Picture of the day: Bibi goes to the United Nations

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu explains before the United Nations General Assembly just why Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a, well, nuclear time bomb.

But the only thing I could think was, “When did Wile E. Coyote become the prime minister of Israel?”

Although the Iranian nuclear program isn’t exactly a laughing matter, I think this may be even funnier than the Bibi / Duck remix.

Netanyahu was trying to argue that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon by next summer:

“A red line should be drawn right here, before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb, before Iran gets to a point where it is a few months or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“Each day that point is getting closer, and that is why I speak today with such a sense of urgency and that is why everyone should have a sense of urgency.”

Fair enough, but I have to wonder what his staffers were thinking when they sent him to the podium with such a cartoonish prop.

This comes after Netanyahu has taken considerable criticism for pushing U.S. president Barack Obama’s administration to set ‘red lines’ that Iran cannot breach without incurring a military response from Israel and/or the West — he’s pushed so hard that the criticism has seeped into the U.S. presidential election set for November 6.

Photo credit to Mario Tama, AFP/Getty Images.

Trudeau will seek leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party

For better or worse, Justin Trudeau is expected to announce next Tuesday that he will seek the leadership of the beleaguered Liberal Party in Canada.

Trudeau, the son of beloved former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, is the last, perhaps best, hope of an endangered party.  As John Ibbitson noted in The Globe and Mail yesterday, Trudeau’s assets make him an almost prohibitive favorite.

At age 40, however, the Montréal-area MP has been a member of the House of Commons since just 2008, and he will face doubts that he’s seasoned enough to become prime minister.

If he wins the leadership, he’ll first face the task of winning back supporters from the New Democratic Party, who made such incredible inroads in the 2011 election under the late Jack Layton that they far eclipsed the Liberals to become the Official Opposition and the main alternative to prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party.

Currently, polls show the NDP, under new leader Thomas Mulcair, within striking distance of the Tories and Liberals trailing in distant third place.  But a National Post poll today shows that the Trudeau-led Liberals would win 39% to just 32% for Harper and 20% for the NDP.  Those numbers, I believe, represent a best-case scenario for Trudeau — when he really represents nothing more than nostalgia for his father and before he’s had to contend through a long leadership fight and go head-to-head against not only Harper, but Mulcair as well.  Trudeau will have to sideline the NDP (or otherwise engineer a merger or alliance with the NDP) and then win not only a sizeable number of ridings in Quebéc, but also in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.

There will be much more to say in the months leading up to the leadership race — it doesn’t start until November 14 and it won’t end until April 14, 2013.  Since the 2011 election that saw the Liberals reduced to just 34 seats, former (NDP) Ontario premier Bob Rae has served as interim leader.

There will a lot of rebuilding for whomever wins the leadership — and since Rae himself ruled out running for the leadership in a permanent capacity earlier in June, it’s seemed like the leadership is Trudeau’s for the taking, despite a number of candidates also expected to run — the most serious potential challengers to Trudeau include Dominic LeBlanc, a New Brunswick MP since 2000 and currently the party’s foreign affairs critic and, perhaps more intriguingly, Marc Garneau, a retired astronaut and former president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006, who has served as an MP since 2008, also from Montréal, and is the current Liberal House Leader.  Each candidate will pay a $75,000 entry fee — it’s thought the steep price will limit the number of contenders to just serious challengers, and campaign spending will be capped at $950,000.

It’s difficult to fathom just how far the Liberals have fallen in just little over a decade.

Continue reading Trudeau will seek leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party

Wolfgang Schäuble, the ‘big beast’ of German politics and a vital European policymaker at age 70

I am also a week late to this — but it should be noted that Wolfgang Schäuble turned 70 last week, and it’s been an opportunity for the German media to reflect on a man who’s been a “big beast” (to steal a term from the UK’s Kenneth Clarke) of German politics.

The Guardian called him “the politician who has done more to shape contemporary Germany and Europe than anyone else currently in office in the EU.”

Schäuble, a lion of the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), has been a member of the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, since 1972.  He served as a key ally of chancellor Helmut Kohl during Kohl’s reign from 1982 to 1998, including as minister of the interior and chair of the CDU in the Bundestag in the 1990s, leading negotiations on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany (i.e., West Germany) for reunification with the German Democratic Republic (i.e., East Germany). He, alone among the current German government, was present in 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty brought the single currency into existence.

Kohl, however, refused to cede the limelight to Schäuble — the CDU lost the 1998 election and Schäuble himself was implicated in a party funding scandal in 2000.  By the time that the CDU regained power, it was under Angela Merkel and not Schäuble.  The falling-out between Kohl and Schäuble was so acrimonious that even today, Kohl refuses to take part in the many celebrations of Schäuble’s 70th birthday.

In 2004, Merkel refused to nominate him for the largely ceremonial role of the German presidency, another rebuke to a man who was all but assumed to be, at one time, a future chancellor.  But Merkel’s relationship to Schäuble has taken a different turn than his relationship with Kohl.  Schäuble, who served again as interior minister during Merkel’s “grand coalition” government from 2005 to 2009, has now served as finance minister since 2009.

As such, Schäuble, who has been paralyzed and uses a wheelchair since a 1990 assassination, at age 70, is arguably at one of the most engaged — and vital — points of his lengthy career in public service.

In the past week alone, he’s been talking up a plan to leverage the European Stability Mechanism, boosting the value of the euro when he said the currency’s salvation was “worth any effort,” and throwing cold water on the idea of a European bailout for Spain (picking a subtle fight with France while doing so).  The week before, he got into a row with Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank (Germany’s central bank) — Weidmann has opposed the move for the European Central Bank to buy the debt of eurozone countries directly.

It’s safe to say that he is second only to Merkel herself and European Central Bank president Mario Draghi in his centrality to determining the future of the euro.  Big beast, indeed.

When I think of Schäuble, I can’t help but also think of Clarke — if Clarke is a One Nation Tory, I think of Schäuble as a kind of One Nation Christian Democrat.

  • They both entered politics in the early 1970s, and rapidly became rising stars.
  • They both served as finance minister (in the UK, Clarke served as chancellor of the exchequer, which is the equivalent) in times of currency crisis — Clarke in the wake of the 1992 sterling crisis and Schäuble today, during the eurozone crisis.
  • They both watched their leadership prospects crumble away as their parties passed them over for a new generation (Merkel, in the case of Schäuble, and David Cameron and others, in the case of Clarke).
  • And they have both been, despite right-wing pressures from their respective parties, champions of the European project throughout their careers.

For better or worse, whatever the solution to the eurozone crisis, it seems nearly certain that Schäuble will be among its authors.

Cameron stops by Letterman in New York, flubs Letterman’s grilling

UK prime minister David Cameron stopped by The David Letterman Show (a popular late night show in the United States, for non-US readers), and flubbed a few questions.

Notably, Cameron couldn’t name who composed Rule Britannia (Thomas Arne wrote the music — not Edward Elgar, as Cameron suggested — and James Thompson wrote the poem upon which it is based) and he couldn’t translate Magna Carta (it means, “The Great Charter”).  Magna Carta was the 1215 charter that limited the powers of the English monarchy and set forth certain liberties for certain English nobles — it became the foundation for much of the following English, British and American liberties, including the U.S. Bill of Rights.

By the end of it, it was clear that Letterman’s “dumb American questions” were a joke at Cameron’s expense.  He took the jibe well, however, and joked, “You have found me out. That is bad, I have ended my career on your show tonight.”

British media are having a poke at the prime minister today, but it’s not likely to cause Cameron any lasting harm — indeed, it may have stepped on the attention from the media to the speech of Liberal Democratic leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democratic Party conference this week.