World

America In Decline

What freedom looks like.
I've always held that if there's one thing that proves America's superiority to all other nations, it's the quality of our television. Sure, other countries might be able to put together a Borgen or The Returned now and again, but nobody can match the good old U.S. of A. for our sheer quantity of top-shelf, high-production-value programming. But others might find proof of America's dominance not in our cultural hegemony but in our military hegemony. For years since September 11, we've been able to say proudly (or something) that we don't just spend more than every other country on Earth on our planes and bombs and fighting ships, we spend more than every other country on Earth combined . But if that's your measure of American greatness, you might want to sit down. The latest report on global military spending from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute is out, and the story they tell is a bracing one. What with the winding down of the Iraq War—and the increase in...

Chattanooga Showdown

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast
T his week—from Wednesday through Friday—employees at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee may well make history. Actually, they may make it twice. If a majority of the roughly 1,500 workers vote to recognize the United Auto Workers as their union, their plant will become the first unionized auto factory in the South. It will also become the first American workplace of any kind to have a works council—a consultative body of employees who regularly meet with management to jointly develop policy on such work-related issues as shifts, the best way to use new machinery, and kindred concerns. Mandated by law in Germany, works councils do not bargain over wages and benefits, but they do provide a way in which workers can have input into policies that affect their lives. They also have led to countless productivity increases in German manufacturing. The vote at Volkswagen marks the latest stage in the UAW’s decades-long campaign to organize auto plants in the South. In recent...

Frankly Scarlett, You Should Give a Damn

AP Images/Gali Tibbon
O utside of being celebrities and having Jewish mothers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Scarlett Johansson aren't usually thought of having a lot in common. But they've been displaying another shared quality of late: the ability to act clueless about the suddenly snowballing economic boycott of Israeli settlements. To be fair, it's a lot more likely that Netanyahu is the one putting on an act. Johansson sincerely appeared to have little idea about what she was getting into when she agreed to be the straw-sipping poster girl of SodaStream, the Israeli maker of home fizzy-drink devices that produces wares in the industrial park of a West Bank settlement. "I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement… or stance," she said in a press statement responding to criticism of her role advertising the firm. This sounds painfully naïve: Nothing having to do with Israeli settlements in occupied territory comes packaged without a political stance, but Johansson may have noticed...

What's a Responsible, Progressive Position on an Israeli Settlements Boycott?

AP Images/SodaStream
AP Images/SodaStream T he recent contretemps over actress Scarlett Johansson’s work for an Israeli company, partly based in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, highlights the growing international movement to pressure Israel economically to end its occupation. But it also highlights the need for American progressives to speak more clearly and explicitly about the policy outcome they’d like to see. Two weeks ago, when Al Jazeera America initially covered the increasing criticism over Johansson’s agreeing to become “brand ambassador” for the Israeli company SodaStream, which has a factory in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim near Jerusalem, it was mocked as a “ puny controversy .” Johansson “is apparently a huge fan of SodaStream’s product and will star in the company’s upcoming Super Bowl ad,” the Daily Beast ’s Nina Strochlic wrote, “no matter what those four people on Twitter say.” Within two weeks, however, the issue had grown, according to a Reuters headline, into a “ Super Bowl-...

The Moment of Creation

AP Images
AP Images O n May 12, 1948, President Harry Truman convened a tense Oval Office meeting. In less than three days, Britain would leave Palestine, where civil war already raged between Jews and Arabs. Clark Clifford, Truman’s special counsel, argued the position of American Zionist organizations and Democratic politicians: The president should announce that he would recognize a Jewish state even before it was established. Secretary of State George Marshall was incensed. “I don’t even know why Clifford is here,” Marshall said. “He is a domestic advisor, and this is a foreign policy matter.” Marshall was asking for an impossible division. Foreign policy and domestic politics can’t be kept apart in a democracy, nor should they be. But this incident, described in John Judis’s Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict , shows that the question of whether U.S. policy toward Israel is captive to a special-interest group has existed even longer than Israel has...

Daily Meme: Countdown to Sochi

The winter Olympics start a week from today, and the projected temperature for first day of competition is a not-particularly-wintry 45 degrees . Nobody could have predicted this would happen when you hold the games in a beach resort town , huh? Russia was awarded the games in part due to the efforts of Gafur Rakhimov to line up support among Asian countries for Russia's bid. Rakhimov is described by the U.S. government as a key member of an international crime syndicate called the Brother's Circle and one of the world's leading heroin kingpins. Rakhimov responded to allegations that he secured the support of some nations with bribes by saying, "It was not necessary." Speaking of bribes, one Russian businessman who alleged that the government demanded kickbacks in exchange for construction contracts in Sochi says he was told that for his whistleblowing, "You will be drowned in blood!" This may or may not be a quaint Russian expression meaning, "All the ladies of the village will bring...

What About Palestinian Security?

AP Images/Nasser Ishtayeh
The American approach to peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians has tended to prioritize different concerns for either side. For the Israelis, the focus is usually on security, for the Palestinians, sovereignty. But a recent episode in the West Bank highlights the need for greater attention to Palestinian security needs in the context of continuing Israeli occupation. On January 7, a group of Israeli settlers from the outpost of Esh Kodesh approached the nearby village of Qusra , allegedly for the purpose of carrying out a “price tag” attack. “Price tag” is the term for acts of settler vandalism and violence against Palestinian persons and property carried out specifically in response to Israeli government acts against settlement expansion, with the goal being to raise the political price of moving against settlements. (In this case, the offending action was the Israeli army’s destruction of an agricultural plot near the Esh Kodesh outpost.) According to an eyewitness report ,...

Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities.

AP Images/Stephen Chernin
S ince Edward Snowden started disclosing millions of classified NSA documents in June, terms like metadata, software backdoors, and cybervulnerability have appeared regularly in headlines and sound bites. Many Americans were astonished when these stories broke. In blogs, comment sections, and op-ed pages, they expressed disbelief and outrage. But I wasn’t surprised. A decade ago, I sat talking to a young mother on welfare about her experiences with technology. When our conversation turned to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT), Dorothy* said, “They’re great. Except [Social Services] uses them as a tracking device.” I must have looked shocked, because she explained that her caseworker routinely looked at her EBT purchase records. Poor women are the test subjects for surveillance technology, Dorothy told me ruefully, and you should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next. Poor and working-class Americans already live in the surveillance future. The revelations that are so...

Europe Limps on in the Year Ahead

T he last meeting of the European Council in December 2013 was absent of much concern for economics. Instead the Council, a body made up of heads of EU states, who come together twice a year to discuss big picture policy issues, decided to focus on security and foreign policy instead. It was a sign that the region was no longer in an acute economic crisis and that other issues like the protests in Ukraine and the NSA’s spying program were of graver concern. In 2014 don’t expect the troubled waters of the eurocrisis to recede completely, but do look forward to a year full of small scares and pseudo-crises that might seem big but will amount to little. While the political calendar is sparse and there are no major elections in any important EU states, one of the core EU countries, Italy, remains a political mess. And with the Italians taking over the rotating EU presidency in June, some analysts are worried the current Italian government might fall before then, which would create an...

Israel's Ultimate Rightist Smiles at Kerry. Be Suspicious

AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool O n Sunday morning it seemed that Israeli scientists, or perhaps John Kerry, had learned how to do personality transplants. The first operation was reserved for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, heretofore the growling voice of unreconstructed Israeli ultra-nationalism. "I want to express my true appreciation of the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, who works day and night … to bring an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians," Lieberman told a conference of Israeli ambassadors who were home from posts around the world. Kerry's positions on a peace agreement, Lieberman added, were better than "any alternative proposal that Israel will receive from the international community." Two days earlier, Lieberman had met with Kerry and issued an upbeat statement declaring that the American-brokered negotiations "must continue." Was this the same man who began his first term as foreign minister in 2009 by declaring that the previous round...

We Haven’t Heard the Last of Liz Cheney

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia Monday morning, members of Al Qaeda were popping the (non-alcoholic, of course) champagne corks. Why? Because the news had just broken that Liz Cheney would be dropping out of the Wyoming Senate race . With this bold warrior-patriot no longer standing guard, America moved one tick closer to sharia rule, and Al Qaeda closer to ultimate global victory. Nonsense, of course, though when one considers the way Cheney announced her candidacy as the urgent and necessary response to a president who “has so effectively diminished our strength abroad that there’s no longer a question about whether this was his intent,” (yes, she suggested that Barack Obama went to the trouble of entering political life, running for Senate, then running for president just to make America weaker ) one could be forgiven for wondering if she actually thinks that. Cheney’s stated reason for her withdrawal from the race was that “ serious health issues have recently...

Kerry’s Middle East Grind

F or most who spend time watching and analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, weary cynicism is the default pose. It’s not entirely unjustified. Few conflicts have seen as many false starts and dashed hopes as the effort to negotiate an end to Israel’s occupation and create a Palestinian state. So the skepticism that greeted Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that he would take up the issue as one of the priorities of his tenure was not surprising. What was surprising was the vigor with which Kerry approached the issue from the get-go. Multiple visits to the region soon resulted in a re-introduction of the Arab Peace Initiative , in which Arab states promised full normalization with Israel in exchange for a resolution of the Palestinian issue, and, later in the summer, a re-start of talks, with Israelis and Palestinians both committing to stay in negotiations for at least nine months. The road hasn’t been an easy one. While all sides agreed not to speak to the press...

The "Infiltrators"—Israel's Unwanted Asylum Seekers

As Sudanese and Eritreans marched on Jerusalem earlier this week, it became harder for the government to ignore its refugee issue.

Gershom Gorenberg
Gershom Gorenberg T hey simply left. As soon as they got the chance, the refugees from Darfur and other parts of Sudan and from Eritrea walked out of the guarded camp in the Negev desert and marched north in bitter winter weather toward Jerusalem. There they stood Tuesday afternoon, on an icy sidewalk facing the Knesset, holding up brown cardboard signs with handwritten slogans, chanting in eerily subdued voices halfway between determination and desperation, until they were arrested, manhandled onto buses and sent back to the desert. This is the condensed version of the refugees' dramatic three-day protest this week. It is also a condensed version of their lives: They are people—young men, almost all—who made the dangerous decision to leave their countries because staying was even more dangerous. They headed north into Egypt, then crossed the Sinai desert into Israel, hoping for freedom and safety, and were imprisoned as "infiltrators." But the end of the protest this week is not the...

The Year in Preview: Dates of Judgment in the Middle East

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite I n front of the United States State Department, two large digital screens should be erected by New Year's, showing the countdown to the Obama administration's looming foreign-policy deadlines for 2014. One screen would flash the days left before March 29, when the nine months allocated by Secretary of State John Kerry for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations run out. By then, the two sides have to reach agreement, or at least show enough progress to have reason to keep talking. On the other screen, we'd see the time remaining until May 24, when the six-month interim accord on Iran's nuclear program ends—with a longterm accord, or well-founded hope of one, or a return to an unpredictable confrontation. In principle, the only thing that links success on the two tracks is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence that peace with the Palestinians depends on removing the Iranian nuclear threat. But the two diplomatic challenges do share common...

NBC's Big Fat Gay Mistake

The network's half-hearted attempts to appear gay-friendly while broadcasting the Sochi Olympics only underscore its complicity with the Kremlin's crackdown on LGBT rights and freedom of the press.

Flickr/Edgar Zuniga
Flickr/Edgar Zuniga T here is no longer even the illusion of a free press in Russia—not after yesterday, when the Kremlin posted a decree on its website announcing the liquidation of RIA Novosti , the leading state news agency. “The move,” the news service wrote in its own account of the story, “is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.” That “tightening,” which intensified when Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to power last year and immediately set about silencing any form of opposition to his notoriously crooked government, has reached a fever pitch in the months leading up to Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this February. The country and the games have come under increasing international scrutiny and criticism: First, in the wake of the Kremlin’s passage, this past June, of a trifecta of draconian anti-LGBT laws...

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