Today, an Italian court convicted 23 U.S. citizens, 22 of them acknowledged as CIA agents, for the daylight abduction and "extraordinary rendition" of cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, better known as Abu Omar.
The CIA snatched Abu Omar off of a street in Milan in 2002, sending him to the U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany, and then to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured.
Adam Serwer at the American Prospect asks: "This case has always puzzled me -- Italy is an ally. Why was extraordinary rendition necessary? Such methods are usually reserved for apprehending individuals in countries that are not friendly to the United States precisely because those countries won't cooperate."
It's a good question, with a somewhat queasy answer: the CIA did it, I presume, because it was the most efficient way to do it, and, at the time, the CIA operated in extralegal channels with impunity. (The case that always confused me most was that of Ahmed Agiza -- human-rights respecting U.S. ally Sweden actually participated in that one.)
And it seems the Italian court is ensuring the CIA knows there's no impunity now, even if the only real effect is that former Milan station chief Robert Lady needs to cancel his European vacations.
Does Boris Johnson have a superhero alter-ego? Buffoonish mayor of London by day, cycling vigilante by night?
Environmentalist documentary maker Franny Armstrong would certainly argue that. Johnson swooped to her rescue yesterday, when she was pushed up against a car by a gang of girls -- she described them as "feral kids" -- wielding an iron pipe. Apparently he was cycling past and heard her cries for help. Reportedly calling the attackers "oiks," he gave a brief chase before returning to escort Armstrong home, in best super hero form.
So instead of asking watching political candidates debate, we should have them challenge each other to wrestling matches.
Armstrong admitted she did not agree with Johnson's politics, and had voted for his rival Ken Livingstone in the mayoral elections. But she added: 'If you find yourself down a dark alleyway and in trouble, I think Boris would be of more use than Ken.'"
Perhaps mayors across the world are united in their lonely quest against crime. Newark Mayor Cory Booker chased a mugger outside of city hall in 2006, while a Bloomberg deputy tackled a BlackBerry thief earlier this year.
What kind of tights does our cycling hero Boris have on beneath the pinstripes, I wonder.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Maybe it's just because we've been discussing upcoming Berlin Wall-related content here at the office, but I find Matt Welch's Reason cover essay, calling the 1989 defeat of communism in Europe, "the Unknown War" a little strange:
November 1989 was the most liberating month of arguably the most liberating year in human history, yet two decades later the country that led the Cold War coalition against communism seems less interested than ever in commemorating, let alone processing the lessons from, the collapse of its longtime foe. At a time that fairly cries out for historical perspective about the follies of central planning, Americans are ignoring the fundamental conflict of the postwar world, and instead leapfrogging back to what Steve Forbes describes in this issue as the “Jurassic Park statism” of the 1930s (see “?‘The Last Gasp of the Dinosaurs,’?” page 42). There have been more Hollywood hagiographies of the revolutionary communist Che Guevara in the last five years than there have been studio pictures in the last two decades about the revolutionary anti-communists who dramatically toppled totalitarians from Tallin to Prague (see Tim Cavanaugh’s “Hollywood Comrades,” page 62). And what little general-nonfiction interest there is in the superpower struggle, as Michael C. Moynihan details on page 48 (“The Cold War Never Ended”), remains stuck in the same Reagan vs. Gorby frame that made the 1980s so intellectually shallow the first time around.
Sure, it might be nice to see a Hollywood blockbuster or two about the Gdansk shipyard strike (unfortunately for producers, Lech Walesa wasn't quite as dashing as Che) but is there really a lack of end-of-cold-war awareness out there?
The "post-9/11 era" is only just starting to eclipse the "post-Cold War era" as foreign-affairs writing's most ubiquitous cliche. (If you're submitting to FP, please don't start your piece with either of them.) Indeed much of the contemporary debate over globalization takes 1989 as a starting point.
It seems to me that the images of 1989 -- from Tiananmen to the fall of the wall -- are just as, if not more iconic today than anything from 1968, which seems to be Welch's nominee for history's most overrated year. The tsunami of Berlin Wall media content that's already starting to trickle out in advance of next week's anniversary should drive that point home. As should German Chancellor Angela Merkel's address to congress today in which she described how "the wall, barbed wire and orders to shoot limited my access to the free world" until 1989. How exactly is Welch proposing that we take this anniversary more seriously?
Welch's larger point is that "Americans are ignoring the fundamental conflict of the postwar world" as more and more of the U.S. economy is nationalized. But while these trends might not be moving in the direction Welch likes, it seems odd to argue that the free-market vs. government-control dialectic is being "ignored" given the number of times Obama's economic policies have been decried as socialist in the last year.
GERARD MALIE/AFP/Getty Images
The EU's long international nightmare seems to be over. Czech President Vaclav Klaus has signed the Lisbon Treaty treaty, nearly two years after the ratification process began. Klaus finally agreed to sign after the Czech constitutional court finally ruled against a legal challenge to the treaty, but the legendary Euroskeptic also took the opportunity for a parting shot:
"With the Lisbon Treaty taking effect, the Czech Republic will cease to be a sovereign state, despite the political opinion of the Constitutional Court," Klaus said.
The treaty will likely come into effect on Dec. 1, after which attention will quickly turn to the race for EU president.
Yesterday, Italian police arrested Pasquale Russo, the boss of the powerful Camorra mafia syndicate. Russo was arrested alongside his brother, Carmine, and on Saturday the police arrested a third member of the family, Salvatore Russo.
The Camorra's main business is in drug sales, primarily heroin and cocaine, and including everything from ecstasy to hashish. Local police say the business is worth half a million Euros a day; investigators say it's Europe's largest drug market. The Camorra is one of the four largest Italian mafias involved in protection rackets, which draw in about another 250 million Euros a day. Camorra associates have also been connected with crimes ranging from billion-dollar cigarette smuggling operations to illegal sewage dumping. And all of the Camorra's operations have been accompanied by violence; the mafia is allegedly responsible for more than 3600 murders, including an outdoor execution caught on closed-circuit cameras -- Italian prosecutors went so far as to publicly release the video to draw attention to the case.
Angelino Alfano, Italy's justice minister, has described the recent round of arrests as an "extremely hard blow" to the Camorra. But there's reason not to write the syndicate off just yet -- as the Camorra men have been arrested, equally-violent Godmothers have taken their places.
Photo: GIULIO PISCITELLI/AFP/Getty Images
With the news that Iceland is planning to close shop in Iceland, my colleague Preeti Aroon reminds me that according to Thomas Friedman's "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention," the country is now vulnerable to attack from McDonalds-having nations. (There are a few it haven't exactly endeared itself to lately.) This could be a problem since, despite their viking heritage, Iceland has no standing army.
They're the kind of citizens any cash-starved government would want: a group of wealthy Germans have launched a petition this week calling for higher taxes on wealthy Germans. The group claims that Germany could raise €100 billion if the richest people paid a five percent wealth tax for two years.
Germany is not known as a low-tax country--tax revenues were 37% of GDP in 2007, in line with other EU countries, and above countries like South Korea (29%) and the United States (28%). The petitioners claim, though, that those who "made a fortune through inheritance, hard work, hard-working, successful entrepreneurship, or investment" should put their money into an economy that, while better off than some other EU counterparts, is still facing rising unemployment through next year.
But deficit hawks shouldn't start dreaming of a shift in worldwide tax perceptions: the petition has fewer than fifty signatures, and, after their most recent rally, one signatory told the AFP that it was "really strange that so few people came."
Move over ethanol, there is a new bio-fuel in the world... bunnies.
"We are shooting rabbits in Stockholm center, they are a very big problem," he said. "Once culled, the rabbits are frozen and when we have enough; a contractor comes and takes them away."
Tuvunger is leading the fight to continue sniping bunnies for warmth. Several animal rights groups in Sweden have come out in opposition to the practice, saying that if the rabbits are a problem there are non-lethal ways to deal with them. But Tuvunger is having none of that, "If you do that you only move the problem 100 meters away."
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
If Berlusconi had it his way, he wouldn't be bothered with the pesky task of governing Italy. The only reason he puts up with the supremely vexing job is to keep the communists out of power, he told CNN.
"I'm doing what I do with a sense of sacrifice. I don't really like it. Not at all," he said. "Very often there is a lot of dirty dealing; there is really the gutter press, worse than that, the shameless and sickly. It's a difficult life to be responsible for leading the government in a country like Italy."
Being hounded by the press takes its toll on the 73-year-old. He claims the press, not that he attended the birthday party of an 18-year-old model who calls him "papi", destroyed his marriage.
The press also has completely made up all of gaffes. The times he called President Obama "tanned" or the time he kept German Chancellor Merkel waiting while he finished a call on his cell phone, or the time he screamed over the Queen of England to get the attention of Obama, none of these were anything but stately and appropriate.
"I never made any gaffes, not even one," he said. "Every gaffe is invented by the newspapers."
The Times reports that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in London next week, she expressed concerns that a new Tory government led by David Camerson would cause a rift between Britain and Europe:
Mrs Clinton is said to be worried by Mr Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it is not ratified by the time of the next election or seek to repatriate powers given to Brussels in previous agreements. [...]
President Obama has repeatedly made plain that he wants a strong and united Europe as a foreign policy partner on issues ranging from Afghanistan to climate change.
He has less sentimental attachment than many of his predecessors to the traditional “special relationship”. Instead, he believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe — a position that has been put in doubt by French and German anger over Mr Cameron’s decision to sever ties with the federalist centre right grouping in the Strasbourg Parliament.
Mr Obama is enthusiastic about the idea of a permanent EU president to replace the revolving chairmanship of the EU council, a measure opposed by the Conservatives.
It has long since been Washington’s aspiration to have a “phone to ring” in Europe and there would be strong support for a heavyweight figure such as Tony Blair taking on the role. Mr Obama’s impatience with dealing with the existing European structures is being reflected by an apparent reluctance to attend the next EU/US summit: he may send vice-president Joe Biden to Sweden in his place.
If Obama is intent to see the new EU governance structure put into place, it will be interesting to see if Vice President Biden applies some pressure to Czech President Vaclav Klaus -- the lone holdout on ratifying the Lisbon treaty -- when they meet in Prague on Friday.
The world has seen a red revolution, a green revolution and an orange revolution, but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have sparked a turquoise revolution.
Italian judge Raimondo Mesiano ruled that Silvio Berlusconi's company Fininvest was liable in a bribery case and ordered it to pay over a billion dollars in lost revenue to rival company the CIR Group. Within days of this ruling, Berlusconi's television station Canale 5 began secretly taping the judge. The footage aired and commentators called Mesiano extravagant and eccentric. They focused on the number of cigarettes he smoked and his turquoise socks. The commentators called his choice in socks, "strange."
This in turn inspired Democratic Party Leader Dario Franceschini to call on all Italians to start wearing turquoise socks to show solidarity with the judge. He said, "Mesiano was simply guilty of doing his job as a judge."
Naturally, judges in Italy are furious about the privacy, but surprisingly, even Berlusconi's political allies and employees of his Mediaset find the act disgraceful and pathetic.
However Mediaset's head of news lashed out at critics justifying the footage as objective and necessary given Mesiano's rise to prominence in Italy. He also said, "We don't accept lectures from those who have routinely used spying as a journalistic method." That statement was in reference to those outlets that reported on Berlusconi's multiple sex scandals.
The sure-to-be prominence of turquoise-socked protesters in Italy will only further add to the woes of the most persecuted man in history.
Patrick Riviere/Getty Images
The Times makes a very serious allegation against the Italian government today in a piece suggesting that the Italian secret service had been secretly paying Taliban leaders to keep an area it was patrolling quiet. Worse, they reportedly didn't tell the French soldiers who took the area over, resulting in an ambush that killed ten French soldiers:
The clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by Western military officials.
US intelligence officials were flabbergasted when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had also been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west. In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome made a démarche, or diplomatic protest, to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic.
However, a number of high-ranking officers in Nato have told The Times that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well.
Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.
“One cannot be too doctrinaire about these things,” a senior Nato officer in Kabul said. “It might well make sense to buy off local groups and use non-violence to keep violence down. But it is madness to do so and not inform your allies.”
Italy's defense minister condemned the report, calling it "offensive to the deaths we have suffered in Afghanistan, to our injured ones and to the daily level of commitment of our soldiers." The French defense ministry also say they have no information to corroborate the report.
Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi denied making the payments but also seemed to pass the buck to his predecessor, Romano Prodi.
“The Berlusconi government has never authorised any kind of money payment to members of the Taleban insurrection in Afghanistan and has no knowledge of initiatives of this type by the previous government,” said the statement.
It appears you can talk all manners of trash about the vilest and most murderous despot the world had ever known. Is there no justice?
Josef Stalin's grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, sued a Russian newspaper for libel after it claimed Stalin personally ordered the killing of Soviet citizens. He requested an apology, and of course, some money. But alas, the courts threw it out and it appears it wasn't even a show trial. For shame. Dzhugashvili has five days to appeal, thus saving the glorious image of his grandfather.
Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians to death during his attempt at collectivization, jailed and murdered dissidents and even those suspected of possibly being dissidents. He institutionalized the Gulag, killed every single other official from the beginning of the revolution and ended up ordering more deaths in one day than Pinochet did in his entire reign. He turned neighbors against each other and forced poor Soviet schoolchildren to read his feeble attempt at prose.
But Dzhugashvili doesn't think we need to bring that up.
The BBC reports that many think the libel case was a way for the Kremlin to try to rehabilitate Stalin's image.
The ruling further proves that you can criticize leaders in Russia all you want, just not the current ones.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Dutch MP Geert Wilders won an appeal lifting his travel ban to the United Kingdom. He was barred from entering the country after British officials deemed him a risk to the public order. Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran, called the reversal a victory for free speech.
Depending on who you ask, Wilders is either a hateful Islamophobe who wants to incite violence against Muslims or a a common sense leader who doesn't want his government's tax money going toward unemployment checks for al-Qaeda bloggers, like it is in Belgium. Either way, he still faces trial in his native Holland for inciting hatred.
After being turned back at Heathrow Airport in February, Wilders appealed the ban, won, and plans to return to the UK next week at the request of Lord Pearson and his conservative UK Independence Party. There he will screen Fitna for the House of Lords. After Wilders was banned from the UK, Pearson said the government was appeasing militant Islam.
British authorities said of the reversal of the ban, "We are disappointed by the court's decision. The government opposes extremism in all of its forms."
Wilders claimed he isn't an extremist.
"I'm not doing anything wrong," he said. "I'm not protesting or running through the streets of London."
Passport reported on Wilders' visit to Washington in February.
MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images
It wasn't exactly a Joe Wilson moment, but some Protestant lawmakers don't seem to have appreciated Hillary Clinton's speech to parliament in Northern Ireland today:
Mrs Clinton addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly, telling a hushed, packed chamber that Republican dissidents were looking to seize any opportunity to destabilise the coalition government.
"Now they are watching this assembly for signs of uncertainty or internal disagreement," warned Mrs Clinton. "They want to derail your confidence. And though they are small in number, their thuggish tactics and destructive ambitions threaten the security of every family in Northern Ireland. Moving ahead together with the process will leave them stranded on the wrong side of history."
Almost all of the 108 members of the assembly applauded, but a few Democratic Unionist backbenchers folded their arms instead, and two senior figures, William McCrea and Gregory Campbell, left the chamber during the ovation.
Democratic Unionist officials said the walkout reflected Protestant irritation at being told what to do by 'outsiders', a point they said they had made earlier in private to Mrs Clinton.
Mrs Clinton conceded this sensitivity in her speech, ad libbing: "We know what it means to be supportive. And we also know what it means to meddle." She said that the US sought to do the former, not the latter.
These speeches are a little awkward to give since they are, by definition, meddling in another country's affairs. (See also: Joe Biden's speech in Bosnia in May.) Given the role the United Sates has played as a mediator, it's hardly a disinterested party in Northern Irish (or Bosnian) politics. But I still wonder if these public admonishments are the best way to tell a country's leaders to get their act together.
Near Geneva, Switzerland sits a 27-kilometer particle accelerator, the largest the world has ever seen. When it is finally switched on and makes it past the warm-up stages, it will create conditions that haven't existed since the beginning of the universe. This, naturally, scares the bejesus out of people, some taking it to the courts to stop its activation. Foreign Policy reported one group's fears:
"There is a real possibility of creating destructive theoretical anomalies such as miniature black holes, strangelets and deSitter space transitions. These events have the potential to fundamentally alter matter and destroy our planet." -Walter Wagner, LHCDefense.org
The Large Haldron Collider (LHC) at the CERN Lab has yet to reach full operation, but it will later this year. That is, unless something crazy happens...like, for instance, a CERN researcher being arrested for suspected links to al-Qaeda!
This is pretty scary to begin with, but even scarier is the fact that the man's brother was also arrested; he works at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
The suspect has been linked to the Algerian chapter of
al-Qaeda, and suggested targets in France. After being under surveillance for
18 months, the French decided to bring him down, luckily before the
LHC was turned on.
CERN says the suspect was never involved with any elements that could be used for terrorist purposes; he mainly worked on data analysis.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
Vaclav Klaus had previously said that he would finally sign the Lisbon treaty, once the Czech constitutional court had ruled on its legality. It seems he's just moved the goalpost back again, by asking for a two-sentence footnote to be added to the treaty:
Mr Reinfeldt said the requested footnote was linked to the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.[...]
According to Mr Reinfeldt, Mr Klaus also wants the new footnote adopted by the European Council, the grouping of EU heads of state and prime ministers.[...]
The Czech president told him he would sign Lisbon if he got the extra footnote and if the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the senators' legal challenge, Mr Reinfeldt said.
Klaus has denied rumors that he is trying to delay the ratification of the treaty until Britain could elect a Conservative government that would call for a new referendum, but this latest move does look like a transparently obvious delaying tactic.
Perhaps all the media attention over the last few days has convinced Klaus he can withstand European pressure. It should be fun to see how many reasons he can come up with not to put his name on a piece of paper over the next few months.
After Silvio Berlusconi's lawyers broke out the "Animal Farm" defense that the prime minister should be first above equals, the Constitutional Court had heard enough, and today they stripped Berlusconi of his immunity.
The prime minister's camp has already called the shocking ruling politically motivated. And the opposition has resumed calls for him to resign. Berlusconi maintains that he will not step down, and that the immunity law protected him from distractions brought upon him by the judiciary.
As of now, none of the three frozen cases have been re-opened; however it may be a matter of time until Berlusconi finds himself on trial for a seventh time.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Say goodbye to your Wii, say hello to Internet Eyes, the novel new game which will allow you to spot crime in real life, and win up to 1,000 pounds in prize money. Vigilantism has never been easier.
It's run by a private company, which will stream live footage from the CCTV camaras of shops and business (who actually pay to be included in this scheme) straight to the computers of players -- yes, it's marketed as a game.
Some are celebrating the novel use of footage which, as they point out, is already recorded anyway. Britain has one camara for every 14 people, a total of 4.2 million -- however, only one in a thousand of these is actually watched by law enforcement officials at any given time. Some online sites are even celebrating the democratic nature of the game saying it puts Big Brother in the hands of the people.
Unsurprisingly privacy groups are far less thrilled by the creation of a "snoopers paradise" and worry about a society in which people are encouraged to "spy and snitch on each other." The Guardian points out that even supporters of the controversial CCTV camaras, aren't totally convinced by these plan.
Although, in order to safeguard "privacy" the camaras are assigned to players randomly, without any identifying geographic information, shopgoers might want to be careful -- don't get caught buying buying inappropriate magazines by your wife, much less your mother-in-law.
Even Michael Laurie, head of Crimestoppers, foresees a 'wide range of opportunities for abuse and error' in what is, for him, 'essentially no more than a commercial venture exploiting some people's baser characteristics.'"
Italy's highest court may be able to strip Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Teflon coating.
In July 2008, Italian lawmakers "freed" Berlusconi with an immunity law that freezes criminal cases against the prime minister, president and heads of both chambers of parliament while they are in office. (See last week's edition of The List for more.) Now prosecutors are saying this law is unconstitutional, as it goes against the provision that all citizens are equal before the law.
The Constitutional Court could rule by the end of the week; however the Italian media says the decision could be delayed because the 15-judge court is unable to reach a consensus.
Berlusconi would most likely have three cases re-opened against him. The most devastating of these cases accuses Berlusconi of paying British lawyer David Mills $600,000 in 1997 to give false testimony in Berlusconi's corruption trials. Mills was sentenced to 4 1/2 years for taking the bribe in February, however he will likely never see jail because of Italy's appeals system.
Other cases that will likely be re-opened include a tax fraud and false accounting case and a case in which he allegedly tried to corrupt senators.
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
One of Europe's most unusual leaders has now become one of its most powerful.
With the Irish public finally voting to ratify the Lisbon Treaty last weekend, pretty much the only thing standing in the way of the measure to increase European integration is one man: Czech President Vaclav Klaus. While the Czech parliament has approved the treaty, but it still awaits the president's signature and he's in no particular hurry. (Polish President Lech Kaczynski will reportedly sign it tomorrow.)
A libertarian nationalist who is best-known internationally for his anti-environmentalism, Klaus is also a strident Euroskeptic, he refuses to fly the EU flag from Prague Castle, saying it would be "reminiscent of Czech subservience to Moscow under communism." In his latest gambit, 17 of Klaus's allies in parliament have challenged the treaty in the Czech Republic's constitutional court, allowing the president to delay his signature until there's a ruling.
The EU is hoping to get the Czech ratification over with quickly, but foreign pressure isn't likely to work on Klaus, who waited nine months to sign the International Criminal Court treaty after parliament had approved it. There's even speculation that Klaus might try to delay ratification until a new Conservative government is elected in Britain that could torpedo the treaty permanently.
Once the court rules, Klaus would have little political cover for such a maneuver and it seems unlikely that even he would try it. But for the next few weeks, Klaus will have an opportunity to do what he loves most -- drive the the EU leadership absolutely nuts.
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
Two Scientology groups brought their case to the court because they wanted to be listed as religious organizations, but Russian authorities denied their request because to be on that list a group must exist for at least 15 years. The court sided with the Scientologists.
This development comes not long after Germany's battle with the religious group. When Scientology's Berlin church opened, many Germans complained they were being harassed to join the group, and were worried about cult-like practices. For this reason, some German politicians called for the church to be banned. Germany's domestic intelligence has been gathering information on the group and its potential threat to "Democratic order."
The church claims that after all of the surveillance, no wrongdoing has been discovered and that they are merely a church committed to understanding the human spirit.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
After German voters sent the Christian Democrats -- led by Chancellor Angela Merkel -- back to power with 13 more seats, it seemed appropriate to ask: In a secular country, what exactly makes it "Christian?"
The Christian Democratic Union says its "policies are based on theChristian view of Man and his responsibilities before God." HoweverGermans shy away from being connected with other versions of politicalChristianity.
Christianity Today recently interviewed Merke's minister of state on this issue. "Germans don't want to be called evangelical because theyare labeled by an image dominated by American evangelicals," Grohe said. He does want to see more German Christians discussing their faith in public, mixing personal with civil life, citing the United Kingdom as an example where religion and politics mix well.
Fighting abortion rights is an important issue for German Christians, but Grohe said fighting poverty and climate change are also imperative.
Talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification, Grohe said, "We are still struggling to put together two very different societies." This is especially evident looking at the electoral map from the recent election. (Sorry it is in French, scroll on the semi-circle to see how each party did in each region)
The former East Germany had the strongest support for The Left and the least support for the Christian Democrats. This is paralleled in East Berlin and West Berlin. The difference is more for political reasons than for religious reasons, but anti-religious feelings in Eastern Germany are prevalent.
"In East Germany, there's still a strong non-religious presence. Religion is for your grandma," Grohe said. "People say they forgot they forgot God."
Grohe said the pacifist aspects of the religion don't play much of a role in German politics, most people who want out of Afghanistan want out because they think it is unwinnable, not because of any feeling of religious necessity. However, a dislike for Islam is present in some German Christians.
"I'm very shocked when I see Christians talking hatefully about Muslims," he said. "When I talk about the need for freedom to build Islamic mosques, I receive shameful letters from Christians filled with hate."
Update: The link to the Christianity Today interview is down, but should be working again soon.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Maureen Lewis and Andre Medici of the World Bank respond to "Brazil's Public Option," a Foreign Policy Web piece by Eduardo J. Gómez from Sept. 2.
The article "Brazil's Public Option" from Foreign Policy's Web site captures some of the highlights of the country's public health-care system. But it contains some errors and omits some of its most important lessons.
First, like the rest of Latin America, Brazil is committed to free, universal health care. The government revamped the health-care system when it wrote a new constitution in 1988, at the demise of two decades of military dictatorship. Before 1988, the health-care system was based on two centralized arrangements: a social security-based system tied to formal sector employment, and a public system for everyone else. The Single Unified System (SUS) brought federal financing and provision into a single entity, and decentralized facilities and funding (through transfers) to over 5,500 municipalities. It is hardly comparable to the current movement in the United States to effectively adjust the system and make it more fair.
The problems of public systems (waiting lists, political interference, and deteriorating and outdated infrastructure) are not unique to Brazil. What is different is the adaptability and creativity that has emerged. It is not lack of federal oversight of municipalities that has proved problematic, but the lack of management and capacity, a problem never addressed. As a result the states have taken the lead in revamping and improving the health-care system. State experimentation to deal with the rigidities and poor incentives of public health care include innovative contract mechanisms that have upgraded quality and reduced costs through management contracts that include removal for nonperformance; public sector reforms that rely on performance contracts with line departments; and radically new delivery models in violence-prone slums where normal health-care delivery is no longer viable.
It should also be pointed out that Brazil's large and vibrant private insurance sector isn't new. Even in the 1990s a quarter of Brazil's population purchased private health insurance.
What is missing from the article are the innovations and creativity brought to bear at the state and local level (mostly with federal funds) to improve efficiency and effectiveness, an evolving evaluation culture in service delivery that has spurred prevention and outreach (something lacking in the United States), and the willingness to adapt a public system to new circumstances. These are possibly the best lessons for the United States.
The United States State Department got a crash course in the perils of social networking over the weekend.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and his family posed for a picture with Barack and Michelle Obama at the U.N. What the Zapateros didn't know was that the picture would be posted online to the State Department's Flickr page. This wouldn't normally be a problem, except that the people of Spain have never seen any pictures of the prime minister's daughters before.
Spanish Goths/Punks approve of the picture because, well, let's say the girls appear to shop at Hot Topic. (Asunto Caliente?)
Spanish media was conflicted over the photo, many of them published it on the front page; however the state-owned news agency, EFE, did not run the photo. EFE said, "They should not have their personal rights prejudiced by the prime minister's decision to take them to New York."
The prime minister's office was trying to get all of the photos down, claiming he tries to keep his children out of the public eye. A noble cause, it seems there should be some middle ground between the Spanish case and this.
Photo via Gawker.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi thinks it's hilarious to call black people "tanned," and he's just going to keep on doing it:
"I bring you greetings from a person who is called...a person who is sun-tanned...Barack Obama," the smiling 72-year-old politician told a crowd of cheering supporters in Milan on Sunday.
"You wouldn't believe it, but they go sunbathing at the beach together - his wife is also sun-tanned."
Berlusconi first got in trouble for calling Obama "sun-tanned" last November.
If any of you are gamblers, an Irish bookie is now taking bets on who Berlusconi will insult next. Here are the odds:
3/1 Angela Merkel
7/2 Muammar al-Gaddafi
4/1 Gordon Brown
5/1 Nicolas Sarkozy
6/1 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
7/1 The Pope
8/1 Kim Jong-il
14/1 Dmitry Medvedev
18/1 Hu Jintao
18/1 The Queen
25/1 Kevin Rudd
33/1 Stephen Harper
20/1 Brian Cowen
Yesterday, award-winning director Roman Polanski was arrested in Zurich for a long-outstanding U.S. warrant. In 1977, Polanski was arrested for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty, and fled the county in 1978 to avoid going to jail. He eventually became a dual citizen of France (which does not extradite) and Poland.
Today, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stop the extradition. Kouchner called the arrest "a bit sinister." In these countries, Polanski is widely regarded as an exceptional filmmaker and a victim of the overzealous American justice system. (HBO made a documentary about this dichotomy, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.)
But Sikorski's defense of Polanski comes at an awkward time: Poland is in the process of implementing much-harsher punishments for people who commit sex crimes. Last week, all but three of the 460 members of Poland's lower chamber of parliament voted to punish certain sex offenders with chemical castration. People convicted of raping a person under 15 (the crime Polanski pled guilty to) or a close relative would be given drugs to diminish their libido, under the new law. On top of chemical castration, there are increased penalties for incest and pedophilia. Trying to justify pedophilia would also be criminalized.
Regardless, it seems Polanski might end up serving his time in the United States, ending his 31 years on the lam. While abroad, Polanski has made a number of films -- including Tess, which was dedicated to his wife Sharon Tate (who was murdered by the Manson Family) and the Oscar-winning The Pianist, set during the Holocaust. After being forced into the Kraków Ghetto during World War II, Polanski escaped the concentration camps; his mother did not and was killed in Auschwitz. He also made arguably the creepiest movie of all time, The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp as a used book salesman who tries to track down the devil.
Roman Polanksi, the famed director of Chinatown and The Pianist, who has not set foot in the United States for more than three decades, is now facing extradition proceedings in Switzerland -- at the request of the Los Angeles district attorney's office.
Upon touching down at the Zurich airport on Saturday, after departing his native France, Polanksi was detained by authorities. Unlike France, Switzerland has an extradition agreement with the United States that applies to cases like that of Polanski, who is wanted in connection with a 32-year-old sex case.
In 1977, Mr Polanski admitted to having sex with a 13-year-old in Los Angeles. The woman has since identified herself and publicly offered her personal forgiveness. But that has not changed the course of legal proceedings.
As Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, told the New York Times:
"Any time word is received that Mr. Polanski is planning to be in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S., we go through diplomatic channels with the arrest warrant."
Polanski's case is perhaps not unique in the world of extradition law, but it is provocative. The notion of the Los Angeles DA's office for 32 years tracking the director's busy European travel schedule, waiting for an opportunity, whilst he chose to appear at various film festivals via video-conference rather than in person, is fascinating. But beyond the celebrity factor, it's hard to pin down exactly what seems so incongruous.
Is it simply that in a post-9/11 world we're now accustomed to thinking of "extradition" in connection with national security interests, and clear-and-present danger?
Mikhail Prokhorov is the chairman of Russia's largest gold producer, and now he will team up with hip-hop's largest gold-record producer.
Prokhorov, Russia's richest man (even after a $7 billion loss last year), bought the New Jersey Nets yesterday for $200 million, making him the first Russian owner of a U.S. sports team. This also makes him business partners with Jay-Z. (Who seems to be getting a lot of play in foreign policy circles these days)
The first order of business will be to move the Nets to Jay-Z's native Brooklyn, and begin building the new stadium. The deal seems to be as much about business as it is about pleasure for the 6ft. 7in. Prokhorov, who said in a statement, "I have a long-standing passion for basketball and pursuing interests that forward the development of the sport in Russia."
He also claims he will be, "the only NBA owner who can dunk."
The stadium will be fewer than 10 miles from Brighton Beach, an area of Brooklyn rich with Russian influence, Bloomberg reports.
The move to Brooklyn has been a goal of Jay-Z's (basketball discussion starts at 5:30); however it remains unclear if Jay-Z will get what he really wants. (Hint: he made a controversial song about him)
Al Bello/Getty Images
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who was just reelected to a second term, is about as establishment as you get, a staunch defender of free trade and open markets.
But in the mid-1970s, soon after Portugal's transition to democracy, Barroso was a committed member of the Maoist Reorganising Movement of the Proletariat Party. Here he is at a meeting of leftwing students in 1976, laying into Portugal's bourgeois education system in a somewhat confusing statement:
Barroso switched to the mainstream Social Democratic Party in 1980, going on to become Portugal's Prime Minister two decades later.
Barroso has clearly come a long way since those days, though I would imagine that the mastery of bullshit jargon and obfuscation that he apparently acquired as a young Maoist must serve him well in Brussels.
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