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 ...
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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.
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The big domestic news today is the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, or CPAC, where dozens of major Republican and conservative thinkers (from Minority Leader John Boehner to Glenn Beck) are speaking to 10,000 members of their base. The big news out of CPAC is the Mount Vernon Statement, a commitment to Constitutional-conservative positions with signatories including Grover Norquist, Edwin Meese, and Tony Perkins.
Here is an excerpt:
Each one of these founding ideas is presently under sustained attack. In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The selfevident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.
Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead -- forward or backward, up or down? Isn't this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?
The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The Mount Vernon Statement draws support from a number of conservatives, including many members of the Tea Party movement. Here's the problem. The Mount Vernon folks espouse sticking to the letter of the Constitution. But many of them also vocally support some things the Constitution does not -- like military commissions for enemy combatants and closed borders.
According to the Constitution, enemy combatants should be tried in civilian courts. And the Declaration of Independence lists the British crown's restriction of free immigration as one of its grievances: "[The king] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
Some Constitutional conservatives -- like Norquist -- do not attempt to square this circle. They instead support free immigration policies and trying terrorists in civilian courts. Others, it seems, reconcile themselves to an elastic constitution in some circumstances. Either way, it is the subject of feisty debate among conservatives.
U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated that he will not make any recess appointments next week, while senators are back in their home states for the president's day holiday. Earlier in the week, Obama had signaled he might make the direct appointments -- circumventing the molasses-slow senate confirmation process, currently holding up scores of nominees, via this constitutionally granted executive privilege -- after senators approved 27 nominees yesterday.
Now, confirmation math is notoriously tricky. The numbers constantly change as the White House nominates and Congress takes appointees up. But some numbers we know for sure. At the one-year marker, George W. Bush had 70 nominees pending. Obama had 171. During Bush's first year, only three nominees waited for confirmation for more than three months. Forty-five of Obama's have waited more than four months; nine have waited more than six.
And the Republican minority has thrown sand in the gears of vitally important national security nominees -- who are, by congressional tradition, generally not subject to the absurd congressional tradition of holds. During wartime, Republicans held up the nomination of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Sec. of the Army John McHugh, a Republican. Even after the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt, Sen. Jim DeMint kept a hold on Obama's nominee to the Transportation Security Administration, Erroll Southers. Even after yesterday, Philip Goldberg, Obama's nominee to lead the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, remains at home -- despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid taking to the floor to demand his confirmation.
So, even if the Senate confirmed 27 nominees yesterday, it is hard to argue it has been keeping pace. As far as I can figure, Obama got nothing in return for not making recess appointments this go-around -- it isn't as if the Republicans will let go a hold on another appointee or send him a fruit basket. And he has only further alienated the labor left and frustrated Dems on the Hill. Nobody's happy, vital security and diplomatic nominees are still pending, and I can't see the decision as anything but bizarre.
The Haitian government estimates approximately 230,000 died in the quake
It estimates a further 300,000 people have sustained injuries
An unknown number of others have died from untreated sepsis, illness, and injury
One million remain homeless
Fifty thousand families have received tent-type emergency shelters
Tents donated by the Cirque du Soleil might soon house the Haitian government
More than 500,000 children are orphans
More than 20,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished
The Miami-Dade School District has enrolled 1,000 Haitian children
Most of Port-au-Prince's schools are planning to reopen
Doctors have treated more than 100,000 people, performing 2,000 to 4,000 amputations
More than 7,000 babies have been born
Eighty percent of Port-au-Prince remains without power
One thousand planes are waiting for permission to land at Port-au-Prince's airport
Haiti's airport, under the direction of the U.S. Air Force, is landing 100 airplanes a day; prior to the earthquake, it handled three to five
Cruise ships continue to dock in gated zones in northern Haiti
The drive from the Dominican Republic, which formerly took six hours, now takes 18
Economists estimate the earthquake impacted half of Haiti's GDP
International donors have committed at least $3 billion to the rebuilding effort
The United Nations Development Program has started an initiative to pay Haitians $3 a day to clear rubble and help rebuild, to infuse cash into the economy
Nearly half of American families have donated to Haitian disaster relief organizations
The United States has caught the first ship of 78 Haitians attempting to immigrate into the United States illegally -- it sent them back
The United States might cut non-Haiti disaster programs by 40 percent, possibly leading to smaller programs for Congo and Sudan.
The rainy season has just started, soaking Port-au-Prince, collapsing many temporary homes, and increasing risks from water and sewage-borne illnesses
Mario Tama/Getty Images
With the Winter Olympics starting tomorrow in Vancouver, Andrew Swift and Kayvan Farzaneh, our excellent researchers, put together a beautiful photo essay of athletes from warm-climate countries, like Taiwan, Israel, and Ghana: the outliers.
The photo essay reminded me of some choice commentary from the last winter Olympics by FP contributor (and Brooklyn-bred Bangladeshi) Reihan Salam. For those considering the racial and global socioeconomic implications of the oh-so-white winter games, the Slate piece "White snow, brown rage" is a must:
Like the Augusta National Golf Club, the Winter Olympics is "exclusive." Paul Farhi, writing in the Washington Post, has described it as "almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations." Growing up, I forsook the lily-white Winter Olympics for the multi-culti Summer Games. I still vividly recall the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when my middle sister and I cheered on every wiry, diminutive American athlete of a darker hue. When you squint, a fearsome Latino bantamweight looks not unlike one of the burnt ochre Salams.
Now, let's compare that image of a powerful brown-skinned pugilist with that of my Winter Olympic role models. In 1988, we of course had the Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in the classic film Cool Runnings. Given the team's lackluster performance, Stool Runnings might have been a more apt characterization. Pluck and determination count for something, to be sure. And yes, Jamaica has no snow, leading some softhearted types to give its Winter Olympians a pass. But even as an 8-year-old, I was hoping for something more. Specifically, I was hoping to see this Third World band of brothers humble their colonialist oppressors with furious bobsled action. Instead, I was told that merely finishing the race was a "triumph of the human spirit" for these stumbling boobs. Meanwhile, pasty and perfumed Hanz and Franz were high-fiving each other on the medal stand. Call it tribalism of the basest sort, but I will never apologize. I want some brown sugar, on ice.
Surely globalization, the world getting flatter, has meant that more countries have started competing in winter games, as their athletes can train abroad. I think this calls for a chart.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The Gaggle blog over on our sister site Newsweek notes that Canada's parliament has shut down for two months (?!) for the winter Olympic games.
For those of you who have gotten behind on your Canadian politics, here’s a basic rundown. Prime Minster Steven Harper, who leads the Conservative Party, was facing a lot of difficult issues: an inquiry over maltreatment of Afghan detainees, economic woes hosting the Olympics. So he announced in December that he was basically shutting down, or proroguing, Parliament until March 3, 2010, the day after the Olympics ends. And, when they come back to session next month, the agenda is basically reset: any bill that was on the table is done and gone away with. This has lead to numerous prorogation protests across the country, despite Canadians being generally known for their politeness. A one-week shutdown due to a massive snowstorm isn’t looking so insane, now is it?....
As a Canadian citizen, I generally don’t like to slam on my native land; I’ll definitely root for Team Canada come this Friday. But in terms of ridiculous government deadlock and partisanship, unfortunately, we have already claimed the gold medal.
Which makes complaining about Congress feel a bit silly.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
The Toyota logo is displayed on a box of auto parts at City Toyota February 5, 2010 in Daly City, California. Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda issued an apology today for saftey issues that have prompted the recall of nearly 4 million Toyota cars and trucks that could have accelerator pedals that can stick.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
To summarize, David and I are discussing whether debt relief for Haiti is A) a good thing and B) should be a priority -- we agree on A (yes) and disagree somewhat on B. David argues that debt payments aren't going to be an issue in the foreseeable future, and that countries like Venezuela shouldn't get points for relieving relatively small sums of debt -- particularly if they aren't also providing significant aid, which is more important in the near and medium term. I say there's a short window in which to ask for countries to throw in the kitchen sink, so why not, particularly given debt's historical choke-hold on Haiti and given that three or ten years from now, Haiti will still be poor and in debt. Lots of others have good commentary on the subject, including Daniel Altman and Alex Tabarrok.
Ultimately, I still believe there's room and reason to ask for debt forgiveness -- if not now, then when? But it made me wonder about aid effectiveness -- if you're giving x dollars of aid, what provides the maximum benefit: debt forgiveness, direct governmental grants, funding specific programs, ending agricultural subsidies?
Development economists, of course, research this question, well, exhaustively. And the answer? It's now always clear -- or, there's no general rule. Academically, a dollar of debt relief is worth more than a dollar of granted aid. In reality, the level of indebtedness, degree of governmental corruption, relevant economic fundamentals, and the entities doing the lending all matter considerably.
But there's consensus on what other countries can be doing, should be doing, and are doing now. Haiti needs material support (water, batteries, medical supplies, etc.) and cash aid. But the United States, especially, should also think about remittances and immigration. Here, Michael Clemens and Amanda Taub argue for giving Haitians temporary protected status in the States. In the longer term, the United States might consider taking a close look not just at debt, but also at rice.
Until recently counter-terrorism officials weren't worried about jihadi pundits having much of an influence in the United States itself, where they believed that a higher degree of Muslim-American assimiliation, social mobility and economic well-being would act against such influences. It turns out however, that this isn't always the case.
In an article in New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Andrea Eliot profiles the captivating transformation of an all-American boy from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who is now fighting with Al Shabaab in Somalia.
Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like "sugar" and "darlin'." Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang "Away in a Manger" on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. "It felt cool just to be with him," his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. "You knew he was going to be a leader."
A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world's most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.
And there are some downright chilling portions of the article:
In a recent propaganda video viewed by thousands on YouTube, he is shown leading a platoon of gun-toting rebels as a soundtrack of jihadi rap plays in the background.
He is identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, "the American," and speaks to the camera with a cool, almost eerie confidence. "We're waiting for the enemy to come," Hammami whispers, a smile crossing his face. Later he vows, "We're going to kill all of them."
Getting native-born Americans to join the jihadist cause is a coup for groups like al Qaeda or al Shabaab. An American jihadi can increase a group's legitimacy, add appeal to radicalizing youth in Western countries and can teach foreign jihadis about American culture. Having an American passport also allows for freer travel.
Although Omar Hammami isn't the first American to reach the higher echelons of a radical Islamic organization (California native Adam Gadahn is a top spokesman for al Qaeda), Eliot's article is a uniquely in-depth look into the details of such a metamorphosis. It's definitely worth a full read.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
After months of resistance against international pressure to overturn Uganda's now-notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Uganda's politicians seem to be pulling back. In early January, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern that the bill was too harsh and on Jan. 12th noted:
"Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests."
The U.N. and the U.S. government, along with countries such as Britain, Canada and Sweden, have expressed their strong disapproval of the bill. Their displeasure has had an effect: during a January 19th cabinet meeting, the Ugandan government agreed to form a committee to amend the bill, with cabinet members citing the possibility of aid cuts by Western governments as a chief reason behind their reservations. The bill's author, MP David Bahati, held strong for a little longer. That is, until today when he expressed willingness to change some key clauses of the legislation.
Of course, none of this means that gay Ugandans will be getting a fair shake anytime soon -- especially when 95 percent of those surveyed in the country believe homosexuality should continue to be criminalized.
Although the U.S. government has condemned the bill, the American evangelical influences behind it are widely known. For example, Rick Warren, who advised most of the bill's leading supporters (such as Pastor Martin Ssempa), was barely ahead of Museveni in distancing himself from it. Also heavily circulated were the allegations by Jeff Sharlet that President Museveni, his ethics minister Nsamba Buturo and David Bahati, all have ties to U.S. politicians linked to The Family (a secretive evangelical organization with plenty of political influence).
Now, with human rights activists and journalists fully in the mix, friction over the bill has led to a proxy battle over the U.S.' cultural influence in the region.
WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images
Today, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Conn., announced that will not seek re-election this year. Dodd, suffering from a low approval rating and bashed for his perceived closeness with fat-cat bankers, wasn't expected to win a sixth term.
Dodd was primarily known as a domestic policy guy, and a powerful one at that -- a longtime Hill veteran, the head of the Senate Banking Committee, and at the center of the financial regulations storm.
But Dodd was also an important foreign policy thinker -- especially regarding Latin America. In the 1970s, just out of college, Dodd served with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Once on the Hill, he maintained an interest in the region, becoming one of the loudest progressive voices regarding policy for the countries he always insisted were not "America's backyard" but "America's neighborhood." Back in the 1980s, he -- along with Sens. John Kerry and Tom Harkin -- spoke out against the Reagan administration's military and financial support of anticommunist groups, like the contras in Nicaragua. He later advocated for taking a soft-glove approach with countries like Cuba and Venezuela. (This won him plenty of opprobrium from the right, particularly during the Bush administrations.) More recently, he has won plaudits for his vocal support of policies to aid the human-rights disaster in Darfur.
As for Dodd's seat's future -- the Connecticut Democratic and Republican primaries are upcoming. Richard Blumenthal, the state's very popular attorney general, is expected to gain the Dem nod and Dodd's seat in the Senate. He'll likely face Republican Linda McMahon, the head of the WWE wrestling federation. No word yet on her views on Chavez.
Poor Nigeria. As if it didn't already have a terrible reputation, the alleged terror attempt by a 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab yesterday on a flight from Amsterdam to Detriot seals the deal. But as you're reading the news, a few caveats to remember:
First, much of the information coming out about the suspect's origin comes from the Nigerian newspaper This Day. While often a good source of initial information, this report probably shouldn't be taken as fact without other confirmation. The press in Nigeria, while vibrant, growing, and home to countless incredible journalists, has still been known to exagerate or assume at times. I have no reason to believe that is the case this time, but skepticism is warranted.
Second, if the suspect does indeed come from a family of means, as his residence in London suggests (forgive a generalization, but anyone who is anyone in Nigeria has got a house in London), it says much about where the real terror "threat" is (and is not) coming from in Nigeria. Security analysts have been worrying about Nigeria since the Sept 11. attacks -- fearing that this about half-Muslim country of 140 million people would be a potential host to extremists. But at the end of the day, something that I've learned about Nigeria is that it takes money and connections to get things done. Just think back to the violence earlier this summer by the Boko Haram sect. The mostly-impoverished members of the group raised hell in the local context ... but that was it. Taking "jihad" international from Nigeria is still a long ways and a lot of financing off (if it is on the way at all).
Which brings me to one more point about extremism in Nigeria. Much of the religious violence that the country has seen in recent years has been less about religion and more about a country rife with corruption and wanting for institutions. When sharia law was introduced in the North earlier this decade, most analysts believe that it had more to do with a desire for the law -- any law -- to function. Since the secular government had failed for years, many sought refuge in the laws of religious fundamentalism.
And that brings us back to the alleged terrorist in questioning today. His grievances are different from these, one might imagine, since the lack of rule of law often works in favor of (rather than against) the elite. In short, what I'm trying to say is that there are two different phenomena going on here: mass dissatisfaction among many impoverished in the country's Muslim North, and the different brand of extremism that would incite a well-off 23-year-old to blow up a plane in Detroit.
Finally, in the time that I've written this blog post, I have recieved several requests from news agencies and papers to help me connect them with reporters in Nigeria. An unfortunate reminder that the press in my former-resident country is drying up. And with each correspondent that leaves, it is trickier and trickier to piece together developments that unfold. For the last two years, editors have asked me why Nigeria matters. Case and point.
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