North Korea’s new neighbor in the Blue House

Feb 21, 2013 19:41 UTC

She’s been called principled, tough-mindedcompetent, and a dictator’s daughter. Park Guen-hye, a career politician and child of South Korea’s deceased military ruler Park Chung-hee, is a conservative known for her steadfast leadership. And when South Korea inaugurates its first-ever female president in a ceremony on Monday, Park’s reputation could hinge on her ability to handle her troublesome neighbor to the north.

North Korea exasperated world powers this month with its third nuclear test. Yet media reports and Park’s campaign pledges suggest her administration will seek a softer approach toward Pyongyang than that of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Although her campaign offered few specifics, her criticism of Lee’s foreign policy indicates she could walk a middle line between his administration’s hardline approach and the peaceful “Sunshine Policy” of engagement and economic assistance her opponent and human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in hoped to reintroduce.

James Schoff, a senior associate in the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former senior adviser for East Asia policy at the Department of Defense, expects the president-elect to adopt something of a “Goldilocks strategy” toward North Korea. ”Not too hard and not too soft.”

“The outgoing government took a hardline vis-à-vis North Korea,” Schoff said. “They were not in any mood to be conciliatory.” According to Schoff, Park’s approach is likely to include “much more flexibility in terms of looking for opportunities to develop a new relationship with the North.”

The Lee Administration put a lid on conciliation with North Korea, blocking trade and cutting humanitarian aid. Yet this policy frayed relations on the Korean Peninsula and failed to deter North Korea from carrying out nuclear tests. Critics argue such intransigence provided an excuse for North Korea to justify its aggression.

Latin America weighs odds of claiming the next pope

Feb 11, 2013 21:26 UTC

If the Vatican chose the next pope based on demographics, there would be a clear regional frontrunner. Forty-two percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, and the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday could be an opportunity for the Holy See to elect its first non-European pope.

Media organizations in several Latin American countries are focusing their attention on possible home-grown candidates. Yet, as this article by my colleagues at Reuters notes, the most likely candidates for the papacy from Latin America are from Brazil and Argentina:

“If the next conclave really is Latin America’s turn, the leading candidates there seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the huge diocese of São Paolo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches.”

In North Carolina, fracking rights rise to surface

Feb 8, 2013 17:12 UTC

A natural gas pipeline is seen under construction near East Smithfield in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Les Stone

Three years ago, Vince and Jeanne Rhea found the house of their dreams in Shirley, Arkansas. They couldn’t believe the deal: 40 acres complete with a separate workshop that Jeanne could use as an art studio and two nearby lakes. It was also thousands of dollars cheaper than a property of that quality should have been. They booked a plane ticket from Raleigh, North Carolina that day to fly down and buy it.

When they got to Arkansas, they found out why it was so cheap.

The owner of the house had recently sold the mineral rights under the property to a natural gas company for use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique that is opening new areas across the country for energy exploration. The front page of the local newspaper that day had a story about problems in the water supply and was advising residents not to bathe, Jeanne recalled. “There was no way we were making an offer after that,” she said.

Amid Syrian refugee flood, aid workers grapple with a new set of problems

Feb 7, 2013 18:57 UTC

A recent report on Syria’s growing refugee crisis showed the extent to which fears of sexual violence are driving women out of the warn-torn country.

But the trail of gender-based violence and abuse also follows women out of Syria to camps, where they are also vulnerable, even under the watch of aid organizations.

As the crisis continues, more women are taking refuge in towns and villages, where they are difficult to account for, aid workers say, making it particularly challenging to provide care and protection.

Attacking obesity, one can at a time

Feb 6, 2013 21:34 UTC

 ”For over 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together. Today, we’d like people to come together on something that concerns all of us: obesity.”

REUTERS/Mike Blake

So opens a new commercial from Coca-Cola, which goes on to tout the company’s 180 low and no-calorie beverage options (roughly 27% of Coke’s 650+ beverage portfolio) and claims an overall reduction of 22% in the average number of calories per serving for Coca-Cola’s U.S. beverage products since 1997.

Unconvinced by the soda maker’s claims to nutritional progress, health advocates took Coke to task.

Brennan’s confirmation and where CIA drones go from here

Feb 6, 2013 19:09 UTC

If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA’s future role.

Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.

The effectiveness of the targeted killings remains unknown, and critics say the drone program serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda because it embitters local populations whose neighbors have been killed by drones.

Russia’s press freedom score back down after crackdown

Jan 31, 2013 15:36 UTC

Russia has had a busy year clamping down on dissent, and now the Kremlin’s got something to show for it. The international non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom index on Wednesday, knocking six points from Russia’s 2012 score and ranking the country 148th out of 179 in the world for respecting media freedom.

According to the report, an “unprecedented” number of protests following Vladimir Putin’s return to a third term as president prompted Russia to respond by introducing more repressive measures. Let’s take a quick look at where Russia lost points. The report first provides context for the government’s response:

“Opposition protests on an unprecedented scale showed civil society to be more vocal than ever.”

Motor City poster boy Lutz touts horsepower — and hybrids

Paul Lienert
Jan 18, 2013 20:11 UTC

DETROIT – Is Bob Lutz the poster boy for the 2013 Detroit auto show?

This year’s event, like Lutz, seems like a throwback to an earlier era. And, like Lutz, is rife with contradiction.

Where Detroit shows in recent years have exhibited a heavy green theme, electric and hybrid vehicles seem almost like an afterthought at this year’s event – a reflection perhaps of the public’s ambivalence toward green cars.

In an abrupt departure, this year’s event instead showcases a clutch of new luxury and performance models that appear to fly in the face of energy and environmental conservation.

Mali and the Afghanistan comparison

Jan 17, 2013 18:31 UTC
A Malian soldie

A Malian soldier stands guard as Mali’s President Dioncounda Traore visits French troops at an air base in Bamako, Mali January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

The French intervention in Mali this week raises the specter of another first-world nation’s rather recent mission to weed out Islamic militants. As France’s jets pummel the desert and its troops face ground battles against al Qaeda-linked rebels, a troubling analogy has presented itself in media reports and analyses: Will Mali become France’s Afghanistan?

France’s mission in Mali is to prevent the Sahel region from becoming a terrorist planning and training ground, particularly for al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM. The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera explains the situation in terms of the conditions in Afghanistan before the U.S. intervention in 2001.

Newtown’s community struggles to understand one of its own

Dec 17, 2012 14:08 UTC

This column was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT – The word “community” is overused. It is even the title of a television sitcom. But in the context of Newtown – the Connecticut town of 27,000 that I’ve known as home since 1969 – it is authentic. Yet from within our midst came Adam Lanza, now a murderer of 20 innocent local children, six of their dedicated teachers, and his own mother.

Today the world is focused on our heretofore-bucolic slice of America. As the international media’s satellite dishes sprout and their choppers descend to dissect the shooting and the shooter, Newtown is mostly presented as either an affluent suburb of New York or a picture-perfect New England hamlet with old-timey colonial houses, horse farms and a historic Main Street.

Neither characterization does it justice. To live here is to know why, after two decades of global wandering, I returned eight years ago to raise my family.