. In 2009, al-Shabab gunmen went village to village, rounding up women who were found wearing bras. Traditionally moderate Muslim Somalis were horrified as the women were beaten, their bras forcibly removed, and then told to publicly shake their chests for the men. Al-Shabab's justification for the public humiliation was that the bras promoted deception, a breach of Islam.
Last year, radio stations were shut down for playing music. Men and women who are not related can no longer shake hands, or even speak to one another in public. Women who are found working in public places face execution in some cases. Women and young girls alike have been arrested and flogged for not wearing hijabs. Watching soccer in general has been outlawed, but al-Shabab took a particular disliking to the World Cup since Somali boys and men were watching soccer instead of joining the group's jihad against the government. Cinemas no longer show the matches after numerous theaters were attacked with grenades.
It seems anything remotely enjoyable (and triangular) is prohibited, and now, al-Shabab's control has struck at the core of human survival. As Somalia starves to death, the militant group bans a staple food in East African culture as it is too "Christian." Humanitarian aid from Western organizations has been mostly outlawed, with UN famine reports called "sheer propaganda". Al-Shabab's outlandish rulings may cost millions of lives.
_ubik_ via Flickr Creative Commons
While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.
Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.
A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:
"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."
Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.
Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:
"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."
While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.
An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:
"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
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