Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No Sympathy for Diplomats and Oil Workers Trapped in Tripoli

Go ahead and call me insensitive. I’m finding it difficult to muster much sympathy for the droves of frantic foreigners fleeing Libya.

Mubarak isn’t exactly Ray Romano, but let's face it, everyone knew Moammar Ghadafi was a homicidal maniac who could come unhinged at any moment. So what were all those Westerners doing there?

I wager that most were there to make money and didn’t much care about Ghadafi’s politics. They care now.

They may as well say to the Libyan people: Yes, I’d like to cash in on your resources, but I’m not one of you and I should not be subjected to the vagaries of dictatorship. At the first sign of trouble, I expect my government to charter a plane or a ferry to get me (but not you) out of harm’s way. Even though I write the checks that keep him in power, the Crazy Colonel is your problem, not mine.

I’ve heard about enough about the poor frightened foreigners, waiting at the Tripoli airport for two days without food. BBC Radio 5 was focused more on the earthquake in New Zealand when I was listening today. The only mention of the turmoil in Libya was a report on the efficacy of the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to evacuate British citizens.

These economic migrants are not the story. They are a parasite on the people of their host countries, sucking out as much as they can during their short stints in country while looking with blind eyes at the physical and mental brutality these regimes inflict on their people. The violence and repression in Libya didn’t start last week.

Of course, there are Westerners of Libyan decent, aid workers and others who I don’t include in this criticism. But the diplomats, I cannot exempt. There was only one motive for the West’s decision to reestablish ties with the Tyrant of Tripoli. And it’s a familiar one.

There’s a reason why working in in places like Libya can be so lucrative. It’s called hazard pay, and this is the hazard.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Barack Obama Wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson - 1958-2009

Citizen Jane joins with the rest of the world in mourning the loss of a legend. May he rest, finally, in peace.


Friday, August 29, 2008

The Audacity of Dreaming

CJ is not one to get all verklempt over political rhetoric. So, I’m more than a little grateful that, after so many weeks of pundits harping on the fact that Barack Obama would be accepting the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s “I have a Dream” speech, the candidate himself chose not to dwell on the obvious significance.

But history cannot be denied. Even John McCain saw fit to take time away from impugning Mr. Obama’s patriotism to acknowledge the momentousness of the moment. Out of exceeding attention to fairness, I must state here that Mr. McCain argues that he is not questioning his opponent’s patriotism, but rather his judgment, when he says Mr. Obama would choose military defeat in Iraq in order to advance his political career. But as many have pointed out, if patriotism is love of country, it’s difficult to comprehend how a patriotic person could root for their own country’s defeat in battle.

"Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed,” the Arizona senator said in a television spot released as Mr. Obama accepted the mantel of his party. "I wanted to stop and say, Congratulations. How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight, Senator, job well done.”

To me there is a slight note of condescension here. My doubts about his sincerity aside-- Mr. McCain has yet to explain to my satisfaction, his reasons for opposing the creation of the MLK holiday-- these are words from a man who not long ago denied Mr. Obama had ever accomplished anything at all. Whether he means it or not, it’s clear Mr. McCain’s advisors saw a need to be on record saying something positive. Maybe it was for the voters who claim to detest acrimonious politics. Or perhaps it was just for the history books.

As for Mr. Obama, his sole reference to the MLK anniversary came near the end of his remarks when he spoke of an “American spirit” that strives for improvement.

“It is that American spirit,” he said, “that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.”

“It is that promise that, 45 years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.”

Mr. Obama’s words bring to mind another great dreamer in American history. This being the 40th anniversary, Robert F. Kennedy’s ill-fated presidential campaign has cast a shadow over this historic year. Many linkages have been drawn between the two candidates’ youth, their oratory skills and their capacity to inspire.

BHO’s praise of the “American spirit” strikes me as the 2008 rendition of the dream so famously ascribed to RFK in the eulogy delivered by his brother.

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

MLK dreamt things that had not yet come to pass. Black leaders of yesterday—including those who bravely marched with Dr. King—did not ask why not. They had good reason to believe they knew the answer. Today America has a leader who, unburdened by the memories of Selma or Memphis, 1963 or 1968, envisaged something never seen and dared to ask why not.

It’s an improbable story, as Barack Obama likes to say. John McCain calls it presumptuous. Some say it was serendipity in year when the new black was, well, black. To some it’s just a fairy tail.

Me, I’m putting my cynicism on the shelf for now. I’m calling it a dream come true.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ferraro is Right -- and 'Ridiculous'

Democratic trailblazer Geraldine Ferraro has become the latest casualty in the Democratic Party's civil war of recrimination. Ferraro is giving up her role on the finance committee of Hillary Clinton's presidential election campaign over controversial remarks she made about Ms. Clinton's rival. The former congresswoman drew outrage for saying that Barack Obama owes his successes in the Democratic primaries to his status as a black man.

Ms. Ferraro told a California newspaper last week, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

The Obama campaign repudiated the remarks. But Ms. Ferraro isn’t backing down. “Every time that campaign is upset about something, they call it racist,” she said on Tuesday. “I will not be discriminated against because I’m white. If they think they’re going to shut up Geraldine Ferraro with that kind of stuff, they don’t know me.” While Ms. Ferraro continues to stand by the remarks, she says she is stepping down to take pressure off Ms. Clinton.

In fact, the Obama campaign did not call Ms. Ferraro’s remarks racist. Mr. Obama did use an "r" word to describe them, but that word was "ridiculous."

"I think that her comments were ... ridiculous," he said at a Chicago campaign event. "I think they were wrong-headed. I think they are not borne out by our history or by the facts." Mr. Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod was most vociferous in calling for Ms. Ferraro’s head.

In their fervor to prevent the candidate being defined exclusively by his race, the Obama people, at times, turn to histrionics. The Clintonistas do do a bit of race baiting. But the Obamaphiles overreact.

Let’s face it; Ms. Ferraro is right. Mr. Obama would not be in the position he is in, frontrunner in the Democratic nomination process, were it not for his race and gender. Oh, and every other demographic and socio-economic category to which he belongs. Oh, and every accomplishment, skill and biological footnote he has accumulated.

Ms. Ferraro’s remarks are not so much racist as they are pointless and, frankly, daft. Mr. Obama’s supporters are attracted to his candidacy because of who the candidate is, and this is irrevocably tied to his race and gender. (For the sake of simplicity, let’s set aside the fact that he is as much white as he is black.) If Mr. Obama had not been an African-American raised in a multiethnic, international family, he would not have had the life experiences, and developed the perspective, that make him into the inspirational figure so many people consider him to be.

This is true for all the presidential candidates. If John McCain had not been a white man, he would have had a much tougher time getting elected to Congress from the state of Arizona in 1982. If he had not been a man, it’s unlikely he would have found himself in the situation that led to his being taken prisoner of war in Vietnam. And that experience has contributed to a personal narrative that has served him well in politics.

If Hillary Clinton were not a white woman, it's doubtful she would have married Bill Clinton. She therefore might have missed out on serving the eight years as first lady that she now touts as preparatory experience for the Oval Office. If she were not a woman, she would not have had the life experiences that equipped her to deliver such a salient message at the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing.

Black voters overwhelmingly go for Mr. Obama. This seems to unsettle some people, but it shouldn’t. Mr. Obama inspires many blacks in much the same way Ms. Clinton inspires women. They know what he has likely overcome to get where he is.

Ms. Ferraro made history herself as the first female vice presidential candidate from a major political party. She acknowledges that her gender helped secure her spot on the ticket. Given this, I can only wonder what exactly was the point she was trying to make last week. Each of us owes our present position to the totality of our experiences, which, of course, is tinged by our race and gender. So what? It’s a wash.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A King Without a Throne

One has to wonder what goes on in the psyche of someone like Bill Clinton when he’s standing nose-to-nose with a man in Ohio, speaking intently and wagging his finger within millimeters of the man’s face.

Ohio voter Robert Holeman contends Mr. Clinton actually made physical contact during the confrontation. “I think he even hit me in the face with his hand,” he said. “He did give me a little pop.”

The video is inconclusive. If Mr. Clinton did strike Mr. Holeman, it was very likely an accident. These things happen, especially when you’re standing nose-to-nose with a complete stranger shaking your finger in his face during a heated exchange.

And what did Mr. Holeman do to deserve this treatment? He expressed an opinion that differed from the one held by Mr. Clinton.

The Barack Obama supporter says he went to hear the former president speak in support of his wife’s candidacy with the intent to offer his view that Hillary Clinton should give up her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and endorse Mr. Obama. Mr. Clinton didn’t like that. “The president became very angry. He was very irate,” Mr. Holeman said. “It’s like the bully in the yard.”

Understandably, Mr. Clinton feels strongly about this election. But his behavior on the campaign trail suggests a pompous inability (or unwillingness) to accept that not everyone agrees with his assessment of the candidates or the issues. At another rally, Mr. Clinton angrily shouted at a protester who disrupted his speech to denounce abortion. After a lifetime in politics, Mr. Clinton should understand that hecklers are part of the deal. By now he should have learned a more graceful response.

Mr. Clinton is an unyoung man who keeps a grueling schedule. Perhaps he can be excused for falling asleep while seated in a prominent position on stage at a Martin Luther King Day event last month. This was embarrassing but laughable. One might equally overlook his subtle race baiting after the South Carolina primary. He’s an old hand in heavyweight politics and he plays to win. But his treatment of Mr. Holeman and the anti-abortion protester suggests a disconcerting intolerance for dissent.

It calls to mind King Juan Carlos’ outburst at the Ibero-American summit in November. The Spanish monarch responded to a tirade by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez by ejaculating -- in front of the gathered world leaders and the international press corps -- “Why don’t you shut up!” It was a decidedly undiplomatic response to what he considered the irritant of Mr. Chávez’s opinion (his harsh criticism of former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar). And it allowed Mr. Chávez to claim, rather convincingly, a residual imperialistic attitude on the part of the former colonial power.

The Spanish King and the former U.S. president have every right to disagree with the Mr. Chavezes and the Mr. Holemans of the world. Unfortunately they seem unable to acknowledge the equivalent right of Mr. Chávez and Mr. Holeman to voice their differing positions.

For Mr. Clinton, who’s been credited with resuscitating the Democratic Party, the dissent from within the party seems particularly difficult to stomach. And given the fabled love affair between Mr. Clinton and the black community, the fact that black Democrats are increasingly defecting to the Obama camp must be especially stinging. Mr. Clinton seems to think that black Democrats like Mr. Holeman should remain eternally grateful for the crumbs his administration threw their way and should therefore pledge their undying loyalty to the House of Clinton.

Things aren’t going his way.

Mr. Clinton’s response to the Democrats’ deviation from his script has shed some unflattering light on what kind of man he truly is. This new image of Mr. Clinton --going toe-to-toe with the unknown dissenter, finger wagging, eyes bulging, lips flapping, surrounded by a gaggle of camera-wielding onlookers -- has been illuminating. Hubris is a word that’s become almost synonymous with the Bush Administration’s follies, but Republicans don’t have a monopoly here.

  • See video of the confrontation here

  • President Clinton's MLK Day nap

  • King Juan Carlos vs President Chávez

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    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Ti(red) Excuse for Corporate Philanthropy

    How much would it cost Apple to hire celebrities of the caliber of Oprah Winfrey and Bono to endorse its products in a commercial?

    The question came to mind as I watched Bono talking to Michael Holmes about his latest philanthropic venture on CNN International. Fresh off announcing Product Red on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Bono was gushing about all the companies that had become “red” and holding up samples of their products. CNNI devoted two entire segments to the interview.

    Companies like Gap, Armani, Converse and Apple are producing (red) branded merchandize and promising to donate a portion of the proceeds for each (red) product sold to the UN-backed Global Fund to purchase antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients in Africa. Motorola even has an exclusive wireless partnership deal with the project. For every (red) handset sold, Motorola donates an undisclosed sum to the Global Fund.

    Product Red has an excellent pitchman. Unlike some other stars who use their charitable activities to promote their celebrity, Bono seems genuinely interested in the issues he champions. I personally like Bono. For a rock star he seems a decent fellow, despite being afflicted with the dreadful single-name virus. Part of me wanted to be as excited about the project as he appeared to be. But something about the idea didn’t sit well with me.

    I don’t doubt that Bono really cares about getting antiretroviral medicine to people who need it. But I have little hope that the newly “red” companies are motivated by altruism. But then, that’s stated clearly in red and white in the Product Red Manifesto.

    “(Red) is not a charity,” the document says, “It is simply a business model.”

    An unscientific survey proves it is a very profitable business model. Not long after Bono’s announcement on Oprah, my sister tells me, she went to Gap in search of their Product Red tee-shirt. They were sold out. She inquired about when the next shipment was due to arrive in store and returned on that day. She shelled out $28 for a short-sleeved, red cotton tee-shirt with “inspi(red)” printed across the front.

    My sister likes to shop. But she insists she wouldn’t ordinarily spend that kind of money on a Gap tee-shirt. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she shopped at Gap before the (red) tee-shirt expedition.

    When I relayed the story to my other sister, she told me that she herself had her eye on another Bono-linked tee-shirt. This one sports the word “one” in reference to U2’s hit song with a humanitarian message. The One Campaign combats AIDS and promotes trade in Africa.

    With the holiday season upon us, conscientious Santas like my sisters are lining up to buy (red) gifts for their loved ones happy in the knowledge that they will be giving two gifts at once. Of the $200 dollars shoppers will hand over for a shiny (red) ipod, Apple donates ten bucks to the Fund.

    It is ten dollars well invested.

    I go back to my original question. What would a company like Apple pay for such effusive praise from the likes of Bono? The U2 frontman and fair trade campaigner was actually displaying the products on Oprah, CNN and in countless other media events. On top of the incomparable advertisement, being seen to support a worthy cause builds immeasurable goodwill for the company that extends beyond the (red) products to the entire Apple brand, all for a paltry 5 percent of the ipod’s retail price.

    Still, you could argue that it’s better than companies that do nothing to redress the AIDS crisis. But is it really? Basically, the "red" companies are telling us that they know people are dying of AIDS because they lack the drugs they need to fight the disease, that they have the money to buy the drugs and that they won’t take action unless we first buy their overpriced products. The money for the drugs is coming from the consumers, and the companies are racking up sales while polishing their reputations.

    Enter the calls for a boycott. Groups like Sh(red) are attacking Product Red for embracing the capitalist paradigm that leads to such inequity in the first place. Critics accuse affiliated companies of exploiting the AIDS pandemic to make a buck. They have a point. And if the goal is to raise as much money as possible to fight AIDS, I can’t see the benefit of exclusive deals like the one Motorola enjoys.

    Whether they are (red), blue or black, people will continue to buy ipods. If a person wants to spend $200 on a personal music system, I’d just as soon have them buy the blood-colored one and hope that some of the money finds its way to where it’s needed. For those who are really interested in fighting AIDS and improving the world, I’d advise they bypass the middleman. Buy a (recycled) ipod from craigslist and donate the savings directly to the Global Fund or a charity of their choosing.

    Bono and Oprah are blessed with wealth and cursed with conscience. They’ve made the mistake of becoming informed to a point where anyone with an ounce of empathy would be uncomfortable with his or her teeming bank account. I don’t begrudge them whatever they need to do to sleep easier at night knowing how other people live. Unfortunately, this project probably does more to boost American Express and Armani's share prices than to boost hopes of abating the ravages of AIDS in Africa.

    get more information:
  • The Global Fund

  • CDC AIDS Factsheet


  • The One Campaign

  • Product Red

  • Sh(red)

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