It was a year ago yesterday that Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was formally made president of Yemen in a national referendum. He succeeded the three-decade rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who finally yielded to international pressure to step down amid a popular uprising, and Hadi's accession was meant to usher in a two-year transition to a more representative government. Yemeni politicians and U.N. officials have spent much of the past year organizing a National Dialogue, including representatives of many of the country's overlapping and competing factions, divided along tribal, political, and religious lines, to discuss constitutional reforms and, possibly, a more decentralized government.
But yesterday, three representatives from the country's restive south withdrew from the National Dialogue committee in protest of continued suppression of the "Hirak," or Southern Movement, which has called for stronger representation for Yemen's south or secession. Protesters in Aden -- which until 1991 was the capital of an independent South Yemeni state -- gathered to protest Hadi's reluctance to address southern grievances. They were met with gunfire from the military, which positioned soldiers on rooftops overlooking the protest (recalling the carnage caused by rooftop snipers just less than two years ago in one of the uprisings catalyzing moments); at least four protesters died (maybe eight now) and 40 more were wounded. On the anniversary of the referendum, Yemen's halfway revolution appears as stalled now as ever before.
The delays to the National Dialogue were expected -- six months before Saleh stepped down, when the transition plan was still a proposal, Chatham House fellow Ginny Hill said,
I see hurdles at every stage. I think it's going to be a contested process, but it's going to be a contested process that Yemen needs to go through. And I think it will be good if it's contested, because in that process -- if it can be contained within a genuinely political space, if it doesn't turn into a violent process -- the scope for forging more legitimate political structures potentially lies in this process.
The transition was always going to be messy, but it is increasingly returning to a state of affairs last seen during the uprising's tensest moments in 2011, a race to find an inclusive agreement before the country unravels.
And it is unraveling. Last week, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution singling out Saleh and his long-exiled southern rival, Ali Salem al-Beidh, as spoilers in the peace process. Last month, a large weapons shipment, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, was intercepted en route to Yemen, possibly from Iran; previous to the captured shipment, rumors of other shipments to insurgents had persisted for months. As news came out of Aden, Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge, tweeted:
You really had to have your head in the sand to miss what is starting to kick off in #Yemen - pretty sad.— GregorydJohnsen (@gregorydjohnsen) February 20, 2013
In the worst days of the popular uprising, secessionist tribal groups carrying the old South Yemeni flag seized a military base in the southern province of Yafai, prompting retaliatory airstrikes. If southern politicians refuse to participate and the National Dialogue collapses, this could well occur again on a much larger scale. Will Picard, head of the Yemen Peace Project, wrote last night about the potential for a renewal of Yemen's 1994 civil war. "More violence is certain," he concluded. "Little else is."
Israelis are in an uproar over the recent news that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spends a whopping $2,700 per year of public funds on ice cream. The story dominated Israeli headlines over the weekend, causing outrage in a country that has faced large-scale unrest over soaring food prices and cuts in government spending. Particularly controversial was the lack of transparency surrounding the ice cream dealings:
Originally this expenditure wasn't included in the Netanyahu family's maintenance budget, but his aides managed to bypass the bureaucratic procedures - transferring one budget item to another normally requires a tender - and get the go-ahead to buy his favorite ice cream flavors from a neighborhood ice cream parlor.
Netanyahu tried to spin his penchant for ice cream -- pistachio in particular-- as being for official entertainment purposes, but the Israeli press isn't buying it. Uzi Benziman, in an editorial for Haaretz, offers a few pointed questions against the prime minister. If the ice cream really serves diplomatic purposes, why should Bibi backtrack now? Also, how could the PM possibly know his guests would prefer pistachio?
...if Netanyahu not only knows who'll be visiting him in the coming year, but also that their favorite flavors also happen to be vanilla sorbet and pistachio, then what do we need the Shin Bet and the Mossad for?
So what does the prime minister's love of pistachio say about him? One not-so-scientific look at ice cream flavor as personality test, describes pistachio people:
You are a highly individualistic and straight-to-the-point person. No one should mess with you. ...You seek to distinguish yourself from everyone else and take pride in being distinctive and exclusive. You are usually both smart and good-looking and are loved by many, even if you don't know it. However, you can be quite intolerant of certain things in life and you do not like change. You are a diligent planner and seek comfort in the routine things. Perhaps you should loosen up a little and do something spontaneous and totally unplanned - you might surprise yourself!
Ideal Partner: You get along well with banana and vanilla fans
URIEL SINAI/AFP/Getty Images
Wow, what an awfully long day! What a roller coaster of emotion!
Kevin Baron has the full rundown. There were spats between friends -- though it seems like if John McCain and Chuck Hagel are still on speaking terms, they'll be frenemies from here on out. There were flubs -- a frequently flustered Hagel fumbling on Iran (specifically the issue of containment), senators with gotcha questions (Sen. Lindsey Graham at one point even interrupted to point out to Hagel, "I gotcha!"), and pandering all around. All in all it was the most dramatic piece of Washington theater since...well, inauguration was only two weeks ago.
It remains to be seen what effect Hagel's performance will have on his confirmation prospects. Josh Rogin reports that today's hearing has lost Hagel votes, but it seems doubtful that support will crater completely. But that's for another day.
For now, we pause to take one last look...at the looks of Chuck Hagel. We feel you, Chuck. It was ups and downs all day.
And if you think this post is an excuse for this .gif we made, it is.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
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In light of the recent brutal gang rape on Dec. 16, which led to the death of a 23-year-old medical student in India, there have been substantial criticisms of the government for not doing enough to protect women. Protestors say they will continue till they are satisfied that real action is being taken.
But in demanding action, the protesters should keep in mind the people who they're appealing to. According to a recent report, a shockingly high number of members of India's national parliament (MPs) and members of state-level legislative assemblies (MLAs) have actually been accused themselves of crimes against women, including rape.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (an affiliate of the Indian Institute of Management) compiled the report, using the affidavits filed by candidates as part of their nomination papers that are submitted to India's Electoral Commission. In other words, this was all public information at the time these members were elected.
According to the report, in the past five years:
These were hardly the only crimes listed in the report. Other included: assault, murder (one man had 8 charges of attempted murder), defiling a place of worship, promoting enmity between different groups, rioting and dacoity (banditry). Many of these crimes also included violence against women.
The Association for Democratic Reforms has advocated that "cases against MPs and MLAs should be fast tracked and decided upon in a time based manner." This presumably would be similar to the recently inaugurated fast track rape courts created to deter tragic incidents like Dec. 16. Though, in typical fashion, police were late to submit evidence on time (something about difficulty in using a thumb drive).
But with so many accused rapists in government, it's little wonder that it has taken so long for rape to be taken seriously as a problem.
Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages
He's performed with Madonna, has been on the Today show, and is scheduled to perform at a "Christmas in Washington" concert this weekend that President Obama plans to attend with his family.
But now South Korean rapper Psy -- chubby, goofy Psy, who horse-danced his way into so many American hearts this past year -- is now being dogged by some surprisingly vitriolic anti-U.S. comments from his past.
In 2004, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, took part in a live performance of Korean band N.E.X.T.'s song "Dear American" in which he rapped:
Kill those f****** Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f****** Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughter-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
The rap came two years after PSY had participated in a protest concert against the presence of 37,000 troops in South Korea. During the concert, Psy lifted a miniature American tank above his head and smashed it on stage, to cheers from the audience.
As many have noted, it's important to remember the context here: the protest concert came shortly after two middle school girls in Korea were killed after they were struck by an armored vehicle operated by U.S. soldiers (the soldiers were later acquitted of charges related to their deaths). And the 2004 rap came in the wake of the beheading death of a Korean missionary in Iraq, after South Korea rejected the kidnappers' demands that it withdraw its troops.
Korea is an American ally, but has long been ambivalent about the presence of U.S. troops on its soil; many have also questioned the presence of South Korean troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Psy -- whose Gangnam Style video passed Justin Bieber's "Baby" last month to become the most-viewed video ever on Youtube -- has yet to comment.
Update -- Psy has responded in a statement: "As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I was featured in - eight years ago - was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I'm grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I've learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I'm deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words."
"I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months - including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them- and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it's important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology."
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Monday morning on Fares-Maathodaa island after failing to show up for two trials within a week. Nasheed defied a court order to remain on the capital island of Male and left on Oct. 1 to campaign for the upcoming 2013 elections. In light of these events, the court awarded police the power of arrest to produce Nasheed for his trial on October 9.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP,) is particularly concerned given the controversy surrounding his resignation as president. In February, Nasheed stepped down -- he says he was ousted -- following a violent protest by supporters of the former authoritarian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following his order to arrest a High Court judge for corruption. Nasheed is currently being tried for abuse of power for this arrest order.
There is some dispute about the level of force used in arresting Nasheed. According to a MDP statement "at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody." They also claimed that the masked police stormed the house, spewing obscenities and that former ministers also in the residence were pepper-sprayed and violently dragged out. The party has been tweeting and posting photos of the damage done to the house during the arrest.
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan's spokesman agrees on the count that police were dressed in riot gear for protection, but claims that they did not use force, expletives, or pepper spray. He asserted that Nasheed was not dragged out and was not even handcuffed.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo is urging all sides to remain calm but also denies that it has had a hand in the arrest of Nasheed following allegations on Twitter that U.S. trained troops were responsible for the crackdown on opposition activists. If found guilty in Tuesday's trial, the former president could be jailed for up to three years, banished to one of the remote islands and fined to an amount not exceeding MVR2,000. This would disqualify him from running for president.
Photo by Haveeru
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
With general elections potentially on the horizon, a new party has burst onto the Israeli political scene. On Wednesday, the Pirates party, which according to Haaretz "champions ‘the freedom to copy' and ‘the pirating sector,'" applied for recognition as an official political party. Despite its name, the group, led by former Green Leaf party member Ohad Shem-Tov, does not belong to the Pirate Parties International (PPI) movement, which already has an established Israeli chapter. Though the party refuses to speak to non-pirate media, its goals apparently "range from the radical to the delirious," including "the freedom to divide and copy" and social justice.
Shem-Tov is best known for forming the Green Leaf Graduates party before the 2009 following his expulsion from the original Green Leaf party, which campaigns to decriminalize marijuana. During the general elections that year, the Green Leaf Graduates forged an unlikely alliance with the Holocaust Survivors Party, running advertisements espousing a hybrid pro-cannabis, pro-survivors benefits platform.
The Pirate creed is not new to the region. In 2011, PPI member Slim Amamou joined the new Tunisian cabinet as State Secretary of Youth and Sports. PPI also made significant inroads in May, when it won 8 percent of votes in Schleswig-Holstein during German general elections, in addition to 8.9 percent in Berlin and 7.4 percent in Saarland. Israel's Pirate party stands somewhat of a chance, since the election threshold for the Knesset is just 2 percent, but whether it asks the Jewish state to recognize the Church of Kopimism is more of a gamble.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's grand political masterstroke has officially failed. Kadima chairman and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz announced during a closed-door faction meeting Tuesday night that his party is quitting the prime minister's coalition because it refuses to compromise with right-wing parties on the revision of the unconstitutional Tal Law, which exempted ultra-Orthodox Israelis from mandatory military service. Netanyahu's most recent compromise offer allowed for 50 percent of ultra-Orthodox between the ages of 18 and 23 to be drafted by the Israel Defense Forces, and another 50 percent between the ages of 23 and 26 to be drafted into national service. Mofaz rejected the offer on the grounds that it "violates" the "principle of equal sharing of the burden of military service."
Mofaz's decision comes two weeks before the Aug. 1 deadline for a new law to be passed and just 70 days after Kadima joined the surprise government coalition. Kadima Members of Knesset have been demanding that their party leave the coalition for several weeks, and the faction, which holds 28 out of 120 Knesset seats, is expected to split.
When U.S. President John F. Kennedy turned 45, Marilyn Monroe performed her infamous rendition of "happy birthday" in Madison Square Garden. When Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 58, he received an erotic calendar from young journalists in Moscow. But when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned 62 yesterday, he received...well, a fake Belarusian visa and a book on the "Basics of Ukrainophobia:" gifts from angry activists to ridicule his Belarusian roots and party's most recent legislation.
No doubt, his celebration's been a little less sultry and lot more politically heated. Widespread discontent over the recent "language bill," passed last Monday, July 3, has fueled protests throughout Ukraine and exaggerated tensions between Ukraine's Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West. Approved by 248 of the 364 legislators present for the vote, the bill officially recognizes "regional" languages where they're spoken by at least ten percent of the population and permits their official use of in legal discourse, business, and education.
Yanukovych, who grew up in the Russian speaking Donetsk Oblast and represents the pro-Russian Part of the Regions, pledged to make Russian a second official language during his campaign, but the vote was still a shock for many Ukrainians. In response to what's been deemed "a lightning vote," the speaker of Ukraine's parliament and leader of the opposition People's Party -- Volodymyr Lytvyn - resigned. Rather than accept the resignation of its leader, parliament voted Friday to adjourn for the summer and delay discussion of the bill.
Citing article Article 10 of the Ukrainian constitution which requires that the state "ensure comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout the entire territory of Ukraine," critics charge that the bill is a blatant attempt to undermine Ukraine's language and sovereignty in favor of Russia - an all too familiar criticism for Yanukovych who's been ridiculed as the Kremlin's pawn in the past.
While the jury's still out on the future of the bill, it seems like Yanukovych may need to work on his birthday plans. Last year, he simply asked for "hard workers."
Russia and Israel may disagree on Iran's nuclear program, but President Vladimir Putin and his entourage of about 400 officials and businessmen were warmly welcomed by Israeli officials during the Russian leader's first visit to the country in seven years. Upon arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Putin was "greeted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an IDF honor parade." Later that day, he attended an inauguration ceremony in Netanya for a memorial to the Soviet Red Army soldiers killed in World War II, along with Lieberman, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Speaking at the ceremony, Putin invoked Russia as both war and peacemaker:
"Russia who so greatly helped win the war is the same Russia that can help peace in the Middle East."
Putin's agenda also included a stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but his 24-hour tour made plenty of time for discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and other Israeli officials about regional issues -- namely Iran and Syria. According to the New York Times, Netanyahu said during a joint news conference that he and Putin "agreed that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran ‘presents a grave danger first of all to Israel, and to the region and the world as a whole.'"
Israeli officials, however, are not optimistic that their concerns will have any impact on Russian policy:
"Let's not exaggerate. It is a very brief visit," said a senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for reasons of diplomacy. He added, "Do not expect any major breakthrough."
According to Haaretz, Peres did not have much success with Putin at the state dinner that evening:
"President Shimon Peres pressed Putin further, asking that he ‘raise his voice' against a nuclear Iran. Putin responded by saying that Russia has a ‘national interest' to secure peace and quiet in Israel but did not elaborate further."
Despite the fact that talks about Iran were more process than substance, Tel Aviv University Russia specialist Boris Morozof notes that Israel and Russia do have "points of common interest," such as military technology, counterterrorism, and Israel's vast natural gas fields.
On Tuesday, Putin traveled to the West Bank, where he "inaugurated a Russian cultural and language center in Bethlehem" and toured the Church of Nativity. He also told President Mahmoud Abbas that Russia "has no problem recognizing a Palestinian state," called his Palestinian counterpart's position on negotiations with Israel "responsible," and referenced Israeli unilateral actions as "not constructive."
Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet, a diplomatic body charged with mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whose members also include the U.S., the U.N., and the EU. The Quartet has made little progress since its inception in 2002, but Abbas reportedly "called for an international peace conference to take place in Moscow."
Jim Hollander - Pool / Getty Images
If you think running for office in the United States is rigorous, then you haven't met Hungary's far-right Jobbik party. After the April 2010 legislative elections that handed the extremist group 47 seats in the national assembly -- and before local elections that fall -- an unnamed Jobbik MP made a special effort to gain the upper hand by undergoing genetic testing "to ensure he did not have a Roma or Jewish ethnic background." The lab results were published by a Hungarian far-right website in May. According to the report from medical diagnostic company Nagy Gen, the MP, whose name was blacked out, has "No genetic trace of Jewish or Roma ancestors."
The company, which faces a criminal investigation for violating the country's Law on Genetics, "examined 18 positions in the MP's genome" for supposedly Jewish and Roma variants, but Joerg Schmidtke, president of the European Society of Human Genetics, criticized the company:
"This is a gross distortion of the values of genetic testing.... In addition, the test proves nothing; it is impossible to deduce someone's origins from testing so few places of the genome."
Jobbik is the third-largest party in Hungary's parliament, and is known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Roma platform. European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor found the racial purity test a cause for immediate concern:
"This test demonstrates a very troubling escalation by the Jobbik party ... into a genetic and racial ideology that appears to be a short step below a fully-fledged Nazi worldview."
The icing on the cake, though, is the fact that three-time Olympic water polo champion Tibor Benedek, a member of a prominent Jewish family, held a minority financial stake in the Nagy Gen, but he pulled out immediately after the report was published.
It's good to know that racial purity is making a comeback, but if the testing was truly unprofessional, it's entirely possible we may have another Vladimir Zhinirovsky on our hands.
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Libya will face a laundry list of challenges following its national elections, originally set for June 19, which were postponed to July 7. They key issue, said American-Libyan Council president Fadel Lamen at a panel discussion hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy on Tuesday, is a lack of central power:
"One of the most important things about Libya is that the revolution started at a very local level, and that is the root of how we should look at the country. The country, no matter how many layers there are at the top level, is still run by local elections."
Though Lamen emphasized the importance of a partnership between the central and local levels, it is unclear whether local militias, which have been responsible for a number of recent attacks, will cooperated. As Manal Omar, director of the Iraq, Iran, and North Africa program at the United States Institute for Peace, explained:
"Even as institutions do begin to grow over the next year, these groups have tasted power. They're going to have little incentive -- even once they are reassured -- to give it up."
Omar added that she anticipates the civil society sector will experience a post-election contraction:
"A lot of institutions that we've seen may actually dissolve because their heads are going to become government leaders."
While it is guaranteed that issues such as arms and economics will dominate Libya's post-election conversation, POMED director Stephen McInerney said the atmosphere surrounding the elections themselves is one of general and genuine confusion, citing a lack of reliable public opinion polling, single non-transferrable voting, and unorganized political parties unaware of campaigning rules.
"In terms of the political process, there's a lot of confusion regarding the electoral system."
Legislative elections in Egypt and Tunisia may have produced a Muslim Brotherhood majority, and it's clear that Libya is headed in the same direction, but hopefully the poster child for armed resistance will come out of elections with an effective government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.
Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.
Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians depends on coordinated unilateral actions, not negotiations, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon explained during a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on Thursday. Ayalon, who also served as a member of Knesset for the Labor Party, said that "the idea of negotiations does not exist anymore."
Ayalon presented his own plan for a two-state solution, authored by Blue White Future, a non-partisan political movement he founded. The plan, based on the Clinton Parameters, first calls for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines and a territorial swap, should the Palestinians decide to come to the table. Second, it insists on the security fence as a provisional line and states that annexing the eastern side of the fence is not in Israel's interest. Third, the plan calls for the Knesset to pass a law enabling those settlers living on the eastern side of the fence to return to the western side, should they wish to do so. Fourth, it states that the Knesset should create a strategic plan to bring back all 100,00 settlers so as not to repeat the mistakes of the Gaza Strip pullout. Fifth, it demands that the Israeli Defense Forces remain on the eastern side of the fence to prevent any security risks. Finally, the plan requires that the Knesset pass a law that any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians be put to a national referendum.
Robert Malley, who served as special assistant to President Clinton on Arab-Israeli Affairs, agreed that the concept of unilateralism is profound, compared to prospects for future negotiations, particularly the plan of the Quartet:
"I can't remember the last conversation I've had with a an official member from the Quartet ... who genuinely believed what they were mouthing everyday.... They don't believe it and the argument that they give for maintaining the fiction is that if you discard the fiction then you're going to leave people in a state of hopelessness and create a vacuum that bad things will fill."
Wilson Center fellow and Foreign Policy columnist Aaron David Miller, who moderated the panel, cautiously praised the plan:
"What Ami is offering is logical, it's credible. I like it because it's unanchored and unmoored to an American role in this negotiation right now or for the foreseeable future, and I also like it because it's self-directed.... Whether it will work or not is another matter."
Ayalon, meanwhile, is also putting his faith in the Israeli government:
" We understand for the time ... he cannot blame his coalition today. His coalition.... I know that in this Kensset and in this coalition, this program, this paradigm, is acceptable."
Netanyahu may have just assembled a coalition of 94 out of 120 Knesset members, a considerable mandate, but there's no guarantee that the coalition will stay intact. If history has anything to say about Israeli unity governments, nothing is ever for certain.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Though the powerful and prominent Islamist Ennahda
party has sent mixed
messages about its attitude toward Tunisia's 1,500-strong Jewish population,
President Moncef Marzouki's government
has made an extraordinary effort this year
to promote the Hiloula,
an annual pilgrimage to El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba that
commemorates the death of second-century rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the father of the
Kabbalah tradition. The two-day event was canceled last year for security
reasons due to the popular uprisings that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but
it remains "the
barometer of expectations for the coming tourist season," according to the Guardian.
"So far, no more than two hundred Jewish pilgrims have joined the Hiloula.... According to our reporter in El Ghriba, police and journalists outnumbered the pilgrims, mainly Jewish Tunisians, who attended the event."
The Tunisian government has deployed a large security force to the area surrounding the synagogue, the oldest in Africa. Ten years ago, al Qaeda militants bombed the synagogue, killing 21 and wounding 30. Marzouki visited El Ghriba in April for a memorial ceremony, during which he declared that violence against Tunisian Jews was "unacceptable." Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali also voiced his commitment to a tolerant Tunisia:
"Tunisia is an open and tolerant society, we will be proud to have Jewish pilgrims visit El Ghriba as they have in the past."
The government of Israel, on the other hand, apparently sees things differently. The Israeli Prime Minister's Office issued a travel warning earlier this month advising Israelis to avoid Djerba, citing a "specific-high rating" terror threat to Jews and Israelis. Hiloula may end today, but whether Marzouki can convince the rest of the country to practice what he preaches remains uncertain.
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."
It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."
Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deepwater field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."
With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has just finished a two-day state visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The trip signifies growing ties between the two Black Sea states regarding joint energy and export projects. And as a token of this political rapprochement, Borisov was presented with honorary Georgian citizenship and a symbolic gesture of a Georgian passport.
But receiving Georgian citizenship isn't so easy for everybody. In October 2011, the government revoked the citizenship of billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, just days after he publically announced his plans to create a new political party for the October 2012 parliamentary elections. (Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004, but, according to the government, it was revoked due to his acquisition of French citizenship afterwards.) Citizenship is required in order to run for public office and create a political party. Since then, he and President Mikheil Saakashvili have been locked in an on-going feud over legitimacy. Members of Saakashavili's United National Movement have associated Ivanishvili (who made his fortune in Russia) as having close ties to the Kremlin.
In a Washington Post op-ed published on January 30, 2012, Ivanishvili referred to the government and its encroachment as having "a super-centralized, almost neo-Bolshevik style of governance." Throughout March 2012, the government has also been accused of intimidation against members of Ivanishvili's political group, "Georgian Dream," during a political financing investigation.
Ivanishvili challenged the loss of his citizenship in court, but the case was defeated in December 2011. He applied to reinstate his citizenship on January 5, 2012, and according to law, the authorities must respond within 3 months. The deadline expiring this week on Thursday, it's only a matter of time until we learn what's next in this Georgian (political) drama.
In the meantime, Ivanishvili (and the rest of us) might be forgiven for wondering what allows the prime minister of Bulgaria to fast-track through the citizenship process.
UPDATE: A letter from the Georgian Ambassador to the United States, Temuri Yakobashvili, has requested a correction in this story. The letter clarifies that Borisov "was handed a Georgian passport as a symbolic gesture while visiting one of our new Justice Halls. He was not granted Georgian citizenship."
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
The theme at this year's J Street conference was "Making History," and that's exactly what happened on Monday evening when Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission at Israel's Washington embassy, became "the first Israeli diplomat to attend a conference of the liberal pro-Israel group since its establishment in 2008."
Binah, who confessed in the beginning of his address that he has only held this post for two months, also revealed that it was his his first public appearance in the United States. Perhaps it was his condescending tone, or maybe it was just the fact that he spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is wildly unpopular among J Street's constituency, but the Washington newcomer's speech was less than well-received. He began with a very Netanyahu-esque reminder that the past (read: the Holocaust) is "alive and scorching."
The unpopular message continued as Binah accused the audience of not standing with the Israelis:
"We share your democratic values, but...our borders are curved and dusty and made of missiles and mayhem, and as we continue to face incurable threats we have to make decisions of life and death...At the end of the day it is we the Israelis who must bear the ultimate burden and may have to pay the ultimate price...We need you to stand with us. It is as simple as that and someone ought to say it. Internal activism is a central part of democratic society, but pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a problem, davka when we need you the most."
Davka is a notoriously untranslatable Hebrew word that in this sense means "especially."
He also applauded J Street for its "repudiation" of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), noting that "our shared view in that respect is that BDS is not a form of criticism, but a blatant...attack."
No Israeli diplomatic presence would be complete without a reference to Iran, and Binah repeated the popular line that "while we seek and support peace, the ayatollah's of Iran call for our annihilation." Convincing a room full of peaceniks that the Palestinians should be blamed for thwarting negotiations was also a tough sell:
"We're willing to put contentious issues on the table, but we find that the metaphorical table was...blown up."
His talk exploding tables and rabid Ayatollahs was somewhat grim, but at least he threw in a Harry Potter reference, saying "This is not a game of political quidditch."
Despite the audible booing and hissing throughout, Binah told me after he spoke that he thought the speech was well-received, and that the embassy sent him there because of the "ripeness of time."
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (fending off corruption charges back home) had a message more the crowd's liking, discussing the peace plan he presented to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas:
"I thought then and I think now that there is no alternative to what I proposed and one day...when we celebrate peace with the Palestinians, this peace will be identical to what I proposed to Abu Mazen finally and formally and officially on September 16, 2008."
The Olmert peace plan, to which Abbas did not respond, called for a two-state solution whose borders are based on the 1967 pre-Six Day War lines.
Olmert ended his keynote speech with the adamant affirmation that Kadima, the centrist Israeli political party he helped create in 2005, is the best alternative to Israel's political status quo. Unfortunately for Olmert, the heated race for the Kadima premiership between current chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Member of Knesset Shaul Mofaz has become just as divisive as the America's Republican candidate tug-of-war.
Between a Netanyahu talking head and an embattled politician who continues to advocate for a peace plan past its prime, the evening was a bizarre and disconnected affair that seemed to reinforce the frustrated and pessimistic mood at this year's conference.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
The protestors of London's "Occupy" chapter have chosen to camp out in the forecourt of St. Paul's cathedral. The site of the tent city was originally to be further down the road at the home of the London Stock Exchange and rightful equivalent to Wall Street, but Paternoster Square is privately owned property and, right now, it's heavily guarded. But the cathedral locale has become a flashpoint of a larger, unexpected controversy: a schism in the Anglican Church.
A lawsuit has been filed by the City of London Corporation (CLC) to evict the protestors on the grounds that they are blocking traffic. While the demonstrators aren't actually occupying the streets or, more specifically, the highways which are the jurisdiction of the CLC's Planning and Transportation Committee responsible for the suit, committee member Michael Wellbank explained that "encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others."
In fact, the iconic St. Paul's Cathedral closed its doors to worshippers and tourists last week due to safety concerns for the first time since WWII and joined the CLC's lawsuit last Friday. But since the court action could lead to the forceful removal of protesters, and ultimately violence, the cathedral proceeds without three of its clergymen who have already resigned in protest. One of them, Canon Chancellor Giles Frase, explained his decision to the Guardian:
St. Paul was a tentmaker. If you looked around and you tried to recreate where Jesus would be born -- for me, I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp. It is not about my sympathies or what I believe about the camp. I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated. But our legal advice was that this would have implied consent. The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence.
Church leaders seem divided between general sympathy for the protesters' goals, and a desire to have them advocate those goals somewhere else. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the controversy for the first time today, saying, "The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St. Paul's remain very much on the table and we need -- as a Church and as society as a whole -- to work to make sure that they are properly addressed."
Meanwhile, the bishop of London, Rev. Richard Chartres, was called a hypocrite by angry protestors as he tried to walk a fine line with his remarks supporting both their causes and their peacefully disbanding. On Sunday, he told the crowd, "You have a notice saying, ‘What would Jesus do? That is a question for me as well."
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
Europeans know a thing or two about down-to-the-wire debt deals, but with time running out in Washington to reach an agreement before a catastrophic default that could have devastating spillover effects around the globe, European leaders are sweating. On Tuesday, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and former finance minister of France, warned the United States that the issue needed to be "resolved immediately." Today, she told the PBS NewsHour that there would be dire consequences for the world economy if there wasn't resolution.
There's quite a lot of concern out there. The global economy is clearly highly dependent on the U.S. economy, because the U.S. economy is the first in the world and it's a major power in many respects. So to have the lead economy uncertain about its debt ceiling is quite worrisome.
In a separate interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, she said the solution would be to raise the debt ceiling now and address fiscal consolidation issues in the medium term.
Today, the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble also warned Washington to act.
Everyone in the US should be aware of their responsibility for the global financial markets.
He added, "The core of [the U.S.'s] difficulties is exorbitant debt and the economic prospects. Americans have to find long-term solutions to create solid fiscal and growth policies."
Schäuble and Lagarde were downright tame compared to Vince Cable, Britain's secretary of state for business, who told the BBC earlier this week that "the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress rather than the euro zone."
Perhaps, the most sobering analysis of all comes from Germany's Der Spiegel:
Even if the worst is avoided, US finances are still a mess. Total debt is approaching 100 percent of gross domestic product, putting it in the same league as Italy, Portugal and Ireland, three of the euro-zone's famous PIIGS states. America's budget deficit is well over a trillion dollars -- more than 10 percent of GDP. Were Washington to apply to become a member of the European common currency zone, it would be rejected out of hand.
We'd be rejected by the euro zone? This euro zone?
Yes, James Traub's in-depth profile of Senator John Kerry in the New York Times Magazine this week is interesting for a number of reasons (the takeaway -- Kerry is a shadow secretary of state), but the quote that makes the article is this gem from Vice President Joe Biden, which Traub calls a "Bidencentric view of Kerry's status":
I don't think there's ever been a chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who's had as close a relationship with the vice president who's had as close a relationship with the president ... John can see the president any time he wants, but we have all three found that the best interlocutor is me.
Ironically, "The best interlocutor is me" is also the likely title of the vice president's forthcoming autobiography -- at least, that's the one we're lobbying for.
AFP/ Getty Images
Obama tries to shore up Jewish support, while poll shows he doesn't have much to worry about
A new gallup poll released today shows that despite recent remarks by President Obama that the 1967 borders should be the starting point in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians -- a position that angered pro-Israel hawks -- most American Jews still approve of the president. His approval rating among American Jews in June averaged 60 percent, down from 68 percent in May (a change that corresponds with declining numbers among other groups, reflecting the president's inflated rating in May, post-bin Laden raid, Gallup said). Thirty-two percent of American Jews disapproved of the president's job in June.
By comparison, Gallup found that his approval rating among all groups in June averaged 46 percent.
The Washington Post reported last week that Obama's team will "go on the offensive against critics of his stance on Israel," with the help of Jewish supporters, including community leader Alan Solow, former Congressmen Mel Levin and Robert Wexler, and business executive Penny Pritzker.
Obama's supporters say the plan is in effect an acknowledgment that conservative attacks on Obama's Israel stance have made defections among Jewish voters and donors a possibility they must take seriously. Obama's advisers see a need to push back even harder on the attacks than they did in 2008, in part because Obama now has a record on the issue to defend - a record that even Obama's supporters concede has not been adequately explained.
Obama won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. Politico reported last week that some Jewish Democratic Party donors were worried that Obama's stance on Israel could cost him support in 2012 in the Jewish community.
In its analysis, Gallup challenged the Politico article, saying its conclusions may apply to "certain politically active members of the Jewish-American community," but are "not reflective of the views of Jewish Americans more generally."
Romney heading to London this week to raise money, may meet with PM Cameron
Pawlenty won't name the ‘isolationists'
In a decidedly hawkish foreign policy speech this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty called out members of his party who "now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party."
Last night, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Pawlenty to name names. The former governor wouldn't get into specifics, but said "there are several candidates for president and several leading voices in the party beyond that in Washington arguing for going further than the president in terms of an accelerated withdrawal, arguing that we have no business and he has no authority in Libya, arguing we should do nothing in Syria, arguing that we should not have any role in Iraq and beyond," he said.
On the campaign trail, several contenders have raised doubts about the extent of our mission in Afghanistan and Libya, including former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and -- to a lesser extent -- former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The Huffington Post quoted Rep. Paul's son, Senator Rand Paul, attacking Pawlenty's use of the word isolationist.
"It's not a valid term. It's a pejorative term. It's name calling," Paul told the website. "Isolationism would mean that you're nowhere any of the time and you're completely within a walled-in state. I don't know anybody who's for that."
Americans largely support Obama's Afghan plan
Though the GOP field is somewhat divided on the president's Afghanistan withdrawal plan, a majority of Americans polled recently by Gallup, backed what he's doing. 72 percent supported his plan, while 23 percent opposed it. 50 percent of Republicans said they agreed with his decision to pull 10,000 troops out this year.
When the poll got into specifics of numbers, it found that 29 percent wanted more troops to come home, 19 percent said the number of troops Obama mentioned was too high. 43 percent thought the figure was just right.
NYT/CBS Poll on Republican candidates: Great news for "Anyone else"
Meanwhile, in another poll, likely Republican voters seemed unimpressed with their field of candidates so far. Only 23 percent said they were satisfied with the people in the race. 71 percent said they wanted more choices.
67 percent could not name a single candidate they were excited about. While Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann both had 7 percent saying they were enthusiastic about their candidacies.
The poll wasn't all bad news for Republicans. It found that Democrats are less enthusiastic about the race in general than Republicans. Only 24 percent of Democrats said they were more excited for 2012 than they were for 2008. 33 percent of Republicans were more excited this year and self-described Tea Party supporters were 44 percent more excited.
Perry to Justice Department: Stop Gaza flotilla
Gov. Rick Perry hasn't announced he's running for president yet, but he's already wading into international issues and sounding a lot like a candidate. This week he sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to do more to stop a planned flotilla of ships to Gaza, which are carrying humanitarian supplies. Israel has a maritime blockade against Gaza.
"As an American citizen and governor of one of its largest states...I write to encourage you to aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts," Perry wrote.
Perry said participating in the flotilla would violate U.S. law because it would provide "material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization," meaning Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Perry has visited Israel several times in the past and "has touted what he calls its ‘special kinship' with Texas."
Newt to Obama: ‘Tide of war' isn't receding
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked President Barack Obama's assertion in his June 22 speech announcing the troop drawdown in Afghanistan that the "tide of war is receding." He said the country is facing a "tsunami of violence building offshore," according to Politico.
"I want to challenge the president to withdraw the phrase because it totally misleads the American people, and presents a delusional version of the world," he said at a Maryland Republican Party dinner in Baltimore.
Gingrich said the White House should have taken stronger action against Pakistan after it reportedly arrested CIA informants who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden.
"We should have taken extraordinary actions against Pakistanis -- within 24 hours," Gingrich told the crowd. "We should have said if you don't release those people you can assume we have no relationship and we'll chat with you from India."
He also accused the president of "sleepwalking" through the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Romney to fundraise in London
One of Mitt Romney's favorite knocks on Obama is that he is too European. In the words of the GOP frontrunner, the president takes "his inspiration not from the small towns and villages of New Hampshire but from the capitals of Europe." So, it might strike some people as a little surprising that Romney is planning to travel to London next month -- which, after all, is one of those "capitals of Europe" -- to attend a fund-raiser, according to the Boston Globe. Very few presidential candidates have held fundraisers on foreign soil. Rudy Giuliani was the first in 2007 -- also in London -- and Obama held one in the London home of Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elizabeth, in 2008.
According to the Globe, suggested contributions for the July 6 party at Dartmouth House -- "a building not far from Hyde Park that has marble fireplaces, Louis XIV walnut paneling, and a painted ceiling by Pierre Victor Galland" -- is $2,500 a person.
Santorum and Beck discuss Israel
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was on Glenn Beck's Fox News show yesterday, and the pair discussed more than just kissing "on the mouth" -- though they did discuss that too.
Israel -- and specifically efforts to delegitimize Israel -- came up. Santorum said the United States should not force Israel to take part in negotiations since the "Palestinian Authority [and] others in the Middle East refuse to accept Israel's right to be there."
"Do you think America has enough courage to turn the tide on Israel," Beck asked the presidential candidate."
"If we had a strong leader who had the respect of the world," Santorum said. "We see now...a president backing away, who is an internationalist, someone who sees his role as almost transcending the presidency...and sees his role as to work with the international community to their ends. Not to the ends of the national security interest of our country. Not to the end of supporting allies who are strategic for us. But to the ends of some greater goal."
Whenever the two get together, the Middle East seems to come up. In April, they agreed that there is a coalition of "Sunni, Shia, socialists, and Islamists and jihadists working together [to form] a caliphate," Santorum said. Beck said the caliphate "begins with Turkey, Egypt and Iran."
Women in New Delhi are taking to the streets this July -- but don't expect to see the average run-of-the-mill protest sign or megaphone. These women are participating in a SlutWalk, an international craze that has been unleashed from Sao Paulo to Syndey. New Delhi, where 85% of women are afraid of being sexually harassed in public, will follow a string of over 60 cities to participate in the SlutWalks. The Mission? To blur the definition of slut and protest the notion that a woman's dress instigates rape.
The protests were spurred by the remarks of Toronto police officer Constable Michael Sanguinett, who told a small group of students that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
Little did he know, his comment would set off a nearly-naked international revolt. Some clad in bustiers and others dressed conservatively, protesters now hold signs saying, "society teaches don't get raped rather than don't rape" and "sluts of the world unite".
Umang Sabarwal, a Delhi University journalism student, is one of the main organizers of the planned protest. She believes that Indians have an opportunity to voice their concerns over women's safety in a city where she says women are eyed like meat. Sabarwal hopes to challenge the rape blame game, saying:
"Every time a woman is assaulted, people don't blame the perpetrator of the crime. Instead women get a lecture about what they're supposed to wear and where they can go or not go."
But the planned Delhi protest is generating criticism from both men and women. Some feel using the word slut, even in an act of protest, further degrades women. Others feel that the message of the protests is trivial as they are demanding the freedom to wear revealing clothing, not demanding "protection against violence", as Amrit Dhillon said in her article published in the Hindustan Times. The journalist cites issues like honor killings, sex-selective abortion and child prostitution that she believes should addressed first and foremost.
But with intensifying criticism comes even more feminstas, mothers, anxsty teenagers and other SlutWalkers that will undoubtedly strut their stuff in the coming months.
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