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.
If Trump were right to blame all of his problems on messaging, perhaps the smooth-talking businessman could solve them. But he’s not.
Watching Anthony Scaramucci’s formal introduction as White House communications director on Friday, it was clear why President Trump wanted him for the gig.
Even though he’s never worked as a spokesman for anyone other than himself (and a great spokesman he was, bringing wide renown to an underachieving hedge fund), Scaramucci looked at home behind the lectern in the White House Briefing Room. Moreover, he was everything that Sean Spicer—the long-suffering press secretary who announced his resignation today—was not.
Where Spicer was nervous, tentative, and likely to stumble over his words, Scaramucci was smooth, relaxed, and confident. Where Spicer’s suits were often ill-fitting, Scaramucci was sharply tailored. Where Spicer was a career cog in the Republican machine, Scaramucci is a swaggering New Yorker who speaks in the same clunky business pidgin as the president and can drop names nearly as prodigiously too. (Goldman Sachs, Yankees president Randy Levine, and Harvard Law School were a few of Scaramucci’s mentions during his brief spell at the mic.) Where Spicer’s professions of praise for the president always seemed mousy, pleading, perhaps a little browbeaten, Scaramucci brought the sincere sycophancy that comes from truly adoring Donald Trump. When did Spicer ever say he “loves” the president?
Trump doubles down on his performative war against the press by hiring the most skilled performers.
On the night of the 2016 election, Sean Spicer took a break from celebrating Donald Trump’s victory to demand that I “eat crow.”
I was standing in the New York Hilton ballroom waiting for Trump to deliver his victory speech, when Spicer approached me out of the blue, in the full glow of triumph. His impulse to gloat was understandable—the campaign had defied the polls, humiliated the pundits, pulled off the impossible. Spicer was in the mood to dunk on a reporter, and I was in his line of sight.
The confrontation didn’t last longer than a minute, and quickly devolved into Spicer calling me “dude” in that aggressive, sputtering style that would soon be immortalized on Saturday Night Live, while he accused me of “advocating for Hillary.” When he noticed I was recording him, he abruptly ended our conversation and stomped off.
On Flower Boy the rapper suggests he’s not straight—and struggles with a stigma he helped propagate.
Tyler, the Creator became famous, in part, for being hateful. When his rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (“Odd Future” is fine) caught buzz around 2010, it was because of their delirious energy and Eminem-like love of mayhem. But it was their threats against women and “faggots,” delivered in song and on social media, that elevated them from subculture phenomenon to become essay prompt and political flashpoint. The likes of GLAAD and the band Tegan and Sara declared Tyler poisonous and asked the music industry to stop supporting him. Theresa May, back when she was home secretary of the U.K., took the extraordinary step of banning him from her country because his lyrics “encourage violence and intolerance of homosexuality.”
The White House is threatening the special counsel and trying to dig up dirt on him, and the prospect that the president will try to fire him now seems very real.
The idea that Donald Trump might fire—or try to fire—Special Counsel Robert Mueller has bubbled up enough times to seem possible, but still improbable. For one thing (as Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, among others, can attest) press reports that this president might fire someone are frequently wrong. For another, it seemed that even Trump was prudent enough to avoid making the mistake that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Yet Trump has a knack for making the wildly implausible suddenly imminent. In the last 36 hours, the idea of Mueller being fired—and the political crisis it would likely set off—has become distinctly real. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump all but said he would fire Mueller if his investigation went into places Trump didn’t like. Since then, several reports have suggested that Trump’s defense strategy, as investigations probe deeper into his life and administration, is to attack Mueller and attempt to discredit him. Increasingly, the operative question seems not to be whether Trump will try to fire Mueller, but when he will do so and what will push him over the edge.
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
The choice of the former hedge funder and ardent Trump loyalist reflected longstanding dissatisfaction with Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The Scaramucci revolution was televised.
After months of chatter that his job was on the chopping block, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer finally exited stage right on Friday after financier, donor and TV talking head Anthony Scaramucci was given the job of White House communications director, which had been vacant since the departure of Mike Dubke in May. Spicer resigned in opposition to the move.
The incident brought simmering conflicts inside the White House to a boil and pitted top advisers against each other in a last-minute effort on the part of some of them to stymie the appointment of Scaramucci, known as “The Mooch,” who had refashioned himself as an ardent Trump supporter during the campaign and had been left in limbo during the early days of the administration after not getting a promised job.
There are no legal or ethical reasons for the special counsel to turn away if he discovers indications of misconduct that are unrelated to the original Russia inquiry.
President Trump is reportedly apoplectic over the possibility that Special Counsel Robert Mueller might look into his finances—specifically his tax returns—as part of Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump suggested in a New York Times interview that would constitute a possible “violation,” and according to the The Washington Post the president is already looking into whether he can pardon associates, family members, and himself.
But there are no legal or ethical reasons for Mueller to turn away if, during his investigation, he discovers crimes that are unrelated to the original inquiry.
“Mueller is the Department of Justice for the purposes of this investigation," said John Q. Barrett, a former assistant counsel in the special prosecutor’s office during the Iran-Contra affair who is now a law professor at St. John’s University.
President Trump’s press secretary has resigned in protest of the president's decision to name a former hedge-fund executive as communications director.
Updated on July 21 at 1:50 p.m.
The White House saw a dramatic shake-up in its communications team Friday, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned and President Trump appointed Anthony Scaramucci, a former hedge-fund manager, to be the administration’s communications director.
The moves will have far-reaching, though as yet unpredictable, ramifications for a presidency that has not yet found its footing amid the rockiest relationship with the press in recent history. Trump has been unable to pass any of his major legislative priorities and finds himself beset by an investigation into whether his campaigncolluded with what U.S. intelligence agencies have called a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election in his favor, among other matters. He has reportedly blamed his communications staff for his travails.
Epic yet intimate, the director's new war film is boldly experimental and visually stunning.
What is Dunkirk?
The answer is more complicated than one might imagine. Director Christopher Nolan’s latest is a war film, of course, yet one in which the enemy scarcely makes an appearance. It is a $150 million epic, yet also as lean and spare as a haiku, three brief, almost wordless strands of narrative woven together in a mere 106 minutes of running time. It is classic in its themes—honor, duty, the horror of war—yet simultaneously Nolan’s most radical experiment since Memento. And for all these reasons, it is a masterpiece.
The historical moment captured by the film ascended long ago to the level of martial lore: In May 1940, in the early days of World War II, some 400,000 British and Allied troops were flanked and entrapped by Germany on the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France. Although the Channel was narrow enough that the men could almost see across to England, the waters were too shallow for warships to approach the beaches. So a flotilla of some 700 civilian craft—the “Little Ships of Dunkirk”—made their way from Ramsgate in England to assist in the rescue.
Like many current presidential advisers, the new White House communications director and former Wall Street financier made a quick pivot from Trump basher to Trump loyalist.
Like many of Donald Trump’s closest non-family advisers, Anthony Scaramucci traveled a circuitous route into the inner orbit of the mercurial president.
The Wall Street financier and former Obama donor once called then-candidate Trump “a hack politician,” a big-mouthed “bully,” and “an inherited money dude from Queens County” and backed two other Republican presidential contenders, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, before embracing Trump as the party’s nominee.
Nearly two years later, Scaramucci, 52, is one of Trump’s most aggressive television surrogates and, as of Friday morning, the White House communications director.
In truth, the smooth-talking Long Island native—nicknamed “the Mooch”—made the transition from Trump basher to Trump loyalist quicker than many Republicans. After a 90-minute meeting with the candidate at Trump Tower in June 2016, Scaramucci was fully onboard and soon praised Trump as “a results-oriented entrepreneur capable of delivering bipartisan solutions to common-sense problems.” The soon-to-be GOP nominee, Scaramucci added, was “the only candidate giving an honest assessment of our country’s ideological decay.”