For those born after a certain year, Barbara Walters may be best known for her banter with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on her talk show The View -- or her interviews with the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Michael Jackson. But with the 83-year-old Walters officially retiring next summer, we wanted to remind the whippersnappers among us to show some respect: Before The View, Walters snagged interviews with some of the most defining world leaders of the late 20th century.
Walters, after all, rode in a jeep with Fidel Castro, picking his gun up off the floor when they forded streams so it wouldn't get wet. She sparked a fight between the shah of Iran and his wife over whether women were capable of ruling countries. She asked Jiang Zemin whether he knew what happened to Tiananmen Square's tank man. More recently, she spoke with Bashar al-Assad about the Syrian military's brutal campaign against its own citizens.
Below is a selection of some of Walters's most noteworthy sit-downs with world leaders in the more than 50 years she's been on television.
Walters first met Fidel Castro in 1975, but had to wait two more years before she was able to nab the first American TV interview with the Cuban president. During her time on the island, Castro brought her to the mountains where he had been a guerrilla fighter (Walters and her production team spent the night at his camp). Her interview with him lasted five hours and, "in an unprecedented action," almost all of it aired on Cuban television. "The only part he deleted," Walters wrote, "was my question about whether he is married and his evasive answer. 'Formally, no!'"
Shah Reza Pahlavi
In the interview below, Walters asks the shah about how much support the CIA was providing to the Iranian regime. "Does the CIA play any part in this country today?" she asks. "Sure -- gathering information. We don't mind," the ruler replies.
The interview also included questions about the shah's views on women. "So you don't feel that women are in that sense equal, if they have the same intelligence or ability," Walters inquires. "Not so far," the shah replies. "Maybe you will become in the future. We can always have some exceptions."
"I give the shah credit," Walters later said. "He was certainly not politically correct ... he said what was on his mind."
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin
It was an historic milestone in November 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel since its founding. While he was there, Walters got him to agree to a joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Begin told Walters that he convinced Sadat to do the interview together "for the sake of our friend Barbara"). In the video below, Walters describes how she arranged the interview (footage of the interview itself wasn't available).
Walters later spoke of her admiration for Sadat. "He had such courage," she said.
During his interview with Walters, the new Chinese premier displayed what the New York Times called "a stunning cynicism" about the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square, which had taken place just a year earlier. The army behaved "with great tolerance and restraint," Jiang told Walters. "I don't think any government in the world will permit the occurrence of such an incident as happened in Beijing."
"It takes a lot to stop Barbara Walters in her tracks," New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield wrote. But even she was stunned when Jiang called the incident "much ado about nothing."
"We feel it's a great deal to do about something," she eventually retorted.
As late as 2011, Walters was still going after big names, scoring an exclusive interview with President Bashar al-Assad after the protests in Syria had begun (Walters later took some heat for assisting an aide of Assad's who she admitted helped her get the interview).
"Do you feel guilty?" Walters asks Assad toward the end of the conversation. "I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty, when you do your best," he responds. "You feel sorry for the lives that has been lost, but you don't feel guilty -- when you don't kill people."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Mann -- director of the venerable Al Pacino/Robert De Niro movie Heat and The Last of the Mohicans -- is working on a new film, and its plotline sounds, well, unrealistic.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the still-untitled movie will feature U.S. and Chinese cyber agents -- not duking it out across the Internet, as might be expected, but working together. To stop a hacker. From the Balkans. The film is said to center around a pair of "Chinese hacker siblings"; Mann was reportedly in Hong Kong this week scouting potential lead actors and actresses.
Is this completely implausible? Well, not completely. Sure, there are some hackers in the Balkans. And sure, the United States and China occasionally make gestures toward increasing cooperation on cybercrime. But it is cybercrime from China -- particularly of the state-backed variety -- that is by far the bigger concern for business leaders and policymakers.
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
The Material Girl made a trip to Malawi over the past week. Suffice it to say it did not go well.
Among the slights the one-name-only star endured:
Madonna has had a complicated relationship with Malawi since controversy erupted over her adoption of two Malawi children, David Banda and Mercy James, both eight. The charitable organization she founded afterward, Raising Malawi, collapsed amid accusations of mismanagement; one of the heads sent rolling belonged to Banda's younger sister Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, and a spokesman suggested to the Telegraph yesterday that Madonna was being subjected to the indignities of airport security as the result of a "grudge."
Madonna herself has yet to issue a statement on the controversy -- after making it through security, you could say she left Malawi faster than a ray of light. But she did speak briefly to cameras at an orphanage in Lilongwe, where she said her focus remained on Malawi's children -- a line that moved at least one prominent observer of the spat to join Team Madonna.
AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images
After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?
Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog, ashleyjudd.com, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:
Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:
Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?
On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:
I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.
Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
He's performed with Madonna, has been on the Today show, and is scheduled to perform at a "Christmas in Washington" concert this weekend that President Obama plans to attend with his family.
But now South Korean rapper Psy -- chubby, goofy Psy, who horse-danced his way into so many American hearts this past year -- is now being dogged by some surprisingly vitriolic anti-U.S. comments from his past.
In 2004, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, took part in a live performance of Korean band N.E.X.T.'s song "Dear American" in which he rapped:
Kill those f****** Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f****** Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughter-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
The rap came two years after PSY had participated in a protest concert against the presence of 37,000 troops in South Korea. During the concert, Psy lifted a miniature American tank above his head and smashed it on stage, to cheers from the audience.
As many have noted, it's important to remember the context here: the protest concert came shortly after two middle school girls in Korea were killed after they were struck by an armored vehicle operated by U.S. soldiers (the soldiers were later acquitted of charges related to their deaths). And the 2004 rap came in the wake of the beheading death of a Korean missionary in Iraq, after South Korea rejected the kidnappers' demands that it withdraw its troops.
Korea is an American ally, but has long been ambivalent about the presence of U.S. troops on its soil; many have also questioned the presence of South Korean troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Psy -- whose Gangnam Style video passed Justin Bieber's "Baby" last month to become the most-viewed video ever on Youtube -- has yet to comment.
Update -- Psy has responded in a statement: "As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I was featured in - eight years ago - was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I'm grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I've learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I'm deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words."
"I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months - including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them- and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it's important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology."
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Last week, China's culture ministry added 100 songs to an internet blacklist, including hits by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and the Backstreet Boys. Chinese music websites have until Sept. 15 to remove the offending songs, unless record labels submit the songs for official approval. The ministry hopes to regulate the "order" of the Internet music scene, noting that songs that "harm the security of state culture must be cleaned up and regulated under the law."
Two years ago, in an attempt to crackdown on China's widespread illegal downloading, the culture ministry also declared its intentions to keep "poor taste and vulgur content" off Chinese internet airwaves.
Most of the newly-banned songs are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Lady Gaga leads the American pack with six banned songs off her new album, Born This Way (although curiously, the LGBT-friendly title track was not included on the list).
Of course, one can hardly blame the Chinese government for looking to keep these subversive songs far away from Chinese ears. Let's take a look at what's so particularly offensive about these newest banned tunes.
Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)"
While ostensibly, the culture ministry might have wanted to keep Chinese youth away from Perry's flippant attitude regarding "ménage a trois" and "blacked out blur[s]", the truly offensive lyric is a celebration of American fiscal irresponsibility:
Last Friday night/ Yeah we maxed our credit cards
China, the single largest holder of American public debt, has some qualms about the voracious American appetite for debt. It makes sense that the government would want to discourage such behavior at home. China's strategy of intensive exports, with minimal domestic consumption, has been a boon to its burgeoning economy and it's not about to let an American pop singer threaten 30 years of Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Deng Xiaoping trumps Smurfette.
Lady Gaga's "Hair"
Whenever I'm dressed cool my parents put up a fight / And if I'm hot shot, mom will cut my hair at night / And in the morning I'm short of my identity / I scream, "Mom and dad, why can't I be who I wanna be, to be?
Gaga doesn't do much here to show respect for her elders. Famed Chinese philosopher Confucius once described old age as a "good and pleasant thing" which caused one to be "gently shouldered off the stage, but given a comfortable front stall as spectator." With the advent of the one-child policy, Chinese parents, who could traditionally expect that their children would take care of them through old age, now find themselves at the whim of their little emperors. For all the good Gaga does for one's self-esteem, this song clearly refutes centuries of ancestor worship.
Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)"
My persuasion can build a nation/Endless power, with our love we can devour/ You'll do anything for me ...Who are we?/What we run? The world (who run this motha, yeah)
At the start of the 21st century, China's leaders articulated a policy known as the peaceful rise, an attempt to alleviate global fears about China's growing economic and political power. In 2004, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said China's rise "will not come at the cost of any other country, will not stand in the way of any other country, nor pose a threat to any other country." Beyonce's aggressive attitude toward world domination is not what Wen had in mind.
Backstreet Boys "I Want it That Way"
I want it that way
Maybe "That way" = democracy? Who cares if the song is 12 years old?
SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
The Holy Land is contracting Bieber fever this week as the Canadian pubescent pop star makes a much-anticipated visit to Israel. He arrived in Israel on Monday, and is set to meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ahead of a performance in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
Haaretz reports that Israeli tweens mobbed Bieber upon his arrival. "We are following him everywhere," a 14-year-old named Adi told the newspaper. "I will go with him to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea." But another Israeli is enthusiastically awaiting the Bibi-Bieber summit: Netanyahu himself, who hopes to use Bieber's visit to raise Western awareness of missile fire from the Hamas-administrated Gaza strip. Netanyahu's advisers invited a group of children from towns near the border of Gaza to attend the Bieber-Bibi summit.
i want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps or being pulled into politics its been frustrating
You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places. All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus did here in isreal.
Bieber's international travel generated Internet buzz last July when pranksters from the notorious online message board 4chan rigged a contest where fans could vote for an international destination for a Bieber tour. North Korea beat out Israel as the contest's winner. When a Bieber spokesperson cried foul, different pranksters made the most-searched term on Google Trends "Justin Bieber Hates Korea."
Update: Netanyahu cancelled the meeting with Bieber after Bieber refused to meet with the children living in communities near Gaza.
George Clooney's "anti-genocide paparazzi" seems to be dominating nearly every transmission coming out of south Sudan this week. Clooney, along with the Enough Project, Harvard researchers, and some of his wealthier Hollywood friends, have hired satellites to monitor troop movements along the north-south border, particularly the oil-rich region of Abyei. Clooney, active for years in the Save Darfur movement, has also become something of a celebrity spokesperson for the independence referendum. Naturally, the international humanitarian blogosphere's snark brigade is out in force.
Laurenist: "If you're anything like George Clooney, you lounge around on your yacht off the coast of Italy thinking up ways to save Africa."
Texas in Africa: "While John Prendergast, George Clooney, and other advocates who don't speak a word of Arabic have been raising fears about violence for months … the likelihood that a genocide or war will break out immediately seems to me to be slim to none."
Wronging Rights: "Clooney has described it as 'the best use of his celebrity.' Kinda just seems like he's trying to recruit a mercenary for Ocean's Fourteen."
Troubling as this morning's border violence is, there seems to be good reason for skepticism about the satellite project. The imagery the satellites provide isn't all that clear, showing about 8 square
miles inches [Corrected.] per computer-screen pixel, making it difficult to figure out just what's going on on the ground. That level of imprecision can be dangerous when trying to assign guilt or innocence in crimes against humanity. There's also the question of how much of a deterrent this type of monitoring really is. Laurenist again:
In 2007, Amnesty International and the American Association for the Advancement of Science launched “Eyes on Darfur,” a satellite project that monitored developments on the ground in Darfur. As you’ll recall, mere months later, Darfur was saved after millions of people updated their Facebook statuses with a link to blurry photos of sand.
But what about Clooney's presence itself? The actor's use of the paparazzi and basketball as analogies for horrific human rights violations might be grating to those who study these issues seriously, but isn't it worthwhile to bring attention to an often overlooked conflict? Here's UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg:
I know some people (cough, cough, Bill Easterly, cough, cough) have hangups about celebrity activism. But does anyone really think that Sudan’s upcoming referendum would be covered on a National Sunday morning broadcast without George Clooney’s handsome face to greet viewers?
(Interestingly, Bono-basher-in-chief William Easterly doesn't appear to have weighed in yet.)
Clooney has his own words for the haters:
“I’m sick of it,” he said. “If your cynicism means you stand on the sidelines and throw stones, I’m fine, I can take it. I could give a damn what you think. We’re trying to save some lives. If you’re cynical enough not to understand that, then get off your ass and do something. If you’re angry at me, go do it yourself. Find another cause – I don’t care. We’re working, and we’re going forward.”
This kind of "at least I'm doing something" rhetoric drives development scholars absolutely bonkers and for good reason. But for now at least, it's hard to see how Clooney's presence as a cheerleader is really hurting. Once the referendum is over however, I hope he heads back to Lake Como. In international negotiations, a certain degree of obscurity can often be just as helpful as the media spotlight. Making a new country is a messy business anywhere, and in Southern Sudan, it's going to involve some very ugly compromises. (I wonder, for instance, what Clooney thinks about the Southern Sudanese government expelling Darfuri rebels in what seemed to be a conciliatory gesture to Khartoum.)
In the difficult weeks and months ahead, Southern Sudan will certainly need international help, but it should come from people with a slightly more extensive background in the situation. Most of all, it's probably not helpful for celebrities and the media to promote a narrative of the Juba government as the "good Sudan." Even in the best-case scenario, it's bound to be shattered pretty quickly.
In any event, the Southern Sudanese themselves seem pretty nonplussed about Danny Ocean's presence in their midst:
“Who is that man talking?” a Sudanese journalist asked, gesturing to a white man with a group of reporters around him. When told it was George Clooney, a movie star, the Sudanese journalist looked confused and walked away.
For more on Southern Sudan, check out Maggie Fick on the dangers of referendum euphoria, view a slide show of Juba on the eve of independence, and read Robert Klitgaard on how the region's leaders are preparing to crack down on corruption.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is known for loving both cute things and adrenaline, so it's no surprise that he has taken to movie star Leonardo DiCaprio like a puppy to a new chew-toy. DiCaprio landed in St. Petersburg earlier this week to attend a tiger-conservation conference, but his journey to Russia was rife with excitement. His first Russia-bound plane was forced to make an emergency landing in New York after an engine failure. His second plane had to stop in Finland for unscheduled refueling because of strong headwinds.
According to the Telegraph, Putin spotted DiCaprio in the audience and deviated from his set speech to praise DiCaprio as a "real man" noting that "a person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign - that it was not worth going."
DiCaprio apparently was also feeling the love, telling Putin about his Russian heritage. (A Russian film producer, noting Leo's uncanny resemblence to Vladimir Lenin, is reportedly looking to cast the Inception star as a re-animated version of the Soviet revolutionary in an upcoming sci-fi film.)
With all this love in the air, the tigers were not left out. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the International Tiger Conservation Forum ended with the approval of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which aims to double the number of tigers in the wild. DiCaprio personally donated $1 million for tiger conservation (which should also make Malia
Of course, Putin's feelings about tigers are already well-known.
Russia is one of 13 countries where tigers still exist in the wild, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Lula being Lula:
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says no "gringo should stick their nose in where it does not belong."
Silva was visiting Para state Tuesday, where the Belo Monte dam is planned. It would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric project.
The dam has been opposed by figures such as British singer Sting and more recently by "Avatar" director James Cameron.
I'm relying on the AP's translation and I'm not sure if the word was meant to have negative connotations, but da Silva did also once blame the financial crisis on "white people with blue eyes," and in any case, this probably isn't the most productive way to deal with the legitimate criticisms of the Belo Monte project.
That said, Lula's comments are a useful reminder that while Cameron and his cohorts view this as a case of rapacious multinational corporations exploiting the wilderness and the Na'vi … er … I mean … indigenous people who live there, Brazilians are justifiably proud of their country's industrial growth and don't like being lectured by foreign celebrities. Cameron and Sting probably don't want any part of a fight with Lula for the sympathy of the Brazilian public.
RICARDO STUCKERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Update: Argh...It seems this may have been a very well-executed April Fools joke by the Moscow Times. Well played guys. The Chavez thing is real though.
Vladimir Putin's political party United Russia is known for appointing celebrities with dubious political credentials to prominent positions, but usually they're at least Russian celebrities. Now, according to the Moscow Times, they may be looking a bit futher afield, recruiting British supermodel and tabloid favorite, Naomi Campbell:
“She is a young, sexy, intelligent woman who has shown how the new Russia can attract the best in the world,” said the source, who asked for his name not to be used because he was not authorized to speak to the press despite working in the United Russia press office.
“Once she modernized the fashion world, now she is part of the modernization of Russia,” the source said.
The British model, who is engaged to real estate mogul Vladislav Doronin, currently spends much of her time in Moscow and recently guest edited the Russian edition of Vogue, where she appeared clothed in only a big snake.
The source’s use of the term "modernization" is a deliberate echo of President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for the modernization of the country. The source refused to say if party head and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or Medvedev knew of Campbell’s interest in United Russia.
Oh brother. It's certainly possible that the spokesman was going off the reservation, but a few more anonymous Duma sources confirm it and this doesn't exactly seem out of character for United Russia. Duma deputy Sergei Markov is quoted in the article saying that "gymnasts Kabayeva and Svetlana Khorkina have shown that women with a strong presence in previous nonpolitical spheres can become capable members of United Russia.” So there.
The source of the story also notes that Campbell would be United Russia's highest profile black member, and perhaps only the second or third black member of the party. I guess Volgograd Obama didn't work out.
As for Campbell, we should have seen this coming. When the volatile supermodel interviewed Hugo Chavez for GQ back in 2008, she memorably asked him "if he would ever be photographed without a shirt, like Russian [then-] president Vladimir Putin."
She's a natural!
Guardian blogger Marina Hyde thoroughly eviscerates British rocker Sting for playing a concert in Uzbekistan at the invitation of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, and then making excuses for it. The whole thing is worth reading but here's an exceprt:
Unfortunately, people have now found out about the jaunt, and so many of them have misunderstood the reasoning behind it as financially motivated that Sting has been forced to issue a statement.
"I played in Uzbekistan a few months ago," he begins. "The concert was organized by the president's daughter and I believe sponsored by Unicef."
You can believe it all you like, Sting, but it's absolute cobblers -- Lost in Showbiz has checked it out with Unicef, who tactfully describe themselves as "quite surprised" by your claim. [..]
"I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that. I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular."
Mm. Even if you accept Sting's live performances as "ideas and art", you can't really help but question this notion of "open commerce", considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan. 45 times![...]
"I seriously doubt whether the President of Uzbekistan cares in the slightest whether artists like myself come to play in his country," concludes Sting. "He is hermetically sealed in his own medieval, tyrannical mindset."
You will note that Sting conspicuously declines to deflect the heat by stating that he donated all or indeed any of his monstrous fee to charity.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
It's very nice that Madonna wants to build a school for girls in Malawi, but is there really nowhere in the country she can build it without evicting hundreds of people from their homes?
Residents have refused to leave the site just outside Lilongwe, the capital.
Lilongwe District Commissioner Charles Kalemba told 200 villagers Thursday that the government land has been handed over to Madonna. The villagers have been offered other government land.
Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, who will be principal of Madonna's school, says the singer paid the villagers more than 16 million kwacha (about $115,000) to compensate them for their houses.
After last year's drawn-out adoption battle, Malawian judges must be getting pretty sick of dealing with Madonna.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
There's no two ways about it: The last year of foreign policy had more drama than a Scorsese epic and enough thrills to put Avatar to shame. From the fearsome battle in the Afghan hills to the U.S.-China love-hate relationship, and from the serious al Qaeda threats in Yemen to the hard-to-take-seriously pirates off the Somali coast, 2009 was arguably a much more interesting year for global politics than for movies. So with Oscar nominations due tomorrow, we're taking nominations for our own FP Oscars.
Who would you pick for the best actor of the year? Is President Barack Obama holding his own in an unfriendly world, or does the ubiquitous Brazilian President Lula deserve an Oscar? Is Muammar Qaddafi's persona just too good to be true, or do you prefer the smooth, suave diplomacy (and wacky domestic antics) of France's Nicolas Sarzoky?
You tell us what scandals, dramas, tragicomedies, and personal stories are your picks for the history books in 2009. Listed below are the categories and a few sample entries. Send your own nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com or paste them in the comments below. May the best news win!
Best picture: What one story encapsulates the year?
Best drama: Spies, dissidents, treachery, and truth. Were the adrenaline-pumping protests following the Iran elections the most dramatic event? Or perhaps it was the long, drawn-out U.S. decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. If you have a humanitarian bent, the crises in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan might come a heart-wrenching first.
Best comedy: If it isn't a tragedy, the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress is certainly good for a laugh. Then again, how about the Copenhagen Climate conference that ended in a collective shrug? Or the British MPs who used their expense accounts to buy fancy rugs and re-dig their backyard swimming pools?
Best romantic comedy: Gordon Brown requested meeting after meeting with the U.S. president; Obama just didn't have time. Brown gave him a romantic antique biography of Churchill, and Obama gave him a DVD box set. Let's just say the special relationship isn't all it used to be. But then again, there are other comedies in Europe these days ... Berlusconi anyone?
Best romantic drama: Unclear whether this should be a drama or a comedy, but the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin certainly have a relationship worth noting -- as their press photographer has shown time and time again...
Best action: A U.S. ship is seized in the Gulf of Aden and devious pirates take the Maersk Alabama captive on the high seas, demanding a ransom for their deed. But lo and behold! A brave captain sacrifices his freedom to save his crew. And the U.S. whacks three pirates in the end, bringing everyone home safely! Phew!
Best special effects: Hmm, how about that missile launch in North Korea? It hit right on target: the Pacific Ocean.
Best director: Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirling dervish of diplomatic activity.
Best actor: Very few world leaders can also claim their own daily television shows -- and surprisingly humorous ones at that. "Alo Presidente" hasn't exactly skyrocketed Hugo Chavez to fame (his coup attempt back in the 1990s did that), but man has this guy mastered media in the Drudge Era.
Best actress: On a more serious note, few women leaders have been more powerful this year in asserting political freedom than Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. Or does Hillary Clinton have your vote? As one FP staffer put it, "she's the queen of 'the show must go on.'"
Best supporting actress: Is Carla Bruni the perfect companion for a perfectionist French president?
Best supporting actor: Let's be honest: One man whose entire year has been a story about other people's interests is the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. For all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.
Best costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes.
Worst costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes. You decide.
Lifetime achievement award: Fidel? Kim Jong Il? Mubarak? Most of the longest-lasting players on the world stage aren't particularly savory characters. Got someone better?
We'll post a full list of nominees based on your e-mails and comments on Monday, Feb. 8 and give you a chance to vote. The final winners will be announced at the end of the month.
We promise to keep the musical numbers short.
The star of Godfather III star has apparently been enlisted to play the Georgian President in an upcoming film depiction of the August war:
Television pictures showed Garcia holding court in a suit, red tie and a lapel pin bearing the red-and-white Georgian flag in Saakashvili's office in the presidential palace. [See above.]
The plot revolves around an American reporter who gets caught in the crossfire as war engulfs the country, testing his impartiality as a journalist. Papuna Davitaia, a parliament deputy from Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement, is one of the producers on the project.
"Our main concern was to show war as a bad thing," executive producer Michael Flannigan told Georgian television. "We had an opportunity to make a really anti-war film."
Garcia's actually not a bad choice for Saakashvili, though it's pretty doubtful that a film backed by Saakashvili himself and helmed by the director of "Deep Blue Sea" and "Cliffhanger" is going to accurately capture complexity and moral ambiguity of the August war.
On the other hand, all will be forgiven if they can get Daniel Craig to play Putin.
IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
When a giant clock reached 09:09:09 on 9/9/09, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, swiped a personalised plastic card at a ticket barrier and took his place as the first passenger on a network that will, when finished, have cost an estimated Dh28 billion (US$7.6bn).
The first two trains were filled by VIPs but eventually, lucky members of the general public were allowed to take part in the festivities.
A little later, a third train left the Nakheel Harbour and Tower station with 400 members of the public, the winners of “golden tickets”, picked from about 10,000 people who entered an online competition.
One of them, MV Martin, said: “I can’t believe I am going to be part of history.”
With all the layoffs in Dubai and abandoned luxury cars everywhere, the Metro could provide a cheaper transport option. Or maybe abandoned cars are still available for bargain prices?
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Maybe it was bound to happen. The Save Darfur Coalition says its mission is "inspiring action, raising awareness and speaking truth to power on behalf of the people of Darfur."
"Toss these message panties onstage at your favorite rock star or share a surprise message with someone special ... later."
Admittedly, this description is the same for the thong regardless of which logo is chosen. But I'm still cringing.
The dealer, CafePress, gurantees that "100% of the profits will be dontated directly to the Save Darfur Coalition (www.savedarfur.org)." And the deal goes beyond just thongs. Save Darfur pet bowls and beer steins are among the other items on offer.
In fact, even though they didn't make it, I'll be surprised if the Save Darfur Coalition doesn't distance themselves, given that they are featured as the recipient. On the other hand, if the Save Darfur Coalition's "millions of everyday citizens" all sent a thong to the White House, someone would have to pay attention.
If you missed it, last night's Colbert Report taped from Baghdad was absolutely phenomenal television, culminating in President Obama making an appearance by satellite to order Gen. Ray Odierno to shave Colbert's head:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Obama Orders Stephen's Haircut - Ray Odierno|
Kudos to Colbert for putting on a great show for the troops and the viewers back home. But given that the show is paired with Colbert stint as "guest editor," of a Newsweek special issue on Iraq, it's fair to ask what exactly the point of this project is. Colbert quipped last night that, "I thought the war was over, because I haven't seen any stories about it in a month," and the show and the magazine seemed to be designed to bring media focus back to a war that Americans haven't been paying much attention to lately.
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham's ultra-meta-editor's note puts it this way:
Some readers and critics will inevitably object, saying that this is a publicity stunt. To them I solemnly say: you are half-right. Of course I am seeking publicity for the magazine. I would argue with the term "stunt," though, but only because of the popular assumption that a stunt is something silly. (The dictionary definition is a feat of daring, but we do not live in the dictionary.) Colbert's involvement is an exercise not in silliness but in satire, and the two are very different things. His role means more attention for NEWSWEEK, yes, and to me that is a good thing. It also brings more readers to a serious subject—and that heightened interest is a good thing, too.
Believe me, as editor of this blog I'm sympathetic to the desire to use celebrity buzz to attract eyeballs (trade secret: the top two Google searches leading readers to Passport right now are "sex photo" and "Susan Boyle") and we've even attempted to harness the power of the Colbert bump ourselves, but I'm skeptical of the idea that "heightened interest" is a good thing in and of itself.
First of all, I suspect that Colbert's involvement with the issue is going to get quite a bit more attention than the stories within. Second, Iraq is going to be back increasingly back in the news anyway as the planned withdrawal date draws closer, so is there really something to be gained by "drawing attention" to it right now?
Possibly, but it depends what you do with that attention. Colbert (the real person or the character) isn't really saying much new about the war, leaving that to the guests on his show and the "serious" writers in the magazine. Since his TV guests this week are mostly military and Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek cover story about victory in Iraq is the kind of goalpost moving that Colbert has relished mocking for years, it's hard to say that he's making any sort of critique. And it's hard to call this week's shows satire given the free publicity he's giving the president and General Odierno to publicize U.S. achievements in Iraq.
Again, there's nothing wrong with Colbert making great television or Newsweek selling magazines, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for troops in Iraq to see the dwindling media coverage of their efforts, but I'm not quite sure that attention on its own, particularly with Colbert himself hogging the spotlight, is really going to do much for them.
Susan Boyle has charmed millions of viewers on YouTube, and now her fame has captured the hearts of Russian nationalists:
A Russian far-right party posted an open letter to British talent show singer Susan Boyle late on Tuesday, heaping praise on the 48-year-old Scot and wishing her well after she was admitted to a clinic for exhaustion.
"Susan! You have already gained popularity and many admirers and fans," leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said in an open letter on the party's website www.ldpr.ru.
Andrei Lugovoy, Britain's main suspect in the London murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, holds a seat in parliament for the ultra-nationalist party which has called on countries belonging to the former Soviet Union to rejoin.
As reality fans know, Boyle did not even finish first on the show, and subsequent reports suggested she is not taking the loss lightly. Zhirinovsky, though, was eager to console her.
LDPR leader Zhirinovsky compared her near-win to that of his own.
"The people also love our party, but, just like you, we do not always get the deserved result at elections," he said.
LDPR came third in the Russian presidential elections in March 2008, behind the Communist party and the winning United Russia party, which saw Dmitry Medvedev replace Vladimir Putin as president.
No doubt Simon Cowell appreciates the comparison, given the reputation for fair elections his shows currently enjoy.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
This is one weird commercial:
Yes, that's noted humanitarian and alleged former rock star Bob Geldof (along with physicist Stephen Hawking, feminist scholar Germaine Greer, and businessman Alan Sugar) trying to sell Britons on National Savings & Investments. NS&I is a state-owned savings bank serves as a lender to the British government. It describes itself as a way to "raise cost effective financing for the government and to reduce the cost of government borrowing to the tax payer."
So after more than two decades of raising money for famine relief and pushing for debt cancellation in Africa, Geldof is now raising money for the exchequer to cover its debts. Not sure if that says more about Geldof or about the current state of the British economy, but either way, like I said, weird commercial.
If the media hype was not enough for you, this is definitely a sign that Somali pirates have gotten a little bit too sexy:
Samuel L. Jackson and his Uppity Films have joined forces with Andras Hamori's H20 Motion Pictures to secure life rights of Andrew Mwangura, a negotiator between pirates and the owners of vessels hijacked off the coast of Africa.
Mwangura, the pro-bono negotiator who often brokers the release of hostaged ships' crews, was as shocked as you are:
Mwangura told the Guardian that he had been taken aback by Hamori's interest. "He said he wanted to make a story about my life. I was very surprised. He had been trying to reach me for two months but did not have the right phone number."
But sorry movie producers, there's a caveat:
Asked how he would react if the film-makers felt the need to "Hollywoodise" the story, [Mwangura] said: "I always stand for the truth. I don't want Pirates of the Caribbean. I am a living man, and you can't say lies about a living man ... I am what I am am – someone who does things for forgotten people and the community."
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Here's what the action star said at a forum whose attendees included Wen Jiabao:
"I'm not sure if it is good to have freedom or not," he said. "I'm really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."
He added: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."
Via Evgeny, I see that the comments have provoked an angry online backlash in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as the blogosphere on the mainland. There are calls for a boycott of the "racist" Chan's films.
At Post Global, John Pomfret sees a class dynamic at play:
Chan is just saying what a lot of other rich Chinese feel. In the 20 years since Tiananmen, Chinese society has changed enormously. One of the most astounding ways has been in the return of a class society and in the disdain with which China's rich view China's poor. When Chan was saying Chinese need to be "controlled," to be sure, he was speaking about the poor. He didn't have to say it, But that's what the audience at Boao heard and that's why they cheered him on. Anyone who has conversations of depth with members of China's elite has heard this argument before.
Granted I don't know much about the context, but it seems to me like it's at least possible that Chan is being sarcastic. The comments were in response to a question about censorship. Chan's new film Shinjuku was recently banned in mainland China because of violence. It seems strange to me that Chan would so vociferously praise a set of policies that resulted in him losing quite a bit of revenue. Whatever his class prejudices or political beliefs, I'm sure that Chan believes that poor Chinese should at least be free to spend their hard-earned yuan on his products. He should also know better than to insult his many fans in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Chan's not in a position to criticize a decision by the Chinese government, but the over-the-top comments seem like they could be a subtle dig at the Chinese authorities for being so uptight about his movie. Then again, I could be giving the guy too much credit.
Victor Fraile/Getty Images
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone say they were sent a signed photo of Saddam Hussein, after the the deposed Iraqi dictator was shown their film South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, in jail. The movie depicts him as the boyfriend of Satan:
Stone, 37, said both he and Parker, 39, were most proud of the signed Saddam photo, given to them by the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.
He said: "We're very proud of our signed Saddam picture and what it means. Its one of our biggest highlights.
"I have it on pretty good information from the marines on detail in Iraq that they showed Saddam the movie.
"Over and over again – which is a pretty funny thought.
"That's really adding insult to injury."
No word yet on whether Kim Jong Il has seen Team America.
Daniel Freifeld of NYU's Center for Law and Security attended Barack Obama's speech in Prague yesterday and was kind enough to write up an account of the event for us:
Here at President Obama's first public speech abroad since being elected President, I found two actors from the hit HBO show "The Wire" standing in the VIP section. Tristan Wilds, who played the heart rending part of Michael Lee, and Andre Royo who played recovering drug addict Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins (seen here with his daughter). They, along with a handful of other actors on location in Prague to film the forthcoming movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, "Red Tails," took some time off to catch the speech (Lee explained that although the film is set in Italy, director George Lucas chose Prague because it more closely resembles the Italy of World War II than Italy itself does today).
Warm-up music for Obama included a live performance by Druhá Tráva, a Czech bluegrass band, and recorded music by U2, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Kanye West (whose music I doubt would have ever been used to warm up a George W. Bush crowd).
Hanging out off to the side was Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough and senior adviser David Axelrod:
Another interesting note: disparate cheers were heard in the crowd when Obama said "The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against [potential Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile activity]," a statement he immediately hedged by setting Iranian "persistence" as a condition precedent for following through with the proposed radar installations. Recent opinion polls suggest the Czechs are becoming increasingly worried that the installation would unnecessarily antagonize Russia and make Europe less secure, not more. Judging by that tepid response following Obama's statement, the crowd seemed to be a fair reflection of where Czech opinion is heading on this issue.
Daniel Freifeld is the Director of International Programs at the NYU Center on Law and Security
The British government is planning to retake political control of its dependency Turks and Caicos, after a corruption scandal unseated the Carribean islands' prime minister (shown here with his estranged wife, the U.S. actress LisaRaye, who is also under investigation):
Mr Misick, 43, a British-trained lawyer, has overseen the transformation of the islands since taking control in 2003. He is alleged to have built up a multi-million dollar fortune since he was elected in 2003.
The Premier and his fellow government ministers are alleged to have sold off Crown land to property developers for their own personal gain.
With two private jets on call and a series of luxury homes, Mr Misick claims that his lavish lifestyle has been necessary to court the high-end developers who have helped to transform this former colonial backwater. Celebrities with homes in the islands are understood to include Bruce Willis, Donna Karan, Michael Douglas, Keith Richards and Oprah Winfrey.
After resigning, Misick blasted Britain's decision to suspend the islands' constitution and transfer control to a London-appointed governor as "tantamount to being re-colonised."
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
McClatchy's Dion Nissenbaum speculates
that an 11th hour endorsement from Israeli supermodel and current Sports Illustrated
Swimsuit Edition cover girl Bar Rafaeli may tipped
Here's what Rafaeli told Time in an interview on Monday:
I actually don't know who I would vote for. If I knew I was going to, I'd probably research more. I think I'd probably go for [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni, but I don't know.
Yeah, it's not quite "He's the one," but you never know. It looks as if the military vote may decide the final results so we'll have to see how many fans Rafaeli has in the IDF.
Nissenbaum muses, "Now all that is left to discuss is what cabinet post Livni will give Refaeli." As my former colleague Mike Boyer once blogged, Israel has never been above a little bikini diplomacy.
Where were you Jan. 30? If you were British tycoon Richard Branson, you spent part of the day at the refugee camp in Davos. Or, to be more exact, the Refugee Run, a simulation mocked by my colleague Josh Keating and aid skeptic Bill Easterly last week. The photos are in:
An "injured" Branson carries a water bowl:
Branson experiences "language incapacity":
Branson's party gets raided:
Branson behind barbed wire:
Photos: PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images
U2 frontman Bono's "shout out" to Palestine, as The Nation calls it, at yesterday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial, is a little underwelming when you just read it:
"Let freedom ring. On this spot where we're standing 46 years ago Dr. King had a dream. On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass," before launching into 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)', U2's tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"This is not just an American dream," he said, adding that it was "also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream... an Israeli dream... and also a Palestinian dream."
Palestinians have dreams too. Is that really such a bold statement that it warrants the exceedingly dramatic pause that Bono gives it? Certainly not as gutsy as when Bjork shouted out Tibet while peforming in China.
On the other hand, the president-elect does look extremely uncomfortable.
Readers, which "we never realized this would offend anybody" statement do you find less convincing:
Busta Rhymes not realizing Muslims might be offended by his Koran-sampling song "Arab Money," in which the rapper boasts of getting "oil-well money" and "gambling with Arafat?
Or, Playboy not realizing that Catholics might be offended by its Mexican edition depicting a nude model as the Virgin Mary on its cover?
I vote for the second one.
The AP reports on a new campaign by musicians, including Rage Against the Machine and Massive Attack, to ban the practice of using loud heavy metal, hip-hop, and even children's songs to psychologically break down detainees for interrogation. Apparently, not every band has a problem with the practice, though.
Bassist Steve Benton of Drowning Pool, whose 2001 hit "Bodies" is a particular favorite of interrogators, had this to say:
"People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down," he told Spin magazine. "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."
Having only a vague recollection of these guys, I looked up Drowning Pool's entry on AllMusic.com, which features a picture of the band posing with Barack Obama. I'm guessing that was a very weird meeting.
Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images
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