The brunt of yesterday's hearing in the House committee about lifting the U.S. travel ban on Cuba came down the following: will allowing American visitors spread word of democracy, or will tourist dollars will just prop up the Castro regime? That is the wrong question according to a a Human Rights Watch report out this week, which documents how the Cuban government uses Orwellian laws to silence dissent and has become more abusive in recent years.
Other governments must also revise their stance towards Cuba with the aim of fomenting human rights, said the report.
Not only have all of these policies -- US, European, Canadian, and Latin American -- failed individually to improve human rights in Cuba, but their divided and even contradictory nature has allowed the Cuban government to evade effective pressure and deflect criticism of its practices."
The report lambasts the United States for allowing Cuba to play David to its Goliath, but it also critiques the ineffective Candian and European policies, and the pedestal/blind eye attitude of Latin American countries, whose silence:
[C]ondones Cuba's abusive behavior, and perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows repression to continue. This is particularly troubling coming from a region in which many countries have learned firsthand the high cost of international indifference to state-sponsored repression."
The ambivalence and outright support for Castro coming from Latin America speaks to the curious distinction people in the region often make between undemocratic regimes of the right and those of the left: those who support the coup in Honduras are the same ones who scream about Castro, whereas those who tolerate Castro are apoplectic about Honduras.
The idea then, as a European Union official said earlier this month, should not be regime change, but rather human rights. Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister, urges a similar policy, calling on the U.S., Europe and Canada to work together. In short: the United States must back down and lift the embargo not only to help Cubans directly, but also to uncouple support of human rights from regime change, thus enabling the strong multilateral approach called for by Human Rights Watch.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
It now seems close to certain that Herman Van Rompuy, the prime minister of Belgium, will be EU president, and Catherine Ashton, currently the EU trade commissioner and the former leader of the British House of Lords, will be foreign-policy czar.
The picks have a symmetry thought necessary in Europe: Rompuy and Ashton are male and female, from a small country and a large one, conservative and liberal.
They are also expected and surprising. Rompuy has for weeks been considered a frontrunner for president. Ashton -- decently known in Britain and on the continent, but barely known elsewhere -- is something of a surprise. The BBC and other outlets report that up until the very end of negotiations, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushed for former PM Tony Blair to win the top spot. Germany and other big continental countries advocated for Rompuy, and won; Brown and social-democrats then pushed Ashton through.
Ultimately, Ashton is the more interesting pick. I believe the foreign-policy gig will end up being the vastly more influential one -- Ashton will control thousands of civil servants and a large budget, and will have powers to set policy priorities for the EU. It is unclear just what Rompuy's staffing and responsibilities will be.
But is Ashton qualified enough? Prominent enough? And might any countries object? She has an important job as trade commissioner, but has only been in it for a year. We'll have answers to those questions -- as well as to how transformative these positions might be -- when she and Rompuy take office next month.
Matt Yglesias has some good commentary on the new team and the importance these positions might have, as well as a useful explanation of Ashton's formal title (she is known as Lady Ashton, Baroness of Upholland -- not because she inherited a barony, but because she won an honorific title when she joined the House of Lords). And we'll post any more interesting updates here.
Today, the way Europe functions as a political bloc might change dramatically. In a matter of hours, we should have official word from Brussels as to the new presient and foreign-policy chief of the European Union: positions hashed out over the course of a decade and finally approved by the passage of the Lisbon Treaty, which might -- just might -- give Europe a much more powerful and unified presence on the international stage.
We'll have the latest, as soon as we hear, here.
At this point, the most-tipped favorite for president is Herman van Rompuy, the prime minister of Belgium. And British papers have already announced Catherine Ashton (the Baroness of Upholland, naturally), a somewhat obscure former leader of the House of Lords and current EU trade commissioner, as foreign-policy chief.
British ambassador to the United States Sir Nigel Sheinwald usually writes about climate change policy and the difficulties in Afghanistan on his blog, but today he chose to write about bloodsucking vampires.
It seems, as Sheinwald accurately points out, the Brits export a considerable amount of vampires to Hollywood. Robert Pattinson, Stephen Moyer, Kate Beckinsale, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Lee are all British, and all portrayed the undead at some point in their career.
The final paragraph from Sheinwald's piece shows his mastery of the art of pun, although the entire thing is worth reading.
So vampires aside, there is nothing undead about the vibrancy of the UK's cultural and media life. And am I confident of its continued transatlantic success? The "stakes" may be high, but you may most definitely "Count" on it!
Today, The Telegraph reported that Herman Van Rompuy, current Prime Minister of Belgium and "the new front-runner to be the first EU President," is looking to institute a European anthem. Van Rompuy could pull ideas from the EU's website, which nobly proclaims its aims as "Peace, prosperity and freedom for its 498 million citizens -- in a fairer, safer world." Or he might look to the Treaty of Lisbon; "Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law." These are the sorts of airy proclamations that are grist for a modern-day anthem.
But Van Rompuy may have to edit some member-states' anthems if he wants harmony across the Union. Germany already moved in the right direction, having dropped the infamous "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles/Über alles in der Welt," a couplet that doesn't quite smack of an all-for-one ethos.
Above all, countries just don't have the taste of peace: "March! March, Dabrowski! March from Italy to Poland!" enjoins the Polish anthem.
"To arms, to arms/On land and sea!" exclaims Portugal.
"Soldiers are we..." begins the Irish anthem.
"...in our hearts forever we glorify a name/Resounding of battle, the name of gallant Trajan," chant Romanians.
Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
A "scurrilous idea" -- better known as the Tobin tax, a levy on foreign-exchange transactions -- seems to be taking on a life of its own.
This week U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is expected to propose a tax on all financial transactions (like stock purchases -- excluding those connected to health, education, and pensions). The idea of funding job creation in this way has the backing of a variety of groups, including the NAACP, AFL-CIO, and the National Council of La Raza.
Although the idea of a financial transactions tax has been floating around since Nobel economics prize winner James Tobin proposed it in the 1970s (to stabilize currencies), it has gained recent traction since Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown brought it up at a meeting of G20 finance ministers meeting earlier this month. He discussed using some form of a tax on all financial transactions, to stabilize whole markets.
Much of the debate focuses on justice, the idea seems to be to tax the bad guys and use the money for any number of just causes. It's hard to argue with that sort of logic. As Brown pointed out, the banks should have to bear some of the costs of the massive bailouts they received.
It cannot be acceptable that the benefits of success in this sector are reaped by the few but the costs of its failure are borne by all of us."
At the request of the G-20, the IMF is preparing a report on the tax -- despite opposition by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Opponents avoid philosophy and stick to economics, arguing that countries instituting such levies might risk pushing financial operations into friendlier markets and that it would be technically difficult to implement.
In the meantime, Brazil has unilaterally implemented a tax on currency transactions, intended to stabilize the real by reducing speculation.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Reuters reports that an Italian judge has delayed the resumption of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's tax fraud trial until January, at least. Why? "Pressing state business" -- that is, presiding over a U.N. summit on hunger in Rome.
But Berlusconi has not managed to delay the other criminal case pending against him and is due in court later in November. The magnate/bon vivant/political leader allegedly paid a prominent British lawyer $600,000 to testify falsely on his behalf in a 1997 corruption case. (David Mills, who accepted the bribe, has already been convicted and is currently appealing his jail sentence.)
"Some people get the giggles after using cannabis -- you may laugh at the most random things" cautions "FRANK," the UK's anti-drug website. Despite declining drug use in the country, in January the British government changed marijuana's classification from a "Class C" to a "Class B" drug; possession now carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, while dealing can get you 14 years in jail.
Professor David Nutt, formerly a member of the UK's independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was fired for publicly disputing the decision; five other members of the 31-person Council have since resigned in protest of the politically-motivated firing. In a lecture (later published), Nutt argued that the use of illicit drugs like marijuana and ecstasy poses less severe health risks than the use of alcohol or tobacco. Nutt has also equated the dangers of ecstasy use and the risks of horseback riding.
Nutt's firing and the subsequent resignations have caused quite a political row, with politicians and scientists making pointed attacks on home secretary Alan Johnson, who gave Nutt the axe. "Your leader on drugs policy is long on righteous indignation but short on logic" wrote Johnson in a defensive letter published in The Guardian.
Nutt fired back in a column published in The Telegraph, writing, "Some politicians find it easier to ignore the evidence, and pander to public prejudice instead."
Photo: SCOTT BARBOUR/Getty Images
"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares," could easily be turned into, "And they shall dismantle their nuclear warheads into enriched uranium for nuclear power plants."
The New York Times reports 10 percent of electricity in the United States is generated from old nuclear bombs. For comparison, hydropower accounts for 6 percent and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal combined account for 3 percent. No data exists for how much power bunnies contribute.
In recent years, disarmament has generated a wealth of nuclear fuel. As the New York Times article says, "the fuel from missiles that may have once been aimed at your home may now be lighting it."
45 percent of nuclear fuel in American reactors comes from old Soviet bombs. The problem is that the fuel is running out, and in order to keep powering 4.5 percent of the United States more disarmament is needed.
The old program, known as Megatons to Megawatts will end in 2013, but because nuclear plants need to buy fuel three to five years in advance, the issue is of utmost importance right now. A new supply of fuel would become available if the United States and Russia would agree to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. Currently the USA has 2,220 warheads and Russia has 2,800.
With or without the added Soviet fuel, the US is investing heavily in the old-bombs-to-new-fuel strategy, as a factory is being built in South Carolina to dismantle American warheads. It will be able to recycle 34 tons of nuclear fuel that can power a million homes for 50 years.
United Nations Photo/Flickr
At the end of his New York Times column today, Nick Kristof offers a, frankly, adorable apology to the country of Slovenia.
In several columns, I've noted indignantly that we have worse health statistics than Slovenia. For example, I noted that an American child is twice as likely to die in its first year as a Slovenian child. The tone -- worse than Slovenia! -- gravely offended Slovenians. They resent having their fine universal health coverage compared with the notoriously dysfunctional American system.
As far as I can tell, every Slovenian has written to me. Twice. So, to all you Slovenians, I apologize profusely for the invidious comparison of our health systems. Yet I still don't see anything wrong with us Americans aspiring for health care every bit as good as yours.
So true! And, we noted in FP's office, Slovenia is a total Central European jewel: beautiful, prosperous, calm, safe, wealthy, and Mediterranean (tucked between Italy and Croatia, with access to the ocean and the Alps) -- plus, apparently, with universal health care to boot.
Flickr user Ah_Zut
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
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