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
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
Although they are eating it,
aren't they? Forced to swallow all the crumbs that once looked so sweet
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
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
ungrateful teenage girl who denounces every stern daddy response as
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
Economically, the US is in big trouble but the national debt is not
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.
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
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?
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
sail thread. Show me you're more than silk.
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
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?),
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
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.
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.
Friday, March 11, 2011
OR SOMETHING. Just kidding. There's no such thing as a Quantum
Not that I know of, anyway. But I was struck by some documentaries I
saw today on Netflix. The first was called Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution.
It's frankly creationist, but that doesn't mean it has no interesting
points to make. There's a website
that provides some background, and it lists creatures whose set of
special survivability capabilities would seem to be simultaneously necessary, not
gradually developed through a process of incremental Darwinian
* Bombardier Beetle
* Australian Incubator Bird
* The Chicken Egg
* Black & Yellow Garden Spider
* Gecko & Chuckwalla Lizards
* Human Eye & Ear Drum
It's completely useless, of course, to point out that I believe there's
room for some intelligence in the species definition game without a
simple "God did it" explanation. The harpies will be here in an instant
to denounce me as an idiot and fool for noticing that Darwinian
gradualism -- "punctuated equilibrium" notwithstanding -- just doesn't
work in every instance.
That's why I was similarly struck by a documentary called "The Quantum
Activist," in which a renowned physicist argues for the existence of
God as a scientifically verifiable concept.
I don't agree with everything he says, either, but he speaks eloquently
about the difference between the "bottom up" materialism of
contemporary science and the "top down" possibility of a quantum
universe characterized by nonlocal communication. Of consciousness as
the catalyst of the material
world, not the by-product of mere matter. Which I've only been writing
about for 40 years or so.
If you're not, you can wait breathlessly with the rest of the American
population for the two-foot tsunami that's threatening Los Angeles with
seriously soggy Jimmy Choos.
And, yeah, I'm feeling heartsick for the Japanese. Kind of creepy,
really, to hear all the fretting about Hawaii and California when there
are real casualties in Japan.
Have we really become a nation of pussies?
and Zbig's commie daughter. It's beautiful to be MSNBC/DC.