World

Obama's European Socialist Empire

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
It has been a long time since Europe has featured so prominently in an American presidential race. Republicans, in particular, have seen the crisis plaguing the Eurozone as an opportunity to attack president Obama, who—they claim—is leading America away from its core values and towards the sickly collectivism prevalent in the European Union. Mitt Romney, in one of those hilarious-but-horrifying Republican debates last September, spoke of a president “taking his inspiration […] from the socialist democrats in Europe," before pointing out that he, in contrast, believed in America. His vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, was complaining to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza about the lurch towards a European style of government in March 2009, before the crisis in Greece had begun, and has continued invoking the frightening specter of the Europeanization of American as the Eurozone’s woes have deepened. It is well known that political campaigns leave little room for facts and sober analysis. I...

Bracing for a Hit from Europe

(Flickr/Juan Carlos García Lorenzo)
It may be the peak of vacation season in Europe, but the continent’s fiscal crisis has not taken a break. Last week, Wolfgang Schäuble, the powerful German finance minister, took time out from his holiday to have a sit-down with his American counterpart, Tim Geithner, in the North Sea island of Sylt. The last-minute meeting was organized at Geithner’s request. Less than a hundred days from the U.S. presidential election, it highlighted—as if more evidence were necessary—the Obama administration’s concern about how developments in the Eurozone could affect the vote come November 6. The crisis calendar between now and then is certainly packed; if a week is a long time in politics, three months is an eternity in economics. Below, the Prospect sketches out a road-map of the pitfalls ahead. Greece We start, unsurprisingly, in Greece. The recently elected coalition government there is putting the final touches on a new austerity program—a condition for its second bailout. The program calls...

Olympic Girls Go Bad-Boy

Women at the world's top sporting event are shaking off pressure to be feminine in the public eye.

U.S. Women's National Soccer Team striker Abby Wambach (Twitter/@AbbyWambach)
Athleticism in women has generated social unease going back at least as far as the Greek myth of Atalanta, the princess who refused to marry a man who couldn’t beat her in a footrace and was finally conquered by a “hero” who beats her by cheating. Women in sports flout the feminine not only by being competitive, but by using their bodies for an end other than sex and child-bearing. Since they first started competing in 1900, female Olympians have faced pressure to relieve sexist anxieties by turning up the girliness, even if doing so hurts their performance. In the past, the need to distinguish female from male athletes—and thus preserve their femininity—has led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to enforce silly uniform requirements like bikinis for beach volleyball and skirts for tennis. Social ideals about femininity have also guided which female sports get the most attention: It tends to be those that highlight beauty and grace, such as gymnastics or figure skating. Note...

Mitt the Likudlican

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Four summers ago, when Barack Obama landed in Israel, one of the country's most popular papers headlined the event, "Obamania" and reported that he was greeted "like a rock star." This past weekend, Mitt Romney was not received in Israel as a rock star. The Hebrew headlines on his arrival noted his close friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu—and that he bombed in London. By the time he left, Romney managed to shift attention to his hawkish positions on Iran, but also to his breaches of American and Israeli political manners. His partnership with the Israeli prime minister was even more conspicuous than when he came. What Israelis learned about Mitt may seem tangential to the U.S. election. But a close read of Romney's visit matters—not just to that small number of Jewish voters whom Romney hoped to sway, but to...

The Incongruous Olympics

Will the Olympics be a break from Europe and England's problems, or make them more vivid?

(Photo courtesy of www.london2012.com)
Try as I might—which is, OK, not very hard—I'm having a tough time getting jazzed for the Olympics this year. I get the feeling I'm not the only one. The locals are reportedly grumpy already about the mobs of untrained tourists futzing up London commuters' very own Olympic event, which is predictable enough. But then Mitt Romney got into the act. Giving us a preview of his smooth idea of international diplomacy—I guess he has been talking to John Bolton—he wondered on his arrival in town whether the Brits really had it in them to properly "celebrate" the games. Being accused of not knowing how to party by Mitt Romney has to sting. A man who now has a brand-new reason to root for Obama, David Cameron frostily guaranteed that Britain would "deliver," not exactly the most rambunctious of verbs. Even so, I wondered whether, for once in his life, Mitt had a point. Starting with the games' Bizarro World mascots—Wenlock and Mandeville, a pair of one-eyed Pixar rejects destined to give...

Romney Has Nothing to Win by Talking Foreign Policy

Besides pledging his unconditional support to the government of Israel and reiterating his willingness to use force against Iran, Mitt Romney didn’t actually offer foreign policy ideas in his speech this afternoon to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. What he did do, however, was denounce President Obama’s foreign policy in the strongest terms possible. In particular, he attacked the administration’s opposition to missile defense, its willingness to accommodate and work with Russia—which he has deemed our “number one geopolitical foe”—its unwillingness to take a belligerent stance towards Venezuela, and its refusal to intervene in uprisings across the Middle East, from the 2009 Green protests in Iran to the recent events in Egypt and Syria. He promised to take a hard stance against China, and presented Obama as an avatar for American decline and weakness: I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our...

It's the Occupation, Stupid

Why did the most recent coalition in the Israeli government only last ten weeks?

In France's Fourth Republic, it was said that tourists in Paris made sure to take in the daily changing of the government. According to myth, a deputy who dozed in the National Assembly might wake up to be told that he'd been premier twice during his nap. The coalitions that rule countries with multiparty systems can be flimsy things. But outside the realm of myth, Israel's most recent coalition was particularly short-lived: It ruled for ten weeks, just seventy days, before collapsing this week. By bringing Shaul Mofaz's centrist Kadima Party into his government in May, Netanyahu sought to avoid early elections. Among the big things that new friends Shaul and Bibi promised to do were ending the widely resented draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox men and jump-starting the peace process with the Palestinians. In other words, Netanyahu would show that he was really a moderate, and that he had been waiting for Kadima's support to rule as one. The explicit reason that Kadima left the...

The Cult of MEK

The Mujahedin-e Khalq is trying to steer its supporters in the United States toward war, which shows that the enemy of our enemy is not our friend.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is in the news again . Images of Newt Gingrich bowing to the Iranian dissident group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, after speaking to MEK members at a Paris rally, and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page’s unauthorized, paid speech at the same event have brought renewed attention to the MEK’s expensive (and possibly illegal ) lobbying operation in Washington. Gingrich and Page aren’t the only high-profile figures the MEK has enlisted in its bid to get off the State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list. The group has persuaded a number of onetime officials, including former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security Adviser Francis Fragos Townsend, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to argue its case. These public figures have taken money , in some cases more than $30,000 per speech, to speak on the group’s behalf. As a result, the U.S...

Turkey Takes Off

The EU's perennial reject has seen impressive growth—but there are warning signs for the future.

Flickr/ognjenodobasic
What a difference ten years makes. In 2001, Greece adopted the euro as its national currency. Its borrowing costs, which plummeted in expectation of this momentous event, were almost as low as Germany’s. Its growth rate for the year climbed to 4.1 percent and inflation hovered around 4 percent—a sharp decline from the double digits of the ’80s and ’90s. It was a country on the way up. On the other hand, Turkey, its neighbor and geopolitical arch-rival, was mired in a major financial crisis. Its currency was collapsing, its banking system was broken and unemployment was skyrocketing. These days, it is the Greeks who are in an economic freefall, while Turkey is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world: In 2011, Turkish GDP jumped by 8.5 percent, almost besting its 9 percent expansion in 2010. In a country with a young workforce (the average age is 28), a large rural underclass, and poor infrastructure aching to be upgraded, the prospects for more banner years look good...

Vive la France!

Flickr/gpaumier
Yes, folks, it's another Tigger day. Last week, while I was talking about how straight people changed marriage so that same-sex couples now belong in it, the new French government announced that it will gender-neutralize the entrance requirements for marriage early next year, which will also grant same-sex couples full adoption rights. That would mean that twelve nations marry same-sex pairs, plus some states and provinces scattered hither and yon. In historical order, that would include The Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (2003, in some provinces; 2005, nationally), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Portugal (2010), Iceland (2010), Argentina (2010), and Denmark (2012). After France, I'm looking at Australia, where the debate is in full swing; the majority of Australians ( 62 percent ) say they favor marriage equality; the relevant Senate committee has recommended that Parliament pass an equal-marriage law; and a highly active national...

What’s the European Central Bank?

The Prospect takes a look at one of the key players in Europe's financial crisis.

(Flickr / Davide "Dodo" Oliva)
Weird terms like “yield spreads,” “troika,” and “Merkel” have been popping up in the news, often surrounded by acronyms like IMF, ESM, EFSF, and FROB. Our politicians aren't talking about it much, but you can bet your retirement they will once Wall Street underwriters start freaking out about it. Today, the Prospect fills you in on one of the most important acronym in the euro crisis: the ECB, or the European Central Bank. The European whatsit? In a nutshell, the ECB is the central bank of the Eurozone—the countries of the European Union that use the euro. Though it only technically became a crucial apparatus of the European Union in 2009, it has a large role in the history of European integration. For now, we'll just leave it at this: The ECB controls the monetary policy of Eurozone countries. It's also one of the newer venues in which France and Germany play chicken over who's the boss of Europe. More on that later. Monetary policy? So it’s like the Fed? Sort of. There are definite...

Romneyland on the Mediterranean

What does having a Bain-style CEO do to a country? Israel has run the experiment, and the results are ugly.

(Flickr/TheeErin)
If Mitt Romney visits Israel this summer, it's a safe guess that his tour will avoid demonstrations against the government's economic policies. When Mitt and Bibi dine together, the Israeli prime minister probably won't show clips of riot cops dragging away Daphni Leef, the woman who ignited the economic protests, as she tries to re-establish a tent encampment in downtown Tel Aviv. Meeting the media, Romney may mention his old friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu, which dates back to the time when the two of them, fresh from business school, worked at the Boston Consulting Group. Journalists will dutifully ask him and Netanyahu about Iran, ignoring the fact that Israel has an economy and that running it is Netanyahu's passion. This is a shame, because Israel can be seen as a laboratory where tests have been conducted in managing a country as if Bain Capital had bought it — and the lab results aren't pretty. To be fair, the Israeli government has followed free-market orthodoxy since the...

If the Tibetan Can't Go to the Homeland...

As some of you know, there is far more to the Tibetan diaspora than the Dalai Lama. More than 200,000 refugees are living, sometimes stateless, in other countries. Tenzin Dorjee, whom I've mentioned here before, is the director of Students for a Free Tibet and one of the next generation of Tibetan leaders in exile. Last week, he wrote at The Huffington Post about an incredibly moving art project, conceived after activist and artist Tenzing Rigdol's father died in exile longing to see his homeland one more time: Rigdol was deeply affected by his father's untimely death, and devastated by his own helplessness in fulfilling his father's final wish. He could not stop agonizing over the idea that hundreds of other Tibetan exiles were going through the same denial of dignity, passing their final years in foreign lands.... Rigdol ... smuggled 20,000 kilograms of native Tibetan soil into India and laid it on a platform six feet high, creating an installation unprecedented in art history. For...

What’s So Radical about Same-Sex Marriage?

(Flickr / City of West Hollywood)
Two days ago I wrote about David Blankenhorn, longtime “traditional” marriage proponent who reluctantly announced he will no longer oppose same-sex couples’ freedom to marry. I examined his reasoning, because I believe it’s important to understand the logic of those with whom we disagree. And I took issue with Richard Kim’s response at The Nation , which I took to represent the radical/progressive wing of the LGBT movement, which has long groaned at the focus on marriage equality. I got some heated critiques about that post. So yesterday I dug up my longtime agreement with Blankenhorn that allowing same-sex couples into the institution transforms its meaning, furthering the institution’s philosphical and legal shift toward symbolizing gender equality and the separation of sex and babies. My goal yesterday: explain how progressive this shift actually is. But today I’m going to take issue with myself—hey, I’m just talented that way—and argue that there’s a way that Kim, Lisa Duggan,...

Can European Leaders Go Big?

With Spain, Italy, and Cyprus reeling, the stakes are high for the Brussels summit—but Germany stands in the way of broad reform.

(AP Photo/Philippos Christou)
(AP Photo/Philippos Christou) A woman passes by a branch of Bank of Cyprus in central Nicosia, Cyprus, Thursday, June 28, 2012. Cyprus became the fifth eurozone country this week to ask for a bailout from its partners in the currency union in order to prop up its Greece-exposed banks and flagging economy. Officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will begin assessing next week how much bailout money Cyprus will need. The European Summit today and tomorrow in Brussels is the latest in a series of make-or-break moments for the European project. On many occasions since May 2010, when Greece was first cut off from market access, European leaders have been called upon to make a bold leap forward in the policy integration of the Eurozone—the only way to convince investors of the iron irrevocability of the common currency. Under constant pressure from the ongoing crisis, they have often seemed to be making the big decisions to...

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