Barack Obama's visit to Berlin may have sparked a wave of commentary and analysis, but it was an offhand remark from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that gave birth to a meme. Responding to questions about the National Security Agency's PRISM program during a joint press conference with the U.S. president, Merkel noted that the "Internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us."
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In 2011, just as America was recovering from its collective swoon over the British royal wedding, another European monarchy was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Iñaki Urdangarin, the duke of Palma and son-in-law of Spain's constitutional monarch, Juan Carlos I, was accused of using his royal connections to embezzle millions of euros through a sports charity.
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On Monday, France's Le Monde newspaper published a letter that has left many amused -- and others utterly confused. Investigators found the handwritten, undated letter, allegedly from current IMF chief Christine Lagarde to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during a search of Lagarde's Paris apartment in March, and it's now been leaked to the press.
France 24 posted a translation of the note, which Le Monde has dubbed "La lettre d'allégeance":
Dear Nicolas, very briefly and respectfully,
1) I am by your side to serve you and serve your plans for France.
2) I tried my best and might have failed occasionally. I implore your forgiveness.
3) I have no personal political ambitions and I have no desire to become a servile status seeker, like many of the people around you whose loyalty is recent and short-lived.
4) Use me for as long as it suits you and suits your plans and casting call.
5) If you decide to use me, I need you as a guide and a supporter: without a guide, I may be ineffective and without your support I may lack credibility. With my great admiration,
The backstory here is pretty complicated. The authorities searching Lagarde's apartment were investigating her involvement in a 2008 settlement paid to Bernard Tapie, the former head of Adidas, while Lagarde served as France's finance minister under Sarkozy. Tapie accused the state-owned bank Crédit Lyonnais of defrauding him and Lagarde recommended the case go to arbitration, where Tapie was awarded more than $500 million. Critics have charged that the award was too generous and likely resulted from Tapie's close relationship with Sarkozy's government, while Lagarde has denied any wrongdoing.
The five-point letter has revived interest in the controversial case and left many in France scratching their heads. Slate's French edition took the historical route, going back to the Middle Ages and questioning whether the letter should be interpreted as an oath of allegiance or as a pledge from a vassal.
Le Huffington Post, for its part, compiled a list of funny French Twitter responses, including one person who compared the letter to something a 13-year-old girl would write to Justin Bieber. One tweet noted it was lucky the letter wasn't intended for former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been embroiled in several sex scandals.
Traditional media outlets aren't sitting this one out either. The news magazine L'Express is asking readers to imagine how Sarkozy might respond to Lagarde's letter They'll publish the best submissions on Friday -- and they're asking readers to avoid any vulgar language, s'il vous plaît.
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On Wednesday, Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio
Messi, were formally accused of tax fraud worth €4 million ($5.3 million) by
Spanish Inquisition public prosecutors in Barcelona.
El País reports:
[The charges] relate to a failure to declare part of the star's earnings from his image rights in tax declarations made between 2007 and 2009....
According to the suit, it was Messi's father who came up with the alleged tax avoidance "strategy," which the player "ratified" when he turned 18. The scheme purportedly revolves around "pretending" to transfer the Barcelona player's image rights to front companies in the tax havens of Belize and Uruguay.
The setup, said public prosecutor Raquel Amado, allegedly allowed Messi's earnings to be transferred from the companies paying for his image rights to the tax haven-based businesses without being subject to barely any tax and without the knowledge of the Spanish tax office.
Messi, winner of FIFA's Ballon d'Or (given to the best player in the world) every year since its inception in 2010, was the 10th-highest paid athlete on the globe last year, taking home an estimated $41.3 million from salary and endorsements.
One might wonder why someone making so much money would feel the need to commit tax fraud (assuming the allegations have merit), but this kind of chicanery has long been common in Spain, where the government has traditionally taken a "don't ask, don't tell" approach of sorts to its wealthier residents' tax returns. In recent years, however, authorities have cracked down on tax evasion as part of the government's larger effort to reduce the deficit. It appears Messi got caught up in this campaign.
Moreover, while frowned upon, tax evasion is not exactly unheard of in the world of international soccer. In 2011, reports suggested that top English players such as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Arsenal's Theo Walcott were involved in a tax scheme of dubious legality, while Diego Maradona, Messi's mentor and fellow Argentine, still owes around $50 million to the Italian government in unpaid taxes and interest.
Messi, in a statement posted to his Facebook page, has denied the allegations:
We have just learned through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about the news because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all of our tax obligations according to the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying the situation.
In the meantime, here's a video of a wonderful Messi goal and even more wonderful commentary by Ray Hudson:
EPA/PIER PAOLO FERRERI
It was chaos in Istanbul's Taksim Square yesterday, but a handful of valiant doner kebab stand owners remained open amid the clashes to serve police, protesters, and journalists. Even the most hardcore activist has to eat, right?
In the comments section, give us your best caption for the photo above, courtesy of journalist Dimiter Kenarov, who was on the square on Tuesday.
Update: We have a winner!
1st place: "You want white sauce, hot sauce, or tear gas?” – Lonnie J. Brown, via Facebook
Runner up: “You said extra spicy, right?” - BruceMcL, via comments section.
Thanks for playing!
With the economic crisis in Spain (and Europe as a whole) showing few signs of abating, it shouldn't come as a surprise that robberies are on the rise in the country. This is especially true in Spain's agricultural eastern regions, where the large-scale theft of fruit, garlic, and farm equipment is growing more frequent.
In Valencia, whose orange industry has helped Spain become Europe's biggest producer of the fruit, rural thefts rose 20 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous year, according to AVA, the local agricultural association.
AVA forecasts that the robberies could cost the region's farmers, many of whom barely cover their costs from selling oranges, 20 million euros this year, up from 15 million euros in 2012 and 2011, because of lost produce and damage.
To counter the problem, Spain's police have sent in the cavalry, dispatching two squadrons of mounted Civil Guards to the region to help run down thieves.
Though they arrived in late May, as the orange picking season ended, police say the horseback patrols have at least led to a hiatus in crimes, and are effective in startling robbers unable to hear them coming through the fruit trees....
Valencia's Civil Guard - responsible for smaller towns outside the remit of national police - said they had already made 50 arrests related to orange thefts in April, when they began a crackdown. Those charged so far are all Spaniards.
Incidents like these have been common for a few years -- 2011 saw 5,000 more agriculture-related thefts than 2010 -- with criminals operating independently or in gangs to steal produce and equipment for their resale value. More recently, the phenomenon has turned violent, with the death in April of a watchman who was shot while attempting to stop a group of suspected thieves.
The reasons for the thefts range from the obvious to the arcane. It seems hardly worth pointing out that a country with 26.8 percent unemployment will experience a rash of property crime, especially if that unemployment is coupled with cuts to social services on which unemployed people would normally depend. In addition, agriculture is a sector in which defense against theft is difficult, owing to the vast amounts of land that must be policed at all hours -- a problem just as present in California as in Spain -- leaving farmers to fend for themselves with community patrols or hired hands.
On a more local level, Spanish law provides for little more than a slap on the wrist for those convicted of petty theft, which means that robbery could remain lucrative even if you're caught in the act.
The economic crisis and the difficulty of policing vast tracts of land are problems that won't disappear any time soon, and Spain's budget troubles make additional investment in policing or surveillance technologies unlikely. Strengthening the laws for theft could offer the country some relief. But, in the meantime, orange you glad you're not a Spanish farmer?
NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images
Reports about the National Security Agency's PRISM program -- through which U.S. intelligence officials have access to the private communications of technology users -- have sparked fierce outrage in Europe, where leaders have long butted heads with U.S. security officials over where to strike the balance between safety and civil liberties.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to raise questions about the program with President Barack Obama when she meets with him next week, while other European leaders have said the news is disturbing enough to threaten pending EU-U.S. trade talks next month. Meanwhile, back in the country where the spying is actually taking place, a recent Washington Post-Pew Center poll shows that a majority of Americans "prioritize probes over privacy" -- or, put another way, that 56 percent felt the NSA's tracking of phone records was "acceptable."
Is there a yawning transatlantic divide when it comes to attitudes toward privacy? Consider some examples:
It's often argued that Europeans value privacy more than Americans do. And when it comes to giving companies access to personal data, Europeans -- or at least their lawmakers -- do seem more concerned than Americans.
But in a 2004 article for the Yale Law Journal, Yale Professor James Whitman points out that there are areas of privacy that Americans tend to be more concerned about than Europeans.
"For example, continental governments assert the authority to decide what names parents will be permitted to give their children," he writes. "This is an application of state power that Americans will view with complete astonishment, as a manifest violation of proper norms of the protection of privacy and personhood.... Nor does it end there: In Germany, everybody must be formally registered with the police at all times. In both Germany and France, inspectors have the power to arrive at your door to investigate whether you have an unlicensed television."
What explains the contradiction? The two cultures view privacy in fundamentally different terms, Whitman says. He characterizes the European view of privacy as a right to dignity -- the right to control the public face you present to the world (thus, an unflattering Google autocomplete is ruled to be invasive). Americans, on the other hand, view privacy in terms of liberty -- the right to keep the state out of our lives -- hence the visceral distrust of national identity cards.
Europeans have a greater tolerance for intrusions by the state, Whitman argues -- a point that runs counter to arguments often made by Europeans themselves: that the Old World's premium on privacy stems from painful parts of its history, such as when Nazis and members of the Stasi used personal data to control the public.
But based on Whitman's characterization, one would expect the PRISM program -- in representing the state's overreach into our personal lives -- to trigger more outrage among Americans than it has so far.
On the other hand, under the NSA program it is -- in theory, at least -- non-Americans who are being watched most closely. It seems the notion of being spied on -- using data from companies Europe has long regarded with suspicion -- is enough to raise the hackles of even those willing to let government have a say in naming their babies.
Two weeks ago, the dramatic murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight on a London street gripped the world. But what has attracted less attention since the grisly killing is a reported increase across Britain in violence, vandalism, and slurs against Muslims. Just yesterday, a mosque and Islamic community center in London burned down in a suspected arson attack. Investigators found the words EDL -- an apparent reference to the far-right English Defence League -- written on the side of a building on the site (the EDL has denied involvement in the fire).
The spike in incidents has been widely interpreted as a response to the fact that the two main suspects in Rigby's death are Muslims who claimed to be exacting revenge for Muslim deaths at the hands of British soldiers. But others have questioned just how substantial the anti-Muslim backlash to the Woolwich attack has been.
Tell MAMA, a British group that fights prejudice against Muslims, notes that there have been more than 200 anti-Muslim incidents since Rigby's killing on May 22, including roughly a dozen attacks on mosques as shown in their map below. A joint statement with the nonprofit Faith Matters called attention to a "huge rise in hate incidents reported against Muslims" since the Woolwich attack.
According to Tell MAMA's leader, Fiyaz Mughal, 17 incidents have involved physical abuse such as throwing objects at Muslims or attempting to pull off Islamic clothing. Many of the other episodes tracked by the group have involved statements made online.
But some Britons are questioning the narrative of a massive anti-Muslim backlash stemming from the Woolwich attack. The Telegraph's Andrew Gilligan, for instance, has argued that most incidents have been non-violent, and that they've paled in comparison with the retaliatory violence that followed the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005:
Tell Mama confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph that about 120 of its 212 "anti-Muslim incidents" - 57 per cent - took place only online. They were offensive postings on Twitter or Facebook, or comments on blogs: nasty and undesirable, certainly, but some way from violence or physical harm and often, indeed, legal. Not all the offending tweets and postings, it turns out, even originated in Britain.
Tell Mama has no written definition of what it classes as an anti-Muslim incident, but has in the past adopted a wide definition. Last November, the cross-bench Asian peer, Baroness Flather, told a newspaper it was "pointless for the Conservatives to chase Muslim votes. They are all on benefits and all vote Labour". Tell Mama added this admittedly crass and untrue remark to its database as an "anti-Muslim incident," though it said it had deleted it following an explanation from Lady Flather....
What the data broadly show, in short, is that Drummer Rigby's killers have failed. The breakdown in community relations has not come. There has been a rise in incidents, but it appears to be very short-term, overwhelmingly non-violent and even then almost entirely at the lower end of the scale.
The counterterrorism chief for London's Metropolitan Police has drawn similar conclusions. "Every single incident is horrible," she told British lawmakers this week, "but compared with previous times we have had slightly less" hate crime.
Still, Britain has undeniably suffered a series of mosque attacks recently, with this week's fire at a London mosque just the latest incident. On May 23, the day after Rigby's murder, someone lit a bottle and threw it onto the roof of a mosque in Bletchley, northwest of London, while a function took place inside the building (members were able to climb onto the roof and extinguish the fire). Police arrested a man in Braintree for walking into a mosque with a knife and an incendiary device, and found "Islam=Evil" scrawled on a mosque in the northern town of Bolton. The chairman of a mosque in the seaport town of Grimsby told a local newspaper that members were "discussing how to thank our neighbors for the support they have shown us over the past few days" when they heard a bang and had to extinguish fire bombs thrown at the mosque's door.
Meanwhile, the far-right English Defence League has organized marches across the country. On the night of the Woolwich attack, more than 100 EDL members gathered near the scene, chanting "no surrender to the Muslim scum," and clashed with riot police.
Prime Minister David Cameron, for his part, has sought to distinguish the Woolwich suspects' invocation of Islam from Islam itself and denounced the backlash. "Just as we will not stand for those who pervert Islam to preach extremism, neither will we stand for groups like the English Defence League who try to demonise Islam and stoke up anti-Muslim hatred by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities," he said in a speech to Parliament on Monday.
Cameron noted that he has created a task force on tackling extremism and radicalization in the country, which will ask questions like "whether we do enough to help mosques expel extremists and recruit imams who understand Britain." But he quickly added another objective for the task force -- one that seems appropriate in light of the events of recent weeks: "We will also look at new ways to support communities as they come together and take a united stand against all forms of extremism," he pledged.
John Downing/BWP Media/Getty Images
Bon Jovi is waiving his concert fees in order to make a stop in cash-strapped, unemployment-ridden Spain, after initially planning to skip the country for fear that fans wouldn't be willing to shell out for the tickets, which can cost up to €99 (roughly $130) for top seats.
But the singer said he didn't want to let fans down. Instead, tickets will be selling for between €18 and €39 -- just enough to cover the costs of staging the concert. The decision was hailed as a classy move, at least by those commenting on the El Mundo report about the decision, and the tickets have already sold out.
For Tommy and Gina, right Jon?
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
You've read the stories about Sweden's excellent health care system, innovative gender-neutral day care centers, and generous parental leave policies. But here's a story that those who would like to portray Sweden as a socialist paradise are less eager to tell: For three consecutive nights, the residents of several largely immigrant suburbs have rioted, torching cars, clashing with police, and setting buildings ablaze.
The rioting -- the worst social unrest to strike the country in many years -- was sparked by the lethal police shooting of a 69-year-old, knife-wielding man last week in the suburb of Husby, the epicenter of the riots. Roaming gangs of angry youths have since clashed with police and Husby residents have complained of racist treatment by police officers, who they say have used epithets such as "monkey."
What's happening in Husby is clearly a symptom of Sweden's failed effort to integrate its massive immigrant population. Housing segregation is rampant in the country, and Husby is a case study in how immigrant populations have come to dominate Stockholm's outer suburbs. The graph below (from this paper on housing segregation) illustrates the phenomenon. Depending on your political perspective, native-born Swedes have either fled Husby or been pushed out by immigrants:
Husby also suffers from rampant unemployment -- a problem that is particularly acute for its youth. Nearly 30 percent of the city's young people are neither employed nor actively enrolled in school, a number that mirrors a broader trend of immigrant underemployment relative to the native-born population.
riots have been captured in YouTube
videos, which paint a picture of an aggressive, somewhat
ham-handed response by police. When confronted by angry residents, law enforcement officials have used dogs
and drawn pistols to intimidate the crowds. In the clip below, they can be seen charging residents -- then retreating and charging once more.
Police have also used dogs to disperse the crowds. Here, the officer tells a resident to back up or risk being bitten. The female voice at the end of the video repeatedly asks police, "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?!"
Here's what things looked like from one of the apartment buildings in the area. As you can see in the video, Husby has massive housing structures, part of the so-called Million Program to vastly expand the country's residential properties.
And here's a panicked Swedish reporter covering a car fire in Husby. He excitedly relates how a piece of metal came flying at "high speed" toward the "exact spot" where he had been filming. When he tries to pick it up to show the camera, he declares it far too hot. The headline on the video translates as "Expressen's reporter forced to seek cover."
The reaction of Sweden's political class to the riots has been mixed. The nativist Sweden Democrats have called on the police to deploy water cannons to disperse the rioters. Meanwhile, the head of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, made a covert nighttime visit to Husby to talk to residents. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said neither he nor any members of his government are likely to pay a visit to the suburb, and declared that "Sweden cannot be ruled by violence" (his critics might point out that police violence sparked the rioting).
In short, no one has any real idea what to do about the unrest in the country -- besides praying that Molotov cocktails don't reappear on the streets of Husby tonight.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
Things seem to be going remarkably well for Germany recently. The country remains one of the few in the eurozone not to have slipped into recession, its two top soccer teams -- Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund -- are squaring off in the final of the Champions League, and it has succeeded in imposing steep demands for austerity as part of the many bailout deals it has financed.
But Germans are now worrying that as a result their fellow Europeans just don't seem to like them very much. On Saturday, Germany's entry into the annual Eurovision singing competition finished near the bottom of the pack and managed to garner points from just five other countries: Austria, Israel, Spain, Albania, and Switzerland. Is this the dreaded Angela Merkel-effect in action?
First, let's have a look at Germany's entry, "Glorious" by Cascada:
Not so bad, right? (Especially by the standards of the generally terrible quality of most acts.) For comparison's sake, have a look also at this year's winner, the Danish entry "Only Teardrops" by Emmelie De Forest:
There's clearly not a great deal separating the two acts, and if Germans are feeling aggrieved about their defeat at the hands of yet another inoffensive Scandinavian country, they may be correct in blaming politics. As I wrote on Friday, the voting system for the Eurovision competition has long been deeply political. The Scandinavian, Balkan, and former Soviet countries all typically vote for each other, for instance, while the Greeks and Cypriots refuse to vote for the Turks.
That dynamic was on display once more on Saturday. The former Soviet states broke heavily in favor of Azerbaijan and Ukraine, propelling them to second and third place, respectively. Did they deserve that placement? Well, you can judge for yourself. Here's Azerbaijan's entry, "Hold Me" by Farid Mammadov:
And here's Ukraine's entry, "Gravity" by Zlata Ognevich.
After scoring only 18 points to Ukraine's 214, the Germans are understandably looking for someone to blame, and it looks like Merkel might become the scapegoat. "There's obviously a political situation to keep in mind -- I don't want to say 'this was 18 points for Angela Merkel'," said Germany's ARD TV network coordinator Thomas Schreiber. "But we all have to be aware that it wasn't just Cascada up there on stage [being judged] but all of Germany."
The idea that Europeans might be punishing Germany for imposing austerity on its European brethren doesn't seem so far-fetched on its face. There aren't many ways for Europeans to get back at Germans these days -- they're beating everyone at soccer now, too -- so perhaps a silly singing competition is the only outlet remaining for the continent's debtors.
But even if Merkel is to blame, German Eurovision angst is something of an annual tradition, one that predates the eurozone crisis. Here's how Reuters summed it up in a 2007 headline: "Germans blame Eurovision failure on bloc-voting." And in 2008: "Germans fret no one likes them after Eurovision dud." In 2009, they didn't even bother sending a German, packing an American off to notch another subpar finish. In 2010, Germany finally won, but the desperation-laden headlines haven't gone away.
Has any superpower ever been so desperate to be liked?
Ragnar Singsaas/Getty Images
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.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.