World

One of the most prurient aspects of reading the personal emails written to and by Bashar al Assad that were obtained by The Guardian has been the chance to observe the dictator’s strange shopping habits on iTunes. Apparently, the Syrian dictator is a big fan of contemporary party music. But Bashar is far from the first dictator to have a strange relationship with pop culture.

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Late last year, as the regime of Bashar Assad was continuing its murderous rampage against the people of Syria, the governments of Iran and Russia offered their diplomatic support. But Bashar also received significant practical assistance from a much more unlikely ally: an Italian surveillance firm by the name of Area SpA. Throughout all of 2011, employees of that company were being flown to Damascus to direct Syrian intelligence officers in the installation of a computer system that would allow the Syrian government to scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country.

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Istanbul, Turkey—Last week, the Turkish journalist Oray Eğin returned to Turkey to attend his father’s funeral. It was the first time he’d been home in months, and when he arrived at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, he was detained. The news immediately spread, making headlines: Yet another Turkish journalist arrested! It turned out, however, that Eğin was being questioned for an entirely different reason—a benign legal matter unrelated to his profession.

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Turkey’s boldest response to the crisis in Syria came last week, when Prime Minister Erdogan called for the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors to help civilians there. But those hoping that Ankara’s aggressive rhetoric will soon be matched by equally assertive action will be sorely disappointed.

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When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit northeastern Japan one year ago, triggering a massive tsunami that claimed close to 20,000 lives and caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the government, relief agencies, and people around the world were quick to offer their support and aid. Many hoped for speedy rebuilding of the devastated region, while others saw the catastrophes as proof that Japan needed to rethink its energy policy.

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The economic crisis in Europe reached its latest crescendo last night, as Greece managed, through furious last-minute negotiations, to convince its creditors to give it some more breathing room. But if the Greeks have managed to stave off ruin for a few more minutes, nothing has essentially changed in their situation: Their economy is still in shambles.  The burning question on most observers’ minds, and rightfully so, is whether the Greeks will ever manage to pay back their debts. But at this stage, it’s also worth considering how we ended up on the precipice of such catastrophe at all.

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When the President of the United States repeatedly says he’s got your back, and in precisely those words, what more can you ask for? Yet as I read Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg in The Atlantic, then his speech to the AIPAC convention, and finally reports of his meeting with Netanyahu, I felt increasingly uneasy. True, Obama went farther than he ever has in reassuring Israel of his commitment to stopping a nuclear Iran. He explicitly mentioned the military option. He upheld Israel’s right to defend itself.

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I.  It is not the business of Israel, although it seems to be the business of the politicians of Israel, to hector and harass President Obama about the release of Jonathan Pollard, who served as a certified espionage agent of the Jewish state in and against its one truly reliable ally, the United States of America. Maybe Pollard’s sentence was a bit harsher than it should have been. But I don’t even concede that. In any case, there are probably hundreds of thousands of convicts now in jail who can argue that their prison sentence was not equable or even just in the first place.

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Just a year has gone by since the Arab Spring first hit Libya, and celebrations of Libya's liberation from its despicable dictator aren't exactly making headlines. Indeed, has there been much to glorify? There is little semblance of a central government, and intertribal fighting shows no signs of abatement. Are the Libyan people better off now than they were before France and Britain, with the United States "leading from behind," rushed to the rescue of the 2011 revolution?

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There is a temptation to think of the two Koreas as twins. But certainly not identical twins. After Japan surrendered to the United States and the Soviet Union in August 1945 (the Soviets had only been in the war for days … really just for days!), battered Tokyo relinquished the peninsula it had seized and brutalized from 1910 onwards. Korea had gone through nearly a half century of both imperialism and colonialism, quite different manifestations of similar instincts, and was left again as a captive nation. With a difference, of course.

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