Generating a highly publicized but low-risk diplomatic confrontation with a Western power would be consistent with Ecuadorian President Correa's legitimacy-boosting foreign policy.
Julian Assange interviews President Correa for his show on RT. (YouTube)
When Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa sat down three months ago for a TV interview with Wikileaks chief Julian Assange -- conducted remotely, as Assange was under house arrest in the U.K. awaiting potential extradition to Sweden on rape charges -- he was in a peppery mood. Forceful, flamboyant, occasionally quite funny, Correa was every bit the fiery populist that Ecuadorians, who seem to like him, have come to know so well.
This morning, Correa and Assange are entangled once more. In June, one month after their interview, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, apparently to avoid his looming extradition. Ecuadorian officials waffled on whether they would grant him the asylum he sought or potentially release him to the furious British authorities. Now, the Ecuadorian government has announced it will grant asylum. But physically uniting Assange and Correa could be extremely difficult, even impossible. Under international law, he is safe in the embassy, which U.K. authorities cannot legally breach. Still, it's not clear how he could get from the embassy to the airport without police nabbing him.
Ecuador's decision to grant Assange asylum appears, on the surface, bizarre or even irrational, given the apparent costs. The small-ish Latin American nation has effectively blown up relations with the much more powerful United Kingdom just over Assange, whose only real interest in Ecuador appears to come from one Ecuadorian officials' late 2010 hints of asylum. But it's possible that the diplomatic stand-off itself, and not Assange's freedom, is precisely Ecuador's goal.
Though we can't know the Ecuadorian government's motivation for sure, engineering a high-profile and possibly protracted confrontation with a Western government would actually be quite consistent with Correa's practice of using excessively confrontational foreign policy in a way that helps cement his populist credibility at home. It would also be consistent with his habit of using foreign embassies as proxies for these showdowns -- possibly because they tend to generate lots of Western outrage with little risk of unendurable consequences.
In his May interview with Assange, one of the first things Correa did was make a joke about his controversial decision to refuse to renew the U.S. lease on an air force base in his country, thus effectively shuttering it, to American outrage. "OK, there isn't any problem with a U.S. base being set up in Ecuador. We can give the go ahead as long as we are granted permission to set up an Ecuadorian military base in Miami. If there isn't any issue, they will agree," he said. Assange laughed. "Are you having a lot of fun? Me too," Correa said, laughing with his host. "Yes, I am enjoying your jokes a great deal."
Correa's government first announced that it would not renew the U.S. lease in July 2008, and both his officials and he personally continued to insist as much, and to rebuff American requests otherwise, right up through Correa's April 2009 re-election, which he won handily.
Correa, along with the more famously anti-American rulers of Venezuela and Nicaragua, is one of what the Washington Postrecently called "Latin America's new authoritarians." They are nationalistic, populist, and "increasingly undemocratic." Correa's frequent warnings of foreign infiltrators, typically American but always Western, often go hand-in-hand with his declarations of national sovereignty and, of course, crackdowns on some internal opponent. Also in the run-up to his 2009 re-election, Correa purged top military and intelligence officials, implying they were American spies.
Correa has particularly targeted the media, harassing or imprisoning journalists or outlets that report on his excesses of power. Assange actually asked him about this, if a bit gently (U.S. embassy officials had worried about the crackdown in cables that Wikileaks later released), and the Ecuadorian president's response was telling: those reporters were pawns of Western embassies, he said. "We have nothing to hide. Wikileaks only makes us stronger, as the main accusations made by the embassy were due to our excessive nationalism and defense of the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian government," he said.
Without skipping a beat, Correa linked his imprisonment of domestic journalists with the same populist, nationalist, anti-Western message that has long aided his domestic popularity and served as an explanation (or, you might say, an excuse) for what certainly looks like authoritarianism. "Indeed, we are nationalists; indeed we defend the sovereignty of our country," he said. "Many Wikileaks cables spoke about the interests in the national media, about the power groups who go to seek help, to foster relationships with foreign embassies, and benefit from the embassy's contacts. Here we fear absolutely nothing, let them publish everything they have."
Correa's dark suggestions that Western embassies in his country were secretly guiding those enemy-of-the-people journalists also hinted at his apparent view of embassies and diplomats as proxies for his confrontational shows. Last year, the Ecuadorian government made a show of expelling the U.S. ambassador, citing a relatively banal Wikileaks cable alleging that a retired police official might have been corrupt. In effect, this expulsion, like closing the U.S. air base, risked little in terms of U.S. retaliation. But they allowed Correa to appear as if boldly standing down the Western powers and championing the Ecuadorian nationalism that he's ridden to such popularity.
It's possible, of course, that Correa really does just like Assange, or that the Ecuadorian government is earnestly concerned that he will be mistreated by the Western governments. This would be an odd turn for a country that is otherwise quite harsh with journalists and political dissidents like Assange, but it's possible. Still, it would seem more consistent with Correa's use of flamboyantly confrontational, but ultimately low-risk, foreign policy as a means to bolster the anti-Western nationalism that is such a pillar of his populist legitimacy. If that's the case, then Assange might want to settle in at the London embassy, because the longer this stand-off with U.K. authorities lasts, the better for Correa.
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
After a five-month delay, Loretta Lynch made history last week. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general, the first African American woman ever to hold this Cabinet position. Her long-stalled nomination sometimes seemed in doubt, held hostage to partisan jockeying between Democrats and Republicans. But one political bloc never gave up, relentlessly rallying its support behind Lynch: the black sorority.
During her initial hearing, the seats behind Lynch were filled with more than two dozen of her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters arrayed in crimson-and-cream blazers and blouses, ensuring their visibility on the national stage. These Delta women—U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge and Joyce Beatty among them—were there to lend moral support and show the committee that they meant business. The Deltas were not alone. The Lynch nomination also drew support from congressional representatives from other black sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha members Terri Sewell and Sheila Jackson Lee took to the House floor to advocate for a vote while Sigma Gamma Rho members Corinne Brown and Robin Kelly and Zeta Phi Beta member Donna Edwards used social media and press conferences to campaign on Lynch’s behalf.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
I’m not a dog person. I prefer cats. Cats make you work to have a relationship with them, and I like that. But I have adopted several dogs, caving in to pressure from my kids. The first was Teddy, a rottweiler-chow mix whose bushy hair was cut into a lion mane. Kids loved him, and he grew on me, too. Teddy was probably ten years when we adopted him. Five years later he had multiple organs failing and it was time to put him to sleep.
When I arrived at the vet, he said I could drop him off. I was aghast. No. I needed to stay with Teddy.As the vet prepped the syringe to put him to sleep, I started sobbing. The vet gave me a couple minutes to collect myself and say goodbye. I held Teddy's paw until he died. Honestly, I didn't think I was that attached.
This week we have images of a Chilean volcano, migrants shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, the "Blue Forest" in Belgium, Kim Jong Un atop Mt Paektu, the Boston Marathon, Orcas hunting on a Patagonian beach, Saudi attacks on Yemen, tule elk along California's coastline, and much more.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal early on Saturday, centered 10 miles below the surface, less than 50 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. At least 2,200 are already reported to have been killed by the quake and subsequent avalanches triggered in the Himalayas. Historic buildings and temples were destroyed, leaving massive piles of debris in streets as rescue workers and neighbors work to find and help those still trapped beneath rubble. Below are images from the region of the immediate aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Nepal in decades. (Editor's note, some of the images are graphic in nature.)
In the fall of 2011, the U.S. Secret Service orchestrated a sting operation. The target was a Vietnamese man named Hieu Minh Ngo. Investigators believed he was a big-time identity thief who sold packages of data known as “fullz,” each of which typically included a person’s name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number, and e-mail address and password. Criminals could buy fullz from Ngo for as little as eight cents and then use them to open credit cards, take out loans, or file for bogus tax refunds. They could also pay Ngo for access to a vast database of people’s personal records.
As part of the operation, an agent attempted to buy the identities of hundreds of U.S. citizens. In such illegal transactions—be they for drugs, guns, or stolen identities—finding a payment system that both sides trust can be tricky. Cash is safest because it leaves no record. But handing over a briefcase stuffed with bills isn’t an option when the parties are on opposite sides of the planet. Ngo suggested an alternative. In an e-mail to the agent, he offered simple instructions: “Please pay to our LR: U8109093.”
In Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died shortly after being taken into police custody, an investigation may uncover homicidal misconduct by law enforcement, as happened in the North Charleston, South Carolina, killing of Walter Scott. Or the facts may confound the darkest suspicions of protestors, as when the Department of Justice released its report on the killing of Michael Brown.
What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.
Soon, thousand of police officers across the country will don body-worn cameras when they go out among the public. Those cameras will generate millions of hours of footage—intimate views of commuters receiving speeding tickets, teens getting arrested for marijuana possession, and assault victims at some of the worst moments of their lives.
As the Washington Post and the Associated Press have reported, lawmakers in at least 15 states have proposed exempting body-cam footage from local open records laws. But the flurry of lawmaking speaks to a larger crisis: Once those millions of hours of footage have been captured, no one is sure what to do with them.
I talked to several representatives from privacy, civil rights, and progressive advocacy groups working on body cameras. Even among these often allied groups, there’s little consensus about the kind of policies that should exist around releasing footage.