Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Threat of Global Democracy?

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For the pure sake of argument (and to play devil’s advocate), which is a greater threat to the world, the war against terror or the terrorism itself? If you take George W. Bush’s word for it, the battle can be divided into two opposing sides: the terrorists who wish to destroy “our” way of life, and Coalition of the Willing who hope to spread democracy and liberty by fighting tyranny and ideological fanaticism.

Both sides also, in theory, have the same goal: they want their respective ideologies to prevail. The terrorists’ ideologies include the preservation and/or imposition of local and regional religious order as well as the “decolonization” of their lands. While both sides are paternalistic – believing that they know what’s best for the people – the ideology of the Willing, reminiscent of the Bolshevik revolution and the Spanish Conquest, has an imperial and universal scope: the global spread of democracy.

From a purely quantitative standpoint, though, there is an argument that the Willing poses a greater threat to the world than the Evil. For example, in Iraq, as a direct result of the “democratic” invasion, there have been one million Iraqi civilian deaths. Whether or not you consider the terrorists to be state actors, it is an undisputed fact that hundreds of thousands of civilians have died at the hands of the democratically elected Willing with the consent of their citizens and without any opposition from their free press.

Personally, I am a democrat (with a small “d”), believe strongly in the separation of powers, the complete separation of church and state, mostly prefer limited government intervention, and would rather live in the U.S., Europe, or Israel than Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Nevertheless, were I in fact living in a territory being bombarded by Democracy with its total disregard for my life and its lack of remorse for any human collateral damage, I would probably see the Willing as tormentors and not liberators. The spread of Global Democracy would be pretty scary.

Of course, were Democracy not threatening me or hoarding my resources, it would be a totally different story.

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Madame Secretary

Maybe I was a bit too precipitous in giving Obama his first strike on foreign policy; Obama has since clarified that he will issue an executive order during his first week in office to close Guantanamo. Nevertheless, concerns about U.S. foreign policy, especially in relation to Secretary of State-elect Hillary Clinton, have rightfully been raised since her nomination hearing yesterday.

On last night’s NewsHour, Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies expressed her dismay over Hillary’s hawkishness on such issues as Hamas, Iran, and the call for soft power in name only. According to Bennis, “this notion of soft power is very important, but I heard too many parts of her testimony today where she sort of said the opposite when it came to the specifics.”

On the potential for conflicts of interest created by her husband’s foundation, the Washington Post published an editorial arguing that without greater transparency and disclosure Hillary’s mission could very well be undermined. According to the Post, the Associated Press has reported that “Ms. Clinton intervened at least six times in government issues directly affecting firms or individuals tied to contributions to her husband’s foundation”. In her favor, as Jonathan Capehart points out, Senator David Vitter (aka, the DC madam scandal) is no one to be asking. Nevertheless, and I don’t mean to be a hater because I think that Hillary is about as smart and capable as anyone else in Washington, but she does need to clean house.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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So far, so good. Of my 2009 List, I am now two for two. I thoroughly enjoyed The Sea of Poppies, and I just finished the spectacularly beautiful The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Let me say that I didn’t realize just how “spectacularly beautiful” it was until I reach the very end. Throughout most of the book, I was simply engaged and enjoying the story – a coming of age tale of a nerdy, overweight and desperate immigrant kid, the New Jersey where he lives, the Dominican Republic where his family came from, the Diaspora, and the horrors of dictatorship and oppression. Furthermore, author Junot Diaz writes in an enviable vernacular prose mixing urban American English with Dominican Spanish. He even sneaks in my brother’s favorite word “baller” along the way.

What I particularly loved was how it was all a red herring, an excuse to hide a very simple fable-like story with an even simpler moral behind it all. Junot Diaz implements this whole ruse of colorful language, social and political commentary, and superstitious folklore to distract the reader’s attention so that when you finally reach the end and realize that the story is really not about Oscar Wao, it’s subtle message has a great impact.

And there I was the whole time along the way being duped — reading the book and thinking about my childhood best friend’s mother who was from the D.R., Dominicans in the Bronx and New Jersey (where my father and mother are from respectively), my increasingly Dominican hood in Madrid, the hardships endured by the nerds from my public school education, and Diaz’s cool ghetto Spanglish — and then . . . well, go ahead, read it and find out for yourself.

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Dante’s Inferno

Here’s the Bill Moyers Journal on the recent violence in Gaza.

For too much of the world at large the names of the dead and wounded in Gaza might as well be John Doe too. They are the casualties and victims of Israel’s decision to silence the rockets from Hamas terrorists by waging war on an entire population. Yes, every nation has the right to defend its people. Israel is no exception, all the more so because Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead.

But brute force can turn self-defense into state terrorism. It’s what the U.S. did in Vietnam, with B-52s and napalm, and again in Iraq, with shock and awe. By killing indiscriminately – the elderly, kids, entire families by destroying schools and hospitals — Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.

Could you imagine a ground offensive and missile attacks of the densely populated Lower East Side of New York in order to weed out criminals amongst the civilian population? Or as Moyers quotes a Norwegian doctor working in Gaza, “It’s like Dante’s Inferno. They are bombing one and a half million people in a cage.” It’s no surprise then that the death count in Gaza has reached 900 with some 4,000 injured.

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Strike One

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It’s strike one against Obama. Gitmo will not be closed during the first 100 days of his presidency. Given that closing the base does present many logistical and legal problems, not making its closure one of his first priorities sends a negative message to the world about what type of “change to believe in” from Obama’s foreign policy.

When asked by George Stephanopoulos why he has remained “silent on the Gaza crisis when so many innocent people are being killed?”, Obama answered,

Well, look, I have said — and I think I said this a couple of days back, that when you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it’s heartbreaking. And obviously what that does is it makes me much more determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now.

The most powerful nation in the world’s closest ally continues to bomb the hell out of the world’s most densely populated ghetto, and the best the U.S. president-elect can say is that it is “heartbreaking”. The international community must be thinking that Bush’s anything goes War on Terror has outlived the Hope logo. The Yes Men always end up irrelevant as power-brokers. Could this mean goodbye Camp David, welcome Sarkozy?

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Sea of Poppies

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I just finished Amitav Ghosh’s wonderful new novel Sea of Poppies. I have mostly positive things to say about the book. You can’t help but be in awe of Mr. Ghosh’s talent and ability to create richness. Each character is replete with his and her own tales and dialects. The novel is also just as rich with its hundreds of subplots — so much so that it’s hard to believe that the book is coming to an end as the number of remaining pages dwindles away.

I know Ghosh has intended Sea of Poppies to be the first in a trilogy, which hopefully explains why when the book finally came to its abrupt finale, I felt like the story was only just beginning. On finishing the last page, I immediately missed the characters and felt unsatisfied — not discontent with the book but with not knowing what was going to happen next — very much like I did when I finished the first season of Lost. Hopefully the next two volumes will be more rewarding than the subsequent Lost seasons; I gave up on Lost long ago.

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Snow

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After ten days of 80F/27C weather in Boca Grande, Florida, I welcomed in 2009 by arriving in Paris at 25F/-4C. On Monday, when I was finally scheduled to fly back to Madrid, it snowed and the CDG airport was closed, thus delaying my return to quasi-reality until Wednesday. Then this morning I awoke to snow in Madrid. In my eight years in the Spanish capital, I have seen snow flurries. This was the first time the snow actually stuck.

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As beautiful as the snow can be, I think I still prefer my December strolls on the beach.

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