Ottawa: Where’s All the Canadian Erotica?
The National Post reports that three Canadian erotica channels have earned a government reprimand for not showing enough home-grown content:
Wednesday, the CRTC issued a broadcast notice saying AOV Adult Movie Channel, XXX Action Clips and the gay-oriented Maleflixxx were all failing to reach the required 35% threshold for Canadian content.
Based on a 24-hour broadcast schedule, that translates to about 8.5 hours of Canadian erotica a day.
According to a shocking finding by the Post, on the day the article went to print, “in the entire Maleflixxx daily broadcast schedule, the only obviously Canadian title on Thursday’s line-up was ‘Men of Ottawa’ ” (no description available). Yet it was broadcast at 3pm, hardly prime time for Maleflixxx viewership.”
The Canadian content rules, which are similar to those in a number of other countries, are meant to promote the country’s own productions by keeping the airwaves from being overwhelmed by content from other countries—well, let’s be honest, one country in particular.
The CanCon rules, requiring broadcasters to show a certain percentage of Candian-produced programming, have benefited the development of popular shows like The Kids in the Hall and Degrassi (would Drake be famous today without CanCon rules?), but they seem a bit outdated in the age of Netflix and might also face legal challenges as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
For now, though, Canada's porn producers have some hours to fill.
Genocide in the Central African Republic?
The U.N. has launched an investigation into “reports of genocide” in the Central African Republic, with tens of thousands of Muslims reportedly fleeing the country in fear of reprisal attacks from Christian militias.
The current chaos began a year ago when the Seleka—a majority-Muslim rebel group—seized power and immediately began a campaign of “looting, torture and killing in the majority Christian country.” Seleka control over the country quickly crumbled, and the current anti-Muslim backlash began after Seleka President Michel Djotodia resigned in January.
An estimated 650,000 people have been displaced by religious violence, with about 300,000 fleeing to neighboring countries. Fewer than 1,000 of the original 100,000-strong Muslim population remain the capital, Bangui.
The U.N. investigators are drawing up a “confidential list of suspects for eventual prosecution” by the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. Security Council discussed plans for sending a peacekeeping force to the country last week but took no action. There are already about 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union troops on the ground in the country, though their effectiveness has been limited and in some cases they have been accused of making the violence worse.
This is unfortunately a very complex situation in a country that doesn’t get much media coverage, and where options for international intervention are limited. If the investigators do apply the G-word to what’s happening in the Central African Republic, it may garber some more international attention, though it’s not quite how much impact that will have on what’s happening there.
Who Gets to Self-Determine?
On Sunday, Crimea will hold a referendum asking citizens whether they want to remain a part of Ukraine or “reunite” with Russia. The U.S. has signaled that it will not recognize the referendum, and the leaders of Britain and Germany have warned of further sanctions against Russia if Moscow attempts to legitimize its actions in Crimea through the vote.
In the New York Times over the weekend, Peter Baker looked at how the situation in Crimea fits into the “centuries-old debate over the right of self-determination versus the territorial integrity of nation-states,” noting that “for all of the articulation of grand principles, the acceptability of regions breaking away often depends on the circumstances.”
It’s true that Washington’s insistence that Ukraine’s territorial integrity be respected seems a bit incongruous with its support for the independence of, say, Kosovo or South Sudan. And Russia has certainly exploited the Kosovo precedent in its bids to gain international recognition for Georgia’s breakaway regions—Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On the other side, Russia has spent recent years talking itself blue at the U.N. Security Council about respecting territorial sovereignty in places like Libya and Syria but is willing to send its military into the territory of its neighbors on the pretext of protecting the rights of ethnic Russians—which is one possible reason why China’s been fairly tepid in its support for Russia’s actions.
Even accepting that the situations aren’t equivalent and that a referendum held under conditions of de facto Russian occupation shouldn’t be considered legitimate, it’s still easy to take the cynical view that large international powers tend to support either self-determination or territorial integrity based on whether it lines up with their own interests.
At the blog Opinio Juris, Robert McCorquodale, professor of international law and human rights at the University of Nottingham, attempts to parse the legality of the situation, arguing that whether or not a declaration of independence or merging is valid in international law is determined both “by the actions of the state within whose borders the people live; and the responses of the international community.”
By these standards, he argues that while Crimea is well within its rights to hold an independence referendum, Russia had no legal right to intervene on Ukrainian territory given that there was no evidence that Ukraine was oppressing the region by force.
All the same, due to historical circumstances, there certainly is at least some organic support for reunion with Russia in Ukraine, and it’s reasonable to wonder how the U.S. or Europe might have reacted if Crimea had held a referendum under less blatantly illegitimate circumstances.
The widespread international recognition of new countries has been extremely rare in recent years, and the rare examples—places like Kosovo, East Timor, and South Sudan—have taken place only after years of exceptionally violent conflict. In general, international institutions are set up to favor keeping international borders as they are. The African Union’s charter, for instance, specifics “Respect of borders existing on achievement of independence” and with a few notable exceptions, those borders have remained in place.
Given that the redrawing of international boundaries is almost always a messy and violent process and the fact that populations are almost never neatly divided into ethnic or linguistic units that you can draw lines around, the bias has understandably nearly always been toward working with the borders that are currently in place.
2014 was already expected to be a big year for the question of self-determination, with independence referendums planned in Scotland and Catalonia. But Crimea has provided a much more unexpected and much more dangerous reappearance of a very old political problem.
A Mystery in a Very Tense Neighborhood
Thus far, politics don’t seem to have come into play in the frustrating search for a missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which involves “40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine countries … combing a vast area of ocean in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, northeast of Malaysia towards Vietnam.” But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that this search is taking place in a very tense region.
About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board the plane were Chinese, and the Chinese foreign ministry has urged Malaysia to speed up its search, saying, "This incident happened more than two days ago, and we hope that the Malaysians can fully understand the urgency of China, especially of the family members, and can step up the speed of the investigation and increase efforts on search and rescue."
The level of tension between the two countries hasn’t been quite as high as with some of China’s other neighbors. China and Malaysia are important trading partners and have enjoyed diplomatic relations since the 1970s.
But Chinese naval exercises in January around the James Shoal—a submerged reef about 50 miles off the Malaysian island of Borneo—reportedly prompted leaders in Kuala Lumpur “to quietly step up cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, the two Southeast Asian nations most outspoken over China's moves in the region.” Malaysia has also announced plans to build a naval base near the shoal to protect oil and gas reserves. China wasn’t explicitly mentioned in this announcement, but the implication was pretty clear.
Malaysia is among a number of countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, with territorial claims in the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Based on historical activity, China claims nearly all of the islands and atolls in the South China Sea under a policy known as the “nine-dash line. “
The U.S., China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia have all now committed resources to the search for the plane, in an extremely rare example of cooperation in the area.
It’s not quite clear at this point how the politics of this situation will play out, and obviously a lot depends on whether or not it turns out that terrorism was involved.
It’s possible, as the Financial Times suggests, that the tragedy is “providing Beijing with a chance to build goodwill with smaller regional powers that are more used to feeling the brunt of its growing military might.”
But it also seems worth wondering whether these countries might be better able to cooperate on addressing crises in the area if the baseline level of tension were a little lower.
McFaul: “These Things Can Move Very Quickly in Unintended Ways”
According to Michael McFaul, who departed his position as U.S. ambassador to Moscow after two tumultuous years, shortly before the current crisis in Ukraine broke out, the invasion of Crimea was likely “not some premeditated move by Putin to fulfill his grand strategy of dominating that part of the world."
Rather, he argues, “it’s important for people to remember that his most important foreign-policy objective is to create the Eurasian Economic Union as a counter to the European Union. Critical to the success of that object was to have Ukraine in the economic Union, not Crimea but all of Ukraine.”
Perhaps in a bid to shore up support from the existing members of the union, Putin held a snap summit with the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus this week. In a conference call today, organized by the National Security Network, I asked McFaul whether Putin’s project to build an economic union of post-Soviet states to counterbalance the EU can survive the Ukraine crisis.
“I don’t think it’s a fait accompli that Crimea will be occupied forever,” he said. “It’s a big if. But if it happens, it destroys the project. There’s no doubt about it. Most importantly, if that tragic scenario plays out, you have made sure that the rest of Ukraine will never have any interest in joining a Eurasian Union. It just changes the electoral politics within Ukraine. The only mechanism he’ll have left is coercive power—he’ll coerce countries into joining. But the size of the Ukrainian economy and population just dwarfs everybody else in the former Soviet Union who could join. Ukraine was always the big prize, and he’s just guaranteed that it’s now over.”
McFaul, who has now returned to Stanford, where he was a professor and prominent scholar on Russian affairs before joining the Obama administration, said the upcoming Crimean referendum on joining Russia would “create some very sticky facts on the ground” that would be difficult for U.S. diplomacy to reverse. “I fear that that will create an ambiguous sovereignty in Crimea that could last for a long time,” he said.
McFaul is also not convinced that Russia’s military advance will stop with Crimea. “These things can move very quickly in unintended ways,” he said. “Is Putin planning an invasion of eastern Ukraine? I don’t know but I would be surprised. But can I put together a set of events over the next weeks or months that would lead to military intervention in eastern Ukraine? Of course. To say that it’s not possible would be irresponsible. I’m deeply worried about it, frankly. Even if the probability of it is low, the negative consequences are extremely high.”
McFaul defended the Obama administration’s “reset” policy, of which he was a key architect, saying that the intention was always to “engage with Russia to seek agreement on common interests” without linking them to areas of disagreement such as human rights or Russia’s policies toward its neighbors. He pointed to a number of accomplishments of the policy, including the New START nuclear reduction treaty and the Northern Distribution Network to Afghanistan.
On the question of whether Putin views President Obama as “weak” and has taken advantage of an unwillingness to inflict serious consequences, McFaul argued that “On the contrary, [Putin] has a theory of American power that is quite paranoid about how powerful the United States is, allegedly fomenting revolution in the Middle East and now Ukraine.”
Tension in Sochi as the Winter Paralympics Begin
The Sochi Winter Games were more politically tense than your average Olympics, though probably less than many were expecting, or hoping. But in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Crimea—just a few hundred miles up the Black Sea coast—has raised the stakes for the Paralympic Games, which kick off today.
Nobody’s completely boycotting the games, but a number of countries, including the United States, France, Norway, and Britain, have decided not to send official delegations to today’s opening ceremony. Ukraine is sending its athletes after strongly considering a boycott, but Valerii Sushkevych, president of the country’s Paralympic committee, said after a meeting with Vladimir Putin that he fears that “during the Paralympic Games we will see something which could not be rectified” take place in Ukraine, in which case the athletes will leave “at that very second.”
During the Olympics, the IOC denied a request by Ukrainian athletes to wear black armbands in honor of those killed during street protests in Kiev, and it will be interesting to see whether there are further political gestures from the team. Already today, the Ukrainian team made a statement by sending out only its flag-bearer, Nordic skier Mykhaylo Tkachenko, in the athletes’ parade at today’s opening ceremony, with the rest of the 23-member delegation staying in their rooms.
The Sochi Paralympics, the biggest ever held, are meant to highlight Russia’s progress in its treatment of its 13 million citizens with disabilities. Its record on this hasn’t always been so distinguished. In 1980, when Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics, the country simply declined to organize the Paralympics, with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev reportedly saying, "In our country, there are no disabled people."
According to a Human Rights Watch report issued in September, in recent years “The Russian government has taken some high profile steps to improve accessibility, but when it comes to daily life – such as going to work or visiting the doctor – people with disabilities face an uphill battle.”
According to the report, Russian accessibility laws are now actually quite strong—and unlike the United States, it has signed and ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—but Russians with disabilities still face serious barriers related to infrastructure and discrimination.
The School Textbook Change That Has Japan Furious at Virginia
The Washington Post reports that an “obscure textbook bill that elicited threats from Japan and drew busloads of Korean activists to the Capitol was headed Wednesday to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.”
The bill requires all new Virginia textbooks to mention that the Sea of Japan is also known as the “East Sea.” McAuliffe promised to make the change on the campaign trail while attempting to win votes from Northern Virginia’s growing Korean community, who claim that the name was wrongly popularized while Korea was under Japanese occupation. It has predictably irritated Tokyo, with Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. warning that it could harm Japan-Virginia business relations. New York and New Jersey are reportedly considering similar bills.
I don’t see anything wrong with textbooks mentioning this, but taking statewide action to require it seems unnecessarily provocative. I get Koreans’ frustrations with what they see as Japan’s failure to fully come to terms with its wartime actions—which I would hope the textbooks also discuss—but there’s an ongoing territorial conflict between the two U.S. allies that Washington is, wisely, I think, trying not to get further involved in.
This seems like an area where state government should follow the lead of the State Department, which announced in 2012 that despite a Change.gov petition, it would be sticking with “Sea of Japan” as the official nomenclature.
Before you blast me in the comments section, I don’t have any stance on which is the better name. But in cases where there’s ambiguity, the best course of action is usually to stick with long-standing practice rather than make a statement by changing it. Referring to the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf just to irk Iran doesn’t seem all that productive either.
In any case, it seems like a lot of fuss for a very minor change. I would be surprised if Virginia textbooks spent all that much time of the Sea of Japan/East Sea to begin with. The fact that, according to one state representative, “For years, our textbooks said that the slaves were happy,” seems like a bigger cause for concern.
Don’t Mention the War
The irascible Syrian Twitter activist “The 47th” joked yesterday that “US politicians are the Hitlers of using Hitler in analogies.”
Indeed, the comparisons between Russia’s incursion into Crimea and the early days of Nazi Germany’s expansion are flying fast and loose in Washington. As my colleague David Weigel noted yesterday, some Republicans are almost gleefully welcoming Hillary Clinton into the fold after remarks she made on the subject at an event in Long Beach, which included “the sort of analogy that would light up Media Matters or your favorite conservative derp site if uttered by a Republican.”
Here’s what she said:
Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the '30s. All the Germans that were ... the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right, I must go and protect my people, and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.
The analogy no doubt made a lot of liberal Hillary supporters groan, but in and of itself, it doesn’t seem all that ridiculous to me. Hitler did argue that the western rim of Czechoslovakia should rightfully be part of German territory because of the 3 million ethnic Germans living there. The arguments used by some Russian nationalists about places like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Crimea do bear a superficial resemblance to this worldview.
Peter Harris elaborates in the National Interest:
Russia today is a resurgent great power led by an autocratic strongman with a penchant for fanning chauvinist sentiment at home. A large part of Vladimir Putin’s domestic appeal is the perception that he rescued Russia after a decade in the doldrums. The 1990s were a period of humiliation for Russians, when their state and economy collapsed around them. Living standards plummeted and corruption was rife. On the world stage, the former superpower was forced to endure the indignity of the U.S. and its allies meddling in its traditional spheres of influences. Under Putin, this trend of national ignominy has been reversed—a process still underway, to be sure, but an achievement for which Putin has earned the admiration of many of his compatriots.
Putin also is popular among those in Russia’s “Near Abroad” who have resisted westernization—in Belarus, eastern Ukraine, the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and (at times) the Central Asian republics, for example. Especially among embattled elites (such as Viktor Yanukovych and his henchmen) and Russia’s “beached diaspora” (that is, those Russian communities which found themselves living in independent, often virulently anti-Russian countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union), Putin’s Russia is seen as a protector.
The real problem isn’t the comparison itself, it’s the lesson that is generally drawn from it. The invocations of Munich and Sudetenland have become a shorthand for the argument that seeking a negotiated solution to a crisis caused by a country’s violations of international norms will only invite further aggression and eventual catastrophe. Until now, it was invoked most frequently in reference to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (It also ignores that more contemporary scholarship has suggested that Neville Chamberlain was far more realistic about the threat posed by Nazi Germany and acted far more responsibly than his historical caricature would suggest.)
It’s not the most original point to suggest that while historical analogies can be useful to leaders in a crisis situation, they can also be misleading. Not all negotiated settlements will turn out like Munich. Not all military interventions will end up like the Vietnam War.
Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s 1986 book Thinking in Time, which provides a host of examples of policymakers being led astray by reaching for the nearest available historical analogy, is a staple of undergraduate poli-sci syllabi. The authors recommend simply that that leaders “stop, look, listen” before invoking historical analogies, taking a moment to note what is known vs. unclear about the situation at hand as well as the similarities and differences between the two situations being compared.
In the case of the Putin-Hitler comparison, it’s true that we have a nationalist strongman leader of a resurgent power with a historical grudge using his country’s scattered diaspora as a pretext for annexing territory from neighboring countries. Differences might include, among many others, the relative military balance in the world today, the interconnectedness of the global economy, Putin’s relatively limited ability to project power beyond his immediate neighborhood, and the fact that, while the country's human rights record shouldn’t be downplayed, there’s no evidence to suggest Russia is wantonly slaughtering civilians or plotting a massive genocide.
Harris' article actually manages to show that it's possible to talk about “Munich’s lessons for the Ukraine crisis” without suggesting that Putin is the same as Hitler, or that the two situations will play out the same way, or that any compromise will inevitably lead down the path to World War II.
But the shorthand that “Munich” has become in contemporary U.S. political debate, and the frequency with which it is abused, makes it very hard to talk about those lessons without drifting into Godwin’s Law territory.
Turkey’s Black Sea Blues
Turkey hasn’t had direct control over Crimea since 1783, when the Crimean Khanate, a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, was annexed by Catherine the Great. But because of cultural ties to the region’s Turkic-speaking Muslim Tatar minority, as well as a strategic interest in what’s happening on the other side of the Black Sea, Ankara has been watching the situation closely.
“If the term is appropriate, we are in 'mobilization' to defend the rights of our kin in Crimea by doing whatever is necessary,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said during a visit to Kiev last week where he met with Ukraine’s new government as well as Tatar leaders. Davutoğlu has been active in Crimean affairs before. In 2012 he facilitated talks between Tatar leaders and the Ukrainian government.
While the term “mobilization” may conjure up visions of the Crimean War, when the Ottomans fought Imperial Russia with Britain and France as allies, Turkey’s actual involvement in the crisis is likely to be limited and the government seems to be taking pains to not unnecessarily antagonize Russia.
The two countries have a particularly awkward relationship at the moment. Russia is Turkey’s largest supplier of natural gas, and over the past decade trade between them has increased sevenfold and Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have met more than 30 times.
At the same time, the two are essentially fighting a proxy war in Syria, with Russia as the primary international patron of Bashar al-Assad and Turkey supporting the rebels—although it has backed away from the support a bit recently.
And while there’s still virtually no chance of military confrontation between the two, the fact that the naval power balance in the Black Sea has tipped heavily in Turkey’s favor in the past few years is likely part of the reason why keeping its fleet at Sevastopol is such a priority for Russia.
As Semih Idiz of Al-Monitor writes, Crimea “continues to hold an important part in Turkish nationalist lore” and the permanent reannexation of Crimea by Russia, particularly if there’s any backlash against the Tatars, could be a another political blow for Erdoğan, who has bigger problems on his plate right now. But like the Western leaders he’s allied with on this issue, he's not really sure what he can do about it.
How Many “Chief Rabbis” Does Ukraine Have?
In the ongoing coverage of the turmoil, and the discussion of what it all means for the country’s Jews, you may, confusingly, have seen a number of people referred to as Ukraine’s “chief rabbi.”
On one side, there’s Moshe Reuven Asman, who caused quite a bit of international consternation with his call for Kiev’s Jews to “leave the city center or the city all together and if possible the country too” amid fears that Jews would be targeted in the country’s chaos. But there’s also Yaakov Dov Bleich, who has accused Russia of staging anti-Semitic provocations to justify its invasion of Crimea.
This has been an issue for a while in Ukraine, where at least three men claim the title of “chief rabbi.” As the Jerusalem Post reported in 2005, Asman was elected that year by two Jewish organizations, the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, but his election was rejected as illegitimate by a number of other groups. The U.S.-born Bleich, a member of the Karlin-Stoliner Hasidic dynasty and the president of the Jewish Federation of Ukraine, has been referred to as chief rabbi since 1992 . There’s also the Russian-born Azriel Haikin, who was proclaimed chief rabbi in 2003 by “dozens of Chabad rabbis” working for the Federation of Jewish Communities. He seems to be keeping his head down in the current unrest.
Then there are also other figures, including Alex Dukhovny, head rabbi of the Ukrainian Progressive Judaism communities, and Reuven Stamov, head rabbi of the Ukrainian Traditional Judaism communities, both of whom are signatories of an open letter to Vladimir Putin, which circulated this week, asking him to stop using the protection of Jews as a pretext for invading Ukraine.
On its own, the ambiguity among Ukraine’s rival rabbis may not be that interesting. But it’s important to keep in mind that Ukraine’s Jewish community isn’t a monolithic bloc. A significant number participated in the Euromaidan movement in Kiev, but there seem to also be a significant number of Jews in Crimea who welcomed the Russian troops. Ukraine's Jewish community may be small by U.S. or Israeli standards, but by global standards its pretty big—somehwere between 70,000 and 200,000, depending on how you count. It doesn't seem as though any of these leaders really speaks for all of them.
There have been a number of anti-Semitic incidents since the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych. A synagogue in the Crimean city of Simferopol was defaced. In the midst of the proteststs, there have been at least three beatings of Jews and two vandalism attacks on synagogues. A synagogue was also reportedly attacked in the southeastern city of Zaporozhye, though a number of prominent Jewish leaders accuse Russian nationalists of these attacks. And there are undoubtedly anti-Semitic elements within the movement that now runs the country.
On the other hand, the notion put forward by Russia’s foreign ministry and president that Ukraine’s Jews need a Russian military intervention to protect them (complete with invocations of “pogroms”) is laughable. “Who speaks for Ukraine’s Jews?” might be a question open to debate, but the answer is certainly not Vladimir Putin.