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June 15, 2012 - June 8, 2012

Friday, March 18, 2011

'Having Cake' Meet 'Eating Cake.'

WHAT SOME OF US KNEW BEFORE THE 2008 ELECTION. This is just too rich (pun intended). From the U.K. comes this pitiful plaint about the Obama administration.


INEFFECTUAL, invisible, unable to honour pledges and now blamed for letting Gaddafi off the hook. Why Obama’s gone from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Er, maybe we shouldn’t’...

Let us cast our minds back to those remarkable days in November 2008 when the son of a Kenyan goatherd was elected to the White House. It was a bright new dawn – even brighter than the coming of the Kennedys and their new Camelot. JFK may be considered as being from an ethnic and religious minority – Irish and Catholic – but he was still very rich and very white. Barack Obama, by contrast, was a true breakthrough president. The world would change because obviously America had changed.

Obama’s campaign slogan was mesmerisingly simple and brimming with self-belief: “Yes we can.” His presidency, however, is turning out to be more about “no we won’t.” Even more worryingly, it seems to be very much about: “Maybe we can… do what, exactly?“ The world feels like a dangerous place when leaders are seen to lack certitude but the only thing President Obama seems decisive about is his indecision. What should the US do about Libya? What should the US do about the Middle East in general? What about the country’s crippling debts? What is the US going to do about Afghanistan, about Iran?

What is President Obama doing about anything? The most alarming answer – your guess is as good as mine – is also, frankly, the most accurate one. What the President is not doing is being clear, resolute and pro-active, which is surely a big part of his job description. This is what he has to say about the popular uprising in Libya: “Gaddafi must go.” At least, that was his position on March 3.

Weren't all the most cerebral Brits, in concert with our own intellectual caste, urging, insisting on the election of Barack Obama as a form of redress to a world offended by the Texas cowboy Bush and his bruiser accomplices? uh, yes, they were. So they wound up having the cake that looked so good in the shop window, and now they still have it, but they're not much enjoying the eating:

Every day for almost the last two months our television screens, radio broadcasts and the pages of our newspapers have been filled with the pictures, sounds and words of the most tumultuous events any of us can remember in the Arab world. The outcome of these events, once the dust has settled, could literally change the world. Yet Obama seems content to sit this one out. He has barely engaged in the debate. Such ostrich-like behaviour is not untypical of the 49-year-old President who burst through America’s colour barrier to become the first African-American to occupy the White House.

Although they are eating it, aren't they? Forced to swallow all the crumbs that once looked so sweet and now taste bitter to the tongue. The new line seems to be that he is weak, weak, weak, even though they're still irate about the things Bush did that were strong, and even more so about the Obama retention of those Bush things:

Two days after taking office in January 2009, he pledged to close down the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, which has become notorious for holding detainees for years without trial. Obama promised to lose the prison within 12 months and to abolish the practice of military trials of terrorism suspects. It was an important promise. America’s reputation had been severely tarnished by revelations about the conditions at Guantanamo, by reports of waterboarding and extraordinary rendition (transporting prisoners to a third country for torture) and by the appalling treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Closing Guantanamo was a redemptive gesture. Two years on, not only is the prison still in use but its future is as assured as ever. Ten days ago, the President signed an executive order reinstating the military commissions at the island prison. Human rights organisations were outraged. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama extinguished any lingering hope that his administration would return the United States to the rule of law,” said Amnesty International while Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, declared the President’s action to be “unlawful, unwise and un-American.”

White House spokesmen insisted the President was still committed to closing Guantanamo, which currently has 172 detainees in custody. It was Congress, they said, that had refused to sanction the transfer of the prisoners to the US mainland for trial, leaving no option but to keep the prison open in Cuba. Very little has been achieved in the quest to secure peace in the Middle East. Under Obama, US foreign policy is founded on extreme caution. At first this cool-headedness was a welcome change from the naked aggression of George W Bush and his henchmen Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

At first. But then it became downright inconvenient. The Brits, and the world generally, ALL want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the U.S. as a punching bag, an automatic target of blame for everything that goes wrong or hurts their feelings in any way, but they also want the U.S. to bail them out of every tough situation, sacrifice our blood and treasure on their behalf with no expectation of anything in return, indeed without even mentioning it. They want us to be their fix-everything daddy while they get to play the part of the spoiled, ungrateful teenage girl who denounces every stern daddy response as unfair and despicable. How dare we now appear to be acceding to their desires and abandoning them to the natural forces we've spent more than half a century protecting them from?

It is also true that the President is constantly stymied by a hostile, Republican-ruled Congress. [Give me a break: Stymied for three months now in half of congress? Please.]  But Obama’s apparent reluctance to engage with momentous events is starting to look like more than aloofness. Some tempering of America’s role as the world’s No1 busybody may be no bad thing but under Obama the US appears to be heading towards isolationism. He is hardly doing much better at home. Economically, the US is in big trouble but the national debt is not shrinking.

Got it. The conservatives who have consistently kept the U.S. engaged actively on the world scene and want to forestall U.S. bankruptcy are still the evil ones, but please -- please, please, please -- don't cut us off and leave us alone with all those other evil ones.

Two thoughts.

Screw the Brits and other Europeans who've been living under our roof all these years with their sullen demands and cast iron contempt for who we are and what we've done for them.

And maybe, just maybe, Obama is presently proving a point that couldn't be proven in any other way. The daddy who spends all his time apologizing to bratty kids really isn't much good for anything else, is he?

Is he?

How high a price will it be worth it to pay for the world to learn this lesson?

Just don't expect Obama to answer that particular question. He's busy in Rio for the next few days. Then there's the Final Four... And we'll have to get back to y'all later. Much later.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Open Thread

I'm sail thread. Show me you're more than silk.

SPEAK UP, JADED ONES. Never done this before. But there are a lot of unanswered questions in the posts and comments of the past couple of weeks.

I'll just make a few comments to sink the needle in.

I've been struck by how many of you -- even in trying to be optimistic -- are devoted to the idea that American "exports" are mostly negative. I think this reflects the overlooking of some key variables and a parochial viewpoint. The variables I didn't hear mentioned? The Internet, cellphones (Arab uprisings and their internal/external communications, anyone?), American Johnny-on-the-spot response to natural disasters, and the still growing number of families all over the globe who have one or more relatives living or studying here. The movies and TV shows you think are so disastrous in PR terms are probably communicating things you've ceased to look at -- the amazingly high standard of living enjoyed by even those who are poor in our terms, the amazing freedom to criticize the U.S. government and still obtain lucrative international distribution (Freedom!), the extraordinary technology involved in all our media productions, now taken for granted by us but almost miraculous to many in the global audience, and the enduring archetype of the maverick American hero, who doesn't have to submit to any authority to prevail and survive, if not prosper to an exceptional degree.

Besides which, our music is all over the world. Good, bad, or indifferent it speaks to the world's young the same way American jeans spoke to the children of the Iron Curtain countries a generation ago. You all take being American for granted. They don't. Why they're still trying to come here and live, even from countries who officially despise us and have aimed all their propaganda at discrediting our way of life. Every America-hating director, actor, and musician is actually making his despised homeland more attractive to all the people who know they don't have what the haters no longer see as a privilege.

What I meant by vitality.

A nod to Helk. He wants to discuss presidential candidates. I thought I'd opened the door to that, wide open, but nobody responded. So come out and talk. Don't just sharpshoot. Make your case and arrive at some valid conclusion.

Japan. What do you all think of the current disaster? I have a few prodding thoughts. Our own media and government tend to exaggerate rather than underplay emergencies for political ends. Our anti-Bush press declared there were 10,000 dead in New Orleans before it quietly conceded there were only about a hundred. In Japan, home of the most obedient, well organized, and homogeneous people on earth, the government has consistently understated likely casualties, dangers, and national impacts from the first moment. Yet with some notable media-distorted exceptions, we seem to have a talent for recovering from horrific disasters in places like Tornado Alley (and this week in northern New Jersey) with barely a peep. Who's exceptional? Them or us?

Nuclear plants. A 9.0 event that happens once in a couple hundred years is supposed to make us panic about the "China Syndrome" all over again. I'm guessing that wouldn't happen without the ratings-driven hysteria of the 24/7 news cycle, and Fox News is as guilty as anyone. Maybe more so. (Don't get me started on the fact-free incitations of Allyson Camerota and the shockingly nepotist promotion to International Correspondent of new college grad Peter Doocy, whose Fox host father can't even pronounce the name of Miyagi, Japan. We're supposed to take any of these folks, seriously?) What do you think?

Wisconsin. As ugly a display of nasty inter-party political combat as we've seen in years, but as far as I know, nobody got killed -- unlike the ongoing protests in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, etc. A lot of marble got damaged in the capitol building and the place stank like the Superdome after Katrina, but only the rhetoric was actually homicidal. Do you feel ashamed or proud? Why?

World Leadership. The catastrophe in Japan has caused the publication of figures we haven't seen in a while. Did you think China with its billion-plus people was actually overtaking our economy? (Bet you did.) The proof of our decline. Turns out the three economies behind us in rank don't add up collectively to the GDP of the United States. And Japan -- even before the earthquake/tsunami -- had a national debt twice its GDP. I predict that once again, the world's weakest form of democracy, i.e., the parliamentary, will fall at the precise moment when it needs to lead firmly and without partisan favor. Which our republican democracy is expressly designed to enable, except when we have a cipher as president.

Okay. Enough. Discuss amongst yourselves. And by that I mean anything that strikes you as worthwhile. When the whole world seems to be falling apart and the president is invisible except for participating in a Gridiron roast, everyone else should be prepared to say a little something.

P.S. I just smacked Eduardo in the Comments, which I hate to do, because he came in leading with his chin rather than his own ideas. My smackdown is meant as an inspiration for him and the rest of you. "Open Thread" means talk about your subjects, not mine. I was only trying to stir the pot, not mandate the recipe for the resulting stew as one more reflection of me.

For the timid or for those who want a closing thought for their wise comments, I'm presently torn between two wildly discrepant posts, one on Evolution and the other on March Madness (meaning the combined insanity of this month's NFL lockout coupled with the conveniently sudden MSM consensus that student athletes, especially -- surprise! -- basketball players, should be paid for being subpar students who receive this one, against-all-odds lottery win of getting a chance at a college education they wouldn't otherwise qualify for.) You can end your comments by voting for one or the other of my post ideas. But I really hope you offer some coherent personal arguments on another topic first.

And I won't even promise I'll pay attention to the vote totals. Who votes for what, or doesn't, might make all the difference.

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