World

A More Perfect European Union

David Cameron's speech has its fair share of detractors, but it should be embraced as an impetus to take Europe's governance to the next level.

Flickr/vsaid
As President Barack Obama embarks on his second term, he and many other global leaders hoping for economic recovery paid close attention to the recent speech given by British Prime Minister David Cameron about whether he would lead the UK out of the European Union. Europe is the largest trading partner with both the United States and China, so the continent’s recession and the restructuring of its basic institutions is no academic matter. What happens there affects the rest of the world. Cameron's speech was disappointing for most, including no doubt the White House which had lobbied Cameron to maintain Britain's place at Europe's center. The pugnaciousness at the core of Cameron's position—"The UK should stay in the European Union, but we want to cherry pick the conditions"—poses an obvious problem. No union can survive if its members agree to terms in such an à la carte manner, and the speech resulted in negative reactions from most quarters, including many of Cameron's allies...

David Cameron's Malaise Speech

Europe is not impressed with the British P.M.'s plan to loosen the country from the E.U.'s grip.

Rex Features via AP Images
Rex Features via AP Images) Prime Minister David Cameron giving the keynote speech on Britain's future in Europe, Bloomberg head office, London, Britain. I f there is one word that defined the EU in 2012, it was “Grexit.” The prospect of Greece crashing out of the Eurozone hovered over Europe like a dark cloud, threatening a thunderstorm but never delivering. With Greece’s continued membership in the euro looking more secure than it has in a while in these early days of 2013, a new word has captured the imagination of Europe-watchers: “Brexit”, or the possibility of a British departure from the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron gave a big speech on Britain and Europe in London on Wednesday morning. In it, he expressed his country’s dissatisfaction at the evolution of the European Union, in particular in the age of the euro crisis. Lamenting the slipping competitiveness of European economies and the mounting democratic deficit of the EU, he vowed to renegotiate the United...

What If They Held an Election and Nobody Won?

Netanyahu was defeated, even if he stays in office.

AP Photo/Oded Balilty
AP Photo/Oded Balilty H ere's the very short version of the Israeli election results: Benjamin Netanyahu ran unopposed—and lost. But he's still got a very good chance of returning to the prime minister's office. In his last term, Netanyahu brought a total breakdown of negotiations with the Palestinians and stuck to a free-market orthodoxy that benefited only the richest Israelis. For those who long to see Israel change direction (as I wrote here a week ago) the most optimistic election scenario was deadlock followed by instability. As the votes were counted last night, those too obsessed to sleep saw that scenario begin to come true. At 10 p.m., exit polls predicted that the rightwing bloc of parties would reach the thinnest possible majority, 61 or 62 seats out of 120 in parliament. In the small hours of the night, when 80 percent of the actual votes were counted, the numbers evened out, 60-60. As more votes were tallied, the right's majority reappeared—and finally vanished around...

Invisible Workers, Global Struggles

Flickr/Janinsanfran
Flickr/Janansanfran L ike countless other migrant girls toiling far from home, her life was invisible—except for the chilling way it ended. Earlier this month, Rizana Nafeek, a young Sri Lankan migrant in Saudi Arabia, was executed after being convicted of killing a baby in her care. The case drew international condemnation not only because of the severe punishment and opacity of the legal proceedings—she was reportedly just 17 at the time, not 23 as her falsified passport indicated, and advocates said her confession had been coerced—but also because the girl’s brief life exposed the consequences of the invisible struggles facing domestic workers in the Middle East and beyond. Nafeek's case symbolized the severe treatment of migrants in Saudi Arabia (human-rights watchdogs report that numerous other domestic workers have faced the death penalty after unfair accusations—sometimes stemming from cases of self-defense against abusers—pushed them into a biased and abuse-ridden legal system...

The 13-Year War

Press Association via AP Images
In October 2001, George W. Bush told the country he was sending the American military to Afghanistan in order to "bring justice to our enemies." It's safe to say support for the war would not have been as nearly unanimous as it was had he said, "Oh, and by the way, our troops are going to be fighting there for the next 13 years." But if all goes according to plan and Barack Obama follows up on his pledge to bring them home by the end of 2014, that's how long the Afghanistan war will have lasted. We thought it would be useful to take a brief look at some of the basic facts of our involvement there. Last spring, Afghanistan passed Vietnam (measured by the time between the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 and the departure of the last Americans from Saigon in 1975) to become America's longest war. To date, we've spent over half a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, a figure that includes only the direct yearly costs for both military expenditures and civilian aid. It doesn't include the...

How’s That Medicine Taste, Germany?

Oliver Lang/dapd
Germany, the powerhouse of Europe, experienced negative growth in the last three months of 2012, down from a positive growth rate of 3 percent in 2011. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who more than any other leader inflicted austerity on the rest of Europe, is finding that what goes around, comes around. All of the small nations that have bowed to Germany’s austerity demands—Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal—are stuck in an even deeper downward spiral. They cut spending, but their deficits increased. Why? Because the hit to employment, consumption, and then to government revenues leaves their economies in deeper distress. This is a path to permanent depression. It is economic madness, a fact recognized by no less than the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the organization that has been Germany’s partner in enforcing austerity. The IMF’s Olivier Blanchard, in a paper released January 1, warned that the negative effects of austerity far outweighed the positive ones. It...

It's Not Over When the Fat Lady Sings (in Hebrew)

AP Photo/Abir Sultan
(AP Photo/Abir Sultan) W ith Israel's national election just five days off, it's worth remembering two principles of politics here: First, Israel polls do have more predictive power than tea leaves, but not enough to inspire confidence. Second, it's definitely not over when the fat lady sings. The vote tally is only the end of the first act. The second act is putting together a ruling coalition; the third is holding it together in order to rule. Since the beginning of the campaign in October, Benjamin Netanyahu has essentially been the sole candidate for prime minister, certain to defeat the fractured parties of the center- left and to return to power. Even now, it would take a freak set of conditions, a perfect electoral storm, for him to lose. But his margin of victory will affect how much power he actually has, how dependent he is on rivals even further to the right than he is, and how he responds to international pressures. Here the picture is murkier. Israeli pollsters ask voters...

Intelligence Squared U.S.'s Talking Heads

Courtesy of Intelligence Squared
Courtesy of Intelligence Squared S tepping into the lobby of the Kaufman Cultural Center in New York City on a recent balmy fall evening was a bit like entering a cocktail-party scene from a Nora Ephron romantic comedy of the late 1990s. A crowd—mostly middle-aged and black-clad, many of its members looking like competitors in a glasses fashion show—milled around the bar, sizing itself up over short-stumped stemware. A man sporting a graying ponytail explained to a woman with a platinum bob the importance of the next president’s Supreme Court appointments. Two guys in navy sport coats sipped $7 brews in companionable silence. The buzz in the room, both conversational and alcoholic, was palpable. Then the lights dimmed, and there was a rush toward the theater doors. The latest taping of Intelligence Squared U.S., the debate series that has become something of a cult podcast hit on iTunes, was about to begin. Americans are not a shy and retiring people—we talk with great passion about...

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists . Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about some such efforts in the United States. Bystander-intervention efforts, in which groups train young men and women in what it takes to derail a situation that could lead to rape. Today I spoke with Mallika Dutt, founder of the binational organization Breakthrough, which works in both the U.S. and India to build a respect culture and prevent all kinds of violence against women—one by one, at the local, personal level,...

To Stop Rape, Fix the Police Force First

AP Photo/Manish Swarup
AP Photo/Manish Swarup in New Delhi, India, policemen stand guard at the judicial complex where a new fast-track court was inaugurated Wednesday to deal specifically with crimes against women. I n the past few weeks, the brutal murder of a young woman in New Delhi has consumed international media and fomented a social rebellion in India. The victim, a 23-year-old medical student, was gang raped in a public bus, then mutilated with iron rods and thrown out onto the street; she died on December 29. As a woman born and raised in India, I can attest to the ubiquity of sexual violence. I myself avoided being gang-raped by a group of drunk men through sheer providence. I was 20, a junior in college here in the United States, and doing a field project on rural cooperatives in India. My guide—a local girl my age—and I had decided to stay overnight at a one-room guesthouse in a village hosting a traditional, all-night festival. Sometime in the middle of the night, we awakened to what sounded...

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. H er intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.” That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex . Since Susan Brownmiller first wrote Against Our Will — the landmark feminist reconceptualization of rape — feminists have worked on clarifying the fact that rape is less about sex than it is about rage and power. Too many people still conceive of rape as a man’s...

Call it Trafficking

AP Photo/Moises Castillo
Last week, in a horrifying move, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill to ban American citizens from adopting Russian children—ironically enough, in retaliation for U.S. efforts to punish Russian violations of human rights. It's ironic because thousands of Russian children (and children across the former Soviet bloc) live in institutions, as no child should. Denying those children desperately needed new families could almost be considered a violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that countries act on behalf of the best interests of the child. Many of the children in those Russian institutions have medical or developmental challenges, whether that's HIV, fetal alcohol syndrome, or attachment disorders, so finding families for them is difficult. But American adoptions of Russian children hurt Russian pride, and some of those adoptions have gone so terribly wrong (as with the 2010 incident in which Tennessee woman returned her adopted son by...

What the Attacks on Hagel Tell Us

AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke
AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, delivers remarks at the Brookings Institution on U.S. foreign policy and the 2008 presidential campaign. B ack in 1998, Chuck Hagel, who had been Senator from Nebraska for two years, made news by criticizing the tactics of the Republican candidate for governor, Jon Christensen, who was running a negative ad campaign. The biggest threat to the American political system, Hagel said , were those who “debase and degrade the political process by straight-out lies and misleading spots on television. It’s a cancer to our system.” It’s darkly ironic that Hagel himself has faced very similar attacks from hawkish neoconservatives in the weeks since he was named as a likely nominee for secretary of Defense. But while these attacks represent an extremely distasteful side of Washington, it’s worth considering what they intended to achieve, and what they say about the current era of U.S. foreign policy. As I see it, the...

Paying for Having Been Raped

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Cross your fingers, but it looks a s if Congress is going to let women in the military rely on health insurance to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest. That’s been a long time coming, as Mother Jones reports : Current Department of Defense policy only provides abortion coverage if the life of the mother is at stake. Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal money cannot be used to provide abortion services, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman's life is endangered. But since 1979, the DOD has had an even stricter limit on abortions, refusing to cover them in cases of rape despite the high rate of sexual assaults in the military. (Over 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the armed services in 2010 alone.) If [New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne] Shaheen's measure passes, the 400,000 women in the armed services will have the same access to abortion that other federal employees get. If a Department of Health and Human Services employee working in Washington, D.C. is raped,...

When Assad Dropped the Façade

It's hard to believe, but Bashar al-Assad once presented himself to the world as Syria's modernizer.

AP Photo/Gurinder Osan
AP Photo/Gurinder Osan Syrian President Bashar al-Assad I n 1994, Bashar al-Assad was appointed chairman of the Syrian Computer Society. It was the only official title he would hold before landing the country’s top job, president, in 2000, but the appointment seemed to speak volumes about the direction in which his country was headed. This was six months into President Bill Clinton’s first term, in the same year that Tony Blair was elected as the leader of Britain’s Labour Party. Modernization was all the rage. Bashar, the mustachioed Mr. Bean of the Assad family, had not expected to be groomed for politics. The Computer Society gig only rolled into his lap because of the death of his older brother Basil. But he was perfect for it. For the previous two years he’d been living off Sloane Street in West London, training as an ophthalmologist, wooing the beautiful, thoroughly modern British-Syrian Asma al-Akhras, who would go on to become his wife, and spending a huge amount of time...

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