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.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR:
A Brooklyn-based group is arguing that the displacement of longtime residents meets a definition conceived by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II.
No one will be surprised to learn that the campaign to build a national movement against gentrification is being waged out of an office in Brooklyn, New York.
For years, the borough’s name has been virtually synonymous with gentrification, and on no street in Brooklyn are its effects more evident than on Atlantic Avenue, where, earlier this summer, a local bodega protesting its impending departure in the face of a rent hike, put up sarcastic window signs advertising “Bushwick baked vegan cat food” and “artisanal roach bombs.”
Just down the block from that bodega are the headquarters of Right to the City, a national alliance of community-based organizations that since 2007 has made it its mission to fight “gentrification and the displacement of low-income people of color.” For too long, organizers with the alliance say, people who otherwise profess concern for the poor have tended to view gentrification as a mere annoyance, as though its harmful effects extended no further than the hassles of putting up with pretentious baristas and overpriced lattes. Changing this perception is the first order of business for Right to the City: Gentrification, as these organizers see it, is a human-rights violation.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Climate change means the end of our world, but the beginning of another—one with a new set of species and ecosystems.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 degrees and a peak of 102 degrees. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
But letting customers buy their own would force cable companies to improve their equipment.
One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?
In New Orleans and elsewhere, old-line parochial schools are seeing their enrollments plummet.
NEW ORLEANS—A more or less orderly line of 4-year-olds, the boys in uniform blue polo shorts and the girls in plaid-checked jumpers, line up in the corridor of St. Rita Catholic School in the neighborhood known as Uptown.
College banners hang from the ceilings, inspirational passages on the walls, and a sign on the door that says these newest, youngest St. Rita scholars will be heading to college in 2029.
Catholic schools like this one have exceptional records of success; almost all of their graduates do, in fact, go on to college. But that hasn’t been enough to keep them from hemorrhaging students.Confronted with falling birth rates and demographic shifts, rising tuition, the growth of charter schools, and other challenges, parochial schools are seeing their enrollments plummet.