Archive for November, 2008

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

November 19, 2008

TOP STORIES

Mr. Maliki Speaks (And the World Waits)

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Iraqi Citizens watch Mr. Maliki speak: (Karim Kadim/The Associated Press)

November 19, 2008: IRAQ-Six days before the Iraqi Parliament is scheduled to vote on the U.S. security agreement—which sets a 2011 deadline for American combat troops to leave Iraq—Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has publicly defended the pact for the first time. Additionally, the U.S. security agreement includes conditions such as no detainees, detention centers, American prisons or building raids without an Iraqi judicial warrant. In Mr. Maliki’s words, the agreement is “a strong beginning to get back full sovereignty in Iraq in three years.” The public statement comes in the wake of allegations of conspiracy, with opponents stating that negotiations have occurred in secrecy, and supporters—mostly Shiite and Kurdish legislators—trying to soothe voters into reaching the necessary majority. As the election dates close in, Sunni legislators have scrambled to submit specific demands, including amnesty for over 16,000 detainees.  Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most influential Shiite clerics in Iraq, may have summed it up best, stating: “any agreement that doesn’t win national consensus, will not be acceptable and will be a reason for more suffering for Iraqis.” Such consensus is certainly not being helped along by Iran, whose leading conservatives have denounced the agreement for “exploiting Iraq”. For now, the only thing to do is pop some popcorn and wait.

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Rainbows Over New Dehli

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 November 19, 2008: INDIA-On Tuesday, India and Egypt solidified their ties by signing five accords. The accords established an extradition treaty, cooperation on the uses of outer space, joint fighting against terrorism, and the push for reform of the global economic system. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the talks “productive and fruitful” and expressed that the two countries are looking to strengthen relations. The economy was the major emphasis of the talks, as last year bilateral trade between the two countries reached $2.2 billion. India is looking to scale up investment, as Egypt has historically been an important gateway for Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.  The two sides also signed a “memorandum of understanding” that abolished visa requirements for those with special passports crossing both borders. With all the sludgy, grey diplomacy going on in the world right now, it’s a bit refreshing to hear two leaders gush so enthusiastically about one another. Rumor has it that rainbows and unicorns were also present at the accord table.

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BRIEFS (Still No Boxers)

In the midst of negotiations, China stated that any attempt on the Dalai Lama’s part to separate Tibet would be utterly “doomed.” Rumor has it, that this was followed by: “We wants it, we needs it, my precious…” 

A combination of Chile’s private and public health sector failed to notify at least 2,000 citizens that they had contracted AIDS

 Congo rebels have agreed to pull back forces until talks with the military on Wednesday.

Obama is reportedly indecisive about the continuation of Star Wars; also upset about the cost of Natalie Portman’s hairpieces and light sabers.  

Those pesky Somali pirates are at it again, hijacking a Saudi supertanker carrying more than $100 million worth of crude oil and another Iranian vessel. When is Hollywood going to get on this? 

Australians hope that the Baz Luhrman’s film “Australia” will spur tourism. In other news: Aussie tourism bureau offers Hugh Jackman free keg of VB for every minute he remains shirtless. 

Good Deed of the Week: 

Just over two years ago, Jeff Stein of the New York Times tiptoed around Capitol Hill and asked important policy makers the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite. Can’t remember? Don’t feel too guilty, most American officials couldn’t remember either. Let’s change this once and for all. As an early Christmas/Chanukkah present, pass this article around to all your well-meaning friends. Maybe by 2009, even Joe the Plumber will be able to rattle this baby off. As for that other scary question that you secretly hope no one ever asks you–Never fear, Diplomatic Courier is here. The Prime Minister of Canada is Stephen Harper. 

The Article. 

By Dana Liebelson

 

 

 

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

November 12, 2008

TOP STORIES

Dr. Phil and the Steady Spine

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November 12, 2008: TURKEY-There’s a new marriage counselor in town to mediate that perpetually-on-the-rocks couple—the United States and Iran—and his name is Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Don’t be embarrassed if you’re still stumbling over the syllables, he’s the Prime Minister of Turkey and he optimistically stated this week: “I do believe we could be useful.” The move demonstrates Turkey’s growing role as mediator between the East and West. Recently, Turkey has been the Dr. Phil of international headlines, most notably refreshing relations with Iraq and driving a heated debate concerning secularism and women’s head scarfs. For the record, Turkey currently supports the Iranian position of its Western allies, but believes sanctions are “weakening Iranian reformists.” After lengthy soured negotiations with Iraq, it’s no wonder Mr. Erdogan wants to step up to the plate and take a stand before Iran further isolates itself politically and economically. Turkey’s secular constitution makes the move risky, but demonstrates a willingness to restart the negotiation process under the new Obama Administration (Gee, it’s strange to write that.) As for Mr. Erdogan’s advice for the new president—“Maintain the steadiness of your spine, but don’t engage in fights.” Seems like that moustache might be more than a coincidence.   

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Girls Rule (At least, they’re going to try)

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Bangladesh protests in 2007

November 12, 2008: BANGLADESH- Around one year ago, Bangladesh generals saddled up and rode into President Iajuddin Ahmed’s palace and demanded that he cease elections and declare a state of emergency. Two weeks ago, Mr. Ahmed finally gave the military the boot and set a firm date for elections in December. Despite this being the longest state of emergency in South Asian history, culminating in months of violent protests; things are starting to look, dare we say, optimistic. The two frontrunners, Sheikh Wajed and Khaleda Zia, are both female former prime ministers who have been jailed. The former was paroled in June and the latter freed this month on bail. Mrs. Wajed is favored, and for now it appears the military will grudgingly accept her as the new prime minister. The election has “a better chance of being credible than any since independence in 1971.” Hip Hip Hooray for Democracy. 

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BRIEFS (Not Boxers)

China has ponied up to a $586 million* dollar aid package. *Soon equal to roughly 50 American cents. 

Following that popular South American trend, Rwanda has expelled the German ambassador on grounds that Germany violated the nation’s sovereignty. The Rwandan ambassador is going home too. Ouch. 

A notorious Taiwanese anti-corruption crusader was jailed for, um, corruption—but on the Taiwan version of Cops he was ushered into the car yelling “Go Taiwan!”  

Political dissidents in Myanmar were sentenced up to 65 years in prison, with a musician and HIV activist still getting 6 years. 

Israel has resumed fuel shipments to Gaza after a sealed border last week led the UN to announce that it would need to supply food handouts to 750,000 Gazans if the blockade continued. 

And finally, Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has applied for an extension of his presidential term—because, honestly, who wouldn’t want to have that job right now? 

By Dana Liebelson

DEBATE OF THE WEEK:

What do you think should be the Obama Administration’s first priority in foreign affairs?

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

November 5, 2008

STILL WANT THE JOB?

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In (hopefully) less than 12 hours, the world will know the name of the 44th President of the United States. With a floundering economy, two wars, and a torrent of domestic problems stacked on the table on day one—let’s be thankful that anyone wants the job at all. Although the world has listened closely to the candidates’ positions on the headliner foreign policy issues—the War on Terror and Iraq—there are other international issues that are less popular and equally pressing. Without further ado, four areas of the world that can’t be ignored come January 20th.  

CHINA-The sleeping dragon has woken up, and the United States needs to take heed. Besides having 20% of the world’s population and the largest standing army, China is America’s top trading partner. Additionally, China’s $1.9 trillion currency reserve is nothing to scoff at, particularly at a time when the United States is searching the couch cushions for spare change. If the next president fails to engage Hu Jintao on the issues of government control, Tibet and China’s ambitious military modernization, someone else will. 

SOMALIA-As much fun as the Open Border has had with the Somali Pirate incident, the grim truth is that Somalia is the top failed state and a major hotbed for Islamic insurgency. The widespread instability has the potential to overspill to its neighbors, allowing extremism and terrorist groups to flourish unchecked. It will be difficult to solve the nearby crises in Zimbabwe and Sudan without acknowledging the effect of Somali instability, and engagement with Somalia is synonymous with the War on Terror. 

DR CONGO-The situation in the Congo is fast becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis that no one has ever heard of. While lacking the attention-grabbing label of genocide, the ongoing conflict between the rebel army and the government has displaced over a million and continues to add to the civil war’s 5.4 million death toll. The recent reports that the UN has failed to provide stability proves that the United States will need to take a stance on the conflict on the grounds of humanity.

MEXICO-The time has come for the next president to acknowledge that the four-decade war on drugs in Mexico has not worked. Violence has become the norm, and America’s $400 million aid package has been offset by the American market for the same drugs the money is supposed to fight. A new policy will have to encompass everything from gun control to economic aid, but it needs to be made a priority. In two years there have been 4,000 deaths from drug skirmishes, which comes close to warranting the title of a crisis. 

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WEEKLY BRIEFS (Not Boxers)

Taiwan and China signed a historic agreement allowing new shipping links and flights across the Taiwan Strait, an area previously noted as a potential war zone. 

The Pakistani Prime Minister implored the next U.S. president to cease missile strikes and trust Pakistan to work with U.S. intelligence to find al-Qaida. 

One of Osama bin Laden’s nineteen sons has decided to seek asylum in Spain 

The Dalai Lama has expressed frustration on talks with Beijing, stating that Tibet is “now dying” under China’s firm grip.  

Talks to reunify Cyprus have resumed again for about the umpteeth time

By Dana Liebelson

 

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Objective Media?

November 4, 2008

Reading the coverage of the U.S. election, you get a sense that the news media are concerned about looking dispassionate, objective. As the voters pull leavers in their booths, one meme has begun to crop up: Democrat Barack Obama is going to win the election-probably.

FT’s Gideon Rachman:

Everything I read suggests that Obama has it all wrapped up – he leads in the polls, his campaign is more focused, better financed and better organised, the McCain team are squabbling with each other, even diehard Republicans are endorsing Obama.

He can’t lose. Can he?

Newly-ennobled Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman in the NYT: “Maybe the polls are wrong, and John McCain is about to pull off the biggest election upset in American history.”

Even Krugman’s right-leaning Times colleague William Kristol expects Mr. Obama to win, but entertains the thought, “But what if John McCain pulls off an upset?”

I find this faux-objectivity, this idea of covering one’s bases, odd. Rather than enhancing the message and educating readers to what is happening — the founding principle of journalism, it would seem — the string dilutes rather than distills. What is wrong with saying, all objective measurements point to an Obama victory at this time? Though these measures are imperfect their collective weight would suggest that America’s new president will come from Illinois.

Tacking on a throw-away addendum about how McCain might do this or that is more about covering a journalist’s rear-end, than it is about reporting the facts (a slippery word, I recognize). Slate’s John Dickerson summarizes it the best:

This situation lends a feeling of unreality to the proceedings as we begin to measure the time until Election Day in hours. It is the elephant on the campaign plane. No one is letting on. Journalists aren’t supposed to. Plus, we’ve been wrong so often, and politics can be so unpredictable, it would be dumb to say that Obama is going to win big.

Furthermore, it smacks of what nervous liberals say: that they are hopeful, but worried something will … go wrong. This fact only reinforces the idea that the media is full of liberal Democrats who weave words to support their candidate, while preaching non-partisan objectivity.

Perhaps I am mixing up commentary with reporting, interesting reading with objectivity. Whatever the case, I would like to make a stand here and now: Barack Obama is, I think, if all goes as is expecting, on course to likely become the 44th president of the United States — probably.

Mark C. Partridge
Contributing Editor