World

Condi the Zombie Killer

The former secretary of state puts to rest the idea that Palestinians aren't interested in a peace deal.

(Flickr/Darth Downey)
S he killed the lie, I thought, as I read Condoleezza Rice's semi-revelations about the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that was really almost reached three years ago. The lie says that Israel's then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, offered everything the Palestinians could possibly expect, and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas said no because he isn't interested in peace. Rice was secretary of state at the time and seems to have believed in peacemaking, despite serving under George W. Bush. In her new memoir, she confirms an account of why peace slipped away that fits evidence and logic much better than the lie does. Then I thought again: The lie won't go away. It provides current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his domestic legitimacy and his overseas defense of his policies—a defense that works poorly outside of the United States, but working there is enough to protect him from any sudden impulse by Barack Obama to renew the peace process. The lie is presented softly by Netanyahu's good-...

Bravo Papandreou!

Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou startled Europe and the financial world Monday by announcing that he will be calling a referendum on the terms of the latest deal negotiated by European leaders and bankers. What is the Greek leader up to? On one level, Papandreou is simply weary of being the agent of his own country’s economic destruction at the hands of bankers. He also is tired of the political unpopularity that comes with the role of broker of austerity. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis) Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou says his country will hold a referendum on a new European debt deal reached last week. But more important, Papandreou is resisting a double-cross already being cooked up by the bankers. He is playing the one card he has: If the bankers walk away from the partial debt relief committed in principle at the recent EU summit, Greece will default. And Papandreou wants that decision to be made, knowingly, by the Greek people and not by technocrats. Here is...

Speaking of Cultures Unfriendly to Homos ...

.... Uganda is reintroducing the bill that would impose the death penalty for being gay. The Open Society Institute (OSI) hosted a photography exhibit last spring called "Being Gay in Uganda" that showed Tadej Žnidarčič's powerful portraits, in which each individual is shown from the back. I had walked into OSI in New York for another purpose entirely when I saw what looked like the backs of some very cute women. (There were men too, but, well, I didn't notice them at first.) When I walked over to look more closely, my heart dropped through the floor. The short interviews—in which these people told of essentially being hunted and hated in their daily lives—nearly made me cry. It's heartbreaking to think that, just by standing still or walking, these people are visible targets. And they're targets, specifically, of religiously incited hatred. In January 2010, The New York Times reported on how three American evangelicals spoke against gay people at a conference attended by thousands—...

For Europe, High Stakes in Greece

Stabilizing one teetering economy won't end the eurozone's dance of death.

(Flickr/Oscar Alexander)
T he problems of the euro turned critical when the Greek government nearly defaulted in May 2010 and the International Monetary Fund and European Union agreed to a bailout. In truth, the 17-nation euro area had deep troubles long before that. Its oversized and undercapitalized banks, its common monetary policy but diverse and fragmented fiscal policies, the persistent economic imbalances among nations that use the euro, and a cumbersome decision-making structure all made the euro-area economy vulnerable. The crisis, which still bears the mark of the Greek tragedy that first set it off, has now spread far beyond Greece. The euro was created for normal times, but the EU lacked good mechanisms for crisis management. At every step of the Greek drama, policy-maker responses have remained behind the curve of economic deterioration. Slowly but surely, this erosion of confidence ensnared other countries, such as Ireland and Portugal, then spread to Spain and Italy, both perceived to be...

Obama's Wheel and Deal

The administration's recent trade agreement with Korea, Colombia, and Panama is expected to destroy more than 200,000 American jobs.

President Barack Obama stands after signing the Korean Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. He is joined by, from left, Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, DOW Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Korean Alliance for Free Trade William Hwang and Correct Craft, Inc., CEO William Yeargin. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) President Barack Obama stands after signing the Korean Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House. A s he gears up for a difficult re-election campaign, President Obama risks losing key swing states that he won in 2008 because of a recent flip-flop on trade commitments. Back on the campaign trail, Obama had committed to a new approach to trade deals that would protect the environment, boost manufacturing, and protect food safety. That was then; this is now. On October 12, he shoved through three NAFTA-style trade deals with Colombia, Korea, and Panama that are officially projected to increase the U.S. trade deficit and cost tens of thousands of American jobs. These deals were negotiated and signed by George W. Bush in 2007, but had not been formally approved by Congress. While Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce applauded the deals, Obama’s base and most congressional Democrats opposed them; the GOP provided almost all of the votes for...

Europe Buys Some Time

The stock market liked the European deal that was announced in the wee hours of Thursday morning. At this writing, the Dow is up 268 points. But the market, as is so often the case, could well be wrong. For starters, this is not yet a done deal. The European leaders agreed that the banks will take "voluntary" losses of about 50 percent on their holding of Greek bonds, so that the Greek economy can gain some room to breathe—but the banks did not agree. Charles Dallara, who heads the international bankers' lobby, the misnamed Institute for International Finance, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying that "there is no agreement on any element of a deal." He later told CNBC that the deal was "voluntary," permitting issuers of credit-default swaps (mostly banks) to avoid payments they would have to make in the case of a formal restructuring or a default. But never underestimate the ability of banks to impose their losses on somebody else. Under the proposed deal, the banks also...

Climate Control

As their ranks diminish, global warming skeptics target scientists

AP Photo/John Giles
Last week Richard Muller and his team released the findings of their exhaustive study on global warming with definitive simplicity, saying flatly “global warming is real.” The statement is an especially damning one to climate change deniers, as Muller, himself once a global warming skeptic, conducted the study partly with funds from the Koch brothers. As even skeptics like Muller begin to accept the overwhelming science behind global warming, opponents are taking up a new tactic that goes after the scientists themselves. One of these scientists is Michael Mann, a climatologist who, since January, has been targeted by climate-deniers.Following the example of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, which have a tradition of attacking the credibility of scientists who oppose their products, skeptics are beginning question the credentials and research of individual scientists. Since 2007, when a Supreme Court ruling found that, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the right to regulate...

Whistleblowers

Somehow I missed the movie The Whistleblower , an action film about a woman in the UN peacekeeping forces who tries to hold her male colleagues and superiors accountable for sexual coercion and abuse of girls, boys, and adults they are supposed to be protecting. (The movie is on my list now.) Women’s E-News reports that a UN screening of the film last week involved a testy exchange between Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the filmmakers, and others who say that the problem continues—and that the way that the UN deals with it is worse than inadequate. Buried in the report is an incredibly disturbing allegation: Movie director [Larysa] Kondracki also noted that top officials in U.N. headquarters should be scrutinized just as carefully as peacekeepers for their moral and legal conduct. "This is not just about peacekeepers on the ground. We have videos of high-level diplomats walking around U.N. headquarters with people they purchased," she said during the forum. If that's true, what hope...

Looking at Gadhadi

After Osama bin Laden was killed, I wrote a somewhat contrarian piece arguing that the government should release a photo of his body. I then went on NPR's On the Media to talk about it, alongside the New Yorker 's Philip Gourevitch, who was rather contemptuous of my position (audio here , transcript here ), but I stuck to it. And today, grainy video footage of Moammar Ghadafi's body has emerged. OTM asked me what I thought -- you can read my response here , as well as see the video if you haven't already, but here's what I had to say: This is a very different situation from the Bin Laden question. First, in that instance there were very few pictures of Bin Laden, and so an image of his end would be all the more important. Second, any photograph the U.S. government released would have been carefully composed to represent the American victory over him. In Gadhafi's case, the images are from cell phones -- they're much more spontaneous, chaotic, and violent. They don't display the...

A Jew of No Religion

Yoram Kaniuk has won: The prominent Israeli novelist is now very officially a Jew of no religion. Hundreds of other Israelis, inspired by his legal victory, want to follow his example and change their religious status to "none" in the country's Population Registry, while remaining Jews by nationality in the same government database. A new verb has entered Hebrew, lehitkaniuk , to Kaniuk oneself, to legally register an internal divorce of Jewish ethnicity from Jewish religion. Kaniuk is 81 years old, one of the surviving writers of Israel's founding generation. His latest and most lauded book is a memoir about fighting in the country's 1948 war of independence. He's also a veteran and sharp-penned critic of Jewish religion, which he has at times represented as an amalgam of the national religious extremism of the settlements, ultra-Orthodox fundamentalism, and the state's clerical bureaucracy. During the escalation of the secular-religious kulturkampf that followed the...

The Glorious Invasion

T hree weeks after September 11, 2001, the day I arrived in Moscow to begin as National Public Radio’s bureau chief, my editors gave me four hours to pack before I was dispatched on an overnight flight to the never-never land of Uzbekistan. It was a temporary stopping--off point before I went on to neighboring Afghanistan. I had never been to Uzbekistan and knew only that the place was renowned as a hotbed of terrified, stonewalling bureaucrats. It had taken the U.S. three weeks to turn Uzbekistan into its biggest regional ally, with the Uzbeks agreeing to provide an air base outside the city of Karshi in the southern part of the country. The U.S. State Department continued to list a yearly litany of Uzbekistan’s appalling human-rights abuses, but the offenses were subsumed under the “strategic partnership” mantra, a concession to the need to fight the war in Afghanistan and worry about human rights later. Before the Afghan War, foreign reporters were a rarity in Uzbekistan. But visa...

History's Missed Moment

Why did the greatest failure of laissez-faire capitalism since the Great Depression lead to a turn to the right rather than the left in both Europe and the U.S.?

(Sipa via AP Images) President of France's far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen gives a press conference after protesting a French National Assembly vote that authorized a 15 billion euro aid package for Greece.
The epic financial crash of 2007–2008 should have produced a massive political defeat for the conservative ideology whose resurgence began three decades ago. Its signal achievement, liberated finance, did not reward innovation, enhance economic efficiency, or produce broad prosperity. Rather, the result was a speculative bubble followed by a severe crash. Along the way, the super-rich captured a disproportionate share of the economy’s gains, while other incomes stagnated. In the aftermath, ordinary people have suffered large losses of earnings, assets, social protections, and hopes for their children. By any measure, therefore, 2008 was primed to be a political watershed on a par with 1932. History delivered a profound teachable moment for American progressives and European social democrats. But, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, between the idea and the reality fell the shadow. Three years after the financial dominoes toppled, right-wing ideas are ascendant and right-wing policies reign...

The Global Patriot Act

From the end of World War II to the start of the "global war on terror," international law provided crucial support for the promotion of human rights around the world. But the response to the September 11 attacks has had a profound and little-appreciated impact on international law with devastating global consequences for human rights, democracy, and constitutionalism. The Bush administration did not just persuade Congress to pass the USA Patriot Act, eliminating critical civil-liberties protections against excessive governmental powers. U.S. officials also mobilized the United Nations Security Council to require all U.N. member states to enact their own domestic versions of the Patriot Act, and many of those governments have used the new globally mandated security program to restrict rights, concentrate power, and suppress political dissent. George W. Bush was certainly no fan of international law. Whenever it became inconvenient, his administration lawyered around it. Officials...

Shoulda Had a Pre-Nup

Bailouts and immigration strain European Union.

(AP Photo/Koen van Weel, Pool) Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, is seen inside the courtroom in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 30, 2011.
Last Friday, Geert Wilders, the far-right leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, made his way to the Greek Embassy in the Hague. He went to deliver a blunt message for the country: Leave the Eurozone. He read a letter to reporters outside the building urging the financially embattled Greeks to abandon the Euro -- for their own sake and the sake of the other countries in the monetary union. He was then photographed holding up a blown-up replica of a 1.000- drachma note, the old Greek currency, just in case anyone had failed to grasp his not-so-subtle exhortation. A 47-year-old lapsed Roman Catholic, Wilders' radical views are a marked departure from the tolerant, consensus-seeking style that has typically characterized Dutch politics. He has described Islam as "fascist," compared the Quran to Mein Kampf , and campaigned for Islam's most holy text to be banned from the Netherlands. He is currently on trial in Amsterdam for inciting hatred. His Freedom Party, founded in 2004 mainly on an...

Governing Beyond His Means

Rep. Paul Ryan's foreign policy ideas are sensible, but his budget would make implementing them impossible.

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
When I saw that Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP budget guru who's led the charge for Medicare repeal, was planning a major address on foreign policy, my hopes were not high. Indeed, the speech he delivered last Thursday offered its fair share of nonsense, partisanship, and ideological ax-grinding. But in some respects, Ryan's core ideas about international relations were refreshingly sensible. For all his repeated claims that American international decline "is a choice" that policy-makers must resist, however, his speech also doubled down on budget ideas that make decline inevitable. Under the guise of preserving America's military strength, Ryan would gut our economy over the long run by weakening our physical infrastructure and disinvesting in the human beings who are our greatest asset. Consequently, even as Ryan, who has emerged as the new intellectual leader of the Republican Party, is pushing the GOP in a sensible direction on international relations, he's seeking to force the country...

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