Tag Archives: Bush

Human rights on the line: Obama snubs Dalai Lama and meets with Chinese president

I find it interesting that Obama, the man who speaks loathingly about torture, who caused a cafuffle over Guantanamo and denounced Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters last June, is now seemingly devoid of emotion toward human rights abuses caused by China.

The most recent photos of President Barack Obama have him not sitting white-scarved and smiling with the Dalai Lama like most U.S. presidents before him, but shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Sure, Obama has every right to meet with the leader of this swiftly developing nation, but the wounds are still fresh from last month when, during the Dalai Lama’s visit to the U.S., President Obama canceled their planned meeting and postponed it to a still unidentified date.

On November 17, Obama and Jintao met to discuss environmental issues and what Obama calls their shared “burden of leadership” (as he put it to a forum of students in Shanghai). The two talked, shook hands like old friends and agreed in advance not to talk about the sticky issues.

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If anyone still remembers, Obama recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. As shocked as I am over this development, I would think that his top advisors, if not the man himself, would want to protect that award and prove to us naysayers that he does indeed deserve it. Slapping butts with the Chinese president – who recently allowed the execution of two Tibetans who participated in the deadly protests against Chinese oppression in Tibet last year – won’t get Obama any closer to winning international approval on his ability to make equal rights a priority. Especially when the Dalai Lama is a fellow Nobel prize winner himself.

The Times of India had this to say on October 6, before the Jintao/Obama meeting even took place:

“The loud sucking noise you hear? That’s President Barack Obama kissing up to the Chinese.

At least that’s what supporters of the Dalai Lama would have you believe after the U.S President passed up a meeting with the Tibetan leader in Washington D.C. this week – ostensibly to not offend Beijing ahead of Obama’s visit to China next month.

It’s the first time in ten visits to the U.S. in 18 years that the Dalai Lama has failed to meet with the American president. The political and diplomatic slight to the man widely admired in the US has brought forth a volley of criticism against Obama, hitherto hailed a champion of human rights.”

The China-Tibet issue is not the only tolerance card Obama has left undealt. He has yet to ban CIA-organized “extraordinary renditions” – in which suspected terrorists are abducted and shipped offshore, interrogated and usually tortured – despite his supposed opposition to the use of coercive cross-examination techniques.

In fact, Obama’s softening backbone also seems to apply to his definition of torture and consequences for those who practice it. His condemnation of waterboarding last year ended in a retraction to press charges against CIA officials who had employed the tactic. He claims that instead of rehashing the past – and squabbling over wrongs committed by the Bush administration – he and his team were better off focusing their energy on the future. That’s all fine and dandy, except that it sets a mean precedent: if Bush’s authorization of torture was acceptable based on legal rationale, then what is stopping Obama’s administration from following suit?

I don’t doubt that Obama, the man, is against torture, is pro-human rights, is looking out for the genuine good will of every man, woman and child in America. Behind all the media and PR hype, there is a strong, intelligent, liberal and effective man who deserves to be leader, president, Nobel prize holder (perhaps).

But without some of that early grit and resolve that made so many vote for Obama, he’s bound to lose his head among the many self-serving and manipulative world leaders hoping to profit from his hyper-egalitarian nature. And there’s simply nothing human or right about that.

Bracing for Change

Originally written for Brit’ Mag, February 2009 (www.brit-mag.com)

Well folks, it’s a fact. McCain, Bush and the rest of the Republican cronies “misunderestimated” the Democratic ticket and on January 20th, the American people elected the first black president. No more “Bushisms” or unpopular decisions, no more lies about mysterious weapons of mass destruction, no more shoe dodging.

With the new U.S. president Barack Obama, Americans have not only shed the dead, tired skin of the Republican party, but they have regained world popularity, hope in the future, possibilities for national health insurance and a leader who looks great on a t-shirt.

But wait a second, aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves?

True, Obama-mania was the current that pushed the Democratic Party to a win in November. After months of campaigning, Obama was spotted in more locations at once than Sarkozy, his image popping up everywhere: on mugs, shoes, bumper stickers, dolls, homemade rap videos… even coffee blends. Towns, avenues and schools across the nation were named after the new prez, an act normally practiced post-mortem. The only thing stopping the U.S. from creating an Obama stamp is that it is illegal under federal law to do so with a living figure.

Yet, now that the Obama craze has tapered off, it’s down to business and Americans are waiting for the new president to deliver. The pundits and the people want to know what the big guy is actually going to do.

Forget four years – the real focus is on what Obama will accomplish in his first 100 days. Some say it’s the economic mess that will have to be cleaned up, while others cite national security as the top priority. He’s sure to face criticism over his decisions in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the rapidity with which he is actually able to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, which he intends to do within his first week in the White House. Then there’s Biden’s infamous remark that has everyone wondering whether Obama will be “tested” with an international crisis within his first six months, just to get his feet wet.

Regardless of what Obama does first, speed will no doubt be a factor – and he’s bound to disappoint a thousand or two on this one. While “the first 100 days” is a nice catch-phrase, Obama will have trouble meeting the expectations of an exasperated American public who has been waiting for change for much too long.

Socialism was touted as evil amongst the Republicans during the campaign, but much of what Americans want is something resembling the throwback European socialist model: comprehensive universal healthcare, unemployment aid, paid back-to-work training, social services… and more vacation days, while we’re at it. Isn’t this what everyone wants and should have? Sure, but will we have to wait another four years before we get it?

As Americans watch from the sidelines, anxiously chewing their fingernails, Obama has one thing to his credit: crisis. Things are so incredibly bad at the moment that one needn’t knock on wood before saying, “At least things can’t get any worse.” Even one new piece of legislation may feed the need for change that Americans have so desperately craved since Obama first announced his nomination. With so much hope and expectation involved, one might say that Obama’s got this one in the bag.

After all, nothing could be more grim than Bush who, among his many notorious phrases, said this aboard Air Force One in 2003: “I’m the master of low expectations…. I’m also not very analytical. You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.”

Halleluiah, yes we did.

A few things we’ll miss about Bush

Slip-ups, trip-ups, hiccups – who can forget these classic Bushisms from the last eight years? Despite his unpopularity, Bush has certainly been an entertaining president. Here are just a few things we’ll miss hearing…

— “They misunderestimated me.” – George W. Bush, Bentonville, Ark., Nov. 6, 2000

— “People say, how can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil? You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in’s house and say I love you.” -Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2002

— “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” – Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

— “The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the – the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice.” – George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2003

— “When a drug comes in from Canada, I wanna make sure it cures ya, not kill ya… I’ve got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you. And one — my worry is that it looks like it’s from Canada, and it might be from a third world.” – George W. Bush, second presidential debate, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 8, 2004

— “Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” – George W. Bush, Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

— “Wow! Brazil is big.” – George W. Bush, after being shown a map of Brazil by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 6, 2005

— Maria Bartiromo: “I’m curious, have you ever googled anybody? Do you use Google?
President Bush: “Occasionally. One of the things I’ve used on the Google is to pull up maps. It’s very interesting to see — I’ve forgot the name of the program — but you get the satellite, and you can — like, I kinda like to look at the ranch. It remind me of where I wanna be sometimes.” – interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Oct. 24, 2006

— “I heard somebody say, ‘Where’s (Nelson) Mandela?’ Well, Mandela’s dead. Because Saddam killed all the Mandelas.” – George W. Bush, on the former South African president, who is still very much alive, Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

— “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.” – George W. Bush, in parting words to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at his final G-8 Summit, punching the air and grinning widely as the two leaders looked on in shock, Rusutsu, Japan, July 10, 2008

(Thanks to http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/blbushdumbquotes.htm for these quotes)

France’s immigration crisis: a nation of wasted talent

After seven months in Périgueux’s cultural void, I finally found an Arabic class. Upon answering an online ad by a Moroccan woman, I found myself in a stranger’s living room, sucking down apple juice and sweet honied cakes, and learning the first three letters of the Arabic alphabet.

Instead of absorbing the sounds “ba,” “ti,” or “koo,” I took home with me something much more tangible and disturbing. My teacher lives in an HLM, which are like the American projects, only instead of row houses or half-collapsing shanties, the French ghettos are set up in a series of barren apartments. But unlike those found on the seafront or even in the middle of the city, these complexes are pushed to the outskirts of town, the eyesores far out of view from middle-class citizens. They’re gray and dingy, with streaks of black streaming down from the outside windows, as if someone had set fire to them long ago, aired them out for a bit and then deemed them habitable. Grass is available, that is if you’re comfortable with generous amounts of weeds, litter and dog poop.

The inside is not much better. Tiny kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms cram two, three, or even six people into any remaining space where a body can fit. Balconies are a luxury, as are windows, and don’t expect an elevator to take you up those four flights of stairs.

After my hour lesson, my teacher walks me out. She tells me that the electrical system in the building was installed back in 1958 and has not been dealt with since. If that’s not a grand scale, life-threatening fire, I don’t know what is. I ask her who pays for cleaning up the inside of the building, which is streaked with graffiti, marks of dirt on the walls and dust floating about everywhere. “The state,” she says, looking disgusted. I take this small conversational window to admit my own disgust with the French government and how no one’s doing anything about these walls, these hallways, these people.

My teacher tells me she has her masters in education and used to be an Arabic teacher in Morocco. But since coming to France ten years ago, where she still remains without legal citizenship or working papers, she has not been able to find work. In order to get said papers, she must live in France for five years as a resident. But since she is not considered legal, her ten years in the country can’t be verified and therefore, don’t count for jack squat.

Subsequently, her two children are not legal either, making applying for jobs nearly impossible. Her oldest son is 23 and her youngest is 18. She tells me they’re both in school, but I wonder, what will they do? Her oldest will graduate soon from law school in a few years but will he be able to find work? Will Sarko have figured out by then that we can’t just follow Bush’s lead and “send them all back to where they came from?”

More importantly, when is France going to figure out that ignoring the problem doesn’t solve it? After living in Marseille for two years, this urban ghetto in Perigueux is nothing. In Marseille, the HLMs are pushed even further out, 45 minutes from the town center with limited bus access and nowhere to buy groceries. As a result, the kids go to the local school, which is at the bottom of the stairs of their building, and play football in a parking lot filled with broken glass and littered garbage. Why? Because “the state” is turning a blind eye. The French government seems to think that putting people up behind four walls is enough of a gift that they virtually wash their hands clean of these new residents, mostly impoverished, mostly immigrants and mostly without resources.

What disturbs me perhaps more is my teacher’s story of being completely qualified to do a job but unable to get hired. How can a woman with a masters degree in education, in a language that is quickly becoming France’s second, be ignored to the point of near destitution?

Although mysterious, her story is not uncommon. I have other friends in France who have moved here, living for years without success in acquiring working papers, residency or citizenship. One friend in Marseille has been diligently trying to get his family here from Zambia for over five years, only to be rejected every time. A full-time architect who has benefitted from the French education system, he has now spent more than four years working for this country. Yet, with no explanation and no promise of his chances going up, each year he receives another rejected application. All he can do is make a passing comment about racism in France before going about his life and work. For if he cannot succeed himself, he surely won’t have the means to get his family here for a better life.

Immigration is the only topic I refuse to discuss with a French person, for I know that I can never understand and can never be understood either. Being born into a nation based on immigration (and lacking a certain palpable culture), how could I dare debate a person who has grown up with clear cultural mores, instilled in them since birth? In America, we may not embrace immigrants with open arms, but we have enough social services professionals awaiting their arrival to get them upright and going down the right track towards citizenship. At a minimum, we have a true interest in where they’ve come from, what they’re doing here and their hopes and dreams. In France, the arms are significantly more aggressive and seek to harm not to heal. Even regular French citizens seem to have a distaste for their country’s immigrant population. The motto seems to be, “put the immigrants far away until we can’t see them… and maybe they’ll go away.”

If a tiny town like Perigueux can inflict such a degrading situation on the nation’s poorest, I can only imagine Paris or Bordeaux. The French government needs to take a swift step back from Bush’s lead, stop thinking about what France used to be, and start realizing – and accepting – what France has now become. If not, the country will become saturated with even more broken hearts and wasted talent. And no amount of dingy high rise HLMs are going to hide the problem.