Russia's Green Alliance - People's Party, which registered as a political party just one year ago, has turned to art to take a stab at the country's ruling United Russia party.
Taking advantage of a contest to design an emblem for the greater Moscow region, the Green Alliance has submitted an entry to the local ministry of culture that takes multiple swipes at United Russia -- highlighting problems with the country's leaders and many of the social issues that the ruling party has failed to address.
The Green Alliance has made no secret about the meaning of the design. On Tuesday, the party even tweeted a key to all the symbols packed into the image:
???? ??????? ?????????? ? ???????????? ???????? ?????????? ??????? ?????? ?? ??????? "?????? ???????????" twitter.com/RussianGreens/...— ?????? ??????? (@RussianGreens) May 21, 2013
Here's our own (English-language) guide:
The bear is a nod to the symbol of United Russia, but in this image the animal looks sinister and thuggish.
The gold chain the bear is wearing represents United Russia's alleged ties to the mob.
The saw and tree stumps symbolize United Russia's disregard for nature. As the Moscow Times points out, it was the previous United Russia governor who launched construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest.
The cracked road draws attention to the Moscow region's poor infrastructure, which, the Green Alliance claims, is typically only "repaired by kickbacks."
The blue flashing light, which many Moscow drivers use to abuse traffic laws, is a symbol of "the power of contemporary feudalists," according to the party.
The high-rises in the background are meant to be "new buildings, without social infrastructure, built next to dumps."
The two men holding up the central shield are illegal migrant workers from central Asia. The Green Alliance points out that there are an estimated three million illegal migrants living in the Moscow region.
The "garlands" of paper money surrounding the shield represent the "harvest collected by [corrupt] bureaucrats."
"At a time when an alternative point of view doesn't appear in regional mass media, we consider it our duty to use this emblem as a way of drawing attention to problems," the Green Alliance's leader told the Moscow Times. It's a noble objective. But don't expect local officials to stamp the image on Moscow's promotional materials anytime soon.
Christian Caryl contributed to this post.
Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
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On Friday, we wrote about the arrest of Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, who was detained at Cairo International Airport as he returned from a series of meetings with officials and speaking engagements in the United States. The Daily News Egypt reports that Maher was released on Saturday after spending the night in Cairo's al-Aqrab prison, and that he remains under investigation for "inciting a protest" in March at the home of the minister of the interior. Several Egyptian political parties have condemned Maher's arrest, though they have also distanced themselves from his politics and protest tactics. Upon his release, Maher tweeted out thanks to his supporters and urged them to show the same support for Egyptian political activists still in prison.
Maher co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement, which was instrumental in Egypt's 2011 revolution. Though he supported Mohamed Morsy's presidential campaign, he has since become a vocal critic of Morsy's government and the pace of security sector reforms.
In addition to still being under investigation, Ahram Online reports that Maher was injured in a severe car crash today. The circumstances of the crash are unclear, and Maher is now filing a police report to determine if the collision "was caused by a criminal act."
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With Pakistan's election just around the corner on Saturday -- and amid a month-long campaign of violence that local papers have dubbed the "reign of terror" -- the New York Times reported Friday that Pakistan's Interior Ministry has demanded that the paper's Islamabad bureau chief, noted journalist Declan Walsh, leave the country. From the Times's report:
The ministry gave no explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered via a two-sentence letter by police officers to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home.
"It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities," the order stated. "You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours." The timing of the order means Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections.
Walsh has reported from Pakistan for the past nine years for the New York Times and the Guardian, and his journalism is characterized by an eye for detail and a knack for making a frequently perplexing country comprehensible. For the past month, his reports have focused on the run-up to Pakistan's May 11 election: political maneuvering and rivalries, patronage networks, and the string of attacks that have punctuated the campaign. We've collected some of his greatest hits from recent weeks below.
From his May 8 article on Pakistan's feudalistic patronage networks:
As a result, Multan has been transformed, residents say. The city is ribboned with new roads and expressways, while a modern airport, capable of accommodating wide-body jets, is near completion. The railway station has been overhauled, some neighborhoods have new sewerage and young students have been awarded generous scholarships.
A giant billboard outside Mr. Gilani's house lists his achievements: 34 major development projects, costing more than $280 million, all financed by Pakistani taxpayers. "Multan has become like Paris for us," said Muhammad Bilal, a 28-year-old laborer and enthusiastic Gilani supporter, at a rally last week....
Mr. Gilani, for example, was in jail from 2001 to 2006 during the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf on a charge of arranging 600 government jobs for his constituents during a previous administration in the 1990s. "If giving jobs is a crime, then I am a criminal," he told voters at one rally, to loud cheers.
In fact, the practice is institutionalized: The government gives each Parliament member, no matter the party, about $200,000 a year to spend on "development" -- effectively, a patronage slush fund.
He writes a riveting lede, like this one from his May 5 article about Pakistan's hardline Islamist candidates:
Dust swirled as the jeep, heralded by a convoy of motorcycle riders and guarded by gunmen in paramilitary-style uniforms, pulled up outside the towering tomb of an ancient Muslim saint.
Out stepped Maulana Abdul Khaliq Rehmani, a burly cleric with a notorious, banned Sunni Muslim group. Thanks to a deft name change by his group, he was now a candidate in Pakistan's general election, scheduled for Saturday.
Or this intro from his April 21 article on the Pakistani Taliban's intimidation tactics:
When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school's rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.
In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party.
Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region's provincial assembly, addressed potential voters - poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.
"They say it's not safe around here," said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. "We'd better get going."
No stranger to Pakistan's extremist groups, Walsh profiled Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, in February:
...Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.
"I move about like an ordinary person -- that's my style," said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. "My fate is in the hands of God, not America."
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has written to the Pakistani interior minister protesting the decision, and journalists and analysts have voiced their support on Twitter.
100+ already dead in Pakistan election violence; 600k security to be deployed this wknd. Hence Pak expulsion of NYT reporter @declanwalsh.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 10, 2013
Walsh, for his part, has so far only tweeted out the Times article about his enforced departure:
On eve of Pakistani elections, been asked to leave:nytimes.com/2013/05/11/wor…— Declan Walsh(@declanwalsh) May 10, 2013
With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
The kind of electoral fraud Malaysia's newly reelected Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has been accused of seems too elaborate to be true.
The opposition is alleging that BN brought in foreigners -- mainly from Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia -- to supplement the party's vote counts. In addition to these so-called "phantom voters," the opposition has accused BN of flying voters from its eastern strongholds of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to vote in mainland states where victory was less assured. (BN leader and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied the accusations.)
The plot is certainly convoluted: It involves complicit airline companies and suspicious groups of foreigners arriving on chartered flights prior to the election. But even if the accusations turn out to be rooted in paranoia, there's good reason for them: Malaysia -- and BN in particular -- has something of a spotty history when it comes to importing votes from abroad.
A Malaysian Royal Commission of Inquiry, for instance, is currently investigating so-called Project IC, a notorious program in which the BN -- which gets the bulk of its support from the ethnically Malay, Muslim population -- allegedly provided Muslim immigrants -- mainly from the southern Philippines and Indonesia -- in Sabah with identity cards in exchange for votes. These immigrants, already ethnically similar to Malays, were assimilated, and Sabah -- once a non-Malay majority state where BN faced electoral threats -- has been something of a party fortress ever since.
As John Pang recently wrote in the New York Times:
In one of the most brazen examples of manufacturing ethnic identity for political gain, Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister from 1981 to 2003, imported about 700,000 Muslim immigrants from the southern Philippines into the Malaysian state of Sabah. They were secretly issued Malaysian citizenship in order to create a "Malay" Muslim vote base for Mr. Mahathir's party.
Pang's description may be a bit premature, as the inquiry is still ongoing. But several members of the UMNO, the ruling Malay party at the time, were detained for their involvement in falsifying identity cards in the late 1990s, with one former member of the project claiming that in 1985 alone, 130,000 illegal immigrants received identity cards.
Accusations of bringing in Bangladeshis by the thousands to cast votes certainly go beyond your standard ballot-box stuffing. But in Malaysian politics, stranger things have happened.
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
The Egyptian government is promoting a new blog showcasing the work of the Egyptian Foreign Policy Forum, a state-sponsored think tank. But the target audience isn't just Egyptians -- the first few posts indicate that officials are looking for an audience abroad as much as at home.
That's because almost all of the articles are translated into English. They include big-picture think pieces with titles like "Egyptian Foreign Policy, a New Vision," and more specific policy outlines like "Egypt and Russia, Horizons of Cooperation." What's more: They're translated verbatim.
Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. But over the past year, Egyptian officials have made a habit of saying one thing in English and something very different to their constituents in Arabic. There was the Twitter sparring last September, when the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language feed tweeted after the protests on Sept. 11, "We r relieved none of @USEmbassyCairo staff were hamed & hope US-Eg relations will sustain turbulence of Tuesday's events," while praising the protests, which breached the embassy compound, in Arabic. "Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too," the U.S. Embassy account shot back (the tweet was later deleted). More recently, there was the Brotherhood's consolatory message to the U.S. government in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, and, in stark contrast, a bizarre, conspiracy-laden rant posted to Facebook in Arabic.
The blog's sole Arabic-only posts so far are on Egyptian-Sudanese and Egyptian-Libyan relations, and they don't delve into anything scandalous -- both are pretty bland discussions of border economic zones and, in the case of Sudan, water-sharing rights.
There are a couple interesting tidbits tucked away in the English articles. Specifically, "A New Vision" states Egypt's intention to achieve a position of "regional leadership and special international status," including "a permanent seat in the UN Security Council." (Egypt's been swinging for the fences lately -- in March, it proposed joining the BRICS as well.) In "Egypt and Russia," the Egyptian administration expresses its interest in "achieving balance, independence, and political influence in foreign relations," breaking free of "the shackles of subordination and occupation." "This can be realized through the development of relations with different countries across the globe including Russia," the policy paper states.
All in all, it's not that provocative (though maybe a bit grandiose). But is it sincere? There's no reason to think these bland policy pronouncements aren't expressed in good faith -- but they're just a few more data points amid Egypt's many mixed messages.
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Last week, after more than two years of being a fixture in Sanaa and cities around the country, Yemen's revolutionaries dismantled protest camps around the country. The AP reports it was a "symbolic" move, and that activists were "declaring an end to the revolution." Tawakkol Karman, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism in Yemen, told crowds at Sanaa's Change Square, "We are starting a new phase.... We declare that we toppled the rule of the family forever..."
If that strikes you as strange, it should. Yemen may have a transitional government, and last month saw the beginning of the National Dialogue, a months-long process of reconciliation and reform leading toward elections. But many of the activists responsible for driving the revolution forward are far from satisfied with these achievements. The decision to shut down the protests camps came from the Organizing Committee of the Youth Revolution, which is the most prominent -- but only one -- of several groups affiliated with the protest movement. Despite the bold pronouncements, there isn't a consensus on when -- or how -- the revolution should end.
Boshra al-Maqtari, president of the Progressive Youth Organization, stressed that "there are very big differences in the positions of the revolutionary organizations and youth movements," when reached by e-mail (her comments appear here in translation). While the youth movement has voiced concerns about having their cause commandeered by other political interests since the early months of the protests, al-Maqtari worries that the groups leading the movement now, which are tied to Yemen's Islah Party, are not leaving room for dissent in the protest movement. The decision to end the protest camps, she writes, "reflects the real problem that ... revolutionaries are no longer allowed to have any negative or contradictory opinions."
"No one ... can claim to speak for the revolution," writes Yemeni activist and journalist Farea al-Muslimi, who testified on U.S. targeted killing policy in the Senate on Tuesday. "The south remains a place where many there think their revolution hasn't even started yet."
Al-Muslimi sees the transition from the transitional to an elected government as the real test of the revolution, but the pressure for conformity in the protest movement has al-Maqtari concerned that the revolution, to date, "did not create a culture of democracy."
Both were dismissive of declarations of the end of the revolution. "The revolution is ongoing," wrote al-Matari. Al-Muslimi was blunt, telling FP it's "total rubbish to say the revolution is over."
Yemen has had this debate before, after the February 2012 referendum that formally ushered in Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, previously Yemen's vice president, into the role of transitional president. Then, protesters told the New York Times that they would wait for military reforms. Though the reforms are ongoing, the Yemeni government formalized a large shake-up in the military leadership earlier this month. But revolutions have a tendency to linger -- there are no closing ceremonies, as Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro suggested, not even in the speeches delivered at the dismantling of Yemen's Change Square camp. As she called for an end to the revolution that toppled the president, Karman proposed a new stage. "We have a new revolution," she told the remaining protesters in the square, "to cleanse the state from corruption."
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
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Amid international accusations of chemical weapons use by Assad government forces in Syria's civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry told NATO members on Tuesday that the alliance should consider contingency planning and prepare for possible threats to NATO nations emanating from Syria, including chemical weapons threats (after Kerry's remarks, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen clarified that NATO is not considering intervening in Syria).
Earlier this year, however, NATO did deploy three Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, a NATO state, in response to concerns in Ankara that southern Turkish cities could be targeted by Syrian Scud missiles. Other NATO countries are acting independently to facilitate arms provisions, non-lethal supplies, and training for rebels. And earlier this month, Pentagon officials announced they were doubling the U.S. military presence in Jordan to 200 military planners, with the potential to expand that presence to as many as 20,000 soldiers in an emergency.
In Washington, meanwhile, there is a mounting policy debate about the "least bad" options for the United States in responding to the protracted conflict in Syria. In a policy speech delivered last week, Sen. John McCain, a consistent advocate of intervention in Syria, outlined potential options for U.S. involvement in the conflict:
No one should think that we have to destroy every air defense system or put tens of thousands of boots on the ground to make a difference in Syria. We have more limited options. We could, for example, organize an overt and large-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces. We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad's aircraft and Scud missile launchers on the ground, without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria's air defenses. We could use similar weapons to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make their crews think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria.
So, is McCain on to something? Could his options serve as blueprints for intervention? The United States already operates a clandestine training program for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and growing the program could be a "very significant gamechanger," Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, told FP.
Precision strikes, while feasible, would require "something like a mini-campaign" with a dedicated effort to find targets, some of which may have to be struck multiple times, White said. "It couldn't be done in one fell swoop."
Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has consulted for the administration, suggests on his blog, Syria Comment, that the Obama administration may be receptive to the idea of Patriot-enforced safe zones:
For some time, the language used in the White House to frame the Syria problem has been that of containment. Here are some of the oft repeated phrases I have been hearing from White House insiders:
- "Keep the violence inside Syria"
- "Prepare for Syrian failure"
- "Shore up the neighbors"
- "There are no good guys in Syria"
Adm. James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander for Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that, in his opinion, Patriot-enforced no-fly zones along Syria's northern border "would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime."
"Assuming we have permission to deploy Patriot missiles appropriately in Turkey and Jordan, they could be used to implement a no-fly zone," White told FP, though he pointed out that the density of the fighting in southern Syria would limit the effectiveness of a no-fly zone in establishing a buffer zone along the Jordanian border.
There is a potential downside to establishing safe zones, though. White pointed to the potential for retaliation, saying, "If you had Patriot missiles trying to enforce a no-fly/no-missile zone, they could be targeted. There could be some risk to these forces, I wouldn't say significant risk, but some risk." Landis also cites concerns raised by David Pollock, also of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that safe zones, depending on how they're enforced, could lead to blowback. Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch has also suggested that buffer zones could trap refugees in the war zone without access to necessary aid.
What's clear is that President Obama is now facing increased pressure to act in Syria based on comments made in Israel last month that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line." What comes after that red line's been crossed? Well, that's far less certain.
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Sen. John McCain sounded a civil note at the beginning of his remarks at a Center for a New American Security event on Thursday, April 18. "What Republicans need now is a vigourous contest on ideas on national security and foreign policy," he told a group of military, foreign policy, and business professionals. "This contest can and should be conducted respectfully and without name-calling, which is something an old wacko-bird like me must remember from time to time."
Though he didn't resort to epithets, the rest of the speech featured a series of broadsides against isolationists and non-interventionists of both parties, but especially senators on McCain's own side of the aisle. "When it comes to the politics of national security," McCain said, "my beloved Republican Party has some soul-searching to do."
In particular, McCain singled out his "libertarian friends" who participated in Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster against John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director. "Rather than debate the very real dilemmas of targeted killing," McCain said, "my colleagues chose to focus instead on the theoretical possibility that the president would use a drone to kill Americans on U.S. soil even if they're not engaged in hostilities. As misguided as this exercise was, the political pressures on Republicans to join in were significant, and many ultimately did -- including many who know better."
As a compromise, McCain suggested revising the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which provides the legal justification for the targeted killing program, and codifying drone policy "to preserve, but clarify the commander-in-chief's war powers, while insisting on greater transparency and broader congressional oversight of how these war powers are employed."
He inveighed against the "emergence of a military-industrial-congressional complex that has corrupted and crippled the defense acquisition process," though his critique focused on the runaway costs of projects like the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship rather than the defense budget writ large, which he has pushed to maintain. He also went after colleagues who have tried to slash foreign aid, pointing out that, "It now seems that every piece of legislation that the Senate considers faces an inevitable amendment that would cut off all our assistance to Egypt or some other critical country. And unfortunately, these kinds of provisions keep winning more and more votes." McCain sounded downright weary as he described "explaining" and "reminding people" of the purpose of foreign aid. "While foreign aid might not make its recipients love us," he noted, "it does further our national security interests and values."
McCain went after colleagues' knee-jerk opposition to the United Nations as well. When asked about the Law of the Sea Treaty, he said, "It's probably not going to come up. Not with the makeup of this Senate, that's the reality. We couldn't even do a disabilities treaty, for God's sake." The problem? Here, McCain got sarcastic. "It's just, you know, it's the 'U.N.' It's the 'U.N.,'" he exclaimed, making air quotes and shrugging.
Despite the critiques of sequestration and U.S. policies on Syria and Iran, President Obama got off pretty easy by comparison. "Right now, the far left and far right in America are coming together in favor of pulling us back from the world," McCain observed. "The president and I have had our differences, many of those differences will persist, but there are times these days when I feel that I have more in common on foreign policy with President Obama than I do with some in my party."
And while McCain seemed uncomfortable with the many rounds of nuclear negotiations with Iran, he said he didn't envy the president's decision on the use of force. "It's going to be probably one of the most difficult decisions the president of the United States has ever had to make," he argued, "and it's very rarely that I'm glad that I'm not the president of the United States, but this is one of [those times]."
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After being carried through the streets of London in a flag-draped coffin aboard a gun carriage, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest this morning in St. Paul's Cathedral. But the big story of the day wasn't Maggie. No, it was a 19-year-old Texan who stole the show from the deceased Iron Lady.
With a poise reminiscent of the elder Thatcher, Amanda Thatcher, Margaret's granddaughter, delivered a reading from Ephesians that has the British media agog. Amanda, who lives with her mother in Texas, chose a rather militant passage that calls on believers to "put on the whole armour of God." But the reading was a good one, delivered with remarkable grace by a young woman suddenly thrust into the international spotlight. In a tweet that nicely summarized the breathless British media reaction, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland couldn't help but speculate "whether somewhere a Texas Republican operative is watching Amanda Thatcher thinking 'Wonder if she has political ambitions...'"
Here's the clip:
So who is Amanda Thatcher, and how did Maggie Thatcher's granddaughter end up in Texas of all places? Amanda is the daughter of Mark Thatcher and the Texas heiress Diane Burgdorf, who underwent an ugly, highly public divorce from Mark (Diane went so far as to detail her ex-husband's history of infidelity in a broadside published in a British paper). When Amanda's father became embroiled in an acrimonious business dispute, Diane agreed to move her family to South Africa. But after Mark was arrested in 2004 over his alleged involvement in a coup in Equatorial Guinea, the marriage finally dissolved. Amanda now lives in Texas with her mother, stepfather, and brother Michael. She is reportedly deeply religious, has carried out missionary work in China, and attends the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Voted "most likely to change the world" by her high school classmates, Amanda was a favorite of the Iron Lady. The former British prime minister reportedly kept a portrait of her two grandchildren on a mantle alongside a picture of Sir Denis, her beloved late husband. Maggie, the daughter of a fervent lay Methodist preacher, approved of Amanda's turn toward evangelical Christianity, and she cherished her relationship with her granddaughter during her ailing later years. As the Guardian notes in its excellent profile of the young Thatchers, Amanda's religiosity lined up nicely with Maggie's hard-nosed political and social conservatism.
Poised, eloquent, the descendant of conservative royalty, evangelical Christian, and Texas-bred: It all seems to add up to a promising political future. She certainly hit it out of the park in her introduction to the world, and isn't it pretty easy to picture a clip of Amanda's speech at her grandmother's funeral playing a role in a future campaign commercial?
The Republican Party could certainly do worse.
An earlier version of this post referred to the Biblical passage from which Amanda Thatcher read as the Epistles. She read from Ephesians, which is one of the Epistles.
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The world of anti-austerians is abuzz (and maybe somewhat gleeful?) this afternoon about news that a paper by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- the paper for those policymakers looking for serious academic work to back up their proposals for debt-slashing cutbacks -- has some serious issues (Josh Keating summarizes those problems on his War of Ideas blog here)
Why is this causing such a stir? One of the conclusions of the paper is that when countries hit a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent, they reach a tipping point after which they'll start experiencing serious growth slowdowns. It's a conclusion that many have found either important or useful, depending on your level of cynicism.
Take a look at some of the ways Reinhart and Rogoff -- and their conclusions -- have been marshaled in the austerity vs. Keynesianism debate that has dominated much of the post-financial crisis discussion about fiscal policy:
This House Budget Committee response to President Obama's budget proposal from just a few days ago cites R&R by name before going on:
Instead of taking steps to reduce the excessive burden of debt, the President's budget, even if fully implemented, never reduces gross federal debt below the important 90 percent threshold.
Olli Rehn, European Commission vice president on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro (and noted austerity champion) pulls out the R&R 90-percent rule in this February call for continued "fiscal consolidation":
It is widely acknowledged, based on serious academic research, that when public debt levels rise above 90% they tend to have a negative impact on economic dynamism, which translates into low growth for many years.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), in this excerpt from his book, rhapsodizes about a briefing Reinhart and Rogoff gave before a group of forty senators:
"Reinhart echoed Conrad's point and explained that countries rarely pass the 90 percent debt-to-GDP tipping point precisely because it is dangerous to let that much debt accumulate. She said, "If it was not risky to hit the 90 percent threshold, we would expect a higher incidence."
"Thank you for your depressing presentation," Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in closing, to self-conscious laughter around the room."
These are just a few examples that turned up from a quick search in English -- who knows what a search in Italian, Greek, or German would yield.
On Wednesday we received the bizarre news that Russian President Vladimir Putin's name had mistakenly ended up on a secret criminal blacklist compiled by Finnish police. Those placed on the list face automatic detainment at the Finnish border and up to six months in prison.
Flustered Finnish law enforcement officials have been quick to apologize and remove Putin's name from the register. But what's more interesting is how Putin's name ended up alongside bosses of organized crime in the first place.
Apparently, this debacle is all thanks to Putin's ties to the Nochnye Volki, or Night Wolves -- a biker gang in Moscow that he is known to ride with on occasion (see video above). Though a biker gang and Vladmir Putin might seem like good fit, his relationship with this particular gang is more than a little ironic. Founded in the 1980s to defend rock musicians' right to perform uncensored "anti-Soviet" concerts, the Night Wolves claim to fight for freedom and reject the law. Yet Vladimir Putin, who called Pussy Riot's protest songs a threat to Russia's moral foundation and threw its members in jail, has chosen this biker gang to ride around with? How does either side justify that partnership?
It's unclear whether the Night Wolves are actually dangerous enough to warrant a place on Finland's blacklist. According to the Guardian, a member of the Wolves was involved in a shootout against a rival gang in November, "allegedly as part of a feud over the Wolves' establishment links." As the Guardian points out, it seems the Putin-Night Wolves relationship hasn't worked out too well for either party.
We may not know much about the man currently plowing full speed ahead toward international nuclear crisis, but one thing we do know for sure is that he is young -- 29 or 30. And this, most news outlets seem to agree, is an important factor in understanding how we wound up where we are today -- and where we may be headed. CNN calls Kim Jong Un "a rash young leader." "Young, reckless, without great political savvy," writes the Christian Science Monitor. The Daily Mail calls the North Korean supreme leader a "boy despot."
It's conventional wisdom that age and experience are calming forces in international relations -- that with a few gray hairs comes the moderation and wisdom to avoid, say, calling other, much larger states, "boiled pumpkin[s]." But one academic study on the question finds the connections between age and political crises to be a little more nuanced. For every brash, brassy Louis XIV -- who, at 29, invaded the Spanish Netherlands in 1667 and was forced to give almost all of it back a year later -- there is a Nikita Khrushchev placing missiles on Cuba in his late 60s.
A 2005 study from the Journal of Conflict Resolution examined the ages of the leaders involved in 100,000 interactions between states from 1875 to 1999, and found that, in fact, the older the leader, the more likely he is to both initiate and escalate conflicts. Having an experienced counterpart on the other side of a dispute didn't seem to help much either. The study found that the risk of escalation -- to use of force, and then to all-out war -- also increases as the age of the leader in the second state goes up.
What's going on? The authors of the study, "Leader Age, Regime Type, and Violent International Relations," speculate that older leaders may have fewer institutional constraints on them, having gained credibility and freedom to act by virtue of their experience:
One example of this is the presidency of George H.W. Bush in comparison to the presidency of Bill Clinton. Bush, as a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an ambassador, and a vice president, had amassed an enormous amount of institutional credibility ... that gave him a greater latitude to direct U.S. military policy.
In addition, the authors reason, the shorter time horizons of aging leaders may prompt them to take greater risks in the hopes of building a legacy.
So does this mean that we should all take a deep breath and relax about North Korea -- that young Kim is exactly who we want in charge in this situation? Not quite. The authors go on to look at how the relationship between age and leadership changes when the data set is reduced to just "personalist regimes" where power is concentrated in the hands of a single leader. Here, they find that the relationship is turned on its head: younger leaders are actually slightly more prone to initiate and escalate crises. Why? The authors hypothesize that young autocrats may face fewer institutional constraints from the get-go.
This is important to note when looking at Kim's behavior, because most North Korea watchers believe North Korea's institutions don't restrain Kim's behavior; if anything, they drive him to be more aggressive, as the only institution whose voice really matters in the Hermit Kingdom is the military (not an uncommon situation in many autocratic regimes -- perhaps suggesting that young despots beholden to the military are just as institutionally constrained as their counterparts in democracies, but pushed toward aggression rather than peaceful behavior).
The authors do close on a somewhat reassuring note -- they encourage further study of the effect having children has on leaders' aggression: "Testosterone concentrations ... [are] lowest in the new father population immediately after their wives" give birth, they write.
Good news for those of us who want peace on the Korean peninsula: Kim Jong Un is rumored to be a new father.
A day after President Obama announced that he will give back five percent of his salary this year in solidarity with federal workers facing furloughs, skimming $20,000 from his $400,000 annual wage, other U.S. political figures are following suit. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry pledged to donate five percent of his salary to charity. Attorney General Eric Holder, meanwhile, was a bit more tepid, offering to give back a portion of his salary if the Department of Justice faces furloughs.
While Obama -- who himself was following in the footsteps of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel -- may be at the forefront of the current trend in the United States, he's hardly the first world leader to stomach a self-imposed pay reduction during tough economic times, and his voluntary cutback is certainly not the most dramatic.
In 2010, for instance, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to trim his earnings by £7,500 (roughly $11,400) when his coalition took over. While this also amounted to about five percent of his salary -- that salary was significantly lower than Obama's at £150,000 (around $230,000). And rather than a one-off pay cut, Cameron's belt-tightening was part of a long-term, government-wide move toward austerity.
Two years later, Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, accepted a 36-percent cut in annual income, which seems pretty drastic until you consider that the reduction still left him earning a comfortable $1.7 million a year. While the Singaporean government has long held the belief that inflated salaries curb corruption and draw talented people to public service, they ultimately caved to pressure from voters and adjusted wages for all of the country's top leaders. Even with the pay cut, however, the prime minister remains the highest-paid elected head of state.
Still, there's no more radical example of personal sacrifice among world leaders than José Mujica, the notoriously low-maintenance president of Uruguay, who donates 90 percent of the roughly $144,000 he earns a year to charity. Mujica shuns the typical presidential perks, living on a farm with his wife and tending the land themselves. Barack and Michelle might not be up for that lifestyle. But as far as symbolic gestures go, it definitely makes the president's five-percent cut look a bit paltry.
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In one of the odder reasons we've come across for stonewalling a politician's bid for office, a voter has formally objected to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahbaz Sharif's candidacy in Pakistan's May 11 elections, citing the absence of his beard. Pakistan's Geo TV reports:
[The voter] claimed that the former chief minister didn't follow Sunnah [teachings of the prophet] and teachings of Islam. The applicant said Mr Shahbaz didn't grew a beard as per Sunnah so his nomination papers be rejected and be disqualified from contesting election.
While beards are prevalent among Muslim politicians, they are certainly not a requirement -- particularly in Pakistan, whose former and current presidents, Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf, both boast clean-shaven jaws. As Sharif tweeted on Thursday, "Never thought beard would be relevant to contesting elections."
The politician, a former chief minister of Punjab, isn't just facing opposition over his facial hair, however. As the Pakistani paper Dawn reported on Thursday, the country's National Accountability Bureau has also objected to the candidacy of Shahbaz and his brother Nawaz (a former prime minister), who "have been accused of accumulating money and assets beyond their declared means of income by misusing authority." Perhaps, then, the main issue is not Shahbaz's lack of a beard, but rather the man behind it.
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The U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Twitter feed disappeared for about an hour today following an online sparring match with a feed operated by the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy over Jon Stewart's impassioned defense of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef. When the embassy's feed returned, a tweet linking to the Daily Show clip had been deleted, and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that embassy officials "came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
There's bad diplomacy, and then there's the Twitter fight that followed this afternoon between the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language Twitter account (@IkhwanWeb) and American radio show host and media personality Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezTV). The improbable feud started when the Muslim Brotherhood tweeted an Al Jazeera report featuring a comment Sanchez made in 2010 that was widely reported as being anti-Semitic and led to his firing from CNN. The Muslim Brotherhood pointed to the incident as an example of the West's "double standards" about free speech:
The Muslim Brotherhood's confusion about the government-ensured rights of an individual vs. the rights of private employees notwithstanding, Sanchez came looking for a fight this afternoon. Armed with a loose understanding of the situation, Sanchez eagerly began trolling @IkhwanWeb.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded, and from there, it was a good, old-fashioned troll fight. @IkhwanWeb was right that Sanchez didn't have his facts straight, but their defense of Egypt's freedom of speech rang a bit hollow given the circumstances:
.@ricksancheztv Mr. Shanchez, we value freedom of speech, it's what Egyptians fought for & no power can take this fundamental right away— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv perhaps u shld get facts first. He wasn't arrested, but questioned and released re complaint brought by pvt citizen, not us— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv absolutely false, we've nothing to do w investigations, it's a fact & if u ve evidence to contrary plz announce to the world— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
Sanchez then declared victory. Several times.
And that's today's installment of how Twitter is making politics weird. Remember, folks: Don't feed the trolls.
Ahead of Pakistan's May 11 general election -- the first time in the country's history that an elected government is expected to (peacefully) hand over power to another elected government -- the British Council has conducted a survey of Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 and 29 -- a demographic that makes up 30 percent of the electorate and will play an important role in the upcoming election.
The May election is expected to test Pakistan's democracy, but the survey results do not bode well for the country's democratic future: Only 29 percent of those surveyed think that democracy is the right political system for Pakistan, while 38 percent favor Islamic sharia law and 32 percent prefer military rule.
A whopping 94 percent of those surveyed think that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
This is a dramatic change from 2007, when 50 percent of young people in the country were similarly bearish. For some context, in the United States last week, 57 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen think that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
This doesn't mean, however, that Pakistani 18- to 29-year-olds are going to throw up their hands in resignation. According to the report, "A substantial majority of the youth still believe that they will have a role in changing the country for the better." The question is, will democracy have a place in that "better future"?
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Iran may have just scored a massive, albeit largely symbolic, victory in its cold war with the United States. And it is a very cold war -- because the battle being waged is over ice cream.
On Monday, the Iranian ice cream company Choopan appeared to unseat Baskin-Robbins as the reigning Guinness World Record holder for the largest tub of ice cream. In celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Choopan made a five-ton batch of chocolate ice cream in a carton more than six feet wide and five feet tall. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand to observe the occasion but have yet to announce whether the Iranian company officially beat Baskin-Robbins's 2005 record of four tons of vanilla.
The Iranian state news outlet PressTV was on hand to record the achievement. "I'm here with my family to see the biggest ice cream in the world in Iran, and Iran is making it, and I think everyone is having fun," one woman told a reporter. "First, I came to this event because it gives me national pride for our achievement, and of course I love ice cream," said another.
When reached for comment, Baskin-Robbins issued a statement to FP saying, "While we understand another company is vying to break this record, we remain focused on serving our guests around the world our delicious variety of ice cream flavors, custom ice cream cakes and frozen treats, and wouldn't rule out trying to break another record in the future."
This is just the latest battle in the long-churning U.S.-Iranian ice cream war, and it was previously fought on the proxy battlefield of Baghdad. In December 2010, as the United States wound down its commitments there while still trying to maintain its influence, Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post that an Iranian ice cream franchise was investing where American companies wouldn't.
[Ice cream parlor co-owner Ali Hazem] Haideri says he did not deliberately site the outlet near the embassy, and indeed seems somewhat anxious about the store's proximity to rockets aimed at Americans.... Yet there's something brazen about the Green Zone location of a franchise whose Web site declares that its goal is "to exalt the name of Iran and reinforce Iranian identity."
With no immediate plans from American companies to try and retake the record, the ice cream war could melt away before it has a chance to morph into a large-scale culinary conflict like the great Lebanese-Israeli hummus war.
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The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
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For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
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For the fourth time in one month, a Bulgarian citizen has self-immolated in an apparent protest against economic hardship and political corruption. The BBC reports:
The man, 52, threw petrol over himself outside the presidential palace in Sofia, police said. Security guards extinguished the flames and he was taken to hospital with severe burns where an official said his life was in danger.
As austerity measures make life increasingly difficult in the beleaguered country, the extreme response from Bulgarians has left the country's leaders reeling, prompting the resignation of a mayor in the city of Varna and, before that, the fall of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's center-right government.
As an act of political resistance, suicide protest is largely associated with Tibetan monks and Dalit women in India. But while the current outbreak of self-immolations in Bulgaria is shocking, it's not exactly surprising. The country has a history of grievance driven self-immolation -- more than many European countries.
According to a literature review of deliberate self-burning (DSB) over a 20-year period, conducted by Medecins Sans Frontiers in 2003, Bulgaria had an average of 7.4 cases per year (between 1983-2002) and a total number of cases that was only surpassed among European countries studied by the Netherlands. The report, which draws a distinction between psychiatric illness and political motivation as a causal factor, notes that Bulgaria had the lowest correlation to mental illness among European countries studied, with only a third of immolations stemming from clinical psychiatric disorders.
Eastern Europe more generally has a history of self-immolation as a form of political resistance, largely in opposition to Soviet rule. In 2011, Foreign Policy's Christian Caryl discussed the most famous case, when the Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire in 1969 and caused "a profound 'moral shock' to the nation that haunted it for decades to come." The recent Bulgarian cases are similarly haunting, proving once again that self-immolation -- while harrowing -- is often an effective way of getting the government's attention.
People across the world are celebrating International Women's Day today as both a reminder of the struggles women face and a celebration of their achievements and progress since the holiday's inception in the early 20th century. In many countries, it's even an official national holiday. But in a few, men are explicitly excluded from participating.
In countries such as China, Madagascar, and Nepal, the holiday is specifically geared toward "women only." In China, for instance, women get a half day off but men have to work. Other less institutionalized examples of male discrimination exist as well. The London borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, once made news by banning all men from its libraries on International Women's Day.
This "positive discrimination" against men raises interesting questions in a world where gender gaps are still so pronounced. Just look at the latest figures for cross-country rankings of women's political representation. Rwanda, is the only country in the world where women outnumber men in parliament, and just by 6.3 percent. The bottom five countries, conversely, have zero female participation, and Yemen, which comes in sixth-to-last, has a mere 0.3 percent. The United States ranks pretty poorly as well, finishing in 77th place with women holding only 17.8 percent of national legislative positions.
Globally, women are behind when it comes to literacy, health, and income, and things are not changing fast enough. According to the World Economic Forum's comprehensive 2012 study, only nine countries have closed health and education gaps, while none have managed to completely eradicate gaps in economic or political participation.
Debates about the best ways to change these numbers often center on methods of "positive discrimination," from legislative quotas to affirmative action programs. But does positive discrimination reinforce problematic gender divides? Or is it necessary in a world where women are still so widely disadvantaged? These questions might be too complicated to tackle in a blog post, but they are certainly worth thinking about. Particularly on International Women's Day.
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After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?
Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog, ashleyjudd.com, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:
Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:
Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?
On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:
I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.
Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.
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Sure, Senator Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was dramatic in the moment. But in the history of filibusters, it's unexceptional. After all, it was the ninth-longest in U.S. Senate history, according to USA Today -- not exactly a glowing achievement in the practice's millenia-long international history.
The etymology of the term stems from a Dutch word for privateers, and it entered the American lexicon via Spanish as rogue American settlers tried to seize land in Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico in the mid-19th century. Locally, they were called filibusteros -- "free-booters" -- and their populist movement was a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S. government. These expansionist efforts fell apart when the Civil War forced Americans to turn inwards, but the word had already gained its modern meaning when, in 1853, a Democratic senator, Abraham Venable, joined the Whig opposition to block a private expedition of settlers looking to seize Cuba. Despite his opposition to the aggressive expansionism, which he feared would "make the United States the brigands of the world," his own colleagues in the Democratic Party turned the word on him for his own roguish action. The term came to be associated with aggressive minority efforts to delay legislation.
Some historians trace the practice back much further in history -- to ancient Rome and civil libertarian patron saint Cato the Younger, who was known to make lengthy speeches past the Roman Senate's deadline to adjourn at dusk, blocking further business for the day.
The filibuster is truly a performance art, so much so that the most recent one before Paul's yesterday, launched on Dec. 10, 2010 by Bernie Sanders, was accompanied by charts and made into a book and an art installation. The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate is held by Strom Thurmond, who spoke (maybe off and on) for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to block civil rights legislation. At the state level, the record is longer: In 1924, a Rhode Island Senate filibuster extended 42 continuous hours over three days and "began with a mass fistfight over control of the gavel and ended when Republican operatives placed a poison-soaked rag behind [Democratic Lieutenant Governor Felix] Toupin to gas him out of the presiding officer's chair," according to Gregory Koger's Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.
Elsewhere, the filibuster (by its modern, American definition) has different names. In the United Kingdom, the practice is known as being "talked out," and it was employed in January 2012 to stymie legislation that would have adjusted daylight savings time. Since British legislation is allotted only a certain amount of time for discussion and voting before being taken off the table, members of parliament can talk until the subject is shuffled back into the stack of pending bills -- in the case of the daylight savings time legislation, the bill was talked out by Scottish and Welsh legislators who wanted more autonomy and the option to opt out of the U.K. time change.
In the United Kingdom, the tactic has also been an occasional recourse for Irish and Scottish representatives seeking to punch above their administrations' weight. But, as in the United States, it has been used to block civil rights efforts as well, including women's suffrage legislation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most dramatic filibuster, though, occurred in April 1963 in the Philippines. With legislators evenly divided between supporters of the Liberal Party incumbent, Diosdado Macapagal, and Nationalist Party up-and-comer Ferdinand Marcos, it came down to the Senate to decide the presidency. The day before the scheduled vote, Marcos visited Liberal Senator Roseller Lim, offering to pay off his home loans in exchange for a swing vote. Lim refused and Marcos, incensed, swore at him and his family before departing.
The next day, the Liberal senators were a man down -- Senator Alejandro Almendras was still en route, returning from a throat operation in the United States. Lim took the podium and spoke for 18 hours and 30 minutes -- he could not sit or eat, and he urinated in his pants at the podium rather than allow the vote to occur without the Liberals' crucial swing vote. Finally, Lim yielded the floor upon hearing that Almendras's fight had landed, and collapsed onto a waiting stretcher after casting his vote.
Unlike so many other filibusters, it's hard to say that Lim's act was one vanity -- but it was in vain. Lim would learn, upon awaking in the hospital, that Almendras has cast his vote for Marcos.
Paul's stand yesterday for a clarification in Obama's targeted killing policy was dramatic at times, but not that dramatic. Hey, there's always next time.
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It was widely reported last week that this year's Aipac conference, which ends tomorrow, will culminate in a mass lobbying effort by attendees to persuade law makers to officially designate Israel a major strategic ally of the United States, a designation that until now has never been awarded.
So does the bill, the "U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act," actually make a new class of alliance for Israel? Is the House about to name Israel a super-best-friend-for-life ally of the United States?
No. They're not.
The bill, which can be accessed online here, simply states that, "Congress declares that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States." Nowhere in the bill does it define or codify this terminology; it doesn't grant special privileges like, say, being the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid or being permitted nuclear weapons without pressure to sign conventions regulating them, both of which are already part of U.S.-Israel policy. It is just a "declaration of policy," much in the way that last year's "U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012" stated:
It is the policy of the United States to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. As President Barack Obama stated on December 16, 2011, "America's commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel's security is unshakeable." And as President George W. Bush stated before the Israeli Knesset on May 15, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, "The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty."
The new legislation, which extends existing legislation on military, cyber, and energy cooperation, does not alter Israel's formal designation as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States (other major non-NATO allies make for some strange bedfellows, including Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). At this point, in other words, there's no need for other U.S. allies to start getting jealous about new official labels -- there aren't any.
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On Monday, the Israeli government launched a new bus service to shuttle Palestinian day laborers from the West Bank town of Qalqiliya to Israeli cities where they are employed. Ynet outlined the reasons behind the two new lines, which have only been advertised to Palestinians in Arabic:
A ministry source said that many complaints expressed concern that the Palestinian passengers may pose a security risk, while other complaints said that the overcrowded buses cause the drivers to skip stations.
The development has caused an uproar both in Israel and internationally, prompting comparisons to apartheid in South Africa and the United States' own checkered transportation history. In an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Aeyal Gross compared the new bus service to the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson, which deemed segregation legal in cases where it is "separate but equal." Striking a similar note, Al Jazeera went with the headline, "Israel launches segregated bus service."
The Israeli Transport Ministry, meanwhile, has defended the move as pragmatic rather than discriminatory -- a way of accommodating the growing number of Palestinians who are receiving permission to work in Israel.
Lofty analysis aside, surprisingly little attention has been paid to how the change is actually playing out on the ground. The Palestinian newspaper al-Quds described the first day of the new bus service as stressful and chaotic, with too few buses to accommodate the many Palestinian laborers trying to get across the border. Palestinians who gave up on trying to board the overcrowded buses and instead chose to cross the border on foot were refused entry.
Still, like their Israeli counterparts, Palestinians primarily voiced pragmatic rather than moral concerns about the new service. One man told al-Quds that the new lines mean he has to wake up two hours earlier and get home later each day. Another lamented that he doesn't understand "why [the Israelis] had to go and make this headache." Haaretz also reported from the scene:
One man working on the Meier-on-Rothschild luxury tower asked why the Tel Aviv bus stopped at the northern train station and did not continue on to the Central Bus Station. A group of workers looking to get to Herzliya asked why the Ra'anana-Kfar Sava line wasn't extended to Herzliya. Many wondered about the buses' return times.
As far as we can tell, there was no mention of Plessy vs. Ferguson.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Earlier this week, we reported on the controversy in Tunisia and Egypt over some "Harlem Shake" videos, which have provoked arrests and an investigation by the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and the follow-up Harlem Shake protests Egyptians and Tunisians were planning.
Well, they happened.
The video above is from Cairo, outside the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another protest took place outside the Ministry of Education in Tunis, though rain deterred some dancers.
The videos are spreading (here's one from another school, Tunisia's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology), as is the backlash. Salafist groups have tried to intimidate students making Harlem Shake videos, and, at one school, a protest broke out that was dispersed by police with tear gas.
The videos are clearly becoming more political. In the video from Egypt, for example, a protester is wearing a large fake beard to mock conservative critics. And in the videos from Tunisia there are a number of protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes and gas masks that were popular during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Unlike so many other flash-in-the-pan memes, the Harlem Shake might be around for a while -- especially if politicians in Egypt and Tunisia keep trying to get rid of it.
Economic arguments have a particular resonance during periods of sluggish growth, and that logic even seems to extend these days to the hot-button issue of abortion. In Switzerland, a new, very literally named initiative --"Protect life to remedy the loss of billions" - is calling for a referendum to ban abortion in the country for economic reasons. The initiative committe is led by politician Heinz Hürzeler, a member of the country's Social Liberal Movement, and maintains that in Switzerland, where 12 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, the practice represents a huge blow to the economy (comparatively speaking, Switzerland has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, with only 6.4 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44). As AFP reports:
It calculates that if the more than 100,000 foetuses aborted in Switzerland over the past decade had been born, grown up and worked for 45 years, they would have contributed nearly 334 billion Swiss francs ($359 billion, 274 billion euros) to the country's GDP.
And, as consumers, the same 100,000 people would over 80 years pump more than 324 billion francs into the country's economy, it says.
Economic arguments abound in favor of abortion (and contraception more generally), and they tend to focus on the burden and welfare demands posed by unsupported children on both the individual and societal levels. Freakonomics has even weighed in on the debate, linking abortion to decreased crime rates in places like Romania, Canada, and Australia.
Perhaps less well known are the economic arguments for banning the practice. Like the Swiss initiative, these tend to rely on what pro-life author Larry Burkett has called "the George Bailey Affect" after the main character in It's a Wonderful Life: How the world would look, if, for each abortion, we substituted a consumer child who would grow up to become a productive member of society.
As for the campaign in Switzerland, the initiative has until August 2014 to garner 100,000 signatures, at which point the abortion ban will be put to a national referendum. Abortion was only decriminalized in Switzerland in 2002, also by national referendum.
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