The reusable olive oil bottle -- a staple on restaurant tables across Europe, evocative of summers in Tuscany and vineyards in southern Spain -- has been banned from restaurants by the powers that be in Brussels, in a move the European Commission has sought to frame as a consumer protection measure. Critics, however, see it as an attempt to prop up a struggling olive oil industry and representative of the European Union's bureaucratic overreach.
Reusable bottles, the Commission claims, are unhygienic, and there's a risk that they could be refilled with unknown, cheap, and low-quality oils. The AP has more:
"This will ensure a high-quality product for consumers," said Rafael Sanchez de Puerta of the Copa-Cogecas federation (a European farmers federation). Also, by displaying the name, origins and storing conditions, "this will help to preserve the image of olive oil."
Many, however, are unconvinced.
"With the euro crisis, a collapse in confidence in the EU, and a faltering economy, surely the commission has more important things to worry about than banning refillable olive oil bottles?" inquired one British member of the European Parliament. Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, called the regulations the "silliest" rules since the EU's infamous attempt to regulate the curvature of cucumbers.
Of course, the requirement that olive oil must be served in pre-packaged factory bottles, with tamper-proof nozzles and standardized labeling, is the sort of regulation that people love to mock. And others have voiced the more serious concern that, by placing an emphasis on standardized packaging, the regulations could help out large-scale olive oil producers -- many of which are located in some of Europe's weakest economies -- at the expense of smaller farms.
But consumers could actually use more protection when it comes to olive oil. The staple is one of the most fraud-prone agricultural products in Europe, in part because it's so much more valuable than other forms of oil and remains relatively easy to doctor with cheaper products like soybean and other seed oil. ("Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks," one investigator told writer Tom Mueller, who later went on to write a book about olive oil fraud). The EU, in fact, has an olive-oil task force dedicated solely to stopping trafficking in dodgy extra-virgin.
Still, this kind of large-scale fraud takes place at the level of producers and bottlers -- not at the restaurant table.
When it comes to the death penalty, European governments are ardently abolitionist. Yet the European taxpayer may in fact be unwittingly fueling executions for drug-related offenses in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In a recent post on Iran's war on drugs, Marya Hannun mentions the "steep price" of the country's drug war -- namely the execution of hundreds of individuals annually for the possession, use, and trafficking of narcotics.
While Hannun referenced the praise that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has bestowed on Iran's anti-narcotics program despite the high execution rate for drug-related offenses, what is not discussed is the funding provided by European nations for these efforts. Countries such as France and Germany provide funds to the UNODC's integrated program of technical cooperation on drugs and crime in Iran, which ultimately results in gross human rights violations perpetrated by Iranian authorities.
According to the UNODC website, the integrated program was launched in March 2011 thanks to a "generous financial contribution" from the government of Norway. The program "aims to support national efforts on drugs and crime" and consists of three sub-programs: 1) illicit trafficking and border management; 2) drug demand reduction and HIV control; and 3) crime, justice and corruption.
There are counter-narratives to UNODC's high regard for Iran's anti-narcotics efforts, including allegations that law enforcement personnel in Iran are in fact partaking in and facilitating the sale of illicit drugs for profit on the black market. Regardless of government complicity, the fact remains that thousands of individuals are arrested each year with the technical and material support provided by sub-program 1, including body scanners, drug-detection kits, sniffer dogs, vehicles, and night-vision devices.
Of those arrested, hundreds will subsequently be sentenced to death by Iran's judiciary on drug allegations. Iran is a global leader in executions, with only China exceeding it in number of people put to death annually. According to Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based group that documents executions in Iran, at least 580 people were executed in the country in 2012. In these documented cases, at least 76 percent of executions were due to drug-related charges.
Since news of the frequency with which Iran puts individuals to death for drug-related offenses has come to light, UNODC and donor countries have come under fire for their support of the program, and human rights groups have encouraged donors to request greater transparency from the Iranian government about how their money is spent in this joint initiative.
While the Norwegian government provided the initial cash infusion to the integrated program, it has since ceased funding sub-program 1 and requested that its support only be applied to sub-programs 2 and 3. The Danish government, meanwhile, announced last month that it would no longer provide financial support to the program following revelations that its donations were indirectly sponsoring the death penalty in Iran. At the time of the decision, the Danish government had provided about 5 million Danish kroner (or $875,000) annually in the previous two years to the program and was expected to provide about 7 million Danish kroner ($1.2 million) over the next two years.
While Denmark's decision to cut the funding has been welcomed by human rights groups, there's more work to be done. Questions remain over the transparency of the program -- specifically UNODC's ability to ensure that donor countries who have restricted their support to only sub-programs 2 and 3 will indeed have that money applied to the intended targets.
To this end, the France-based anti-death penalty group Together Against the Death Penalty (Ensemble contre le peine de mort, or ECPM) has started a petition calling on other European Union member states to follow the Danish example. Short of governments cutting off funding altogether, ECPM and its organizational co-signers are requesting that funding from donor countries be conditioned on an immediate moratorium on death sentences for drug-related offenses in Iran and that contribution amounts be made public and solely allocated to prevention programs.
Given that abolition of the death penalty is a pre-condition for entry of any nation into the European Union, it is time the EU call on its member states to apply more scrutiny of its support for such activities abroad as well. The case of Iran is a fine place to start.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
In death as in life, Margaret Thatcher inspires endless controversy. The former prime minister was buried today at St. Paul's Cathedral, and even the hymns chosen for the service have sparked debate -- never mind the lavish trappings of the ceremony itself. One of the hymns -- "I vow to thee, my country" -- apparently has surprising feminist overtones, which has the good folks at the Economist pondering questions of deep theological import:
As prime minister, Mrs Thatcher pointed out that in the hymn, the kingdom of God's numbers are said to increase "soul by soul"—in other words, through the salvation of individuals and not social classes or communities.
But she probably did not realise the full import of the line that follows: a form of words that is considered of great significance in feminist readings of the Jewish and Christian tradition. "And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace" is a quote from a passage in the Book of Proverbs, in which Wisdom is personified as a female divine figure. The word "her" does not refer to the heavenly homeland, but to a lady called Wisdom. Jewish and Christian theologians have long wondered how this can be reconciled with monotheistic belief in a Deity who (if He has any gender at all) is usually regarded as masculine.
Let's just say this isn't a question we've spent much time thinking about here at FP. But it did get us wondering what an alternate music selection for Maggie Thatcher's funeral -- one picked by her fiercest critics -- might look like. And you thought "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" was scathing.
Elvis Costello, "Tramp the Dirt Down": A track in which Costello dreams of dancing on Maggie's grave. He may finally get his wish.
Morrissey, "Margaret on the Guillotine": If nothing else, Maggie being led to the guillotine with handbags and all à la Marie Antoinette sounds like a promising movie premise.
Pink Floyd, "Fletcher Memorial Home": In which Floyd imagines Maggie living out her final days in the company of her good friend, Augusto Pinochet.
Robert Wyatt, "Shipbuilding": A Costello cover, this song will probably go down in history as the greatest song written about the Falklands War.
Sinéad O'Connor, "Black Boys on Mopeds": Using the killing of a young black man as a symbol of police violence, O'Connor accuses Thatcher of being no different than the Chinese autocrats who ordered the Tiananmen Square massacre. It is one of the more brutal indictments of Thatcher's England you'll ever hear.
ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images
After being carried through the streets of London in a flag-draped coffin aboard a gun carriage, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest this morning in St. Paul's Cathedral. But the big story of the day wasn't Maggie. No, it was a 19-year-old Texan who stole the show from the deceased Iron Lady.
With a poise reminiscent of the elder Thatcher, Amanda Thatcher, Margaret's granddaughter, delivered a reading from Ephesians that has the British media agog. Amanda, who lives with her mother in Texas, chose a rather militant passage that calls on believers to "put on the whole armour of God." But the reading was a good one, delivered with remarkable grace by a young woman suddenly thrust into the international spotlight. In a tweet that nicely summarized the breathless British media reaction, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland couldn't help but speculate "whether somewhere a Texas Republican operative is watching Amanda Thatcher thinking 'Wonder if she has political ambitions...'"
Here's the clip:
So who is Amanda Thatcher, and how did Maggie Thatcher's granddaughter end up in Texas of all places? Amanda is the daughter of Mark Thatcher and the Texas heiress Diane Burgdorf, who underwent an ugly, highly public divorce from Mark (Diane went so far as to detail her ex-husband's history of infidelity in a broadside published in a British paper). When Amanda's father became embroiled in an acrimonious business dispute, Diane agreed to move her family to South Africa. But after Mark was arrested in 2004 over his alleged involvement in a coup in Equatorial Guinea, the marriage finally dissolved. Amanda now lives in Texas with her mother, stepfather, and brother Michael. She is reportedly deeply religious, has carried out missionary work in China, and attends the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Voted "most likely to change the world" by her high school classmates, Amanda was a favorite of the Iron Lady. The former British prime minister reportedly kept a portrait of her two grandchildren on a mantle alongside a picture of Sir Denis, her beloved late husband. Maggie, the daughter of a fervent lay Methodist preacher, approved of Amanda's turn toward evangelical Christianity, and she cherished her relationship with her granddaughter during her ailing later years. As the Guardian notes in its excellent profile of the young Thatchers, Amanda's religiosity lined up nicely with Maggie's hard-nosed political and social conservatism.
Poised, eloquent, the descendant of conservative royalty, evangelical Christian, and Texas-bred: It all seems to add up to a promising political future. She certainly hit it out of the park in her introduction to the world, and isn't it pretty easy to picture a clip of Amanda's speech at her grandmother's funeral playing a role in a future campaign commercial?
The Republican Party could certainly do worse.
An earlier version of this post referred to the Biblical passage from which Amanda Thatcher read as the Epistles. She read from Ephesians, which is one of the Epistles.
Peter Nicholls - WPA Pool/Getty Images
In a country with a population of just 315,281, it turns out it's not very hard to accidentally hook up with a close relative.
"Everyone has heard of (or experienced) it when someone goes all in with someone and then later runs into that person at a family gathering some other time," writes the website News of Iceland.
Now, there's an app for that.
Three enterprising entrepreneurs have used the information from Íslendingabók -- a website with a geneological database of more than 700,000 Icelanders, past and present -- to make an Android app that allows users to bump phones and find out if their genes are a little too close for comfort before an encounter goes any further (slogan: "Bump the app before you bump in bed").
As the Global Post noted back in 2011, sexual encounters are becoming more anonymous as Iceland becomes increasingly urbanized. Íslendingabók began as a geneological website but has since taken on the additional role of helping couples search for common roots. Presumably, having the site available in app form will make it a bit easier to conduct these incest checks in, say, a bar or at one of those famous volcanic hot springs (couple on the right, above: take note!).
Of course, in Iceland, the question is not whether you're related -- it's how closely. The new technology leaves up to the user the decision about whether hooking up with a third or fourth cousin is too much. But here's hoping for a few less awkward Icelandic family reunions this summer.
OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images
If Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is to be believed, Russia has stopped worrying about U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Russian embassy in London, Rogozin claimed that the American missile shield no longer poses a threat to his country -- a statement that contradicts years of Russian officials howling about the presence of U.S. missiles near the Russian border.
"We have solved the issue of penetrating the missile shield," Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. "We regret that the United States waste their money on missile defense and compel us to do the same. The missile shield is nothing for us, it's a bluff. It poses no military threat, but remains a political and economic problem."
American officials have repeatedly tried to assure the Russians that the missile defense system is intended to counter the missile threat from Iran, but this has done little to assuage the Russians. In his remarks Tuesday, Rogozin called the system "excessive" and "provocative by nature" -- attributes that made Russia feel "compelled to search for a wise and asymmetric response."
Could it be that Russia has found a way to circumvent the missile defense system?
If so, Rogozin would certainly be in a position to know. Prior to his elevation to deputy prime minister, Rogozin served as the Russian envoy to NATO and as President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the alliance on missile defense issues. In his current role, Rogozin oversees the Russian defense industry, a position that would certainly give him the insight to comment on innovations in Russian missile technology.
While Rogozin's comments may amount to nothing more than bluster, he has previously alluded to Russia's desire to create an effective military counterweight to U.S. missile defense systems. In February, he replied to comments by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen defending the alliance's missile shield by writing on Twitter that "we also feel responsibility for protecting our population from your missile threat and will create a reliable air and space defense." In June, 2011, Rogozin wrote in the International Herald Tribune that for "Russia it is a matter of principle to remove any threat to its strategic capabilities, which guarantee our sovereignty and independence."
But until now, there has been no indication from Russia that it has found a way to counter U.S. missile defense systems through technical means.
Interestingly, when in March the United States chose to bolster its missile defense systems in the Pacific region in response to threats issued by North Korea, it effectively canceled the final phase of the missile system the Russians opposed. That development led to hopes that Russia and the United States might reach a rapprochement on the issue -- one that did not appear.
Perhaps that was because Russia has been waiting to unveil a military breakthrough to render the issue irrelevant.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
The world of anti-austerians is abuzz (and maybe somewhat gleeful?) this afternoon about news that a paper by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- the paper for those policymakers looking for serious academic work to back up their proposals for debt-slashing cutbacks -- has some serious issues (Josh Keating summarizes those problems on his War of Ideas blog here)
Why is this causing such a stir? One of the conclusions of the paper is that when countries hit a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent, they reach a tipping point after which they'll start experiencing serious growth slowdowns. It's a conclusion that many have found either important or useful, depending on your level of cynicism.
Take a look at some of the ways Reinhart and Rogoff -- and their conclusions -- have been marshaled in the austerity vs. Keynesianism debate that has dominated much of the post-financial crisis discussion about fiscal policy:
This House Budget Committee response to President Obama's budget proposal from just a few days ago cites R&R by name before going on:
Instead of taking steps to reduce the excessive burden of debt, the President's budget, even if fully implemented, never reduces gross federal debt below the important 90 percent threshold.
Olli Rehn, European Commission vice president on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro (and noted austerity champion) pulls out the R&R 90-percent rule in this February call for continued "fiscal consolidation":
It is widely acknowledged, based on serious academic research, that when public debt levels rise above 90% they tend to have a negative impact on economic dynamism, which translates into low growth for many years.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), in this excerpt from his book, rhapsodizes about a briefing Reinhart and Rogoff gave before a group of forty senators:
"Reinhart echoed Conrad's point and explained that countries rarely pass the 90 percent debt-to-GDP tipping point precisely because it is dangerous to let that much debt accumulate. She said, "If it was not risky to hit the 90 percent threshold, we would expect a higher incidence."
"Thank you for your depressing presentation," Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in closing, to self-conscious laughter around the room."
These are just a few examples that turned up from a quick search in English -- who knows what a search in Italian, Greek, or German would yield.
It looks like the English Channel is more than just polluted -- in a sense, it's also radioactive.
On Friday, Der Speigel reported that a team of German journalists has discovered barrels of radioactive waste at the bottom of the waterway, just a few miles off the French coast. Apparently, the British and the Belgians threw 28,500 such barrels into the English Channel between 1950 and 1963 -- the year that the British Radioactive Substances Act of 1960 came into effect.
The existence of the barrels isn't a secret, but experts had assumed that the containers rusted open years ago, allowing the nuclear material to dissipate to harmless concentrations. Instead, photos from an unmanned submarine showed that at least some of the tens of thousands of barrels are very much intact -- prompting German environmentalists to call for their removal.
We've come a long way since barrels of radioactive waste could be dumped by the thousands in the English Channel. International law has prevented the disposal of nuclear waste in the ocean since 1993 (before that, from 1946 to 1993, more than 10 countries used ocean dumping to dispose of radioactive waste). And today, there are two commonly accepted methods for disposing of the material. The first is near-surface disposal, where radioactive waste is stored in containers either at ground level or in caverns a few meters below. The second is deep geological disposal -- the preferred method for radioactive isotopes with long half-lives -- where waste containers are placed in mined tunnels as much as 1,000 meters underground and then sealed in with cement and clay.
Does all this mean we've finally found safe solutions? Check back in with us in a few decades.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Margaret Thatcher's death on Monday prompted a great deal of reflection on the Iron Lady's many legacies. But one in particular has been less explored: the former British prime minister's recurring appearance in political cartoons.
"She was a great subject for people who really hated her or hated her for what she stood for, which was many of the cartoonists," Anita O'Brien, the curator of the London Cartoon Museum, told Foreign Policy. "She was very distinctive. She had a particular way of speaking, which some [cartoonists] used to their advantage.... She was somebody that somehow couldn't be ignored."
For that very reason, O'Brien's museum devoted an exhibition to the satirical sketches featuring Thatcher called Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! The exhibit opened in 2009 -- two decades after the divisive British leader had left power. "Because she was such a strong figure and because she continued to try to exert an influence over many of the succeeding prime ministers, both Tory and Labour, she continued to feature in cartoons long after she had ceased to be prime minister," O'Brien explained. "Much much more than probably any figure."
To get a sense of how Thatcher was depicted in political cartoons, check out the image below by American cartoonist Bill DeOre, which appeared after Thatcher dispatched the British Navy to the Falkland Islands in 1982:
DEORE © 1982 Bill DeOre. Courtesy of the artist and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.
And another by DeOre:
DEORE © 1982 Bill DeOre. Courtesy of the artist and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.
The cartoon below was published in the Daily Mirror the day after Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet minister, Geoffrey Howe, delivered a scathing resignation speech, voicing his discontent over her refusal to better integrate the United Kingdom with European economies:
This photograph shows a sketch at the Cartoon Museum drawn by Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell in 2000, after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that it was time to "move British politics beyond the time of Margaret Thatcher."
Photograph by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
"One of the things that came across when we did the exhibition was that she really divided the country," O'Brien told , and this doesn't look to be changing any time soon. "Even the whole issue of her funeral is dividing people. I'm sure there will be more cartoons between now and next week and probably after the funeral."
For Maggie's part, "she didn't care about cartoons at all," O'Brien notes. "We know this because one of our trustees was one of her ministers. Whereas some other politicians and previous prime ministers may have been quite hurt or offended by the cartoons, she just completely ignored them so they had no impact on her. I don't imagine she had that much interest in the visual arts."
Today, 30 July 1987 © Martin Rowson
Perhaps nothing speaks to how polarizing a figure Margaret Thatcher was (and continues to be) than the varied reactions to her passing. As the day comes to a close, many in Britain have mourned the former prime minister's death, including current Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut a European trip short to lead a somber tribute to her. But others have been downright giddy.
Critics of Thatcher took to the streets (the Glasgow City Council dispersed a social media-organized "party" in a public square, citing safety concerns) and the Twittersphere to hail her death:
Margaret Thatcher is dead! Whose celebrating with a "wicked witch is dead" party on Saturday? #nowthatchersdead— Jake Welsh (@veganfishcake) April 8, 2013
Others were more political in their forms of celebration. Referring to the miners whose unions Thatcher vigorously battled during her time as premier, British comedian Sarah Millican tweeted:
A lot of miners are discovering they can dance today.— Sarah Millican (@SarahMillican75) April 8, 2013
Meanwhile, the irreverent website IsThatcherDeadYet.co.uk, which was set up in 2010, updated its homepage after three years to read:
All of this has led the British media to debate whether it's appropriate to celebrate the death of the nation's first female prime minister.
In an op-ed for the conservative Telegraph, British journalist and author Toby Young writes:
[I]f it hadn't been for Thatcher, these same Left-wing gadflies might well be rotting in a Soviet prison camp somewhere east of the Urals. That sounds like an exaggeration, but we shouldn't forget her contribution to ending the Cold War.
Writing in the more liberal pages of the Guardian, the American journalist Glenn Greenwald argues that Thatcher's transgressions -- which include her denunciation of Nelson Mandela and the ANC as terrorists as well as her friendship with "brutal tyrants" like Chile's Augusto Pinochet -- should not be overlooked in the rush to lionize her:
To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped. As David Wearing put it this morning in satirizing these speak-no-ill-of-the-deceased moralists: "People praising Thatcher's legacy should show some respect for her victims. Tasteless."
Greenwald goes on to note that Western media offered more balanced and critical coverage after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Whether Thatcher's death is cause for celebration or sadness, it has made one thing clear: As Guardian sports columnist David Conn tweeted earlier today, "one major legacy was a divided country, divisions being furiously reinforced today."
Danny E. Martindale/Getty Images
The rare public figure as beloved by some as she was reviled by others, Margaret Thatcher, who died today at 87, was the first female prime minister in British history and a world leader who arguably did more than anyone else to usher in today's free-market capitalism. In pushing for deregulation, privatization, and lower tax rates, Thatcher succeeded in dismantling what she saw as a bloated British public sector that was holding the country back. Though Ronald Reagan embarked on a similar project in the United States, Thatcher was first. And given neo-liberalism's ascendance today, on that basis alone she deserves to be called an historic figure.
But does Thatcher deserve to be called the greatest post-war prime minister in British history?
Unlike American historians -- who love nothing more than to debate endlessly about who qualifies as the greatest U.S. president -- the Brits have more of an aversion to this sort of ranking, and the first rigorous survey of British academics that examined the question of prime ministerial greatness was not carried out until 2004, by researchers at the University of Leeds. That study included all 20th-century premiers and crowned Clement Attlee the victor, with Thatcher finishing in fourth place:
1. Clement Attlee (Labour, 1945-1951)
2. Winston Churchill (Conservative, 1940-1945, 51-55)
3. David Lloyd George (Liberal, 1916-1922)
4. Margaret Thatcher (Conservative, 1979-1990)
5. Harold Macmillan (Conservative, 1957-1963)
If one limits the field to post-war prime ministers, the discussion becomes even more interesting. David Lloyd George drops off the list, and Winston Churchill should arguably be excluded -- his second term in office predictably did not approach the heights of his wartime leadership. That puts Thatcher in second place behind Attlee, the man responsible for laying the foundation of the British welfare state.
Thatcher, meanwhile pulls ahead of Attlee in surveys of British public opinion. A YouGov poll from November 2011, for instance, found that 27 percent of Britons consider Thatcher the greatest prime minister since 1945, while 20 percent give the nod to Churchill (Atlee trails in a distant fifth place with only five percent). Looking at the cross-tabs, that result appears to stem from a pro-Labour split between Attlee, Churchill, Tony Blair, and Harold Wilson. But it is nonetheless a surprising outcome for Thatcher, whose approval ratings in office fluctuated a great deal.
In many ways, Thatcher and Attlee couldn't be more different. While Attlee founded the National Health Service -- and with it the British welfare state -- Thatcher fought to undo much of what Attlee had built. Where Attlee saw the comforting hand of the state, Thatcher saw encroaching state power. The 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing eurozone crisis represent the latest, most important test for whether European governments will work to maintain Attlee's legacy and keep the state involved in the economy, or move further toward Thatcherism and embrace the free market.
The outcome of that argument could play a big role in determining whether it is Thatcher or Attlee who ultimately secures the title of Britain's greatest post-war prime minister.
(h/t to reader Erica Jackson, who pointed us to the Leeds study)
JOHNNY GREEN/AFP/Getty Images
Amid the devastation of World War II, a time when even the most basic food was hard to come by, Margot Wölk lived out her days amid plenty. As part of a group of women forced by the SS to serve as Adolf Hitler's food testers at his Eastern Front headquarters -- the Wolf Lair -- Wölk spent the war checking for poison in the Führer's white asparagus. In a fascinating interview with Der Spiegel that makes for good weekend reading, Wölk recounts her time as one of Hitler's guinea pigs and says that she found her work for Hitler repugnant. She spent the war eating gourmet food at the point of a gun.
Wölk's account of her time at the Wolf Lair reads like something of a surrealist farce. Since Hitler was a vegetarian, no meat was served -- only big platters of vegetables, noodle dishes, and sauces. The day Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt at the Wolf's Lair, a group of soldiers had invited the food tasters -- who were all women -- to a watch a movie in one of the tents near the headquarters. The explosion knocked them off their benches. But Hitler walked away unscathed.
After the attack, security at the compound tightened, and the food testers were moved to an old school house. One night, Wölk told Der Spiegel, an SS officer used a ladder to climb through the window of the room in which she was sleeping and raped her. And that was only a taste of what was to come: After the war, Wölk fell into the hands of the Soviet Army, whose soldiers raped her repeatedly and left her unable to bear children. In one of the lesser-known outrages of World War II, the Soviet army raped an estimated two million German women during their westward march.
After the war, Wölk's husband, a Nazi soldier who had been presumed dead, returned to her. Rebuilding their life took priority over giving interviews, but that changed a few years ago, and she has now given several accounts of her experience during the war, though none as comprehensive as this week's interview with Der Spiegel.
Now the 95-year-old Wölk stands out as a paradigmatic example of the ways that ordinary Germans were made to collaborate with Hitler's murderous regime.
"I just wanted to say what happened there," she told Der Spiegel. "That Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig."
After his appearance on a BBC radio program Monday, British Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith probably wishes he could eat his words -- because now he may not be eating much of anything for a year. Smith said in the interview that he could survive on £53 ($80) a week -- the amount one welfare recipient complained he was forced to survive on after his housing stipend was cut -- and now Britons are asking him to prove it. As of Wednesday morning, roughly 350,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org urging the secretary to make good on his pledge.
The petition calls on Smith to stick to the budget for "at least one year," thereby helping to "realise the conservative party's current mantra that 'We are all in this together.'" Doing so would require him to take a 97-percent salary cut while living in London, one of the world's most expensive cities.
Smith has been less than enthusiastic about the petition, which he called a "complete stunt" in an interview with the Wanstead & Woodford Guardian. The demand "distracts attention from the welfare reforms which are much more important and which I have been working hard to get done," he said.
If he warms to the idea, however, Smith won't be the first politician to take a trial run on the dole. In 2012, Jagrup Brar, a member of British Columbia's Legislative Assembly, spent a month living on $610, the province's welfare rate for a single, unemployed adult. After the last night of the month, which he spent "couch surfing," Brar was 26 pounds lighter and $7 in debt -- even after selling his backpack to buy a train ticket home.
Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J. pulled a similar stunt several months later, living on the equivalent of food stamps for a week. The mayor was forced to cut caffeine out of his diet, eat "singed" yams for lunch, and consider "making a meal out of mayonnaise and salsa."
As appealing as it sounds, Smith may not be interested in the politics of empathy, having already gone through two real periods of unemployment in the 1980s. As he said in an interview Tuesday, "I know what it is like to live on the breadline."
We here at Foreign Policy had been preparing for the day Cyprus's banks reopened by collecting pictures of bank runs from around the world -- on the chance that this morning we'd wake up to long lines of frantic depositors.
But with headlines like "Euro Rises Amid Cyprus Calm" and "All Is Calm as Cyprus Banks Re-Open After 12 Days," that idea has sort of fizzled out. (Come back to this space next time there really is a bank run, though, for some great pictures!)
So instead, we present you with this: a Cyprus so calm that a man feels comfortable standing in front of a bank with a parrot on his head.
Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images
Just when it seemed the crisis in the eurozone might be heading toward some kind of resolution, European financial regulators have managed to drag the continent back into doom and gloom. This time, the culprit is Cyprus, whose rickety banking system is heavily exposed to nasty things like Greek debt. Intense negotiations over the weekend produced the latest bailout agreement, which will raid the bank accounts of ordinary Cypriots in order to finance the bad behavior of Cypriot bankers. As David Bosco tweeted last night, "were the Eurozone ministers and IMF reps drinking during the 10-hour meeting that produced the Cyprus levy?"
Furious at the prospect of financing another bailout out of their own pocket, the Germans -- and their henchmen at the IMF and the European Central Bank -- made an offer to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that he couldn't refuse. Here's how the Wall Street Journal says it all happened:
Just after 5 p.m., finance ministers, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, ECB executive board member Jörg Asmussen and the EU's economic-affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn, filed into a meeting room on the fifth floor of Brussels's Justus Lipsius, which houses the EU's ministerial meetings and summits. Cyprus's newly elected President Nicos Anastasiades stayed behind in the country's delegation room on the seventh floor, ready to approve or reject any potential deals.
Mr. Rehn was the first to make a specific proposal. To raise funds, Cyprus should impose a special levy on deposits, taxing accounts of less than €100,000 at 3%, those up to €500,000 at 5% and those above at 7%. Such a "solidarity levy "-the brainchild of Thomas Wieser, an Austrian who chairs technical discussion among euro-zone finance officials, and Mr. Asmussen- could avoid a straight "haircut" on deposits, which they feared could be too destabilizing for Cyprus and the rest of Europe. The tax would be applied to all Cypriot banks, not just the two in deep trouble.
But Ms. Lagarde had something else in mind. The IMF chief presented a much more radical plan, in which deposits above €100,000 in Laiki and Bank of Cyprus would have been cut by between 30% and 40%. The owners of senior bonds in the two banks would also have faced losses-a step that was ultimately rejected. That plan would have limited the international bailout to €10 billion and raise some €7.5 billion from depositors.
Take a moment and consider those figures. According to the Journal, Christine Lagarde -- apparently with a straight face -- asked for a 30 to 40 percent reduction in large deposits to finance the misadventures of Cypriot banks.
After some more squabbling back and forth during which Anastasiades rejected IMF demands, the financial officials decided to play hardball with the newly minted president. The following exchange, as reported by the Journal, might serve as a case study for how to stick up a bank in the year 2013:
At that point, around 1 a.m. a small group-including Ms. Lagarde, Mr. Rehn, Mr. Sarris, Mr. Schäuble, France's Pierre Moscovici, Mr. Asmussen and Mr. Dijsselbloem broke off into a separate room. It was then -- as other ministers snoozed or played on their iPads -- that Mr. Asmussen told Mr. Anastasiades that without a deal, Cyprus's two big banks faced insolvency, since they would have no prospect of European funds to repair their battered capital buffers, said people who were present. In that case, the ECB would no longer be willing to fund the banks with central-bank emergency liquidity, Mr. Asmussen said, these people said. The implication: The island's biggest banks might be unable to reopen after Monday's bank holiday.
Mr. Asmussen backed up the warning by calling ECB President Mario Draghi and letting him know the central bank might have to deal with the collapse of Cyprus's banks.
After managing to secure a concession that no deposit be taxed at a rate above 10 percent, Anastasiades signed the agreement.
It's worth noting that the arrangement foisted upon Cyprus by regulators is also completely unprecedented in the history of the meandering European response to the financial crisis. While so-called "haircuts" have been imposed in the past -- notably on holders of Greek bonds -- European financial authorities have never had the temerity to pull money straight out of individual bank accounts in order to rescue banks.
Beyond the unprecedented nature of the move, the decision to impose a one-time tax on deposits now threatens the broader European financial system. In an effort to reduce their exposure to the tax, Cypriots flocked en masse to the country's ATMs over the weekend -- to the extent that many machines ran out of cash. With fears that Italy and Spain may also require bailout packages, depositors in those countries have to be wondering whether they too should begin moving money out of their local banks to avoid a similar tax. That may very well result in a run on banks in the two countries least equipped to handle it.
The wrinkle in the Cypriot bailout is what might be called the Russian connection. As Dylan Matthews explains, the Cypriot government has gotten in bed with the Russian government to offer a less-than-above-board financial haven to Russians looking for a friendly locale to park their money. Facing a revolt at home, Anastasiades is now trying to renegotiate the terms of the bailout. If he is able to increase rates for large deposits and lower the rate for smaller holdings, Russian oligarchs could be footing a sizable portion of the bill for the Cypriot bailout.
The question for Anastasiades now is this: Whom can he afford to infuriate more -- mom-and-pop Cypriot depositors or the Russian mob?
Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images
Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian archduke whose assassination by a Serbian nationalist in 1914 set off World War I, has always been more famous for his death than for his life. But, as Der Spiegel recently reported, thanks to rediscovered and newly published travel diaries from his 1892 journey around the world, readers will be able to get a new look at the complex personality of the young heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne -- who was at once an avid hunter and a conservationist, at once supercilious and vocally anti-imperialist.
Judging by Der Spiegel's report, the 2,000 or so pages of notes, written in a "powerfully elegant" style, give a fascinating account of an adventure that, though high-profile at the time (the entourage at certain points contained over 400 people), seems to have largely been forgotten.
FF (as the archduke signed his name in his notes) was just 28 years old at the time of his journey. Here are some highlights from this not-so-typical grand tour:
According to Der Spiegel, FF had nuanced opinions about the United States, which he saw as both heroic and ruthless. On one hand, he wrote, "Citizens of the Union" have the potential "to be larger than life, to be Übermenschen." On the other, he found the Wild West to be disappointing. He lamented the shrinking forests and the suffering of the Native Americans. Moreover, the "hoped-for grizzly bears refused to run in front of his rifle, cowboys cavalierly put their feet on the table in his presence, and smoking was prohibited everywhere."
This is going to be some fantastic reading.
With the papal conclave expected to convene early next week, the Vatican has torn a page out of the Chinese playbook for stifling dissent, blocking access to a prominent website, bishopaccountability.org, that documents cases of clergy abuse.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, access to the site, which has become an invaluable resource for journalists covering the sex abuse scandal, is restricted on the Vatican's Internet servers. And when one tries to access the site through the Holy See's network, a message notes that it is blocked because of "hate/racism." That's certainly one way to describe an effort that has posted more than 8,500 pages of documents describing clergy abuse.
As we've written earlier, much of the pre-conclave jockeying plays out in the media, where candidates can be floated and reputations attacked in order to best position one cardinal or another for the papacy. By blocking access to one of the chief sources of information about this dark chapter in the church's history, the Holy See may be seeking to reassert a degree of control over the mud-slinging process in the media.
The NCR says it has filed a request to have the site unblocked. (Hey, it could happen!) We'll keep you updated.
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
The Vatican's ongoing sexual abuse scandal and the Catholic Church's often stumbling response is expected to play a major role in the coming papal conclave, and today the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) fired a major shot at the cardinals gathered in the Vatican. The group, which has played a major role in exposing abuse and advocating on behalf victims, released a list of 12 papal candidates that it is calling the "dirty dozen" for their alleged roles in sex crimes and cover-ups.
The 12 prelates have all been identified as serious candidates to succeed Pope Benedict XVI and include several of the frontrunners: Angelo Scola, Marc Ouellet, Leonardo Sandri, Peter Turkson, and Timothy Dolan. While it is difficult to predict the dynamics of a papal election, being slapped with membership in the "dirty dozen" doesn't bode well for these cardinals at a time when the church is looking to clean up its image.
Several of the candidates on the list also represent important regional ambitions within the church. Dolan, for example, is the only viable American candidate. The selection of Sandri, an Argentinean, would cater to a growing Catholic population in Latin America. If selected, Turkson, who is from Ghana, would be the church's first black pope. His selection would also acknowledge the church's growing influence in Africa.
SNAP argues that the 12 prelates represent the "worst choices in terms of protecting kids, healing victims, and exposing corruption." Whether the list will have any lasting impact remains to be seen, but efforts by groups like SNAP are important in shaping public perception of the papal candidates and also affect internal jockeying in the lead-up to the conclave.
In the case of Scola, an Italian cardinal who has been called the "crown prince of Catholicism," SNAP argues that he failed to take the sex abuse scandal seriously when, in 2010, during the scandal's peak, he said that media attacks on Benedict were an "iniquitous humiliation." A conservative close to both Benedict and John Paul II, Scola currently serves as the archbishop of Milan, which in the past has served as a stepping stone to the papacy. But at 71, he's far from a model of youth and vigor.
Ouellet, a Canadian, lands on the list because while he issued apologies to many victims of abuse, he reportedly refused to meet with those victims.
Sandri, the Argentinean, comes under criticism from SNAP for his ties to the disgraced Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, who was convicted of a range of sexual abuses. Sandri was asked in 2004 to read a letter from John Paul II in praise of Maciel and, as the National Catholic Reporter puts it, "few cardinals will probably be excited about the prospect of TV packages on the new pope featuring video of him extolling an abuser priest (though admittedly, the words were not his own)."
Turkson, the Ghanaian, finds himself under fire from SNAP for comments he made about the possibility of the church's sex scandal spreading to Africa, which he deemed unlikely since gays are not tolerated in Africa. "African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency,” he said in an interview with Christiane Amanpour. "Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society."
Lastly, SNAP objects to Dolan's candidacy on the grounds that he allegedly paid abusive priests to leave the church in silence, in addition to claims that he kept silent in the case of a teacher at a Catholic school in possession of child pornography.
If these are the top candidates to succeed Benedict, it makes you wonder: Will the church ever find someone clean enough to take over?
VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
The news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez finally succumbed to cancer broke around 5 p.m. yesterday, early enough to make today's newspapers. Here's a look at how the story played in the region:
El Universal, Venezuela
The Venezuelan daily El Universal goes with an elegant presentation, set off with a black banner and a headline blaring "The era without Chávez begins." The top box in the left-hand sidebar teases an article about the political opposition's reaction, quoting a statement from Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez in last fall's election, in which he expresses condolences to Chávez's family and friends.
El Nacional, Venezuela
El Nacional presents a younger, more vigourous Chávez and highlights his military background, with the Venezuelan leader clad in a paratrooper's beret, military fatigues, and a presidential sash. Below the fold, the paper runs a photo of grief-stricken Venezuelans alongside a quote from Chávez proclaiming his willingness to uphold the principles of his revolution even at the cost of his own life.
El Mercurio, Chile
In Chile, El Mercurio leads with a forward-looking headline. The small-type title reads, "His absence plants doubts about Chavismo's ability to remain united after the possible candidacy of Vice President Nicolás Maduro, whom the deceased leader designated as his political heir."
El Tiempo, Colombia
In Colombia, which had a tense relationship with Venezuela under Chávez, the headline of El Tiempo captures the mixed emotions that many in the country are probably feeling today: "The end of the Chávez era."
Correio Braziliense, Brazil
One of the more striking designs of the day comes from the Brazilian paper Correio Braziliense, which illustrates the popular end-of-an-era trope with a Chávez-less paratrooper beret.
The tally of the Eastleigh by-election in Britain this week is in, and the results are ugly for David Cameron's Tories. The Conservatives got absolutely hammered, falling 14 percent in the polls as the Lib Dems miraculously held on to a seat they have controlled since 1994. The culprit behind the Tory slide is the UK Independence Party, an anti-EU, anti-austerity protest movement that gained 24 percent at the polls to notch a narrow second-place finish.
Understandably, Cameron's Tories are currently in crisis mode -- a position that was all too clear on the face of the losing Tory candidate in Eastleigh, Maria Hutchings, earlier today. In the bizarre video below, she is escorted from the election hall, wordlessly refusing to answer questions with a rigor-mortis smile that may very well become the enduring symbol of the crisis in British conservative politics.
Watch for yourself. It's almost too good to be true:
Hutchings has been compared by some observers to Sarah Palin -- a characterization that she dismisses. But the fact that the ruling party's candidate in a crucial by-election can be compared to the American politician Europeans love to hate speaks volumes about the state of the Conservative party. Recent polling shows Labour with a 12 percent lead over the Conservatives, and David Cameron's recent efforts to distance himself from a pro-European agenda appear to have paid scant dividends. Cameron has promised an in-or-out referendum on UK membership in the European Union by 2017 after extracting concessions from Brussels.
If the Eastleigh results are to judge, Brits aren't buying it.
Stéphane Hessel, the French author and activist who was among FP's Global Thinkers in 2011 -- our oldest thinker yet, but no less spirited for it -- died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 95. Hessel's is a remarkable life story: He was raised in Paris by parents who counted Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder as friends, joined the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War II, was imprisoned in Buchenwald, and ultimately escaped being hanged by swapping identities with a soldier who had died of typhoid fever. Later in life, as a young diplomat, he helped Eleanor Roosevelt draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But it was at the age of 93, as the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring made their way across the world, that a little red book, just some 30 pages, earned Hessel international fame. His Indignez-vous! (the English version was published in 2011 as Time for Outrage!) was, as we wrote at the time, "an old lefty's impassioned cri de coeur against a society that has forgotten the postwar values of tolerance and social responsibility," and it caught the attention of exasperated protesters worldwide, from los indignados in Spain to the drum circlers of Zuccotti Park. Pausing at the "last leg of my journey," Hessel urged the world's youth to carry on the agitating spirit of the Resistance, fighting what he called the "international dictatorship of financial markets." "Here is our message," Hessel declared, "It's time to take over! It's time to get angry! Politicians, economists, intellectuals, do not surrender!"
In 2011, when we asked Hessel who the best muse is for our times, his reply was Calliope, the Greek muse of epic poetry. Somewhat fitting for a man whose language stirred millions.
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
Economic arguments have a particular resonance during periods of sluggish growth, and that logic even seems to extend these days to the hot-button issue of abortion. In Switzerland, a new, very literally named initiative --"Protect life to remedy the loss of billions" - is calling for a referendum to ban abortion in the country for economic reasons. The initiative committe is led by politician Heinz Hürzeler, a member of the country's Social Liberal Movement, and maintains that in Switzerland, where 12 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, the practice represents a huge blow to the economy (comparatively speaking, Switzerland has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, with only 6.4 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44). As AFP reports:
It calculates that if the more than 100,000 foetuses aborted in Switzerland over the past decade had been born, grown up and worked for 45 years, they would have contributed nearly 334 billion Swiss francs ($359 billion, 274 billion euros) to the country's GDP.
And, as consumers, the same 100,000 people would over 80 years pump more than 324 billion francs into the country's economy, it says.
Economic arguments abound in favor of abortion (and contraception more generally), and they tend to focus on the burden and welfare demands posed by unsupported children on both the individual and societal levels. Freakonomics has even weighed in on the debate, linking abortion to decreased crime rates in places like Romania, Canada, and Australia.
Perhaps less well known are the economic arguments for banning the practice. Like the Swiss initiative, these tend to rely on what pro-life author Larry Burkett has called "the George Bailey Affect" after the main character in It's a Wonderful Life: How the world would look, if, for each abortion, we substituted a consumer child who would grow up to become a productive member of society.
As for the campaign in Switzerland, the initiative has until August 2014 to garner 100,000 signatures, at which point the abortion ban will be put to a national referendum. Abortion was only decriminalized in Switzerland in 2002, also by national referendum.
It's tough to stomach, but Ikea is the latest big-name food maker to be felled by the no-it-isn't-beef-it's-horse-meat-scandal that is quickly spreading across Europe. Czech authorities alerted the discount furniture maker that they had found horsemeat in a sample of meatballs, and Ikea subsequently pulled the product from stores in 14 countries.
Ikea is of course outraged and put out a strongly worded statement promising that the company would get to the bottom of how the tainted Swedish staple turned up in stores. "We do not tolerate any other ingredients than the ones stipulated in our recipes or specifications, secured through set standards, certifications and product analysis by accredited laboratories," the company said.
The untold story in all of this is that Swedes love horse meat. Marketed under the name hamburgerkött -- that's right, "hamburger meat" -- Swedes put the stuff on toast, sandwiches, and the like. Consider, for example, Pärsons' (slogan: "Sandwich joy for the whole family!") version of hamburgerkött. They lead with the euphemistic name on the package, but a quick peek at the ingredients tells the real story -- hästkött, or horse meat.
Curious where the horses are sourced from? South America.
JESSICA GOW/AFP/Getty Images
It may be the biggest news to break in Latin since Julius Caesar's death.
Pope Benedict XVI provided vindication for Latin teachers everywhere on Monday by breaking the news of his upcoming resignation via a speech in the oft-dismissed ancient language:
More satisfying still for those who maintain Latin is not dead, the Huffington Post Italy reports that the news was first broken by a reporter for Italy's ANSA news agency, who apparently beat out journalists from France, Mexico, and Japan thanks to her superior language skills. Giovanna Chirri initially could not reach a Vatican spokesman to confirm the news, AFP reports:
In a heated debate with her editor, the journalist insisted her Latin knowledge was sound and they could alert the news.
The difficult part was "understanding the Latin," he said. "At a certain point, for example, I caught the word 'incapability' in the pope's speech. I turned around and spoke with my Mexican colleague. We noticed that Pope Benedict had a sad look on his face, not his usual look. Something wasn't right. Then, when cardinal Sodano mentioned the 'sadness,' we finally understood."
The choice of Latin for a major announcement was likely no accident: Benedict has long indicated that he considers a Latin revival important for the future of the Church. In November of last year, he established a Pontifical Academy of Latinity with the goal of promoting the language, saying in a letter at the time that even among priests and seminarians, the study of Latin has become "more and more superficial." He further demonstrated his determination to take Latin into the modern world in January when he began tweeting in the language. Still, Benedictus PP. XVI has just 17,816 followers so far -- the fewest of any of the pope's nine Twitter accounts.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
The normally scenic streets of Seville have taken a turn for the unsightly thanks to an ongoing garbage collectors' strike that is entering its second week.
The narrow alleys of the ancient city -- one of Spain's most popular tourist destinations -- are currently choked with more than 4,500 tons of trash, according to UPI. Garbage workers in the city are striking in response to proposed austerity measures that would reduce their wages by 5 percent while increasing their working hours. What does the slow pileup of 4,500 tons of trash look like? It's not pretty:
Gross? Certainly. But still not as gross as Naples.
More than 800,000 Americans packed the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Monday to listen to President Obama deliver his second inaugural address, but many more were listening around the world. Here are a few interesting global reactions:
In the Chinese media, Obama's promise to "try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully" and argument that "engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear" than military force was taken as a sign that the U.S.-China relationship will be at the top of his foreign policy agenda for the next four years. Of course, as the state-run Global Times notes, there's a bit of skepticism that the president will live up to his words:
"If the president really lives his words, he would agree that for the sake of the world's peace and prosperity, it is important for the United States and China to foster mutual trust, for trust is the cornerstone for every relationship, no matter between people or between nations...The words also show that he agrees that the two nations should properly solve their disputes, either economic or political."
News agency Xinhua was a little more positive, describing the overall approach Obama outlined in his Monday address as "balanced" and "decidedly progressive."
One Guardian writer described Obama's speech as "urg[ing] Americans to reclaim from conservatives the spirit of the founding fathers" and as "more inspirational than 2009," praising Obama's strong support of climate change and gay rights. Another was more cautious in hispraise, maintaining that Obama's speech was less of a populist manifesto and more of a "to-do list [covering] what he has still to do to make good on the economic promises of his first term."
Peter Foster of the more conservative Telegraph granted that Obama's speech was well-received
by the spectators on the Mall, he reminded readers just how deeply divided the United States still is: "It was apparent," writes Foster, "that only half of the nation had showed up to listen
to [Obama's] call...Overwhelmingly, the crowd of 800,000 people was filled with
the faces of the young, female, urban, African-American coalition that ensured Mr. Obama's re-election for a second term last November. They were Obama's people, and they
were there to celebrate their victory."
In his article for the Australian, Troy Bramston praised Obama's rhetoric, but argued that Obama cannot rank amongst the truly great American presidents until he "translate[s] a presidency of promise into a presidency of action."
That may be hard to do, claims Janet Hook in another article for the Australian, in which she points out that Obama's speech made little effort to readch out to the GOP.
After the inaugural address, the headline of Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat read "The decade of war is over," referencing a line from Obama's speech. Yet in an op-ed for the same paper, Abdul Rahman Rashed, though praising Obama's experience in Middle Eastern affairs, was not so sure about peace in the coming decade. "Obama's second term will possibly be reconciliatory, particularly after John Kerry and Chuck Hagel join his administration...but who can tell if the region will be in a reconciliatory mood?"
In his article for Palestinian-run, London based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi (translated into English by the Times of Israel), Abdel Al-Bari Atwan writes that Obama "completely shut the door on any military intervention, stressing that a decade of wars has ended and that the only way to peace is dialogue." "President Obama's message is very clear," the article continued. "In short, he said that he does not intend to militarily intervene in Syria; will not wage a war on Iran, succumbing to Israeli pressure; and will focus on rescuing his country from its crippling economic crisis."
Atwan continues: "Obama disappointed many of his allies in the Middle East by neglecting to mention any of them in his speech." (Obama didn't mention any foreign countries by name in his address.)
Obama's equal opportunity rhetoric made news in Mexico. In its coverage of the inaugural address, El Universal highlighted Obama's commitment to immigrants, women, and gays. The article quoted Obama's statement promising immigration reform:
"Our trip (as a nation) will not be complete until we find a better way to welcome the hopeful, striving immigrants in the U.S. are still the land of opportunity, until the brightest students and engineers are listed on our strengths work instead of being expelled from our country."
The headline of the article read, in Spanish, "Obama calls for welcoming immigrants."
The president's inaugural address was a chance for Canadians to pat themselves on the back, the Ottowa Citizen snarkily reports:
"On the key issues that President Barack Obama pledged to dedicate his second term to in his inaugural address, Canada has already made substantive progress: on supporting democracy around the world; on providing equal rights to gays and lesbians; on creating an aspirational immigration system."
It doesn't stop there either. The column went to on say that Canada has also beat Obama to the punch in securing a budget deal and repairing its economy.
When Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird hosted a largely American gathering at the Canadian embassy on Monday, he was more tactful. "This is not a time for long speeches," he said. "We have very different systems, so we don't exactly want to be bragging," a Canadian embassy spokesman said.
Rob Carr-Pool/Getty Images
This shocking video of what appears to be a failed assassination attempt on Ahmed Dogan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party in Bulgaria, went viral last Saturday. But since then, some have raised suspicions about the incident.
It turns out the gun used by the attacker, 25 year old Oktai Enimehmedov, was a gas pistol filled with pepper spray, raising suspicions that it was all an elaborate hoax staged to gain sympathy points for the ethnic Turkish party, which has faced increasing criticism for corruption:
"It seems like [the gun pointing was] a pretty artificial attempt to present their party as a victim, to rally their voters, to strengthen their line," said Ivan Dikov, editor of Sofia News Agency, Bulgaria's main English-language news resource. "They have a lot to recover from."
But if it was a stunt, what did Enimehmedov get out of it? Immediately after the incident, he is surrounded by an angry mob and brutally beaten while lying on the floor. He now faces up to six years in jail. In a court hearing today, Enimehmedov seemed to disabuse the conspiracy claims, saying his intention was to scare Dogan, adding "I regret only that my gun misfired."
And if you thought the story couldn't get any weirder, it turns out this isn't the first time an Enimehmedov has achieved national notoriety. In 2007, Enimehmedov's brother won the Bulgarian reality show ‘Dance with me'.
Rioting broke out in the southern Swedish city of Gothenburg today over an Instagram account that posted photos of local underage boys and girls alongside sexualized captions. Hundreds of students descended on a high school in Gothenburg, where it was thought the individual behind the account attended, resulting in a large (by Swedish standards anyway) police deployment to break up the crowd. When police arrived, students threw bottles and rocks. According to reports on Facebook, the students had gathered at the school to beat up a girl thought to be behind the account.
What began as an apparently isolated incident at the high school, Plusgymnasiet, quickly spread around the city as angry teens left the school and headed to the city's center. In total, 27 teens have been taken into custody. The school will be closed tomorrow after a Facebook page was posted encouraging students to continue to attack it.
The fracas began after a request for photos of "sluts" generated hundreds of photo submissions. The instagram user, whose account has been suspended, posted the photos alongside lewd comments, setting off a firestorm among local teens. The account posted about 200 photos since its launch Monday and described the subjects of the photos as "sluts" and "whores" and also included information about their alleged sexual activities. Some of those whose photos were included were as young as 13.
This isn't the first time this year that a firestorm of criticism has erupted over non-consensual photos of teens posted on the internet. Reddit, the popular link aggregator, was forced to shut down a section of its website called "jailbait," which was devoted to user-submitted photos of sexualized teens. The ensuing debate over privacy on the internet became crystallized in the controversial online persona of Violentacrez, who started the jailbait section. Gawker outed the man behind the account as Michael Brutsch, a 49-year-old software programmer.
The news out of Gothenburg comes on the heels of an announcement by Instagram that they are overhauling their user agreement to allow the service to use users' photos for commercial purposes without their consent. My guess is they probably won't be using these photos.
A report produced by a group of 11 E.U. foreign ministers this week on the future of Europe focused, understandably, on how greater integration - or "more Europe" - could help resolve the ongoing debt crises, through greater oversight of member states' budgets, centralized bank supervision, etc.
But further down, the 8-page document also lays out a plan for how more federalism could boost the region's overall global clout -- and includes the possibility of a Pan-European Army.
"To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene we believe that we should in the long term... aim for a European Defence Policy with joint efforts regarding the defence industry (e.g. the creation of a single market for armament projects); for some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army."
The report makes clear that an all-Europe fighting force is only supported by some of the countries who helped produce the document; however, it also argues for a policy of more majority voting on security and foreign policy questions, meaning single states would no longer be able to veto defense policies they aren't in favor of. Alongside the European Army proposal, the report calls for an overall strengthening of the European External Action Service, the E.U.'s foreign policy arm.
The document has the backing of foreign ministers from Germany and France, as well as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and other major European actors, but not Britain, where news of the report has met with some alarm. The UK has opposed greater European military integration in the past, and the Daily Telegraph speculates that the new report could fuel current calls for a referendum on the E.U.
Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images
AFP reports that Belarus has formally expelled all Swedish diplomats, giving Stockholm until August 30th to remove all diplomatic officials from Minsk. Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson was forced to leave Minsk first after "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt attributed the eviction to his country's active stance on human rights, warning that Belarusian President Aleskandr Lukashenko's "fear of human rights is reaching new heights." Blidt doubled down an hour later, tweeting "We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."
The sudden timing has many speculating that it was the recent"Teddy Bear Drop" by Swedish activists that incited the expulsion. In an original act of protest, Swedish advertising agency Studio Total flew a small private plane over Belarusian airspace, dropping stuffed toy bears with messages of free speech. In an interview with FP's Elias Groll, pilots Hannah Frey and Thomas Mazetti elaborated upon their "campaign of laughter" to highlight the regime's political and security weaknesses.
Though Belarusian officials initially denied that the teddy bear drop had even happened, two high ranking generals were fired shortly afterward for "failing to ensure national security." Belarusian blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau were later arrested on charges of involvement in the "illegal intrusion" of airspace.
Packing should be easy for the Swedish embassy. The current round of evictions comes just months after Sweden withdrew officials from its embassy in February in protest against Lukashenka's authoritarian administration. All 27 EU member states removed diplomatic envoys after new economic sanctions were imposed, with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia not returning until late April. An emergency meeting of European Union ambassadors has been called for Friday to discuss the situation.
TATYANA ZENKOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
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