Nearly five years into an increasingly bloody war against the drug cartels that has killed 35,000 people and shaken the entire population, there is certainly little to cheer about. Nevertheless, the government's strategy of targeting the "kingpins" has had some success. The goal is to nab or kill the big guys and hope their organizations crumble without them. Certainly, every time a powerful drug boss is hauled before cameras in chains, there's a psychological effect on the public.
This week, the government was able to boast of one of its most significant victories so far with the arrest of Jesus Mendez (or "The Monkey"), who headed the powerful La Familia organization, which analysts say is one of the most violent in the country.
President Felipe Calderón tweeted that Mendez's capture is a "great blow by the Federal Police against organized crime."
La Familia, one of six major cartels in Mexico, was known for the almost pseudo-religious devotion of its followers.
"This is a huge deal," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "There's a lot of reason to believe the cartel will splinter at this point."
Selee said that could mean more violence in the short term, as people fight over what remains of the cartel.
Here's where things stand with some of the other major drug kingpins.
It isn't often that an undocumented immigrant in the United States outs himself to the world, risking the wrath of the justice system. And rarer too is it for that person to be an award-winning journalist.
So Jose Antonio Vargas's compelling essay in the New York Times Magazine today is worth noting. The former Washington Post reporter shared a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.
When he was 12 and living in the Philippines, his mother put him on an airplane to go live with his grandparents in California, he writes. He didn't realize he was living in the United States illegally until he tried to get a driver's license when he turned 16. The DMV told him his documents were fake.
I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.
I've tried. Over the past 14 years, I've graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I've created a good life. I've lived the American dream.
But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don't ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.
What's going to happen to Vargas now that he's made his story public? The Atlantic spoke to an immigration lawyer who said he could be detained and put through deportation procedures, but the very public nature of his revelation might actually work in his favor.
"He's outspoken in The New York Times, he's drawn considerable attention to his story. It's very difficult for the immigration machinery to operate in front of someone that's that public," David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Atlantic.
The more immediate ramifications could be on his career. Vargas -- who has also written for the Huffington Post and the New Yorker -- might have trouble getting publications to pay him, now that he has outed himself as illegal.
"You can't hire an independent contractor knowing he's undocumented," Leopold told the Atlantic.
Egyptians poured into the streets to unseat a dictator. Greeks battled police over crushing austerity measures. Canadians stormed the streets...over hockey.
After the Boston Bruins bested the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup last night, rioters turned downtown Vancouver into a war zone, smashing windows, setting cars on fire, and starting brawls. It would be less sad, if it didn't fit a pattern. In 1994, after another Stanley Cup loss, angry fans rioted for hours, leaving one person with serious brain damage after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet.
Here are some scenes from the street.
In a bit of unfortunate timing, the C.I.A.'s website was shut down for a couple of hours yesterday evening in an apparent cyber attack. It was only a week ago that Leon Panetta, the C.I.A.'s outgoing director, warned senators that cyber warfare could be the next big battleground for the United States.
"The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to replace Bob Gates as secretary of defense.
Yesterday's attack on the C.I.A. was in the form of a denial of service, meaning the hackers flooded the site with requests for access, effectively shutting down the server. While it certainly doesn't rise to the level of causing crippling damage, it is an embarrassment for the agency and highlights just how vulnerable our cyber infrastructure is.
The hacker group claiming responsibility for the attack calls itself LulzSec and describes itself as "the world's leaders in high-quality entertainment at your expense." They claimed credit via twitter yesterday with the message: "Tango down - cia.gov-for the lulz."
The group has also claimed responsibility for a string of other high profile attacks in recent weeks on the U.S. Senate, Sony, and PBS.
A U.S. official said it was important to keep in mind the site wasn't technically "hacked" since the attackers weren't able to get into the system, but acknowledged the two-hour episode was "annoying."
"These kind of issues can affect any website," the official said. "In this case it was resolved quickly."
What a difference four years makes! The new order of the day when it came to foreign policy and national security at last night's New Hampshire GOP debate was caution. On both Afghanistan and Libya, candidate after candidate urged an end to military adventurism -- sounding more like Ron Paul than George W. Bush or John McCain.
"We've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation," front-runner Mitt Romney said. "Only Afghanis can win Afghanistan independence from the Taliban."
"Our policy in Libya is substantially flawed," said Michele Bachmann, who just announced last night she was running. "We were not attacked, we were not threatened with attack, there was no vital national interest."
"We need to think fundamentally about reassessing our entire strategy in the region," Newt Gingrich said. "I think we should say to the generals we'd like to get out as rapidly as possible...we have got to have a totally new strategy for the region."
"Is it in the vital interest of the United States of America? If the answer is no, then we don't go any further," said Herman Cain, the businessman turned candidate, summing up his thinking on national security questions overseas. He quoted his mother on Libya: "It's a mess. There's more that we don't know than we do know. So it would be very difficult to know exactly what to do until we learn from the commanders in the field."
Ron Paul went further than the other candidates, not surprisingly: "I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I'd get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen and I'd quit bombing Pakistan...our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there."
Despite the candidates' general agreement, foreign policy played a very small role in the debate -- taking up all of eight minutes at the end of the CNN-hosted event.
President Obama deserves some credit for declaring the improvement of the United States' global competitiveness the focal point of the last half of his term in office. Competitiveness underpins everything else -- jobs, rising standards of living, budget surpluses in place of deficits, and the ability to project power globally. Without being economically competitive, the United States cannot be the United States. So a big nod to the president for finally focusing the American attention on the main game.
But that is as far as my praise can go. The substance of the State of the Union speech was a list of knee jerk conventional wisdom proposals that not only won't make us more competitive but that are at odds with the budget austerity the president also proposed. Let's start with the knee jerk proposals.
Right up front was innovation. The U.S., said Obama, must out-innovate other countries if it is to stay in the lead and create the new jobs needed to replace the old factory jobs the president suggested are gone forever. Okay, innovation for sure is a good thing. Nobody's against it and it plays so well to the American self-image of being smarter, more entrepreneurial, more flexible, and more dynamic than anybody else. But has anyone noticed that we've been leading in innovation for the past thirty years and that has not prevented us from suffering an erosion of our industrial and technological leadership or from running up enormous trade deficits while suffering loss of jobs and stagnation of wages and living standards. This despite the fact that we have innovated with the deployment of the Internet, the evolution of start-ups like Google and Facebook, and the development of smash-hit new products like the iPad.
Of course, innovation is to be desired and promoted. But one of this century's great innovators, former Intel CEO Andy Grove, pointed out in a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek that innovation is not enough. I actually gave a copy of Grove's ideas to the president, but it didn't sound last night as if he had read them. In any case, Grove has a set of graphs showing that the United States continues to innovate pretty much at the pace it always has. What has changed, notes Grove, is the pace of moving to mass production and commercialization. We don't do that much in the U.S. anymore because our companies take the innovation and move the production and commercialization offshore. Indeed, increasingly they are moving the innovation offshore as well -- in part because once you stop producing and commercializing it becomes increasingly difficult to innovate.
Next was education. Good stuff that education. Just like innovation we need more of it and we need it to be better. No arguments about that here or anywhere else I guess. But just as with innovation, for most of the past thirty years we've had, on average, the world's best educated work force. Certainly, companies aren't moving their factories to China because its workers are on the whole better educated than American workers. The movement of U.S. production to offshore locations has taken place despite the generally superior educational level of the United States. And, even if we fix education, which we definitely should do, we won't feel the effect for twenty years, by which time our competitive fate will have long ago been determined.
Infrastructure was next on the list and its renewal and modernization actually is a good, immediate idea. But that gets us to the big internal contradiction in the speech. Innovation, education, and especially infrastructure all cost money. But in the second half of the speech, the president said he was going to freeze government spending for five years on all non-entitlement expenditures. So he seemed to be offering with one hand while taking away with the other.
Completely unaddressed were the questions ironically raised just last week by announcements surrounding the visit of China's President Hu Jintao to Washington. First, General Electric announced that it was forming a joint venture with China's state owned Avic corporation to produce avionics products in China for China's new commercial jet liner that will compete with Boeing jet liners. The avionics technology will be transferred to the joint venture from GE. Unsaid, but obvious was the fact that GE believed it had to transfer the technology to have a real shot at selling any avionics to China in the form of exports from the United States even though the United States has a comparative advantage in such exports. Then a few days later, the White House announced the GE Chairman Jeff Immelt had been appointed as President Obama's chief outside economic adviser.
So I'm left wondering how we are supposed to be innovative when our top companies transfer important technologies to would-be foreign competitors and how we are supposed to deal with those foreign competitors when the president's chief outside economic adviser is among the chief transferers.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday, the U.S. Senate, followed by the House on Tuesday, passed a groundbreaking shark conservation bill banning the practice of shark finning in the Pacific. The bill closes a loophole in earlier legislation that had banned shark finning off the coast of the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill also empowers federal authorities to identify and list which fishing vessels come from countries with different shark conservation rules than the United States.
Shark finning is a brutal practice where sharks are captured, their dorsal fins are sliced off, and they are thrown back into the water to bleed to death. According to some estimates, shark finning alone is responsible for the deaths of up to 73 million sharks annually, resulting in shark populations that have been depleted by as much as 90 percent in the past few decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service reports that 1.2 million pounds of sharks were caught in 2009 in the Pacific, although it doesn't specify what portion were fins. Many species of sharks are highly endangered -- there are only about 3,500 great white sharks left in the world.
Shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a (not particularly tasty, in this blogger's opinion) delicacy across much of East Asia, used by upper classes to demonstrate wealth, taste, and prestige at wedding banquets and corporate feasts. With China's growing middle and upper classes eating more and more of this soup each year, activists and scientists worry that shark populations are being depleted beyond sustainable levels.
"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," Sen. John Kerry, the bill's author, said in a statement. "Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life."
While any effort to regulate this $1 billion a year industry is laudable, the trade in shark fins is extremely difficult to monitor and much of it happens outside U.S. waters. For example, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that 50 to 80 percent of the global market for shark fins is centered in Hong Kong. While many Americans are aware of the environmental implications of shark finning, that same consciousness has yet to hit the market that really matters -- China. Last year, for example, a Chinese wedding industry group survey found that only about 5 percent of couples choose shark-free menus at their weddings.
ANDREW ROSS/AFP/Getty Images
Many believe that America's greatest export is its culture; from blockbuster Hollywood films and TV series to jeans and iPods, there is little doubt that American cultural products have profound dissemination and market consumption around the globe.
But few would have imagined that one day Turkish citizens would be cheering on pro-wrestlers in Istanbul.
That's right, WWE SmackDown went to Turkey.
Much like American parents, though, many Turks were quite reticent in allowing their children to watch shirtless men in costumes beat each other up on stage. As Hurriyet reports,
Many parents who brought their kids to the WWE show... [expressed] reluctance about exposing their children to something that could contribute to violent tendencies.
As someone who remembers the glory days of "The Rock" and the playground simulations which inevitably followed, I can say with certainty these parents have a point.
Gaye Gerard/Getty Images
In his new book, George W. Bush writes that he was under pressure not just from hawks in the United States to invade Iraq, but from Arab statesmen as well.
In a revealing passage, Bush writes that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt "told Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on [American] troops," a VOA article highlights. Bush goes on to say that Mubarak "refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street."
Additionally, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served as the influential Saudi ambassador to the United States for over 20 years and who Bush calls "a friend of mine since dad's presidency" also wanted a "decision" to be made -- although this seems less direct an indictment than "Iraq has biological weapons and will use them against you."
So while the Arab street was firmly opposed to American intervention in Iraq, Arab heads of states were quietly and secretly either encouraging or tacitly endorsing allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a fact that was directly being used as the principal justification for invading the country.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Costa Rica and Nicaragua are in the midst of a highly tense standoff after Nicaraguan troops crossed into a contested border region and set up camp, taking down a Costa Rican flag. Costa Rica, which has no standing military, has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States.
In a very 21st century twist, Costa Rica's La Nacion newspaper reports, it seems that a Google Maps glitch may be to blame. The Seach Engine Land blog (which also created the composite image above) explains:
La Nacion -- the largest newspaper in Costa Rica -- says the Nicaraguan commander, Eden Pastora, used Google Maps to "justify" the incursion even though the official maps used by both countries indicate the territory belongs to Costa Rica. Pastora blames Google Maps in the paper:The paper points out that Bing Maps shows the correct and officially recognized border.
See the satellite photo on Google and there you see the border. In the last 3,000 meters the two sides are from Nicaragua.
See FP's Geopolitics of Google Earth list for more unintended consequences.
People are taking to the streets in the Haitian city of Saint Marc to protest the construction of a cholera clinic by Doctors Without Borders. Around 300 students and other people gathered to complain (and throw rocks), voicing fears that the clinic would bring more of the disease into the area. More than 280 people have died from cholera so far in the recent outbreak, according to U.N. figures.
Presumably, a well-regarded aid organization like Doctors Without Borders knows what it is doing and wouldn't contribute to the spread of cholera in Haiti by misplacing a medical clinic. As the Al Jazeera correspondent in Port au Prince said, the anger is primarily due to a lack of public education about the disease. That may be true, but I think there are probably other issues here. Haitians' suspicions of the clinic might have as much to do with their general condition as it does with the building itself.
It was more than nine months ago that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing a quarter of a million people, leveling the capital, and setting back the country's infrastructure and economic development for years. More than 100 countries pledged about $15 billion to repair Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. But so far Haitians have seen little improvement in their conditions. There are still 1.3 million people living in displaced persons camps, where hunger, rape, malnutrition, and now cholera are common. So far only $300 million of the $1.15 billion the United States appropriated to Haiti has reached the country.
Earlier this month Haitian protesters blocked off the area around the U.N. military installation in Port au Prince and carried banners that said "Down With the Occupation." In Mirabelais people are protesting that Nepalese U.N. forces nearby are contaminating the river with sewage. As long as reconstruction continues at such a slow pace, Haitians won't see the U.N. forces and international organizations as there to help. Some of that anger might even be taken out against much-needed medical clinics.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
Score another one for new media: an anonymous, twenty-something blogger has become Mexico's go-to for information on the country's deadly drug war. Blog del Narco, launched in March, includes postings from both drug traffickers (such as warnings and even a beheading) and law enforcement (crime scenes accessible only to the police and military). In one case, Blog del Narco helped lead to a major arrest, when a video posted detailed a prison warden's system of setting inmates free at night to carry out drug cartel murders.
The AP tracked down this mysterious blogger, who revealed that he is a student in northern Mexico majoring in computer security. When he launched the blog, he intended it to be a hobby, but has grown faster than his wildest expectations, now receiving 3 million hits weekly. The blogger also uses Facebook and Twitter.
Since late 2006, over 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico. The country has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists: at least 30 have been killed or have disappeared since 2006 and many news organizations have been attacked with bombs and gunfire. Many journalists engage in self-censorship to avoid crossing the increasingly brazen cartels that attempt to control the press. On August 7, hundreds of journalists marched in Mexico City to protest escalating violence against their peers.
This helps explain why Blog del Narco, now an essential resource for Mexicans concerned about which streets to avoid during shootouts, engages in intense anonymity.
The AP listed some examples of recent posts:
- A video of a man being decapitated. While media only reported police finding a beheaded body, the video shows the man confessing to working for drug lord Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, who is locked in a fight with both the Beltran Leyva and Sinaloa cartels;
- The prison warden affair, which unfolded in a video of masked members of the Zetas drug gang interrogating a police officer, who reveals that inmates allied with the Sinaloa cartel are given guns and cars and sent off to commit murders. At the end of the video the officer is shot to death;
- Links to Facebook pages of alleged traffickers and their children, weapons, cars and lavish parties;
- Photos of Mexican pop music stars at a birthday party for an alleged drug dealer's teenage daughter in the border state of Coahuila, across from Texas.
If you've ever considered paring a fresh garden salad with a hearty serving of mealworm quiche, you may be in luck. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is reviewing a policy paper, written by a Dutch entomologist Arnold van Huis, which argues for consuming more insects. His rationale is entirely logical: Bugs are cheaper to feed; high in protein and calcium; and much less of an environmental burden than livestock like cows, pigs, and chickens. Insects are also biologically different from humans, thus less susceptible to contagious diseases. And - there are about 1,400 edible bugs in the world.
In the first phase of the program, van Huis proposes feeding more insects to farmed animals and then gradually introducing bugs to Western diets: "We're looking at ways of grinding the meat into some sort of patty, which would be more recognizable to western palates," he said. Van Huis is also partial to cricket pies, fried grasshoppers, and mealworm quiche. "Sauced crickets in a warm chocolate dip make a great snack," he said in an interview.
U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has already started a pilot program in Laos. About 80% of the world already eats insects - now it's just a matter of convincing those who don't. While this may be entirely sensible, good luck to the unfortunate public relations person at the U.N. who's in charge of making this idea appealing.
ED OUDENAARDEN/AFP/Getty Images
The blogosphere is bubbling with rumors that Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star, former Fugees frontman, and humanitarian, is considering a run for president of Haiti. The current president, René Préval, is barred by law from seeking a third term. Préval announced that the election would take place on November 28, after polls in February and March were postponed due to the January 12 earthquake. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar had recommended that the corruption-rife Provisional Electoral Council be disbanded, and that Fanmil Lavalas, the banned party of exiled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, be allowed to sponsor candidates -- suggestions ignored by Préval.
According to Canadian newspaper Le Droit, Haitian authorities confirmed that Jean is waiting for his paperwork to be approved before announcing his candidacy. Jean was born in Haiti but immigrated as a child to the United States, growing up in New York and New Jersey. He founded the Yéle Haiti Foundation in 2005, focusing on education, health, the environment, and community development. Donations to the organization surged in the days following January 12, despite questions surrounding its fiscal responsibility.
Jean, in an online message on Friday, noted that he has not announced his candidacy and later, when asked if he would run, told Fox Business: "I would say right now, currently at this minute, no."
Nonetheless, it's possible that a Wyclef Jean presidency would mark an improvement over Haiti's recent political travails. In his report, Lugar wrote "President Préval's actions do not suggest a departure from the self-destructive behavior that has kept Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere." Additionally, as Haitian citizen Françoise Moïse told Le Droit, "At least, Wyclef Jean already has money, he cannot steal that of the people."
Jean's uncle, Raymond Joseph, is the Haitian ambassador to the United States. His nephew has been a goodwill ambassador to Haiti since 2007.
Some more evidence for the benefits of a Wyclef presidency? Check out his lyrics:
Presidential Aspirations and Economic Policy:
"If I was President/ Instead of spending billions on the war/ I can use that money, so I can feed the poor" ("President")
In "President" from his 2004 album "Welcome to Haiti: Creole101," Jean showed an early interest in a chief executive position and demonstrated his liberal leanings -- although he conveyed doubts about his own permanence ("Assassinated on Saturday/ Buried on Sunday").
"Tell my brother to go to school in September/ So he won't mess up in summer school in the summer/ Tell my cousin Jerry wear his condom/ If you don't wear condom you see a red line" ("Gone Til November")
According to UNICEF, Haiti has an adult literacy rate of 62 percent, while about 2.2 percent of the population has HIV. The New York Times reported that 45 percent of Haiti's population are children, making recovery from the earthquake and further growth especially problematic.
"The Middle East/ The Middle East/ When will the violence sleep in the Middle East" ("War No More")
While it's unlikely that any Haitian president will have the time to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Haiti was a founding member of the United Nations and maintains 19 embassies in countries around the world.
"Where my money at?" ("Sweetest Girl")
Following the earthquake, governments around the world pledged billions to help Haiti rebuild -- $5.3 billion alone at a single conference in March supporting the Interim Haiti Recovery Mission. Yet according to CNN, less than 2 percent of that pledge has been handed over as of July 15. The United States, for example, pledged $1.15 billion to the commission. It has since paid nothing, with all money tied up the congressional appropriations process.
The members of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team officially gave up in their attempt to attend the sport's world championships in Manchester, England last week.
Players were stuck in New York, battling a diplomatic traffic jam that touched at the heart of tribal sovereignty issues. The team--consisting of a 50-person delegation from tribes in both the United States and Canada-- was supposed to arrive in Manchester, England last Monday to play their first highly anticipated match against England on Thursday. But by the weekend, the team was still grounded in New York, camping out in a Comfort Inn. Yesterday, some players began to return home to upstate New York and Canada.
"While we are deeply disappointed that we could not bring our talented team to the world championships, there simply was no way we could accede to the recommendation that we accept either American or Canadian passports to travel," the team's chairman, Oren Lyons, said in a statement.
The Federation of International Lacrosse considers the Iroquois Confederacy to be a full member state, like the U.S. or Canada, with a lacrosse team ranked fourth in the world. The problem is that the United Kingdom does not and will not accept the players' Iroquois-issued passports. The United States also refused to honor these passports, until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally intervened to allow for a special one-time waiver to travel without United States passports.
What's really at issue here is the sovereignty of tribal nations. The U.S. government has a trust responsibility with the tribes, meaning that it has to look out for the welfare of tribal members. This relationship is a result of various treaties between the tribes and the U.S. government, as well as a a historic perception of 18th and 19th century Americans that American Indians "were not able to look after their own affairs." The general trust concept has since become standard policy and law.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is principally charged with maintaining federal trust responsibility, which includes the protection of Indian trust lands, the provision of basic services for tribal members, and the protection of tribal sovereignty and the rights of self-governance. According to Thom Wallace, Communications Director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the sovereignty of tribal nations is constantly being brought into question around the country. Along with its work with the Iroquois Nationals (NCAI President Jefferson Keel wrote British Prime Minister a personal letter last week requesting that the team members be able to travel with their own passports), the organization is also involved with the Carcieri Supreme Court case, advocating against a 2009 ruling that made it harder for Native Americans to set their own rules for the use of tribal lands--including a parcel owned by the Narrangasett tribe in Charlestown, Rhode Island.
Wallace noted that the Iroquois Nationals' situation attests to a trend in improving relations between the U.S. government and the tribes. "The fact that Secretary Clinton moved so quickly to grant a one-time travel waiver to the team on Thursday is an important indicator of the support this Administration has for working on issues important to Indian Country," Wallace said. However, NCAI is continuing to work to emphasize the importance of Indian Nations as sovereign ones through dialogue and policy development. "The effort of every Administration needs to be focused on this legal obligation."
President Keel's letter to Prime Minister Cameron also emphasized the historical importance of lacrosse to Iroquois culture: "As you are aware, the game of lacrosse is indigenious to Native Americans," he wrote. "In the view of Native peoples, denying entry to game's historical and cultural emissaries is a troubling scenario." The once every four years Championships is a rare recognition of tribal sovereignty.
Travel regulations have intensified in the post-9/11 world, and not only for tribe members. According to the AP, new U.S. passports contain embedded radio-frequency identification chips. While the Iroquois passports look like U.S. passports, they lack these chips. According to Wallace, tribes have been working with the Department of Homeland Security to address airline security and identification issues. Tribal IDs are currently accepted by the Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration for both domestic travel and at the Mexican and Canadian border crossings.
Meanwhile, the Nationals will continue their fight to travel abroad with their Iroquois passports. Other international tournaments are upcoming, including the Federation of International Lacrosse's World Indoor Box Lacrosse Championships in the Czech Republic next year.
If you're someone who's kept up at night by apocalyptic fears, there are certain obvious questions you might worry over as you toss and turn: for example, will Armageddon be the work of malevolent extraterrestrials (think Independence Day) or of an equally nasty monster, global warming (a la Day After Tomorrow)? But of the many things that might trouble a doomsday worry-wart, what to eat at the end of the world probably wouldn't make the list. But as it turns out, planning for the apocalypse menu is already well underway-- and this isn't just another gourmet gimmick.
In 2008, world leaders gathered together to herald the opening of the so-called, "doomsday vault," a vast cache of seed samples built inside a remote Arctic mountain. The vault -- complete with four sets of locked doors, a 410 ft tunnel, and armed guards (see above) -- was designed with the ambitious goal of eventually housing a seed sample from every species of edible crop in the world. Seeds have been steadily accumulating ever since: already more than half of million of the estimated 4.5 million total have been tucked away in the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard.
The latest addition to the treasure chest arrived this week in the hands of improbable deliverymen: U.S. senators. Led by Benjamin Cardin, Democrat Senator from Maryland, the seven American delegates deposited an assortment of potent North American chili seeds inside the icy vault. The seeds -- which one expert admiringly praised for their "colorful names and histories" -- have long been protected as part of Native American tradition, but many fear that they may become the next victims in the worrisome trend of declining global crop diversity. Among the now-safe species are Wenk's Yellow Hots (a chameleon-like breed that changes color and flavor) and the San Juan Tsile (known for keeping diners on their toes: different peppers can be mild, medium, or hot -- and it's impossible to tell which is which).
So when the flood waters start rising and that nacho craving sets in, just head north.
Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images
Maybe it was all the excitement with the Russian spies last week, but somehow we missed one of the more intriguing things to grace the Wall Street Journal's letters page in a while: A full-throated defense of Hamid Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, written by Gerald Posner. Posner, you may recall, was an investigative reporter for the Daily Beast until February, when he resigned after being caught plagiarizing from the Miami Herald and other news sources. In the letter -- which concerns an unflattering recent story about Karzai ferrying cash out of Afghanistan -- Posner identifies himself as "Gerald Posner, Attorney at Law," and refers to Karzai as "my client." Huh?
FP spoke this afternoon with Posner (above left), who says he isn't just representing Mahmood Karzai (above right), but also the other two Afghan presidential siblings, Hamid's younger half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and older brother Qayum Karzai. It's an odd twist on the disgraced plagiarist-fabulist rehabilitation story, which often involves a legal career but not usually in the service of a beleaguered Central Asian ruling family. "They are really proud of the reputations that they have earned," Posner says of the Karzais, "and sort of in shock that they are viewed with such disdain in a country that is their ally in this process."
Christopher Bierlein (L), Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images (R)
International condemnation for the sinking of the Cheonan and the disgraceful 0-7 World Cup defeat at the hands of Portugal seem to have unleashed a Pandora's Box of Kim Jong-Il wrath. Citing costs induced by six decades of American hostility, Jong-Il has rummaged up his calculator, revived his old grudges, and delivered a tab to the U.S. to the tune of $65 trillion -- plus tax.
KCNA, North Korea's official state-run news agency, has asserted North Korea's "justifiable right" to collect financial compensation from the U.S. for an alleged six decades worth of antagonism -- one trillion dollars for every year since the Korean peninsula was divided in 1945. North Korea ascribes most of the demands to U.S. war crimes committed in the Korean War. Though most peg the war's outbreak to a North Korean invasion of the south in 1950, Jong Il's regime maintains that capitalist South Korea and its U.S. and U.N. allies are to blame for the military conflict's onset.
KCNA broke down the aggregate cost as follows: 26.1 trillion from U.S. "atrocities," about 20 trillion from sixty years of economic sanctions, compensation for civilians killed, and a variety of smaller claims. And according to North Korea, these restitutions are not even as severe as they could be: they say the toppling sum ignores money lost as a result of the U.S. sanctions enacted in 2006, targeted at the communist country's developing nuclear program.
The real question is: if the world were flipped upside-down and North Korea were awarded this colossal fortune, what would Kim Jong-Il do with it? It's pretty safe to say that even with that kind of money in the bank, his first priority would not be converting those gulag-like labor camps into more humane jails, or supplying something other than potatoes to his 9 million starving countrymen. I wonder if he has already tabulated how many pairs of thick-rimmed, triangular sunglasses and ego-boosting elevator platforms-- I mean, "heightening loafers" -- $65 trillion could buy...
As Congress reconvenes the most recent of the BP executives' unenviable appointments in Washington this afternoon, a word about Tony Hayward's current inquisitor: California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. There's an interesting symmetry between today's hearing and one that Waxman held a quarter century ago, when he was a subcommittee chairman. The news peg, then as now, was an unprecedented environmental catastrophe: the December 3, 1984 chemical leak at Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, which killed over 3,000 people. And then as now, Waxman (whose committee drafted the House climate change bill last year) was engaged in a protracted, long-odds battle for a game-changing piece of environmental legislation: the expanded pollution regulations that would eventually be signed into law as the 1990 reauthorization of the Clean Air Act.
Among the pollutants that Waxman was hoping to regulate were the same categories of air toxics that had caused the Bhopal disaster, and shortly after the incident he and his staff pulled together a field hearing in West Virginia, near another Union Carbide plant that produced the same chemicals as the one in Bhopal, and posed similar risks. It was a canny political set piece, and while the Clean Air Act reauthorization wouldn't make it into law for years, the spectacle whipped up by the Bhopal hearing prompted Congress to pass a precursor law requiring chemical plants to inventory and disclose their toxic emissions. It was a milestone in environmental regulation in the United States: Never before was anyone but the chemical companies understood the sheer quantity of the toxic pollutants, 2.7 billion pounds of which were emitted in 1987 alone.
I bring all of this up because in several ways, Waxman is working from the Bhopal playbook today. In The Waxman Report, the autobiography he published last year, the congressman distills the lessons of Bhopal for the sort of long, grueling legislative crusades that are his stock in trade:
In contrast to what many people imagine, legislative debates rarely occur within fixed parameters, or at least not for very long -- the center is constantly moving. In the years it can take to pass a major piece of legislation like the Clean Air Act, the terms of debate often shift significantly. Sometimes the balance shifts gradually and by design, such as from a sustained lobbying effort. At other times, the shift happens suddenly and without warning, the consequence of a new president, a shake-up in Congress, or a major news event that recasts public opinion.
The BP spill has certainly recast public opinion on oil drilling, but its implications for broader environmental policy, particularly a future energy and climate change bill, are far from clear. At the New Republic, Bradford Plumer offers a particularly gloomy reading on the response to the spill among American politicians and the public; plenty of other pundits have noted that in his widely panned Oval Office speech earlier this week, President Obama was conspicuously reluctant to tie the disaster to specific policy goals.
But keep an eye on what comes out of today's hearing. Waxman and his House colleagues are less central to the future of a climate bill than their opposites in the Senate, or the president. Still, the guy knows how to make use of a disaster.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Of all the photos documenting the effects of the oil spill (and there are some true stunners), the images of oil-soaked pelicans are among the most arresting and disheartening. One shows an immobile bird making a futile attempt to flap its wings. Another captures a brown and slimy creature opening its beak wide in what looks unmistakably like a shriek -- the avian equivalent, perhaps, of the desperate expressions on the faces of Gulf fishermen. At least, you tell yourself, these poor pelicans get picked up, cleaned up, and sent on their way -- feathers ruffled, daily routing upended, but not all that worse for wear (oil contaminates the birds but, if properly removed, doesn't cause permanent damage).
If you've been reassuring yourself with this rosy rescue story: think again. Silvia Gaus, a German animal biologist, has spoken out to advocate a "kill, don't clean" approach to handling the damaged birds. She's been joined by a chorus of scientific and environmental experts, including spokesmen for the World Wildlife Fund, who say that the low rates of survival for the birds -- estimated by Gaus to be a mere 1 percent -- mean that life-saving attempts just aren't worth the effort. The stress experienced by birds, they say, is simply too much: most, they predict, will go on to die of kidney or liver failure.
An editor at the Anchorage Daily News offered a less scientific perspective:
"Somewhere in America today, a child is going hungry while well-meaning people go to great lengths trying to save oiled Alaska birds destined to die shortly anyway...Why? Because rescuing these birds makes some people feel better about themselves."
If you don't buy either argument (and many don't: the executive director of the International Bird Rescue and Research Center called them "completely bogus"), there are a few facts you might bear in mind about the challenges of cleaning and saving oil-contaminated birds. In order to wash a single pelican, you'll need four pairs of hands (one bird rescue expert says with horror that she'd "never wash a bird alone"), a soft baby toothbrush, a handful of q-tips, a bottle of Dawn detergent (proven through "twenty years" of research to be the most effective de-oiling product), 300 gallons of hot water, and 45 minutes of your afternoon. Now multiply that by about a thousand.
This debate is just one of many unfolding between experts of all kinds in the aftermath of the spill. But it isn't hard to imagine how this tug-of-war between optimism (think "Save the Pelicans" bumper stickers) and fatalism ("just euthanize") might start to infiltrate other dimensions of the response effort. That is, if it hasn't already.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
It's from a firm called Covalence that calculates companies' ethical reputations and, on a neat mapping tool, tracks them against the amount of attention the companies are receiving in the media. (Methodology here.) From this report, a look at how different international industries have fared over the past half-decade, as the volume of information about them has generally increased:
Not only is the oil and gas industry in the basement, but it's one of the only industries whose reputation gets actively worse the more we know about it. For the largest oil and gas companies, the relationship is even starker -- spikes in attention track closely with drops in reputation.
On one level, this is probably just a measure of the very different reasons that different industries find themselves in the headlines. (When a tech company is in the news, it's because it's launching the iPad. When an oil company is in the news, it's because it has befouled a major ecosystem for a generation.) And energy companies are often particularly bad actors on the world stage.
But I suspect it's also a testament to the degree to which both the oil industry and the global public that depends on it are more comfortable when the latter knows less about how the former does its work -- the business of energy production is rarely pretty. Which is why all the unflattering attention is important: The best case for drilling domestically in the United States, rather than somewhere like Nigeria, is that the added scrutiny that operations here receive -- from the government, the media, and environmental organizations -- makes companies behave better than they do in the Niger River Delta, where oil operations are estimated to have leaked an amount comparable to the Gulf oil spill since the 1970s, and garnered a fraction of the international outrage.
U.S. Coast Guard
Plugging BP's catastrophic oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico, as you may have heard, is difficult. But how difficult, exactly? Nearly a month ago, BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay compared it to performing "open heart surgery at 5,000 feet in the dark with robot-controlled submarines."
In the weeks since, the executives, engineers, government officials, and sundry experts who have descended on the Gulf may or may not be much closer to fixing this thing, but they have gotten pretty good at describing just how difficult fixing it is. Here's BP Managing Director Bob Dudley:
"Like arm-wrestling between two equally strong people."
Energy analyst Byron King, riffing on McKay's original:
"It's like doing brain surgery using robots under a mile of water with equipment that's got 30,000 horsepower of energy inside of it."
Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University:
"It's kind of like pushing toothpaste through an obstacle course."
James J. O'Brien, professor emeritus of Meteorology and Oceanography at Florida State University:
"It's like trying to unclog a toilet while you're standing on a ten-foot ladder with a long stick attached to the plunger."
Thomas Bickel, deputy chief engineer at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories:
"It's like trying to do an operation on the moon."
Andy Bowen, an oceanographer at Woods Hole, on the area of the seafloor where the leak occurred:
"It's sort of like being in the Grand Canyon with the lights out and in a snowstorm."
Dudley again, on the gas that's escaping with the oil:
"It's like a soda can, shaking it up and popping it off ... it's difficult to measure."
Does BP have someone on staff coming up with these all day? Does the company have Thomas Friedman on retainer?
Help us out here -- there must be more of these lurking among the talking points.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
In his testimony before Congress this morning, Douglas H. Brown, chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, recounted a dispute between a BP official and Transocean crew members that took place the day of the rig's explosion. At issue was whether BP could replace heavy drilling fluid -- typically used in the final stages of plugging oil wells -- with a lighter liquid, a substitution crew members appear to have opposed.
"The driller was outlining what would be taking place, whereupon the company man stood up and said, 'No, we'll be having some changes to that'...The OIM, tool-pusher and driller disagreed with that, but the company man said, 'Well, this is how it's gonna be.'"
NASA via Getty Images
Last month, FP highlighted five of the weirdest tax laws in the world. One of those five tax laws discussed was Ireland's artist tax exemption, under which rule artists are tax-free to help soften their often meagre earnings. USA Today reports that Mexico has a similar rule, though they've apparently copied the old feudal-model of taxation -- but instead of providing foodstuffs to their lords, artists are allowed to produce works for the government in lieu of income tax:
"It's really an amazing concept," says José San Cristóbal Larrea, director of the program. "We're helping out artists while building a cultural inheritance for the country."
There's a sliding scale: If you sell five artworks in a year, you must give the government one. Sell 21 pieces, the government gets six. A 10-member jury of artists ensures that no one tries to unload junk.
The rule has been in place since 1957, and has contributed to a flourishing Mexican art museum scene, with other pieces being loaned out for exhibitions worldwide. As one would expect, the creation story is plenty amusing:
The art program was the idea of two muralists, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Gerardo "Dr. Atl" Murillo. In 1957, an artist friend of theirs was about to go to jail over tax debts so the two men approached Mexico's tax director and talked him into an art-for-amnesty deal.
Soon the tax office was accepting original art on a regular basis. In 1975, the Payment in Kind Program became an official part of the tax code.
Sorry to all writers, filmmakers and musicians, but the provision is only for visual art.
OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images
When Justice John Paul Stevens retires this summer he will have served longer than any Supreme Court Justice in history save one -- William O. Douglas. In his decades on the court, Stevens has had a profound influence on several issues -- including one of the central aspects of recent U.S. foreign policy: the "War on Terror".
Stevens has made a couple landmark decisions regarding alledged terrorist detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first one, Rasul v. Bush, was decided in 2004. He wrote the majority opinion in the case, finding that foreigners held in Guantanamo Bay are under the jurisdiction of federal courts, saying, "They have never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control." This meant that prisoners could now challenge their detainment through legal channels.
Two years later, in 2006, Stevens wrote the majority 5-3 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The ruling curbed executive power by arguing that the government had to follow U.S. laws and the Geneva conventions when detaining prisoners of war. Moreover, because neither the president nor Congress has the authority to authorize military tribunals when they can be avoided, they are illegal in this case. When speaking about the use of military tribunals, Stevens argued:
The danger posed by international terrorists, while certainly severe, does not by itself justify dispensing with usual procedures.
Because the procedures adopted to try Hamdan do not comply with the uniformity requirement of Article 36(b), we conclude that the commission lacks power to proceed.
For similar reasons, the commission lacks power to proceed under the Geneva Conventions, which are part of the law of war under Article 21 of the UCMJ.
Common Article 3 of those conventions, which we hold applicable to this case, prohibits the passing of sentences without previous judgment by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."
With the legal questions surrounding Gitmo far from settled, Stevens' absence will certainly be felt.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
It's well known that America's immigration system has its problems. But the travails of 30 survivors of January's earthquake in Haiti may take the cake for complete ineptitude and inhumane treatment.
In the wake of the complete devastation of the country, the humanitarian crisis contributed to a totally chaotic environment. A group of survivors, many of whom had lost loved ones in the quake, and some of whom had been pulled from the rubble themselves, boarded a plane to Florida after given permission by U.S. marines. Aftershock quakes were feared, and the evacuation process from Port-au-Prince airport was less than orderly: obviously, the priority was on saving as many lives as possible. It's no surprise that normal visa procedures weren't followed precisely.
Upon landing, the thirty Haitians (none of whom, according to theNew York Times, have criminal histories) were taken into custody and held for deportation -- despite the fact that all deportations to Haiti were suspended in the wake of the tragedy. Two months later, they're still in jail.
The story's already a massive fail, yet it gets even worse. Some of the refugees have U.S. citizen family members, who have pleaded with the government to allow the detainees to stay with them. Yet the Haitians still remain in jail. They've received no mental health care -- I wonder, could these people be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after their entire country was wrecked by a massive earthquake, killing hundreds of thousands? -- despite offers of free treatment from local clinics. Certainly, the following doesn't make it sound that they're mentally scarred at all:
The youngest detainee, Eventz Jean-Baptiste, 18, has no parents. “He is now responsible for his two younger brothers, who are homeless and living in a tent city in Port-au-Prince,” Charu Newhouse al-Sahli, the statewide director of the advocacy center, wrote in urging his release to his aunt and uncle in Coral Springs, Fla.
Mr. Jean-Baptiste describes putting his little brother and a cousin’s baby on top of a collapsed concrete wall during the quake, as they all prayed and cried. Afterward, “we had nothing to eat or drink,” he said. “I thought if I stayed in Haiti any longer I would not survive, and my family would not survive, so I decided to try to board a plane.” No one asked him for papers until he reached Orlando, he said.
Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, gave the Times this wonderfully caring quote:
In order to mitigate the probability that Haitians may attempt to make a potentially deadly journey to the U.S., we clearly articulated that those who traveled to the U.S. illegally after Jan. 12 may be arrested, detained and placed in removal proceedings.
This shouldn't be a hard fix.
Lee Celano/Getty Images
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
What percentage of Americans are self-described isolationists?
a) 18 percent b) 30 percent c) 49 percent
Answer after the jump ...
David McNew/Getty Images
The Washington Post reports that the United States backs a ban on trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna and listing the fish as an endangered species.
Strickland said the U.S. decided it needed to push for the extraordinary new protection because "the regulatory mechanisms that have been relied upon have failed to do the job."
"We are literally at a moment where if we don't get this right, we could see this very, very special species really at risk for survival," said Strickland, who will lead the U.S. delegation to CITES between March 13 and 25.
For more on the politicking on the tuna trade before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Doha next week, see our story, "Peak Tuna."
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
It's Texas Independence Day, and well wishes to everyone from that state, with its awesomely idiosyncratic politics, beautiful landscapes, and very tasty food. Of course, Texas Independence Day is not about Texas declaring its independence from the United States, but Texas declaring its independence from Mexico. Still, I thought it might be a good time to check in on some popular U.S.-based independence or secessionist movements. (And to boot, everyone should read Graeme Wood's killer dispatch from limbo states from Abkhazia to Somaliland in our last issue.)
5. Cascadia. A proposed Greenpeace-loving, vegan-friendly, wired and caffeinated liberaltarian republic comprised of the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington plus the Canadian province of British Columbia. Cascadia would hypothetically be one of the 20 largest economies on Earth -- home to Starbucks and Microsoft, among other companies. In its own words: "An international economic relationship? A republic? A bioregion? A cooperative commonwealth? A network of communities based on mutual aid? A utopia? Cascadia is a lot of things to a lot of different people."
4. Nantucket. Home to the wind-swept summer homes of the uberwealthy, this tiny pork-chop shaped island off of the coast of Cape Cod, along with its big neighbor, Martha's Vineyard, attempted to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States in 1977. Some locals have since proposed secession to found a more socialist republic. (They might have more luck asking those summering for help turning it into an off-shore tax haven.)
3. The Green Mountain Independence Movement. A nonviolent citizens' movement that advocates for Vermont to secede due to the "the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. government" -- or because "Vermont has been dragged into the quagmire of affluenza, technomania, megalomania, globalization, and imperialism by the U.S. government in collaboration with corporate America," as another site puts it. See also this site on other New England secessionist or independence movements.
2. Alaska. The Alaska Independence Party, the Last Frontier's third-largest, advocates not for secession, but for a public referendum on it -- since the United States didn't hold one when Alaska became a state in 1958. "Alaskans were robbed of the choices we were to have as a non-self-governing territory, and steam-rolled into the current classification of a State," the party says. "Alaska first!"
In 2006, one Scott Kohlhaas wrote an initiative calling for secession (or a vote on it), kicking off a legal battle on the issue. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled: "Because the initiative seeks a clearly unconstitutional end, the lieutenant governor correctly declined to certify it. We therefore affirm the judgment of the superior court."
1. Texas. Even Gov. Rick Perry (in the midst of a gubernatorial primary vote against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson today) thinks it should consider seceding, just maybe. Alas, secession is not constitutional, despite what some insist. Either way, it seems like a bad idea.
Ben Sklar/Getty Images
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.