TIME China

These Aren’t Wrestlers, They’re Chinese Women Modeling the Latest Beachwear

Headed for the beach? Don't forget your facekini

When you look at Kevin Frayer’s slightly unsettling images, you ask yourself if masked Mexican wrestlers have invaded the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao. But no.

The lucha libre look is just the latest in beachwear, a must-have for women worried about getting too much — or, um, any — sun. And while they may look a little frightening — “other people may worry you plan to rob a bank!” observed one netizen — they are the talk of the town, from China’s stodgy state press to supposedly chic French fashion magazines.

The facekini, or lianjini in Chinese, first made waves in 2012, when a bunch of Chinese women were photographed wearing them in Qingdao. An Aug. 19 report in Xinhua, China’s state newswire, said 58-year-old resident Zhang Shifan created the look to protect herself from jellyfish and the summer sun.

Pale skin is prized in China — so much so that the slang term for an attractive woman is bai fu mei, or fair, rich, beautiful — but even Zhang said she was caught off guard by the level of interest. “I’m so surprised that this mask is so popular,” she told Xinhua.

That makes all of us, auntie.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama and Congress Play Hot Potato With War Powers in Syria

President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Mass. during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014 Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Few savor the idea of voting for military action with the midterm elections looming

White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted a photo of President Barack Obama and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough taking a meditative walk on the White House grounds Monday. It was a small reminder of the infamous walk the pair took nearly a year ago when Obama decided to go to Congress for permission to bomb Syria. That proposition turned out badly: congressional support cratered and Obama was left to scramble a diplomatic solution.

On a gorgeous Monday evening nearly a year later, the pair in their shirtsleeves could have been discussing almost the same dilemma: How does Obama continue to bomb Iraq and begin aerial strikes on Islamist militants in Syria without permission from Congress?

There are some in Congress who are calling on Obama to push through a War Powers Resolution. Article II of the Constitution grants the President the power to defend the country. But Article I gives only Congress the power to declare war. So, what in a post-war-on-terrorism era constitutes an actual war? In 1973, afraid of Vietnam mission creep, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which requires the President to consult Congress 60 days after engaging in hostilities. If you count bombing a foreign country as hostile — as the U.S. did against militants in northern Iraq on Aug. 7 — then the 60 days expires Oct. 7.

Theoretically, if Congress cares about not further weakening its oversight of the President’s ability to bomb whatever country he pleases, lawmakers will move to pass a War Powers Resolution in the next month. Presidents, including Obama, have argued that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. But a turf fight over who gets to go to war is the last thing on Congress’ mind weeks before the midterm elections.

“Congress does not have the political will to approve a War Powers Resolution when the American people have very little appetite for war,” said Ron Bonjean, a former senior Republican congressional aide. “Getting the approval of Congress before the November elections to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq would likely require an attack on American soil or a very imminent threat of danger. Members of Congress want to secure their own re-elections and this type of vote could be the defining factor in several tight Senate races across the country.”

Thus far, the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees in the House and Senate, which would have jurisdiction over a War Powers Resolution, have been waiting to hear what Obama wants to do. Congress has a spotty history of authorizing hostilities under this President. The House only succeeded on its third try in passing a tepid authorization for action in Libya — more than three months after U.S. involvement in Libya actually began. On Syria, both chambers balked at authorizing hostilities after Obama asked for support in the wake Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. When congressional support disappeared, Obama was forced to make a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of chemical weapons, rather than using force against Assad.

Few Republicans, a Senate Republican aide told TIME, want to vote to support the President, especially in election season. If Obama were to ask for money for his actions — a back-door way of showing congressional support for military action without having to outright condone it — that vote would be easier as it would be a vote for the troops, the aide said.

“The GOP must fear losing what feels like big momentum right now with the chance that the President will get a rally around the flag effect,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t sense that, through the midterm prism, the Democrats’ concern would be as great.”

Still, voting to expand hostilities in Iraq isn’t the most popular thing with Democrats either: Obama got elected in part because of his early and strong opposition to the war in Iraq — a “clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past,” as then candidate Obama called it in a March 2008 speech. It’s ironic that before his last midterm-election fight, he finds himself struggling to persuade Congress to return to a country he prided himself on leaving.

The most likely path here is that Obama will continue to do what he’s been doing, and probably expand attacks into Syria, using the Article II justification. As the White House has argued, he’s protecting Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq. By that measure, wherever America has an embassy, or citizens in peril, Presidents in the future will now have the precedent to engage in hostilities to protect them.

Last year, as Obama paced the grounds with McDonough, the constitutional-law Professor in Chief damned the politics and worried about going beyond previous precedent. A year later, and he’ll have no choice but to bow to the realpolitik of midterm elections.

TIME russia

Russian Soldiers in Ukraine Put Pressure on Putin

With evidence of Russian military activity in Ukraine piling up, how long can Moscow deny its involvement in the ongoing conflict?

The frantic appeal to the Russian President came on Wednesday from a cramped and cluttered office in the city of Kostroma, about 200 miles northeast of Moscow, where the relatives of Russian prisoners of war had gathered to wait for news of their sons and husbands. Olga Pochtoeva, the mother of one of the Russian soldiers recently captured in Ukraine, stood before the camera, her eyes red from crying, and addressed Vladimir Putin directly. “I beg you in the name of Christ,” she said. “Give me back my child. Give him back alive.”

It was another blow to Putin’s position on the war in eastern Ukraine. The previous night, after a round of talks aimed at ending a conflict that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since April, Putin had again insisted that Russia was not a party to the conflict and had sent no soldiers to fight it. “This is not our business,” he told reporters after the talks in the capital of Belarus, having just finished his first meeting since June with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “It is a domestic matter of Ukraine itself,” he said.

But Putin’s persistent denials of Russian involvement have started to crack, eroded by a growing body of proof that Russian soldiers are in fact fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine. The evidence suggests a new level of Russian involvement in the war, not merely funneling weapons and volunteers across the border to the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, but sending regular Russian ground forces on missions into Ukrainian territory. The inevitable result of that escalation has been a growing Russian casualty count, and the funerals and panicked relatives of Russian soldiers have been hard to sweep under the rug. Soon they are likely to force Putin either to come clean and admit his country’s intervention in Ukraine, or to face the growing public resentment over his denials.

The first crack in Russia’s claim of non-involvement came on Monday morning, when the Ukrainian security services released images of nine Russian paratroopers who had been captured on the Ukrainian side of the border. In the video statement of Pochtoeva’s son, Yegor Pochtoev, he appeals to his parents directly. “Mom, dad, everything is fine. I have enough to eat and drink,” he says. “But the Russian Ministry of Defense is denying that we are their servicemen, that we have come from Russia.” He asks his parents to help prove that they are Russian soldiers.

The morning after the videos were released, Pochtoeva and the other relatives of the captured soldiers began placing frantic calls to the local branch of the Committee for Soldiers’ Mothers, a civil society organization that defends the rights of military servicemen in Russia. Lyudmila Khokhlova, the Committee’s chairwoman in the region of Kostroma, arranged for all the relatives to gather that afternoon at the military base where the captured soldiers had served. “Everyone in the hall was screaming. They had a lot to get off their chests,” she tells TIME of the confrontation between the relatives and the officers at the base.

When the deputy commander of the base arrived, he told the families that the soldiers in the videos had indeed been taken prisoner in Ukraine, Khokhlova says. But they were apparently the lucky ones. “They told us that two others from their group had been killed and some wounded,” she says, recounting the words of the officer who met with the families. “The wounded were taken back across the border to a hospital in [the Russian city of] Rostov.”

The Russian Defense Ministry, in a curt statement on the incident on Tuesday, said nothing about Russian soldiers being killed or wounded in Ukraine, but admitted that a group of paratroopers had been captured on the wrong side of the border. Asked about their fate on Tuesday night, Putin suggested that they had simply gotten lost and veered into Ukraine by accident. “What I heard is that they were patrolling the border and might have ended up on Ukrainian territory,” Putin said with a shrug. He expressed hope that “there wouldn’t be any problem” with getting them back home, but offered no promises or plans to do so.

Nor did he make any mention of the Russian servicemen who have apparently been coming home in bags. Those incidents have become so frequent that even the Kremlin’s own human rights council, an oversight body that operates with a degree of independence, appealed to Russia’s military authorities on Tuesday to investigate the mysterious deaths of nine Russian servicemen “not far from the Rostov region,” which borders Ukraine. All of them were contractors from the 18th motorized infantry brigade, mostly natives of the region of Dagestan, and were killed in unexplained circumstances in early August, according to the Kremlin rights council. One of the council members who authored that appeal, Ella Polyakova, later told Russian media that the military hospitals along Russia’s border with Ukraine had for some reason filled up with wounded soldiers. “A lot of our boys have been killed in recent days,” she told Russia’s only independent news channel, TV Rain. (Polyakova did not respond to TIME’s requests for further comment.)

The clearest evidence to support her claim emerged on Monday from the region of Pskov, where the bodies of several Russian paratroopers were buried on Monday. Lev Shlosberg, a lawmaker in the regional parliament, tells TIME that the funerals were held in total secret and that family members had been warned not to discuss the deaths with anyone. “What’s the goal? The goal is to prevent society from learning the scale of the losses and considering the costs of this war,” Shlosberg says, claiming that the soldiers had been killed in battle in eastern Ukraine. “The state is trying to hide the involvement of our soldiers in these military actions, because they are not legal or constitutional. There was no official order from the commander in chief or the defense minister to participate in this conflict.”

Despite the reticence of Russian officials, numerous reports of Russian casualties have begun to emerge. TV Rain, which narrowly avoided the state’s attempt to take it off the air earlier this year, has been airing marathon coverage of the funerals in Pskov and the fates of the paratroopers buried there. When a group of Russian reporters attempted to film the graves at a provincial cemetery near Pskov, several men in civilian clothes chased down the journalists’ car and attacked it on Wednesday, puncturing its the tires and attempting to break out the windows. (Footage of the incident appeared on the website of TV Rain, and elicited a rebuke from the press freedom watchdog at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.)

The Russian state-run media have meanwhile been avoiding the reports of killed Russian servicemen almost entirely. The news that nine Russian soldiers had been captured in Ukraine warranted no more than three paragraphs on Tuesday on the website of the Kremlin’s main broadcaster, Vesti, which echoed Putin’s assertion the following day that the soldiers had simply made a wrong turn into Ukraine while patrolling the border.

“This sounds to me like a joke,” says Lidiya Sviridova, the head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in the region of Saratov. During a press conference on Tuesday in the regional capital, she called on the parents of all Russian soldiers to find out whether their sons have been sent to Ukraine and, if so, to publicly appeal to the state for answers. The families of numerous servicemen have gotten in touch with her asking for help in finding missing Russian soldiers, she tells TIME by phone from Saratov on Wednesday. “They could not all have gotten lost.”

On Wednesday evening, with the reports piling up of Russian military casualties Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman finally responded, at least to the claims of a secret funeral in Pskov. “The relevant agencies are certainly checking this information,” Dmitri Peskov told the Interfax news agency. But it’s not clear how long such answers can restrain the public’s concern. Though the Kremlin controls nearly all mass media in Russia, it has little sway over the online press, where the reports of Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine have become the hottest topic of debate. Civil society groups like the Committee for Soldiers’ Mothers are also refusing to keep mum. “The silence in the official media is deafening,” says Shlosberg, the lawmaker in Pskov. “Everybody here knows what’s going on. Everybody is talking about it.” Everybody, it seems, except for Putin.

TIME Syria

U.S. Investigating Reports of Second American Jihadist Killed in Syria

NBC News

After the death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, American who fought for ISIS

The State Department is investigating reports that a second American jihadist was killed last weekend in Syria fighting for ISIS.

The news comes a day after NBC News first reported that Douglas McAuthur McCain, a U.S. citizen, died fighting for the Islamic militants. A Free Syrian Army source told NBC News said the second American was killed in the same battle.

A law enforcement official told NBC News that “it appears to be true” a second American died in the fighting…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Israel

Israelis and Palestinians Ask if the Latest Fight Was Worth It

Palestinian men walk in a street of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood in early morning dense fog among the ruins of their neighbourhood on Aug. 27, 2014.
Palestinian men walk among the ruins of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood on Aug. 27, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

A bloody war is followed by a public-relations fight

Israeli and Palestinian leaders set out Wednesday to sell their constituents on what was achieved during the latest fighting between the two sides, a day into a cease-fire that ended 50 days of war.

Senior officials on both sides of the conflict declared victory, albeit in very different ways, and laid out the war’s purported achievements. But some found themselves questioning what was really accomplished — and at what price.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced severe criticism from both ends of the political spectrum — from left-wingers who think the war could have been avoided had he not squandered a recent round of peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and from right-wingers who say he didn’t go far enough in the latest Gaza war. Netanyahu resisted hawkish calls to have the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempt an overthrow of Hamas and a reoccupation of the Gaza, and he shelved his insistence on the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, which he had been promoting last month as a solution to the conflict.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s own Foreign Minister and among the most prominent critics in his cabinet, slammed the cease-fire deal.

“We object to the cease-fire which offers Hamas the ability to continue to grow strong and fight future battles with Israel whenever it feels like,” Lieberman wrote on Facebook.

Unlike other key national decisions, Netanyahu did not bring the cease-fire deal to his cabinet for a discussion or a vote. After coming under fire for not addressing the nation Tuesday evening when the cease-fire deal was signed, Netanyahu held a news conference Wednesday alongside his Defense Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff, aimed at touting what he said was a mission accomplished, one that will provide “a lasting quiet” for Israel.

“Hamas did not get one of its demands to end Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu said, using the name of the Israeli military operation. “It demanded a seaport, it didn’t get it. It demanded an airport, it didn’t get it. It wanted mediation from Qatar and Turkey, it didn’t get it.”

He listed other Palestinian demands — the release of prisoners, the opening of Hamas offices in the West Bank that Israel closed, money — and boasted that Israel refused all of these. Rather, he said, what Israel essentially agreed to was the rehabilitation of Gaza by allowing humanitarian goods to enter.

A thousand Hamas terrorists were killed, many of them commanders,” he said. “Thousands of rocket arsenals, launch sites and weapons caches were destroyed along with hundreds of command centers.”

Those figures highlight the disparity in Palestinian and Israeli casualties and even how each side measures them: while Palestinians say that at least 70% of the approximately 2,100 Palestinians killed were civilians, Israel says about 50% were Hamas fighters. Seventy Israelis were killed, 64 of them soldiers.

While Israelis debated the war’s outcome and whether it was worth it — more than half say there was no winner, according to a new poll — the mood was more jubilant and less analytical in Gaza City. Palestinians went out to shop, to the bank, to the beach, and in many cases, to see if their homes were still standing. “People are happy that they survived more than anything else,” said Gazan journalist Abeer Ayyoub. “I’m just glad to be alive and that my house wasn’t demolished.”

Hamas rallied its supporters Wednesday afternoon, and many top officials not seen during the past seven weeks of war emerged to speak. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the blood spilled in the war was “the fuel of this victory.” Wearing a black-and-white kaffiyeh-patterned scarf over his business suit, he counted Hamas’ gains. “This battle is a war that lacks a precedent in the history of conflict with the enemy,” he said, adding that the group was preparing for the “ultimate battle” for Palestinian liberation.

“The war began with fire on Haifa and ended with fire on Haifa,” Haniyeh said, referring to the longer-range rockets Hamas used to target one of the main cities along Israel’s northern coast.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political analyst at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said many Palestinians view Hamas as victorious simply because of its resilience and its survival.

“If you look at the numbers, we had about 30 times the number of Palestinians killed as in Israel … From this point of view, we didn’t win,” Abusada tells TIME. “But the Palestinians look at it from a different perspective. With limited capability, the Palestinian resistance was able to withstand the Israeli aggression and continue to fight to the last minute. Let’s face it, Israel didn’t reach its goals, because Israel could not stop the launching of missiles, and I’m not really sure they succeeded in deterring the Palestinians.”

TIME Iraq

The Enemy of My Enemy: Iran Arms Kurds in Fight Against ISIS

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan on Aug. 27, 2014.
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan on Aug. 27, 2014. Youssef Boudlal—Reuters

As Tehran sends arms to aid forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, some question its motives

When Iran’s foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif popped into Erbil yesterday, he announced Iran had joined—or perhaps beat— the U.S. in providing new weapons to Kurdish forces.

For months, the Kurds have been lobbying the international community for better weapons to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS). The U.S., France, Germany, among others, have pledged military support, but that has come slowly.

Now, it seems Iran beat them to the punch. “We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition,” said Kurdish President Massoud Barzani in a press conference. That Iran apparently got weapons to the Kurds more quickly than the U.S. may be because of Tehran’s strategic interests in arresting the march of ISIS.

“Iran knows that if they don’t fight ISIS in Iraq today, they will have to fight them in Iran tomorrow,” said Hiwa Osman, an analyst and writer based in Erbil. The expansionist Sunni militants have clawed their way across Syria and Iraq, coming within 20 miles of the Iranian border.

Indeed, Tehran claimed to have had a direct hand in training Kurdish peshmerga. “When ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish officials requested help from Iran, The Islamic Republic of Iran not only gave them guidance, but also organized and prepared their forces,” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazl told Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.

Zarif, however, denied there had ever been Iranian boots on the ground, despite numerous reports to the contrary. “We do not have soldiers in Iraq, we don’t intend to send soldiers to Iraq,” he said, during his Erbil visit.

Kurdish officials, too, said Iran had merely provided material help. “We haven’t invited them to govern here, we just asked them for support,” said Sadi Ahmed Pira, a politburo member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Pira says so far they have just received light arms from Iran and that this support is welcomed and needed for the fight against the militants.

But some Kurds are skeptical about Iranian support. A man calling himself Hamid, an Iranian Kurd from near the border who has been living in Erbil for the last four years, says his people have no future in Iran. Iran has around 7 million Kurds within its borders and Tehran is uneasy about their desire for independence.

Hamid refused to give his real name, fearing repercussions from the Iranian government. “In Iran they just oppress us,” he said. “They don’t love the Kurdish people.”

On the streets of Erbil, some worry Iran is sending arms simply to boost its influence here and in the region, even at the cost of exacerbating Iraq’s sectarian divisions. “They are not doing this to support the Kurds or to defeat ISIS. Iran is sending weapons to make themselves stronger,” said Serdar Akgul, a 31-year-old Kurdish warehouse manager in Erbil, who believes Iran has used the conflict with ISIS to its advantage in Iraq. “This is Iran finding a way to benefit from all this bloodshed. And this going to badly impact the sectarian division.”

Baghdad may also view a stronger Kurdish alliance with Iran as a threat. The Kurds’ long-term objective is a Kurdistan independent of Iraq, and it looks as if they will come out of the conflict better armed, with stronger international influence and recognition than before.

Although the peshmerga initially faltered in combat with ISIS, they have proved themselves the most capable army in Iraq — though that is barely an achievement — and now see themselves as filling a vacuum left by the rapidly dwindling Iraqi forces. “If Baghdad is unable to provide security then they will have to tolerate the international community giving us the arms to do it,” said Pira.

Kurdistan already has strong economic relations with Iran and the Kurds have so far managed to juggle their alliance with the U.S., with close ties with their Iranian neighbors. And the U.S. now finds itself on the same side as another regional foe against ISIS, just as it has with Syria. American and Iranian weapons will be firing side-by-side in the hands of Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

“Our talks with the Americans is limited to the nuclear issue,” said Zairf in Erbil. “But we are prepared to talk at the international level with other countries and with the international community as a whole with regard to what is needed to be done in Iraq and in Syria and in this region.”

That may trouble the U.S. but Osman, the analyst, says that regional bonds are shifting. The regional and international dynamics are moving to more “natural” alliances than historic ones, he says. “The last alliance that ISIS will eventually break is the Gulf and America alliance. The Gulf states, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others, are all remaining silent on the crimes of ISIS, just watching,” he said. These Sunni Gulf Arab states have long been some of the U.S.’s strongest regional allies against the likes of Syria and Iran, but those bonds are now being strained. “ISIS has created a new reality in the Middle East.”

With reporting by Kay Armin Serjoie

TIME Crime

1,400 Children Exploited in U.K. Child Sex Ring, According to New Report

Abuse was allegedly ignored by police and other officials

Over 1,400 children in a town in Northern England may have endured sexual abuse that was systematically ignored by police and other authorities from 1997-2013, according to a report released Tuesday.

The independent report, commissioned by the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and compiled by Professor Alexis Jay, found that children as young as 11 were being raped and brutalized in Rotherham since 1997, and had been routinely trafficked to other Northern England towns for sex. The report concluded that at least 1,400 children had been sexually abused during the 16 year time frame, but that this was likely a “conservative estimate of the true scale of the problem.”

The stories relayed in the report suggest that police and other municipal authorities failed to take action against the problem for years, allowing perpetrators to continue to exploit children. One girl who was preparing to testify against her perpetrator received a text message saying that he had her younger sister, and “the choice of what happened next was up to her.” In two cases reviewed by Professor Jay and her team, fathers had tracked down their daughters and tried to rescue them, but were themselves arrested when police arrived on the scene. In some instances, police arrested the victims for drunkenness or disorderly conduct, but let the perpetrators go free. Schools complained that children as young as 11 were being picked up in fancy cars and being taken to meet unknown males, and secondary school heads reported girls being taken away on their lunch breaks to give oral sex before heading back to class.

The report also concluded that until 2007, there was evidence that police believed children as young as 11 were having “consensual” sex with their rapists. While the South Yorkshire Police Department had excellent procedures on the books, officers on the ground through the 1990s failed to implement these practices, and seemed to have very little understanding of the nature of child sexual exploitation.

Council leader Roger Stone, who has served since 2003, said he would step down immediately. “I believe it is only right that as leader I take responsibility for the historic failings described so clearly,” he said, according to the BBC.

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