Weekly Briefing

Washington: slip-ups

Despite the recent furore, General Stanley McChrystal did vote for Barack Obama. Disappointment came later, according to the 25 June Rolling Stone article in which he criticises the administration. The first time the two met, "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him," an adviser says.
“He didn't seem very engaged."

A former "military brat", time seems not to have changed the general: Vice-President Joe Biden ("Who's that?") and Afghanistan's envoy Richard Holbrooke ("Not another email . . . I don't even want to open it") are among those he derides. McChrystal has since apologised, offering to resign, and (at the time of writing) leaving Obama in an awkward position: remove his man in Afghanistan
at a crucial moment, or - already accused of being too laid-back about BP - look soft?

Sri Lanka: rights

On 18 June, Sri Lankans celebrated the first anniversary of the end of civil war. Tanks, rocket launchers and disabled veterans all took part in what must have been an arresting parade through the capital, Colombo.

Meanwhile, the government has faced growing international criticism of its actions during the final months of its 26-year war against the Tamil Tigers. By 22 June, the UN had set up a panel to investigate alleged human rights abuses. But concerns about the country's record extend beyond the war. An EU report last year claimed that Sri Lanka is in breach of UN human rights agreements and an anti-torture convention. The EU has warned that unless the country commits to improving its record, it will lose its preferential trade status.

Belarus: gas war

“Pies, butter, cheese or other means of payment" - Dmitry Medvedev told the press, slightly unexpectedly - would not be accepted as settlement for Belarus's gas debt. It was a humiliating response to President Alexander Lukashenko's offer to pay what the country owes - as
a result of gas price hikes - with machinery and other goods.

Belarus has since agreed to borrow currency to pay Russia. In the meantime, Russia has been cutting Belarus's gas supply; now, Belarus has announced it will suspend deliveries of Russian gas to Europe, which pass through the country. Lukashenko has warned the dispute is becoming a "gas war", arguing that Gazprom owes Belarus $260m for transit.

Zimbabwe: diamonds

When it was announced a few weeks ago that Zimbabwe's diamond fields had "met the minimum human rights standards" required by the international trading body, the Kimberley Process, it was also acknowledged that the country still had "a number of challenges" to overcome. But it is only now, as the Kimberley Process meets in Tel Aviv, that those challenges have been detailed. According to rights groups, forced labour, torture, harassment and plain old corruption are all still in evidence.

After years of near-meltdown, Zimbabwe desperately needs trade. But if diamond production is resumed before questions about workers' conditions are resolved, the entire Kimberley Process may be put in jeopardy.

California: fresh plates

“An exciting marriage of technology with need" is how Senator Curren Price of California describes the latest brainwave for eliminating the Sunshine State's $19bn budget deficit.

In a move so Californian it's amazing it didn't come sooner, the state legislature is considering a bill that would permit research into turning car licence plates into electronic mini-billboards.

“Exciting" might be a matter of opinion, but there's no doubt that the plates, which would flash adverts from stationary vehicles, would be headache-inducing. Fortunately for drivers, if not the state, the plates don't actually exist: a San Francisco company has patented the technology but
is yet to create a working model.