Obama's Ukraine Affair

DDPresident Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.

Did you know about it? I didn’t.

A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.

To me, that’s news.

Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.

Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.

Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.

Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.

In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.

Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.

Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:

Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.

The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.

Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.

It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.

It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.

Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.

Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.

Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair

Try It Out!

DDI spent the week watering the well. Drinking coffee from five Ethiopian regions, feeling a link to the small family farms that depend on the income from the sales of beans, thankful to have a good relationship with a coffee seller in DC who provides me the 15 to 20 pounds my daughter sends me every two or three months.

But I can’t get my friends to try it! The corporate brands have them dialed in. So this morning’s Sumatra brings an old question: how do you get people to change? Why is change resisted?

In part the questions explain the Republican attraction: People don’t have to give up very much except government to be Republican. It’s a safe default for the risk-averse, even when in sight of something better.

I also spent the week anticipating the visit of friends I haven’t seen in 40 years. That energy was a celebration of passage; how vision grows out of change. Vision pushes away fear and brings hope. That why Sarah Palin sneered at “that hopey thing”—it give a freedom found on the inside, a freedom to grow; not just a freedom to fight government. Friends bring collective energy, a unique group experience that in politics is called the public good.

Republicans have abandoned that part of the public square, substituted profit for its focus, and measure of profit.

The maxim that people are willing to turn down collective advancement and fight against their own interests is proven both by the experimental and empirical. Why are we surprised?

What’s the strategy that will make the resistant change their minds?

On race? No way. On women? Lip service contradicted. On the public good? A rip-off! On income? Be glad for what you got.

This core is the Republican fortress. Impenetrable. But it’s placed to cause the maximum fright. As Barack begins to end his second term, race matters less; the coded challenges now go after his record and deliberately misconstrue his policies. The goal is to tear down his legacy. Listen, you can hear it from all sides. Continue reading Try It Out!

Stormy Monday, 2/24/14

StormyMondayHouse Republicans return to Washington this week, and among a host of very bad things, will attempt to expedite the ALERRT Act. While it might sound like yet another example of famously bad rightwing spelling, “ALERRT” is an acronym for “Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency,” which means the bill is actually just another example of famously bad rightwing ideas.

Also on the GOP House agenda is a bill to improve (meaning hobble) the CFPB, and the equally craptacular Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act, which of course is intended solely to stop what Republicans consider targeting of conservative political beliefs.

On Thursday, animatronic has-been Mitt Romney will be shipped to Boston and temporarily uncrated for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser. This is being spun as a show of support for the increasingly radioactive has-been-in-the-making Chris Christie, who chairs the RGA. How can you tell he’s radioactive? Because various fellow Republican governors are already making it a point to tell the press that he isn’t.

In a move almost comically emblematic of the term “military industrial complex,” on Tuesday the President will announce two new so-called innovation institutes, one in Chicago and one in Detroit. The institutes will be developed and funded through a partnership of private industry and the Department of Defense. Can’t see any downside to this. Nope.

Wednesday, the President heads to St. Paul’s splendidly refurbished Union Depot for another in his continuing series of speeches on the economy, this one focusing on “transportation and transit issues.” The White House website notes that he will “announce a new competition encouraging investments to create jobs and restore infrastructure as part of the President’s Year of Action.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/24/14

Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

StormyMondayMere days after Republican capitulation on the debt ceiling, scientists don’t yet know whether the violent disruption of the space-time continuum will be temporary or permanent. Congressional Republicans aren’t waiting on a verdict, of course, since they’re already working on other ways to ensure that the government does very little actual, you know, governing. Plus they hate science anyway.

Monday, the President returns to Washington from Sunnylands, the California retreat where he and China’s Xi Jinping held talks last year. The President hosted King Abdullah of Jordan at Sunnylands on Friday, and once the statecraft was completed he headed for the golf course with some old friends from Hawaii.

Speaking of Hawaii, the state’s legislature has an interesting week scheduled. Among other things, lawmakers will debate whether to force stores to lock up spray paint and other “graffiti materials,” forcing consumers to ask retail staff for the items. They’ll also be considering a one-year exemption from jury service for breastfeeding mothers, a ban on smoking in and around public housing complexes, and a ban on the use of drones for information-gathering purposes by anyone other than law enforcement officials.

Wednesday, the POTUS heads for Toluca, Mexico for a brief summit with President Enrique Peña Nieto. Tagging along will be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still ardently trying to pitch the Keystone XL pipeline. Will he offer to take back Justin Bieber to sweeten the deal? Stay tuned. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

Stormy Monday, 2/3/14

StormyMondayFor what it’s worth, Punxsutawney Phil’s outrageous prediction of six more weeks of this vile winter ensures that Broncos fans aren’t the only people shocked and saddened this week. It would cheer me up greatly if the Administration responded this week to the 242,995 signatories on a White House petition to revoke Justin Bieber’s green card and ship the insufferable little brat back over the Peace Bridge. Sadly, Press Secretary Jay Carney would go no further than saying an official response will be issued “relatively soon.” Stay tuned, and keep the signatures coming.

Tuesday, Bill Nye heads for Kentucky’s Creation Museum to debate Ken Ham, the museum’s founder, on the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” You can watch the debate live online, but I’m going ahead and calling it right now. Nye will win, Ham will claim otherwise, and nobody’s mind will be changed.

The President will “deliver remarks” at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday at the Washington Hilton. If he’s stuck for material, one remark that would suit the occasion is the famous quote from Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association:

… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/3/14

Political Dynamics for 2014

DDWe often forget the world is a dynamic place. Instead of embracing its splendor, our senses are blunted by our own inventions and appetites. We have forgotten how to think deeply and make change. We abandon beauty for bad taste. A recent television episode for families featured a child who had lost his tooth. The kid remarked, now he could “suck his own blood.”

Despite the political bloodsucking, it is the time of the year when we celebrate our best and brightest, those whose youth or age has allowed them to bring opportunity to society, and to be recognized for their special gifts. Did these gifts make a difference? Or did they gain the attention of the public eye because we were told they should? In this category belong pre-scandal Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and any guest on Fox.

Unemployment by State. FRED.

Unemployment by State. FRED.

So ignore the national trends. Take a private inventory. Over the last year, who made a difference in your life? Why? How? In that same period, who did you make a difference to? How? Why?

The Tea Party hoped for a difference, but went into a rage of despair when they discovered that in the period between shutting down the government and passing the federal budget their influence had waned, and they still don’t understand why. They are busy making noises and plans to run against those members of Congress who abandoned their ideals. It seems more retribution than strategy.

I have never been sure what those ideals were, but apparently the Tea Party stood for closing the government. That action seemed their pinnacle of success. I remember the smiles and general glee, the joy of their words celebrating an achievement the rest of the world found unthinkable and stupid.

That act alone is a reason to “dig deep.” The Tea Party never seemed to understand that government is the legal structure that supports local business and global commerce, and maintains the social order, and aids the orderly transitions of generations. Their obsession with the balance sheet turns a blind eye to government’s real functions—the safety and security of our economy and our society, an expensive undertaking, but functions which create real long- and short-term benefits for all.

I think the Tea Party doesn’t like the “for all.” Definitely, it doesn’t like how we provide for the “all.” As best as I can tell, it plays favorites. It favors the wealthy who receive government help in greater dollar amounts than the poor, but the Tea Party seems to want to protect that part of the government balance sheet. Government helps the wealthy by removing its numbers from the balance sheet, so the transfer is not transparent and is also invisible. But big numbers posted in the budget before they go out seem to drive the Tea Party crazy.

But big numbers off the government balance sheet have no impact on their attention. Not one Congress member who proudly wears the Tea Party label apologized or was contrite that their action to shutter the federal government cost 120,000 jobs, and cost the economy $24 billion.

Will the mainstream alliance of big business, cronies, and Republican loyalists carry the day in the next Presidential cycle? Will the Tea Party, gaining skill at raising money and still popular as an assembly of anarchist-reactionaries, protect their turf?

Heritage Action, and the dark money the Koch brothers organizations provides, may make the difference. But will their support be enough to help the Tea Party hold its seats against a turning tide?

Democrats can point to a growing list of skilled politicians of exceptional merit. Going into 2016, really smart Democrats are focused on the state level and are building out grassroots organizations. New York State, with Gov. Cuomo and Senator Kristen Gillibrand, and New York City, with new Mayor de Blasio, are the ones to watch. Experienced, key operatives are coming into the state to put a progressive agenda in place, including expanding public education and higher taxes on the wealthy.

Sen. Gillibrand has been a real surprise among Senate Democrats. She deserves greater recognition for her no-holds-barred approach to arm twisting and her willingness to put principles first. She may be New York’s best Democratic female candidate for President. Continue reading Political Dynamics for 2014

Take Five (Looking Down on Creation edition)

Take-FiveONE: Big Bung Theory

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham brought tidings of great joy to creationists and non-creationists alike when he announced that on February 4 at the “museum,” he and Bill Nye will debate the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” Ham thinks the event will be a chance to “show Mr. Nye and our debate audience that observational science confirms the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of origins, not evolution.” Personally, I think it will be a chance for Ham to make a fool of himself, though that would hardly be novel.

Ham – who, ironically, kind of resembles the Neanderthal from the Geico commercials, not that there’s anything wrong with that – describes the event as “an important debate to have.” Well, for the Creation Museum, that’s no doubt true; it will put desperately needed asses in the 900 seats of “Legacy Hall” at 25 bucks a pop. Tickets purportedly sold out within minutes, which sounds impressive until you consider that a recent Pew poll finds only 43% of Republicans currently believe in evolution, down from 54% in 2013.

On the brighter side, if $29 million in municipal bonds aren’t purchased by February 6, the Creation Museum’s long-delayed sister project, the Ark Encounter, might run aground. Which is in itself a more convincing suggestion of the existence of God than any of the Ark Encounter’s proposed exhibits could ever be.

TWO: Diet Hard

For all their efforts to stake a claim to the bottom of the political barrel, Republicans invariably find that the territory has already been surveyed and subdivided, by folks like Trestin Meacham. The former political candidate for something called the Constitution Party recently staged a hunger strike to protest Utah’s same-sex marriage prohibition being found unconstitutional.

I’d never heard of Meacham’s party before. And now that I have, I wish I hadn’t. The Constitution Party’s official platform is an eerily calm manifesto of addled extremism, equal parts libertarian gobbledygook and white-picket-fence fascism. The Constitutionists (Constitutionals? Constitutionics?) would ban abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. They want to repeal the 17th Amendment and turn the business of electing the Senate over to state legislatures. They want the Voting Rights Act and McCain-Feingold repealed, and the FEC abolished. They would eliminate the Departments of Energy and Education. They deny global warming and want the Endangered Species Act overturned. And they oppose “any legal recognition of homosexual or civil unions,” which is where Meacham’s little stunt comes in.

Meacham announced his fast with the solemn self-importance of a five-year-old declaring that he’s running away from home. Minus the cuteness:

“I cannot stand by and do nothing while this evil takes root in my home. Some things in life are worth sacrificing one’s heath and even life if necessary. I am but a man, and do not have the money and power to make any noticeable influence in our corrupt system. Never the less, I can do something that people in power cannot ignore.”

Well, “not with standing” his confidence, the people in power “never the less” ignored him for over two weeks, long enough for him to shed 26 pounds. When the Supreme Court conveniently ordered a stay on same-sex marriages in Utah pending a review by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Meacham was understandably quick to break his fast with a bowl of yogurt. But be assured that whatever his weight, he’s still a fathead, as he’s happy to prove over and over again on his Facebook page:

“The homosexual movement is less tolerant than the Nazis and if they had the power of the Nazis, I have no doubt they would not hesitate to march people of faith into ovens.”

Oh, please just go eat it, Mr. Meacham.

THREE: A Star Is Sworn?

In about a year, Arizona will be rid of the term-limited Jan Brewer. The bad news? Her successor might be even worse. For starters, Ken Bennett, Arizona’s current Secretary of State, has made no secret of his interest in the office. Among his many liabilities, if elected he would be the first known birther to inhabit a governor’s mansion.

It gets worse. Oafish action star and non-credentialed law enforcement officer Steven Seagal now says he’s maybe, kinda, sorta considering a run. The idea appears to have originated with Seagal’s crime-bustin’ compadre Joe Arpaio. At least that’s one Arpaio brainstorm that won’t cost Maricopa County taxpayers astonishing sums of money.

From a population of 6,553,255, is Steven Seagal – who probably doesn’t even fulfill the state’s residency requirement – really the best Arizona can do? No, but better alternatives have been slow to present themselves so far. Brewer has even hinted on several occasions that she might challenge the term limit statute. Absent a Democrat winning the office, which is far from assured, it’s more than a little pathetic that the best possible follow-up to Jan Brewer could be Jan Brewer herself.

As far as I’m aware, the only announced Democrat in the running so far is former Bruce Babbitt protégé Fred DuVal, who went on to work in the Clinton White House.  He seems like a bright guy, but one who has spent an excessive amount of time and energy pursuing the chimera of meaningful bipartisan cooperation. He also has a clutch of tediously moderate positions and disconcerting ties to that old snake oil merchant T. Boone Pickens.

Arizona deserves better, so I’m just going to go ahead and nominate my sister-in-law Arlene for the position. She’s liberal as all get-out, she meets the residency requirement, and I’ll bet she could snap Steven Seagal’s neck like a twig. Continue reading Take Five (Looking Down on Creation edition)

Take Five (2014 and All That edition)

Take-FiveONE: Bzzzzzt!

While another clod named Robertson has been hogging headlines, Pat Robertson just keeps on keeping on, a one-man dick dynasty of the old school variety. Despite his years, the octogenarian still packs more five-star dumb into a typical week than a teenager with a beer bong, a tube of airplane glue, a carton of fireworks and a boxed set of Jackass movies.

The good folks at Right Wing Watch have been busy trying to keep up with Robertson’s recent blather, which included a few things about Barack Obama, most of them scurrilous, some of them ridiculous, all of them wrong. Robertson is among the last conservative chowderheads still desperately pushing the stale “Obama’s in over his head” meme. Conveniently skipping past the President’s largely successful half-decade of experience in geopolitics as head of state of the most powerful nation on Earth, Robertson claimed:

“[Obama] doesn’t understand what these things are, he’s never been in the military, he doesn’t understand it, he doesn’t understand geopolitics.”

The charge is especially rich coming from a guy who believes that his stint as a “liquor officer” in Korea somehow constituted combat experience. But Robertson’s cognitive problems pale in comparison to his fondness for just plain old lying about stuff:

“But he has a prism on the world that was shaped by his radical father and he has a prism that was shaped by some of his friends who were radical leftists and his spiritual mentor who at one time hated America; that’s who is running our country.”

That, of course, was in reference to the father whom the President barely knew, the Chicago acquaintance who co-founded the Weather Underground before becoming a respected academic and non-violent activist for progressive causes, and the pastor very publicly and painfully repudiated by then-candidate Obama in a landmark speech on race relations, respectively. Robertson went on to compare America to Lemuel Gulliver and said the nation was being “held down by these pygmies,” although he prudently left unspecified the identity of said pygmies. A scant 24 hours later, just as these inanities were beginning to draw ire, Robertson spread mustard and relish on his other foot and shoved it deeply into his mouth:

A viewer named Catherine told the TV preacher that she had recently reconnected with a childhood friend, who was a lesbian. She invited the friend to meet her children but became concerned when she asked to bring her same sex partner…

Robertson advised the woman not to “shun” her friend, “but at the same time, you don’t want your children to grow up as lesbians.”

“That’s what you’re talking about,” he said. “You don’t want to show them that that’s an acceptable lifestyle for your family.”

President’s a radical leftist, nation’s being held down by pygmies, sexuality is simply a lifestyle; what does a guy who’s wrong about everything he sees do for an encore? Be wrong about the future, of course! Robertson ended the year by retreating to the mountains, where God (or the thin air) revealed to him what 2014 has in store: Iran getting nukes, Islam “in retreat,” some sort of “credit crisis” involving China, and the usual vague tut-tutting about chaos. Oh, and some more spectacular idiocy about Barack Obama:

… I think that the President is going to be severely, severely hampered. I think that America is going to turn against him much more so than now, as that Affordable Care thing starts biting hard as it is, he’s going to be discredited terribly. As a process, I think that he is going to withdraw. He likes Hawaii, he spent a lot of time in Hawaii and he probably figured, ‘Okay, I’ve done my thing, now let’s go surfing.’ I mean really, he’s got a big airplane to ride around in, he’s got a big staff, he’s got a big expensive limousine to ride in, he can just go bopping around the world and he doesn’t have to govern and I don’t think he’s going to because he can’t get anything through.

You can find a nice rundown of asinine Robertson predictions from previous years here. I especially love the 2005 one about mass conversions by Muslims to Christianity, the 1996 one about Bill Clinton becoming a one-term President, and the 2007 one about a huge terrorist attack that could kill “possibly millions” of Americans. And I’m still tickled by one I commented on two years ago, when Robertson warned of imminent economic collapse. (Hey, don’t blame Pat that it didn’t happen; God assured him it would.)

So what are the odds of his 2014 predictions having any accuracy? As of year-end, over 2.1 million people have enrolled in “that Affordable Care thing” via state and federal exchanges, and almost 4 million more are newly eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. So bite that, Pat. Hard.

TWO: Camping with God

Speaking of being wrong, I’d be remiss not to note, belatedly, the passing of Harold Camping, who died on December 15. Camping was a fellow who raised being flat-out mistaken into an art form, as noted in previous editions of this column.

The radio evangelist first calculated that the world would end in 1994, later chalking up its failure to do so to an error in his math. After fixing May 21, 2011 as the new end date, Camping told a newspaper he was “flabbergasted” when the day passed without eschatological incident. Undaunted, he and his wife holed up in a motel while Camping ran his numbers again, determining that the actual this-is-it date was October 21; May 21 was simply the day on which Jesus judged the world, and He would be taking out the trash in the fall.

Well, it’s the darnedest thing, but Harold Camping turned out to be wrong again. I know, right? Weird. Worse still, Camping’s precarious health had prompted him to step down from his ministry and his radio pulpit, Family Radio Stations Inc., only a week before October’s Apocalypse Not Now. If Camping made any further attempts to forecast the end of the world, he apparently kept them to himself.

Tragically, he suffered a fall at home on November 30, and never recovered. The world – this world, at least – has ended for Harold Camping. Wherever he is now, in whatever form, I wish him well, but I do hope God will have a word with him about his math skills, or lack of them. Continue reading Take Five (2014 and All That edition)

The Handshake

DDThis is one of the internet’s great spaces and I am proud to write for it. I am thankful for the readers who find relevance in the interior ideas I often describe. I appreciate more than they know the great staff, friends, and dedicated workers that gather to make this space special. Persistently, the site gets the facts right, the interpretation sound, and keeps up the good fight.

It’s different in the world beyond, especially in the corporate mainstream; the producers and purveyors of what I have called marketplace speech. Snippets, sound bites, and commentary that spin a discourse removed from facts and causes, and only feature manufactured make-believe.

The handshake between Barack Obama and Raul Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday is a perfect example of marketplace speech and its manufactured process. Alternatively described as “historic,” some Cuban-American reactions have been characterized as “dismayed.” A Wall Street Journal headline proclaimed it showed a “thaw in relations with Cuba.” Yahoo reported it was “seen by millions.” The Globe and Mail called it “a rare gesture” that “caused a stir.”

The Boston Globe said the “offending handshake” led to the “predictable hysteria.” USA Today said it “shocked the world.”

Senator John McCain and a Florida House member said it awarded Cuba a “propaganda victory.” The House member (of Cuban descent) called it “nauseating.” McCain added the President “shouldn’t have done it.”

Enter my other favorite concept, the looking glass syndrome, the practice of seeing the world only as I believe it to be, despite evidence, circumstances, and common sense.

Can you imagine the propaganda victory for Cuba at the other end of the looking glass if the “American Imperialist” had snubbed Raul Castro, who was an invited speaker by South Africa, representing a country that sent aid and personnel to the fight against apartheid in South Africa and imperialism in Namibia at a time when the US stood against the struggle for freedom and full rights—human rights!—for black South Africans and others in the region by failing to support sanctions and armed South Africa against the independence movements in the region. Which side of that history do you want to stand with?

Foreign policy cannot be advanced or retarded by simple gestures at times when decorum is expected. But in the looking glass, decorum no longer maintains the status quo!

For some, issues of human rights intrude. Cuba convicted and sentenced an American aid worker to 15 years in prison for bringing in less than 20 cell phones and hard drives without a permit. And on Twitter: “Find strong hand sanitizer. Surely some of the innocent blood on @RaulCastro’s hand rubbed off.”

Yes, it’s a harsh sentence. I am sure the chances of a negotiated early release or commutation would have immediately improved with a Raul Castro snub. I am convinced that such a snub would have created an opportunity for diplomatic dialogue on a vast range of issues. Didn’t Reagan’s snub of Russia’s leaders result in the dismantling of the Evil Empire and ended the Cold War? Oh, Reagan actually shook hands with Russia’s Communist leader, President Mikhail Gorbachev?

No blood was more innocent than that of the people of South Africa, who spilled their blood at the hands of their country’s citizens because of race, power, and wealth. The day of the “dismaying, offending” handshake, they sat together in the blood of their memory and danced and mourned and celebrated the man whose forgiveness and faith in redemption made possible South Africa’s new day.

A man, imprisoned for 27 years, came of prison to lead a country not by blame and recrimination but by forgiveness and reconciliation—a lesson and example and witness over 100 global leaders of every ideology traveled to an open air stadium on a rainy day to gather with thousands of South Africans to celebrate, including many with mixed records on freedom, abuse, violence, and power.

They have their own looking glasses and elaborate ruses to hide their hypocrisy. Yet finger-pointing at a handshake leads to the dead end of blame.

Just minutes before the handshake, Barack Obama presciently captured the obscene imbalance now surrounding his handshake in his remarks about Nelson Mandela. Continue reading The Handshake

Stormy Monday, 12/9/13

StormyMondayThe President and First Lady will attend a national memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Tuesday, but other details of the trip are still unannounced. Mandela’s state funeral will be held Sunday.

In the Obamas’ absence, Vice President and Dr. Biden will fill in today and tomorrow as hosts of the White House Congressional Holiday Balls. Presumably the Bidens have been warned to watch for untoward events like Michele Bachmann stealing silverware or Rand Paul peeing behind a potted palm.

The Bidens signed a condolence book at the South African Embassy, which has been hosting candlelight prayer vigils. The Vice President will speak at a National Cathedral memorial service on Wednesday morning, ending a week of mourning in Washington.

Others traveling to South Africa this week to honor Mandela’s memory include Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush the Lesser, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the prime ministers of the UK, Spain, Canada and Australia, the presidents of  France, Brazil and India, and, from the non-political world, Pope Francis, Prince Charles, Peter Gabriel, Oprah and Bono.

The United States will also be represented by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have announced their intention to mar the week by “protesting” outside various events, while South Africans look on and marvel at how a nation could tolerate such hatemongering.

Phil Schiliro, former chief congressional liaison for the Obama White House, returns to Washington this week to help with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Described as a “short-term appointment,” the gig will keep Schiliro busy coordinating with various government departments and with Congress. Naturally, Republicans will impugn his moral fiber, condemn him as out of step with mainstream values, and accuse him of murdering Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Foster and Jesus. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/9/13