Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 5:12 AM
Yes, President Obama will be heading a delegation, which includes his wife Michelle and Oprah Winfrey, to Copenhagen tomorrow to lobby the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago.
And, since nothing (usually) inspires national pride and camaraderie quite like the quest to host the Olympics, one would’ve have thought all Americans would be rooting for Obama to succeed. Yet this is not so.
Instead, Obama’s political agenda (highlighted by his push for health care reform) has incited such irrational and fractious partisanship that Republicans are reacting as if he were flying off to Iran to appease Ahmadinejad on nuclear weapons. There’s no denying, though, that this reaction is suffused with racism – as no less a person than President Carter has lamented.
But arguing that Obama is neglecting his duties as president by going to Copenhagen to lobby for the 2016 Games is as patently contrived as arguing that President Bush neglected his by going to Beijing to attend the 2008 Games. After all, it is axiomatic in this age of technology that anything the president does in the Oval Office can be done from Air Force One (or any hotel room).
Not to mention that it smacks of arbitrary consciousness to accuse Obama of hypocrisy for taking his presidential retinue all the way over there for just a few hours of schmoozing given the carbon footprint involved….
Therefore, I applaud him for embracing the Olympic spirit by joining heads of state from Brazil (Rio de Janeiro), Spain (Madrid) and Japan (Tokyo) to compete for this national honor. Especially since this furthers his goal of re-casting the US as a nation that acts collegially, not as a domineering superpower, in the international community.
I see really no favorite. I think it’s going to be a very close vote. I think the final vote will be decided by a couple of votes only.
(IOC president Jacques Rogge)
The 100-plus members of the IOC will vote in a secret ballot for the winner on Friday. And Obama had better hope that his delegation has done enough “persuading” to ensure that he is not putting his presidential gravitas (and Oprah’s celebrity) on the line in vain….
After all, losing this bid will only imbue the vacuous contempt so many have for him with (some) just cause….
We want to prove that the time of this country being treated like a second-class citizen has ended. We want to be treated like first-class citizens.
Here in Latin America, all our lives we’ve had to prove that we know how to do things. The global crisis has unveiled the mask of many and shown the truth.
(Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva)
Hear, hear; good luck Lula!
Pres. Carter says whites resent Obama…
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 5:53 AM
Nothing betrays US mentoring for, if not complicity in, this coup quite like the way the military enlisted the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court to endorse it. In fact, after passing a resolution accusing Zelaya of “manifest irregular conduct [and] putting in present danger the state of law,” the Congress voted (“by a show of hands”) to remove Zelaya and appoint its leader, Roberto Micheletti, to replace him.
Meanwhile, they launched this perfectly executed coup despite the fact that Zelaya’s only crime seems to have been championing a constitutional referendum that would have allowed him to emulate his mentor, Chavez, by removing term limits on his presidency.
[Déjà vu: American-trained military executes coup in Honduras, TIJ, June 29, 2009]
This, in part, was my take on the military coup that forced the democratically elected leader of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, into exile two months ago this week – with nothing but the pajamas he was wearing.
And since then, US authorities have done all they could to spin the inherently specious notion that Zelaya deserved to be ousted. Unfortunately, he has done all he could to give credence to this notion.
For the US was clearly trying to undermine efforts to return Zelaya to power by insinuating that he had too much in common with diehard socialists President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
Yet Zelaya himself was doing even more to undermine those efforts by staging vainglorious protests at the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, hoping that his entourage and Honduran supporters would march him in a caravan back into power.
My presence in Honduras can undo this coup. The people will surround me, and the soldiers will lower their rifles.
Instead, chaos invariably ensued as Honduran border guards dispersed “the people” and allowed him to get no more than 10 meters pass the ‘Welcome to Honduras’ sign before forcing him back into Nicaraguan territory.
Moreover, these incidents made a mockery of internationally sanctioned mediations, headed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Laureate, that were aimed at letting Zelaya complete his term, which expires in January.
And, the shrewd politician that she is, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasted little time insinuating that his “reckless” cross-border antics demonstrated that he was mentally unfit to serve as president.
Still unbowed and undeterred, Zelaya somehow managed to sneak back into the country a week ago, but ended up at the Brazilian embassy, where he has been holed up ever since.
In fact, all he seems to have accomplished by this latest stunt is to turn his domestic political dispute into a combustible row between Honduras and Brazil, prompting the US Ambassador to the OAS to condemn him as follows:
The return of Zelaya absent an agreement is irresponsible and foolish … He should cease and desist from making wild allegations and from acting as though he were starring in an old movie.
Since the clandestine arrival to Honduras by ex-president Zelaya, the Brazil embassy has been used to instigate violence and insurrection against the Honduran people and the constitutional government… No country is able to tolerate that a foreign embassy is used as a command base to generate violence and break tranquility like Mr. Zelaya has been doing in our country since his arrival.
(Official statement by the Honduran interim government)
Then, even though it has said that Zelaya is a “guest” of the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, here’s how the Brazilian government responded to the ultimatum the Honduran government issued over the weekend to formally decide Zelaya’s status:
Brazil doesn’t accept ultimatums from coup-plotting governments.
This means that we now have a good old-fashioned standoff between two countries where machismo seems a far more respectable trait than diplomacy. And with Zelaya’s supporters threatening violent protests, all of the ingredients are in place for a very bloody end to this political crisis.
Déjà vu: American-trained military executes coup
Monday, September 28, 2009 at 5:31 AM
Chances are that more than a few of you have no clue who Roman Polanski is, or why his arrest is such a big deal. Therefore, here, in a nutshell, is the who and why of this commentary:
So just imagine the shock and scandal back then when he was arrested for plying a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), with drugs and booze, and then raping her.
Imagine further that, after being arrested, pleading guilty and copping a plea, he flew the coop on the eve of sentencing to avoid having to do (any) time for this unconscionable crime; and that, far from living the life of a fugitive, he has lived and worked openly and notoriously in France, even receiving an Oscar in absentia in 2002 for The Pianist.
More to the point, he has been able to thumb his nose at American justice for the past 31 years because, under treaty, France is not obligated to extradite any of its citizens to the United States.
It is an irony of ironies, therefore, that he is now facing extradition from Switzerland, a country well-known for providing (financial) refuge to criminal rogues of all stripes, after traveling there to receive an honorary award at the Zurich film festival. After all, Polanski was always understandably apprehensive about traveling to any country that might arrest and extradite him at the behest of US authorities.
However, what is most noteworthy about his arrest yesterday is the extent to which commentators in Europe and the US are expressing sympathy for Polanski, and even pleading for him to be pardoned. Indeed, in a rather perverse form of moral relativism, many (especially in the film industry) seem quite willing to overlook his unresolved crimes just because Polanski is such an accomplished.
They rationalize this, shamelessly, by citing, as mitigating factors, the fact that his mother was exterminated in Auschwitz by the Nazis and that his (pregnant) wife, Hollywood actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in California by the disciples of Charles Manson.
I am dumfounded… I strongly regret that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.
(French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand)
But frankly, this is taking celebrity worship to an untenable extreme. For nothing can excuse his raping a little girl, then compounding this crime by fleeing justice.
Straight up, what he did to me was wrong… I wish he would return to America so the whole ordeal can be put to rest for both of us.
(Geimer in a 2003 interview)
Yet, after suing him in civil court and settling for an undisclosed amount, Geimer joined the chorus of those pleading for criminal charges to be dropped. But, like others, she fails to appreciate that no amount of money he paid her, nor any amount of international acclaim, should exempt Polanski from having to answer for his crimes.
Meanwhile, it is delusional for anyone to think that President Obama would prevent federal prosecutors from extraditing Polanski not only to be sentenced for rape but also to face new charges for obstructing justice by fleeing. After all, Obama is even loath to prevent federal prosecutors from going after CIA agents for torturing al Qaeda terrorists….
But only the supercilious French would think, on the one hand, that it’s perfectly okay for their president to refuse to extradite this pedophile rapist of an American girl but, on the other hand, that it’s a betrayal of Franco-America friendship, for the American president to refuse to intervene now to help him escape justice.
In any event, Polanski, 76, seems bound for prison. He is married to French actress Emanuelle Seigner, with whom he has two children.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 3:31 pm
Saturday, September 26, 2009 at 8:21 AM
There’s nothing surprising about Obama’s familiar media presence breeding contempt among Republicans. What is surprising, however, is the growing indifference it’s causing among Democrats.
Of course, much was made of his unprecedented appearance on all major networks (reciting the same talking points on each one) last Sunday. But nothing demonstrates how much the novelty of his presidency has waned quite like the fact that where his news conferences commanded almost 50 million viewers in the spring, they draw only about 25 million now in the fall.
Frankly, I think it’s a mistake for Obama to deduce from his spinmeisters’ notion that he’s the best spokesman for his political initiatives that he should be the principal one hawking them on TV.
He is overexposed. I think he should lay low for a while, so that his absence makes even Republicans grow fonder….
Friday, September 25, 2009 at 5:37 AM
I remember thinking what an extraordinary snub it was when the White House refused Downing Street’s request to hold a formal press conference between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown after their first formal meeting in March.
The White House claimed that Obama was simply too busy dealing with matters related to the then percolating financial crisis.
This was exposed as patently contrived, however, when Obama took time out on the day of Brown’s visit to meet with the Boy Scouts. And, only after the media gave voice to seething complaints by Brown’s handlers, the White House finally condescended to a photo op in the Oval Office.
But Obama’s snub was as egregious as Brown’s humiliation was palpable. More to the point, this episode was a rather stark departure from the pomp and ceremony that invariably attended the first formal meeting between US presidents and UK prime ministers.
Now newspapers in the US and UK are reporting that the White House rejected no less than five requests from Downing Street in recent weeks for these “special friends” to hold a one-on-one meeting this week: either at the UN General Assembly in New York or at the G-20 summit in Pittsburg. By contrast, similar meetings were duly scheduled with the leaders of Japan and Russia among others.
At least the excuse this time was more forthright. For the White House let it be known that Obama is still pissed off at Brown for orchestrating the recent release of the Lockerbie bomber against his express wishes.
There’s no denying, however, that Brown’s dwindling prospect for reelection next year is feeding Obama’s political disaffection. (A cold and boorish disaffection that beleaguered New York Governor David Paterson himself is now experiencing….)
In any event, this then led to the unseemly spectacle of Brown having to corner Obama in the kitchen of the UN just to get a few minutes of face time with him.
Yet I have no doubt that Brown will not only continue his overtures but also suffer similar indignities with a stiff upper lip. Not least because he understands all too well that nothing confirms one’s status as a key player on the world stage quite like a state dinner at the White House or a bilateral press conference with the president of the United States.
All the same, no matter Brown’s political motivation, or even how anachronistic and unrequited, for the UK, this notion of a special relationship might be, Obama’s treatment of him reeks of impudence, petulance, and conceit.
After all, no matter Obama’s beef with Brown, the UK remains the US’s most loyal and indispensable ally. And the way Britons have fought and sacrificed alongside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan all these years is a poignant testament to this fact.
Therefore, it behooves Obama to appreciate that in snubbing Brown he disrespects not only the truly substantive nature of this US-UK relationship but also the traditional ties upon which it is based.
Not to mention how much this betrays his purported mandate to make civility and pragmatism instead of bravado and self-righteousness the guiding principles of US foreign policy.
So, get over yourself Barack!
Release of the Lockerbie bomber…
Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 5:28 AM
Watching world leaders deliver speeches at the annual United Nations General Assembly is rather like watching actors perform in an Italian opera. And, frankly, their speeches usually have about as much practical import as the arias in an opera.
Nevertheless, some of the notes sounded yesterday by two first timers, namely US President Barack Obama and Libyan President Muammar el-Qaddafi, are worthy of comment.
Obama used his address, the first of his 9-month presidency, to remind the member nations of this notoriously feckless body of their collective responsibility to help fight the global threats and challenges we face, including terrorism and climate change.
And in one deftly crafted sentence he managed both to reinforce his mandate to transform America’s image in the world and to indicate that his predecessor’s unilateral approach might not have been entirely unwarranted:
Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.
Regrettably, this was not only his highest note, it was the only one he sounded that we haven’t heard a thousand times before….
By contrast, Qaddafi used his address, the first of his 40-year dictatorship, to unleash an entertaining, stream-of-consciousness rant that showed why only Fidel Castro rivals his flair for Third World, revolutionary rhetoric.
For over 90 minutes (instead of the 15 he was allotted), he railed against a litany of injustices (real and imagined) that have been perpetrated (primarily by the US) since the UN was founded 64 years ago. He cited, among other cases, the wars in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan; the assassinations of JFK and MLK; and the conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies manufacturing diseases like Swine Flu so that they can peddle vaccines for profit.
But he unleashed the lion’s share of his long-simmering rage on the untenable double standard that governs almost all UN resolutions. In particular, he accused the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (namely, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) of using their veto powers to wage war and impose sanctions against other members like al Qaeda terrorists:
The preamble (of the charter) says all nations are equal whether they are small or big… Veto power should be annulled… The Security Council did not provide us with security but with terror and sanctions. It should not be called the Security Council; it should be called the terror council.
Granted, the allusion to terrorists is a bit extreme; but this indictment of the UN contains much more than a grain of truth. And, incidentally, I also think there’s merit in Qaddafi’s grievance about how unfair, inconvenient and unnecessary it is to have the UN (still) headquartered in the US (Indeed, why not France, China or India?).
Conspicuously absent from his indignant diatribe, however, was any reference to the many injustices he’s alleged to have perpetrated. Indeed, this is why, even though much of Qaddafi’s message was undeniably true, I understand why so many people just want to shoot this messenger.
All the same, nothing distinguished his performance quite like the unrequited praise he heaped on Obama, even referring to him (with Pan-African pride) as “my son”:
I’m happy that the new president, a son of Africa, governs the United States of America. This is a historic event. This is a great thing. Obama is a glimpse in the darkness after four or eight years. We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as president of the United States.
That said, I usually mark this annual gabfest by commenting on the world leader whose attendance many herald like the arrival of a skunk at a dinner party. In recent years Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have received this dubious honor. Not surprisingly, it’s Qaddafi this year.
No doubt you’ve heard that relatives of the victims of Pan Am flight 103 orchestrated a persona-non-grata campaign to ensure that he would have no place on US soil to pitch his Bedouin-style tent, which he uses to entertain guests wherever he goes.
Of course, this extraordinary display of inhospitality stems from the fact that many people believe Qaddafi ordered the terrorist bombing of this flight in 1988, which killed 189 Americans. And it was only exacerbated by the fact that, after Scottish authorities released the only man convicted of this bombing a few weeks ago, Qaddafi welcomed him home as a national hero.
However, notwithstanding my sympathy for these still grieving souls, it reeks of vintage American arrogance and stupidity that so many opportunistic, small-town politicians have enabled their misguided campaign against this Libyan head of state. (They have somehow managed to deny Qaddafi permission to pitch his tent in New York’s Central Park, on the grounds of the Bedford, NY estate he actually leased from Donald Trump, or even on the grounds of the New Jersey residence of his own UN representative.)
Meanwhile, this jingoistic nimbyism makes a mockery of the benevolent, cooperative and, yes, hospitable image of America Obama projected during his UN address. Never mind that it plays right into Qaddafi’s assertion that the time has come to move the headquarters of the UN out of the US.
NOTE: Most world leaders sit in the General Assembly when US presidents deliver their annual address. Therefore, I remain nonplused by the slight all US presidents, including Obama now, show them by refusing to reciprocate this respect.
But that Obama aped Bush by not even having the US Ambassador to the UN (or any US representative) show Ahmadinejad this respect is inexcusable and says more about America’s congenital imperiousness than it does about Iran’s nurtured defiance.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 5:22 AM
On Monday, the Washington Post made a mockery of President Obama’s correspondence with his military commander in Afghanistan when it published an “urgent, confidential assessment of the war” by Gen. Stanley A. McCrystal within hours after Obama indicated that he has yet to even receive it.
In any event, as is the case with most classified documents in Washington, the main points in this assessment came as no surprise. McCrystal, the top commander of US and NATO troops, states, among other things, that:
‘[W]ithout more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely…
‘The Taliban [is] a muscular and sophisticated enemy that uses modern propaganda and systematically reaches into Afghanistan’s prisons to recruit members and even plan operations [and]
‘[O]fficial corruption is as much of a threat as the insurgency … The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and [US/NATO's] own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government [or to support this infernal and interminable war].’
Frankly, the only thing remarkable about McCrystal’s assessment is the extent to which it mirrors the assessment about the war in Iraq that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant, made in letters US forces discovered last year.
Most notably, like McCrystal, Zawahiri warned that the al Qaeda-led insurgency was suffering from a lack of adequate forces, a failure to execute an integrated strategy and sectarian infighting – all of which were “hurting the global jihadist effort and will ultimately impede the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq.”
I fear, however, that, just as Zawahiri’s assessment did little to alter the course of al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq, McCrystal’s assessment will do little to alter the course of the America’s defeat in Afghanistan. Even more sobering though is the pithy admonition former Secretary of State Colin Powell offered in this respect:
Think Iraq was hard? Afghanistan will be much, much harder.
Meanwhile, to his credit, Obama is trying doggedly to shift the goal post in Afghanistan from nation building to “getting al Qaeda.” This, of course, would mean that instead of a surge in troops to emulate the strategy in Iraq, his new strategy would call for withdrawing most troops and relying on Special Forces and aerial drones to continue the hunt, which would clearly be more politically palatable.
Nevertheless, I believe it will be deemed a military blunder of historic proportions that the US spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost 4,326 lives over the past six years trying to build a nation in Iraq that “can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself;” whereas, it should have deployed all of those resources in a more justified and meaningful effort to accomplish this objective in Afghanistan.
(Incidentally, this is why Obama was so prescient when he based his opposition to the war in Iraq on the fact that it was never a haven for terrorists and never posed a national security threat to the US.)
Anyone familiar with the daring dos of Congressman Charlie Wilson, all of which are documented in Charlie Wilson’s War, will know that [in arming Taliban fighters] the Iranians are only doing to the Americans today what the Americans did to the Russians (when they were fighting an equally ill-fated war in Afghanistan for almost a decade during the 1980s).
[Iran arming America's enemies in Afghanistan..., TIJ, September 10, 2009]
In any event, the irony is not lost on me that McCrystal’s grim assessment makes it woefully clear that nation building in Afghanistan (even under the guise of a “counterinsurgency strategy”) is no longer advisable or feasible. Indeed, all indications are that the die has been cast for this “good war.”
Accordingly, the US legacy there will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent), or by tens of thousands of American soldiers being committed to Afghanistan’s “graveyard of empires” as it continues fighting this unwinnable war (following its own Vietnam precedent). And more troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters.
The US is fated to one of these shameful legacies in large measure because there will be no “awakening” among Afghans as there was among Iraqis, which compelled Sunnis to join coalition forces in Iraq to expel al Qaeda’s foreign fighters. And nothing militates against such an awakening quite like the fact that the overwhelming majority of Taliban fighters are native Afghans.
Moreover, other Afghans have no incentive to fight a war in which they appear to have no vested interest.
(By the way, for all intents and purposes, this is, and always have been, America’s war, which makes the notion that American forces are there to help Afghans fight for their own country a perverse and deadly form of national conceit.)
There is also the fact that the Taliban’s Sharia laws were not nearly as anathema in Afghanistan as al Qaeda’s jihadist ideology became in Iraq.
Not to mention the prevailing fallacy that America must wage war in Afghanistan because it (still) constitutes the central front in the war against al Qaeda. After all, for the past six years the Bush administration prosecuted the war in Iraq as if it was the central front in this war.
And there’s no denying that the last vestiges of al Qaeda are now so splintered that they are just as likely to be found in Pakistan, North Africa or, indeed, the United States.
Therefore, Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and retreat ASAP; to let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and to rely on Special Forces and aerial drones to get al Qaeda.
Iran arming America’s enemies in Afghanistan
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 5:19 AM
Imagine if, instead of serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton were going on trial this week for attempting to sabotage Barack Obama’s presidential campaign last year by leaking forged documents to the Justice Department implicating him in taking bribes from shady Chicago developers. Surely that would be worthy of being hyped as “the trial of the century.”
Well that, essentially, is what is now taking place in Paris. Because former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin went on trial yesterday on charges of “complicity in false accusation, complicity in using forgeries, receipt of stolen property and breach of trust” – all in an effort to sabotage the candidacy of his rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, for the presidency in 2007.
Both men were ministers under former President Jacques Chirac, and were engaged in overt (and, evidently, some covert) machinations to succeed him.
In this case, de Villepin is alleged to have masterminded a scheme to provide French authorities with forged documents implicating Sarkozy in taking bribes from international arms dealers. He faces up to five years in prison and a $65,000 fine.
Of course, regular readers know that I was a rather avid supporter of Sarkozy’s socialist rival, Segolene Royal, who I hoped would become the first female president of France. Therefore, nothing would have pleased me more during that campaign than to have Sarkozy exposed for taking bribes.
It must seem incomprehensible, however, that the patrician de Villepin feared the upstart Sarkozy so much that he would have stooped to such dirty tricks to defeat him. Indeed, de Villepin insists that the charges are pursuant to nothing more than an obsessive vendetta against him:
I am here because of one man’s will. I am here because of the dogged determination of one man, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also president of the French republic.
I will come out of this a free man and exonerated. I know that truth will prevail.
Perhaps; but I doubt de Villepin has clean hands in this messy affair. For I recall that no less a person than former US Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell accused him of even worse perfidy. And in his book, The French Betrayal of America, Kenneth Timmerman, a New York Times best-selling author who lived and worked as an investigative reporter in France for 18 years, documents this.
According to Timmerman, Powell claims that the primary reason he prevailed upon President George W. Bush to seek another UN resolution on Iraq was that he had secured firm assurances from de Villepin (then foreign minister) that France would join the US’s coalition of the willing to invade that country if its dictator, Saddam Hussein, refused yet again to comply with the terms in that resolution to avoid war.
Instead, however, Powell laments that de Villepin used a special meeting of the UN Security Council on January 20, 2003 to denounce the US, insisting that “nothing justifies envisioning military action” in Iraq.
Alas, what Powell could not have imagined back then was that de Villepin was quite willing to betray 225 years of Franco-American friendship, ironically, for bribes from Saddam in the form of exclusive oil deals and cold cash … allegedly.
(In fact, the Volcker Commission’s final report on the UN oil-for-food program documents many the lucrative contracts French companies got from Saddam, which all smack of quid pro quo because the French government voiced such adamant opposition to imposing sanctions, and going to war, against Iraq.)
Admittedly, since the war turned out to be a costly misadventure – based on “faulty intelligence” – de Villepin’s betrayal now seems inspired.
Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that the subtext of this trial is meting out poetic justice to de Villepin for his Machiavellian dealings with Powell (and no doubt many others).
So here’s to a just verdict….
Monday, September 21, 2009 at 5:24 AM
I know, I know: reading about the scourge of drought and famine in Africa is like reading about the menace of guns and drugs in America.
Not to mention that Kenyan’s seem so forsaken that as some pray for rain, others – who were displaced from their homes to tent cities by tribal warfare – are praying that it won’t rain….
But I suspect that your conscience is as troubled as mine by the fact that as Americans are debating how to provide better access to health care, Africans are praying for a way to provide the basic necessities of life.
And the only way I can think to explain my abiding concern is by invoking the humanitarian concern Martin Luther King, Jr expressed in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Accordingly, we cannot sit idly by in America and not be concerned about what happens in Africa. For, as 9/11 demonstrated, what happens in remote, repressed and poverty-stricken areas of the world can have profound and devastating impact upon us here in America.
A joint Kenya-United Nations report indicates that drought conditions and food shortages are expected to last until next spring.
Therefore, any contributions you can make to the UN’s World Food Program, which has been spearheading efforts to provide food aid, would be greatly appreciated.
Kenya forms coalition gov’t…
Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 7:55 AM
Friday, September 18, 2009 at 5:32 AM
By scrapping former President George W. Bush’s European missile defense plan yesterday, President Obama finally gave his liberal supporters a foreign policy initiative they can cheer about. After all, to date, his initiatives have been distinguished by the fact that he was adopting all of Bush’s.
Here, for example, is how I commented on their disillusionment in a recent commentary:
In what has to be the most ironic, and potentially implosive, development of his nascent presidency, Barack Obama is being dogged more by criticisms from liberals than from conservatives. Specifically, liberals are simmering with disillusionment over the fact that he has been systematically adopting many of Bush’s war-on-terror tactics, which they, and he, routinely condemned during last year’s presidential campaign…
All the same, even though I’m probably among the most liberal of Obama’s supporters, I agree wholeheartedly with all of his flip flops in this respect.
[Obama angers liberals by governing just like Bush, TIJ, May 14, 2009]
But liberals have reason to cheer because scrapping the deployment of these missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic will not only ease tensions with Russia (whose prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was threatening nuclear war over it), but also cut (albeit modestly) a bloated defense budget that is based on far too many manufactured threats.
Frankly, there’s no extreme to which the (Republican) enablers of America’s military industrial complex will not go to keep it growing. And nothing demonstrates this quite like the way conservatives are claiming that Obama’s decision not to deploy a shield to protect Eastern Europe from Iranian missiles will endanger the United States.
Never mind that no less a person than Robert Gates, who as Bush’s Defense Secretary first recommended this deployment, insists that new American technology and intelligence about Iran’s missile capabilities render it no longer necessary. And not to mention that it will be replaced by a more effective and cost efficient system.
Specifically, here’s what he said:
Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing. [A replacement system that would link smaller radar systems with a network of sensors and missiles that could be deployed at sea or on land] provides a better missile defense capability [for Europe and American forces there] than the program I recommended almost three years ago.
This is yet another reason why it was so prudent for Obama to retain Gates to serve as his Defense Secretary.
In any event, it is demonstrably disingenuous for his critics to assert that Obama is abandoning Poland and the Czech Republic to Russia’s neo-Soviet (military) sphere of influence. Because they know full well that, as members of NATO, these countries now enjoy the same umbrella of protection that America provides its allies in Western Europe:
Nobody believes that Russia would dare to trigger NATO’s governing principle, which provides that ‘an attack against one NATO country shall be considered an armed attack against them all.’
[Georgia: the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming, TIJ, August 20, 2008]
Who can blame Putin? Indeed, does anyone remember how President John F. Kennedy reacted when Russian President Nikita Khrushchev deployed missiles in America’s sphere of influence; i.e., down in Cuba?
[Bush digs his spurs into butt of an already scorned Russian bear, TIJ, April 2, 2008]
Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 5:21 AM
Former President Jimmy Carter is creating quite a media furor today with an interview during which he said that much of the vile, ignorant and hysterical opposition to President Obama’s initiatives (on display at town hall meetings all across America in August) is based on old-fashioned racism.
Here, in part, is what he said:
I think overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American…
That racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.
Carter is right of course (to a degree); but why all the fuss?! After all, saying that (some) whites resent Obama is about as newsworthy as saying that (some) blacks loved Clinton. (And Clinton would tell you that no supporters showed him more love during his impeachment days than blacks.)
More to the point, I do not think it’s prudent to defend Obama by challenging the relatively few right-wing nuts who can’t stand him, and “would love to see him fail.”
Instead, Obama (and the country), would be better served by remembering and celebrating the fact that more whites voted for this black man than for any white Democratic presidential candidate in US history. And, no matter what the polls say today, I doubt a single one of these folks is now suffering such an acute case of voters’ remorse that he has become a redneck racist….
Frankly, I think it’s futile and potentially dangerous for Carter and distinguished black leaders, like Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, to be publicly lamenting the racist rants of these nincompoops who thrive on media attention.
Because crying racism in this context risks confusing and alienating whites who support Obama. Moreover, it unwittingly comingles those who express legitimate criticisms of his policies with those who hurl plainly racist insults at him.
Not to mention that, just as Congressman Joe Wilson has become a media sensation by yelling “You lie” at President Obama during his speech before a joint session of Congress, one of these idiots might try to become an even bigger sensation by doing something more fatal. (God knows there are ominous precedents for this….)
They may have missed the boat, but I’m convinced that, left to their own devices, these political Neanderthals will soon realize that we’re no longer living in the 1930s, 40s or 50s.
Coarsening trend of political debate
* This commentary was published originally yesterday at 4:21 pm
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 5:11 AM
No doubt you’ve seen a replay of the way rapper Kanye West bum rushed the stage during Sunday’s MTV Music Video Awards (MVAs), yanked the microphone from 19-year-old country singer Taylor Swift – who was delivering her thank-you speech after receiving the award for best female video, and shouted the following:
Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ll let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!
He was right of course: Beyoncé should have won that award for “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).” (Have you seen Justin Timberlake’s spoof of this video from Saturday Night Live? Hilarious!)
But this was not the right place or the right time (and the notoriously irritating Kanye was probably not the right person) to make this point.
Indeed, even pissed drunk (from swigging a bottle of cognac like apple juice all night), Kanye had to have known this was whack when, instead of the applause he no doubt expected, the audience booed him off the stage.
Actually, nobody seemed more incensed than Beyoncé. And this, for a conceited performer like Kanye, must have felt like a dagger to the heart. But his hurt feelings had to have paled in comparison to the shock and humiliation Taylor must have felt at being upstaged in this fashion on the biggest night of her career.
Her feelings were undoubtedly soothed however when, after receiving the award for video of the year (curiously enough for “Single Ladies…”), Beyoncé interrupted her own acceptance speech and invited Taylor back on stage to finish hers. The audience duly showered Taylor with a standing ovation, which I suspect was also meant, in part, for Beyoncé. That was a classy move B.
Meanwhile, such is the pervasive nature of the pop culture in America today that no less a person than the president of the United States got drawn into this spectacle. Because during off-the-record banter about the VMAs after an interview with CNBC on Monday, President Obama called this spade a spade by calling Kanye a “jackass.”
Then, in an astonishing, if not cynical, breach of journalistic ethics, Terry Moran, the co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline, who lifted the remark off the raw feed all networks had access to, tweeted the following to his show’s one million followers:
Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a “jackass” for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential!
Meanwhile, Kanye provided the only noteworthy highlight on the season premier of Jay Leno’s new prime-time talk show when he appeared and uttered a barely comprehensible apology - through asphyxiated tears – for ruining Taylor’s glorious moment.
Yeah, sure Kanye … until next time!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 5:26 AM
Saturday’s semifinal match between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters of Belgium was billed as little more than a tune-up for Serena’s berth into the championship final. Because everyone thought that the clock was about to strike midnight on Kim’s fairytale comeback – after taking two years off to have a baby.
But after the first few games, it became clear that un-ranked Kim would prove far more formidable than anybody anticipated. Because she was not only matching top-ranked Serena’s much vaunted power, but Kim was also executing plays with intelligence and finesse that simply bedeviled her.
In fact, Kim won the first set 6-4 and was continuing to dominate her in the second set when Serena snapped.
Specifically, Serena was trailing 5-6 and serving down 15-30 (with Kim just two points away from the upset of the tournament) when a line judge called a foot fault on her second serve. This gave Kim a 15-40 lead with two break opportunities to win the game, set and match.
However, instead of channeling her grit and passion on fighting Kim to save serve, Serena took out her frustrations on the judge – complete with a profanity-lace verbal assault that included this qualified threat:
I swear to God, if I could, I would take this f***king ball and shove it down your f***king throat… Do you hear me!
Frankly, after overcoming the shock and dismay of watching her go gangsta in front of a worldwide audience, I couldn’t help thinking that “the lady doth protest too much…”. And, ironically, her reaction made the inaccuracy (and poor timing) of the judge’s call totally irrelevant.
I should note here that I have commented with unbridled (racial) pride on the class and sportsmanship Serena and her sister Venus usually display – whether reveling in the thrill of victory or wallowing in the agony of defeat. And I can certainly appreciate that Serena’s emotional intensity fuels much of her success on the court.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that her outburst reeked of the kind of menacing thuggery that I thought these sisters left behind decades ago in Compton, California, where they grew up. (You can take the girl out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of the girl, eh?)
Then, when asked at the post-match conference if she felt she owed the judge an apology, Serena hardly redeemed herself by giving this clueless and indignant response:
An apology for? From me? How many people yell at linespeople? Players, athletes get frustrated….
She’s right of course. But not even the notorious John McEnroe ever hurled profanities like a drunken sailor and threatened a judge with bodily harm. This is why I think it was the looming spectacle of losing to Kim – who was just one month out of retirement – that simply caused her to snap.
Meanwhile, it smacks of a craven attempt to preserve her commercial endorsements that Serena and her PR team are now embarked on an curious attempt to defend her outburst (as heat-of-the-moment passion) while at the same time apologizing for it. Unfortunately, the damage to her reputation has already been done.
Moreover, the USTA is reportedly considering additional penalties, including suspension, on top of the relatively paltry $10,500 she’s been fined so far; and rightly so. This despite the fact that Serena’s tirade has generated millions in free publicity for this erstwhile genteel sport….
Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks that, if that line judge had been a man or a black woman instead of a diminutive, docile-looking Asian woman, Serena would not have perpetrated that obscene and threatening assault…? This just exacerbates my contempt for her behavior.
But Kim proved that she was the more deserving putative champion by going on to win a straight-set victory 7-5, 6-3 over Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark on Sunday. And in doing so, she became the first unranked player to win the US Open and the first mother to win a Grand Slam championship in almost 30 years.
NOTE: Yesterday, in a feat that actually exceeded Kim’s, relatively unknown, 20-year-old Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina upset prohibitive favorite Roger Federer, the defending five-time champion, to win the men’s final 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
But with all of the drama still swirling around the women’s event, I doubt there’ll be much media interest in featuring Del Potro as the new face of men’s tennis … just yet.
Serena and Federer triumph at Wimbledon
Monday, September 14, 2009 at 5:19 AM
In an interview on 60 Minutes last night, President Obama lamented the coarsening of political debate and expressed forlorn hope that he can “bring civility back to Washington.”
With all due respect Mr President, no you can’t.
And nothing demonstrates this quite like the way a heretofore obscure Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson, is now being heralded as a latter-day Tom Paine because he had the partisan gall to yell “You lie” at Obama during his speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
Of course, both Democrats and Republicans have expressed righteous indignation at Wilson’s rude and unprecedented outburst. In fact, the Democrats, who control Congress, are threatening to pass a resolution to officially sanction him.
Meanwhile, Wilson is being hailed as a champion of the common man’s wholly misinformed and misguided frustrations with “big” government. Even worse, he has been given over one million dollars for his reelection campaign by those who support the boorish way he yelled his way onto the world stage.
Unfortunately, the nature of politics is such that I fear the reward he’s getting for his uncivil disobedience will only encourage other politicians to do the same.
Indeed, they must have envied the support Wilson got from the 60-70 thousand people who protested in Washington on Saturday, carrying placards that read “You lie, you lie”… and shouting some of the most vile epithets at Obama and Democrats imaginable.
[I]f this belligerent and factional trend continues, the US president will become nothing more than a boogeyman for political opportunists. Not to mention that it could lead to there being little difference between Republicans and Democrats in America and Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.
[Obama speech: a ploy to brainwash schoolchildren, TIJ, September 8, 2009]
Therefore, even though I share Obama’s hope for more civility, I see no indication that he (as transformational as he might be) will be able to do anything to reverse this trend.
Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 6:51 AM
I’m all for remembering (and even honoring) the victims of 9/11. (Although, I wonder why nobody seems to remember the victims of Oklahoma City or Pearl Harbor…?)
But these annual memorials are becoming a little contrived, don’t you think?
I can’t imagine they will continue (annually) after the 10th anniversary, do you? At which point it would be interesting to have someone like the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, explain the reasons for the discontinuance….
Friday, September 11, 2009 at 6:10 AM
It’s doubtful that she’s had a sex change. And even if the test finds abnormalities in her chromosomal and hormonal makeup, this should not disqualify her gender identity … or her performance.
[Gender-blending South African athlete pilloried at Worlds, TIJ, August 21, 2009]
This, in part, was my take on the controversy that erupted at the World Championships after Caster Semenya gave a Usain Bolt-like performance in the women’s 800m. But talk about abnormalities in her chromosomal and hormonal makeup:
The IAAF reported yesterday that results of a long-awaited gender test show that Semenya has both male and female organs. Most notably, that she has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone and which, no doubt, accounted in large measure for her performances on the track.
At least she wasn’t taking steroids, like Marion Jones, eh?
Of course, even though seemingly ingenuous, I doubt Semenya was shocked by these results. Because she had to have known for some time that she was “different” from other girls….
Nevertheless, I’m sure she’s utterly devastated, and I fear these results will only compound the public humiliation she’s already suffered.
At any rate, I do not think the IAAF will strip her of her medals – as some are urging its members to do. After all, that would be plainly unfair (and far too politically incorrect and untenable); especially since the tests confirmed that:
Despite her having higher than average male hormone levels, they are within the official limits for a woman.
Instead, they will probably bar her from future competition until she has corrective surgery to “normalize” her gender – if she elects to do so. In any event, let’s hope she gets lots of psychological therapy.
Friday, September 11, 2009 at 5:18 AM
Given the growing pandemic of obesity, it behooves commercial airlines to establish industry-wide standards to determine whether, or under what circumstances, obese people should be barred from flying. What happened to Emery Orto last week is a case in point:
Orto is a 6-ft, 350-lb man who was barred from flying a Southwest Airlines (return) flight from Las Vegas to Chicago. According to him, he was barred because:
The airline gave us the impression that I was too big or too fat to fly.
For its part, Southwest insisted that it was merely enforcing its policy of barring passengers who cannot sit in a seat with both side arms down. And when reporters asked why the airline allowed Orto to fly from Chicago to Las Vegas in the first place, a spokesman conceded that the Chicago crew screwed up.
But never mind the crew; it’s this policy that is screwed up. After all, no crew should be authorized to bar a passenger from flying based solely on a visual scan of his or her girth.
This is too subjective, and will invariably give rise to disputes – with morbidly obese passengers insisting that they can fit in their seats just fine. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened in this case – with Orto reportedly becoming belligerent. This, conveniently, allowed Southwest to bar him by claiming, essentially, that not only his big butt, but also his big mouth posed a threat to the safety (and comfort) of the passengers and crew.
In fact, the only fair and objective way to enforce this policy would be to have a replica seat at the check-in counter so clearly obese passengers can show that they will fit; rather like the measuring template that is there so passengers can show that their carryon bags will fit.
In any event, whether an obese person can fit (or squeeze) his butt into an airplane seat is not the issue. Because, if you’ve ever had to sit next to a fat person (in coach), you know that the real problem is that the rest of him tends to bulge over and take up far too much of your seat.
This is why the only fair and equitable way to deal with obese passengers is to require them to purchase two seats – the second one perhaps at half price. And, incidentally, no matter how snuggly you may think you fit in your seat, if you need a seatbelt extension, you would qualify for this surcharge!
The only alternative would be to designate obese people a disabled class and require the airlines to provide two seats for the price of one to accommodate their disability.
What do you think?
Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 5:42 AM
Despite the fact that ragtag insurgents in Iran and Afghanistan have bedeviled US forces for almost a decade, Americans continue to boast that the US is the most powerful military power in the history of mankind.
But if the vietnamization of these two wars is not enough to humble them, perhaps Iran’s role in aiding and abetting these insurgents might.
Because one of the most glaring demonstrations of the fecklessness (or pusillanimity) of American military power is the way Iran has been able to supply intelligence and armaments to America’s enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan with impunity. And, as if to incite what should’ve been reflexive demands for revenge among Americans, media outlets reported more evidence of Iran’s insidious aggression yesterday.
Naturally, this begs the question: why hasn’t the US retaliated?
After all, it’s not as if there’s any doubt about the fact that Iran’s fingerprints are on weapons (most notably those dreaded IEDs) that have killed hundreds, if not thousands of American soldiers:
Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to find Iranian weapons, including extremely potent roadside bombs-armor-piercing devices the military calls “explosively formed penetrators (EFP)”.
(Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell in a press briefing on May 20, 2009)
Yet, notwithstanding this persistent casus belli, the US, even under the purportedly trigger-happy presidency of George W. Bush, has responded with nothing more than hollow words.
Meanwhile, it stands as an instructive irony that the US went to war against the Taliban government in Afghanistan based solely on the fact that they were harboring the al-Qaeda terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks….
Frankly, given Grenada, Panama, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems the US will only retaliate against countries that it calculates can inflict minimal casualties on US (and/or allied) soldiers. That clearly would not be the case if it were to retaliate against Iran (or North Korea).
Indeed, notwithstanding expressions of grave concern about the growing number of casualties from these ongoing wars, I have no doubt that the military considers the 5,130 killed an “acceptable loss.” (Bear in mind, al-Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans in one day….)
That said, anyone familiar with the daring dos of Congressman Charlie Wilson, all of which are documented in Charlie Wilson’s War, will know that the Iranians are only doing to the Americans today what the Americans did to the Russians (when they were fighting an equally ill-fated war in Afghanistan for almost a decade during the 1980s).
Karma: it’s a bitch!
How can a non-nuclear Iran be a nuclear threat?
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:09 AM
Earlier this summer, the World Health Organization (WHO) made quite a show of raising the worldwide swine flu pandemic alert to the highest phase; i.e., to phase 6 on a scale of 1 to 6:
This particular H1N1 strain [swine flu] has not circulated previously in humans. I have conferred with leading influenza experts, virologists, and public health officials… The scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met.
Countries should prepare to see cases, or the further spread of cases, in the near future. Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection [in the fall].
We are all in this together, and we will all get through this, together.
(Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO in an emergency press briefing on June 11, 2009)
This of course was all the preternaturally hysterical media needed as justification to scare us to death. And of particular note in this respect were reports about schools becoming infectious zones when classes begin in the fall.
Now comes the inevitable report that all we have to fear about this pandemic is the panic of people acting as if every sniffle were an outbreak of the bubonic plague.
The virus, despite being both novel and infectious, does not seem particularly lethal. This last fact has probably surprised many.
(Dr Senanayake, an infectious diseases specialist)
In fact, of the thousands of cases that have already been reported, this dreaded swine flu is proving to be no more lethal than the common cold. This means, of course, that it should be treated as such; i.e., by washing hands to prevent it, and drinking lots of fluids to treat it.
Which makes me wonder why the US government, and no less a person than President Obama himself, are still admonishing parents to have their kids injected with the regular flu vaccine immediately as well as the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available in mid-October.
Frankly, I’m no doctor, and I don’t play one on this blog, but even I could see the folly in prognosticating that we were facing a pandemic that would make the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed between 20 and 40 million people, seem mild by comparison:
Government officials and news reporters are doing more to cause a panic than I suspect this virus will do to cause a pandemic…
[F]ar too few government officials and reporters are bothering to assure the public that this outbreak is no more deadly than the garden variety flu that kills over 36,000 Americans every year. And, even though it’s a new strain, the fact that over 99% of the people infected worldwide have recovered indicates that this Swine flu is no more likely to grow into a pandemic than SARS or the Avian flu.
[Swine flu causing more panic than pandemic, TIJ, April 28, 2009]
Having said that, I’ve already gotten my seasonal flu shot; but another one for the swine flu?! I don’t think so.
In any event, the WHO’s pandemic alert system is evidently just as meaningless and useless as the USA’s terror alert system….
Swine flu causing more panic than pandemic