World on a Page: Bolshie Bolivia, Truculent Turkey

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Utterly Unprepared

These words sum up Osama bin Laden’s unflattering view of Joe Biden’s readiness for the White House. In a letter he wrote to an associate—published by scholars at West Point as part of a larger bin Laden trove—the late terrorist advocated the killing of Barack Obama so that vice president Biden would assume the presidency ... “which will lead the U.S. into a crisis.”

All About Evo

Days after Argentina seized control of a Spanish company’s stake in YPF, the Argentine petro behemoth, Bolivia sent in armed troops to kick down the doors of a Spanish-owned electricity company in its capital, La Paz. In a somewhat florid speech on May Day, Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, declared that the expropriation of Spain’s Transportadora de Electricidad was a way to “pay homage to the workers and Bolivians that have fought for the recovery of natural resources and basic services.” Watching events from London, the CEO of a British power company whose assets had been seized by Morales two years ago told the Financial Times: “It’s the first of May, he’s got to nationalize something. It’s become an annual tradition.” (When he seized those British assets, Morales had said he was “fulfilling the thunderous request of the people.”)

evo-morales-nb20 Jose Lirauze / DPA-Corbis

You’re Standard, I’m Poor?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has developed a reputation as a bit of a bruiser in his years in office, quick on the draw when slighted and unstinting in his scorn when addressing an adversary. The latest recipient of a prime-ministerial tongue-lashing is Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, which had the temerity to revise Turkey’s outlook on long-term sovereign credit from “positive” to “stable.” Dismissing the downgrade as an “entirely ideological approach,” Erdogan threatened “not to recognize” S&P as a credible ratings agency. “You cannot fool anybody,” he huffed. “You cannot fool Tayyip Erdogan.” (For the record, S&P’s downgrading of Turkey coincided with a slight upgrade for Greece.)

Adage Attack

You know you’re in trouble when Far Eastern institutions—the North Korean government, for instance, or a Chinese state newspaper—reach into their quivers for a poisonous aphorism with which to wound you. This last week, it was the turn of Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to Beijing, to say “ouch,” when the Beijing Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, attacked the envoy for his role in the drama surrounding blind dissident Chen Guangcheng. “Ever since he flew in economy class, carrying his own back pack and buying coffee with coupons, putting on a charade of being a regular guy, what we have seen is ... a standard-issue American politician who goes out of his way to stir up conflict.” Locke’s involvement, the paper concluded, “again validates the old Chinese saying that when a weasel pays a new year’s visit to a chicken, that’s no reason for comfort.”

If It’s X, Why Z?

Josefina Vázquez Mota’s stuttering campaign to win the Mexican presidential elections has suffered an embarrassing—and orthographical—blow. The conservative politician, candidate for the ruling National Action Party, had to fire a campaign aide after the latter misspelled Tlaxcala, a Mexican state, on the party’s bulletin board, writing it as “Tlazcala.” The offending “z” went viral on Twitter—proof, at the very least, that Mexicans take their spelling very seriously indeed.

Diplomatic Doldrums

Germany’s Foreign Ministry is a forlorn place these days, Der Spiegel reports, citing a recent episode in which Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Paris and failed to exchange a word with her own ambassador there. The debt crisis in the EU, which has brought Germany to the forefront of European relations, has led to the eclipse of the country’s career diplomats. German diplomacy, it seems, is now conducted mainly by officials from the Ministry of Finance and members of Merkel’s inner circle. When money talks—and German money does not so much talk as declaim—mere ambassadors must hold their tongues.

Tabloid Fever

“Senior Eurocrats are secretly plotting to create a super-powerful EU president to realise their dream of abolishing -Britain, we can reveal.” So began a story in London’s Daily Express, followed by reams of words that did not—however many times one read them—substantiate that initial claim of European perfidy. Never mind. The British tabloids thrive on Europhobia, and long may they do so if it guarantees us such delicious hysteria as this: “Opponents fear the plan could create a modern-day equivalent of the European emperor envisaged by Napoleon ... or a return to the Holy Roman Empire ... that dominated Europe in the Dark Ages.”