Archive for August, 2009

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POST: Compassion for Lockerbie Bomber: Landmark or Lamentable?

August 24, 2009

I wanted to write something about last week’s release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi when the story was first aired, but I felt that I needed to get a better understanding  of the history of the situation before making any judgments – plus, I wanted to see how people reacted.

The array of emotions attached to this case are staggering – everything from despair at his release to disbelief over his initial sentence. My main questions have remained, Was his release out of the ordinary and how will this affect US/UK, US/Libyan relations?

What I do not think many people realize is that freeing terminally ill prisoners on compassionate grounds is a key feature of Scottish law – it has been done 9 out of the last 13 cases, and had only been refused in last 4 because medical evidence did not the substantiate terminally ill status of the prisoners. Since the 9 releases had not taken into account the crime which the prisoner was convicted in the decision, this new release of al-Megrahi fits perfectly into Scottish precedent – prisoner is terminally ill, prisoner is released. The hype of the crime or the circumstance do not play a role.

On a further note, the low amount of media attention given to the continued questioning surrounding his conviction has surprised me. I do not agree or disagree with the aforementioned, very well-written, BBC article, but it does make one think. Of course, al-Megrahi could very well have had a hand in the bombing, but the evidence seems to point to the fact that the true perpetrators, the masterminds, have as of yet gone free. Is the conviction of one seemingly connected man, a “convenient scapegoat”, enough? Was he senior enough in the plan to be the sole representative of the perpetrators of this horrible crime?

Today, Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill “doggedly” defended his decision to free al-Megrahi. He stood by “his and only his” decision and only lamented the heroes welcome given to the freed prisoner upon his return home to Libya on Thursday.  However, a senior State Department official said today that short of praising the Libyans, at least he could say that the “Thursday demonstrations could have been a lot worse.” But the official further stated that they were still “disgusting” and represented only the “minorly pathetic” responsiveness of Libyan officials.

Now there are new claims that oil diplomacy has played a part in the al-Megrahi release which is difficult to deny (although British officials have) considering the BusinessWeek article issued today of increased trade between Britain and Libya in coming months.  Between the US and UK, although tourists have threatened a UK boycott and all senior Obama administration officials balked at al-Megrahi’s release, they still stick by their claim that nothing will change in the relations between the two countries and that they “have great faith in the British democracy to air these things in a very thorough” manner.  In the end, it comes down to the indisputable fact that this decision was wholly up to the Scottish Authorities and, following their own precedent, no distinct changes in any bilateral relations seem to be forthcoming. However, if an under-the-table deal was struck between the UK and Libya, there really is no excuse.

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POST: South Korean Satellite Launch Signals Warming Relations AND Why Barney Frank Rocks

August 19, 2009

So I couldn’t decide which story to write about today, so, hell, I’ll just write about both.

First, a let’s take a little time out to speculate about today’s delayed launch of the South Korean rocket, supposedly holding a satellite in tow. Most news sources are pegging this as what it seems to be, a glitch that caused the rocket launch to be delayed just eight minutes before it’s scheduled take-off. Yesterday at the State Department, Spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that this launch, eerily similar in stated purpose to the North Korean “satellite” launch a few months ago, is no cause for concern due to the “very open, transparent way” in which South Korea’s space program has taken shape.

The rocket, in a file photo from April of this year, is a formidable sight.

The rocket, in a file photo from April of this year, is a formidable sight.

The North Koreans, on the other hand, are “under a number of U.N. Security Council sanctions relating to their ballistic missile program, and the U.N. Security Council called on them to suspend all activities relating to the missile program.” In brief, I completely agree, but should we take the “glitch” at face value, or should we speculate that North Korea’s recent publicly stated outrage that the South wasn’t being questioned for its launch has caused the South to delay the program – a political glitch, you might say. 🙂

The other story, that I just have to put in for the pure joy that it brought me last night, is Congressman Barney Frank‘s (D-Mass) unabashed and, finally, total rejection of the Nazi characterization that is being put forth by birthers, deathers, and all the other crazies that are showing up at town hall meetings across the country. In response to the question “Why are you supporting this Nazi policy?” Rep. Frank responds, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” Characterizing her, and others’ use of Nazi symbols in the health care debate “vile, contemptible nonsense,” he called attention to his own Jewish heritage and ended with, “Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table.”

I absolutely love it. Just another proof (if the below picture isn’t enough) that he is still a cool cucumber. For the video, here‘s is the link to the Huffington Post article on the same subject.

[UPDATE: Bill Richardson on MSNBC made the claim that the South Korea satellite launch delay (or ‘cancellation’ as they said) was a tip of the hat to North Korea’s warming relations with the South, especially in the wake of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s death and the North’s decision to send a team to his funeral in homage. Interesting. I guess it was more than just a glitch. Also see this blog for further speculation.]

Gravely voice, steely demeanor.

Gravely voice, steely demeanor.

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POST: The U.S. Should Use Taiwan Health Care System as Exemplar

August 14, 2009

The health care bill in the U.S., sitting up there on Capitol Hill (yes, just like in the old cartoons) is bleeding. And it has been for weeks. The manipulation of its message and falsification of many aspects of its contents has now led to the removal of ‘end of life counseling’ funding. This, in it of itself, is a sad development.

But yesterday, the fight was taken overseas, as British politicians, doctors, academic, and laymen came to the aid of the National Heath System in the UK after scathing comment calling the NHS “evil” and “Orwellian” were made by U.S. Republican politicians. Among those who joined the fray were PM Gordon Brown, who tweeted “PM: NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there,” adding to the thousands of Tweets already lighting up #welovetheNHS. Stephen Hawking also lent his two cents, stating he would not have been alive if it had not been for the care of the NHS – a particularly meaningful remark, considering both the complicated (and costly) medical condition which he has and also considering Republican claims that currently ailing Senator Ted Kennedy would be left to die with a brain tumor if he has been a UK citizen.

Sure, there are problems with the NHS. Hospitals are often dirty, lines are long, and some people are left to wait interminably long for special treatments, not to mention the state of child care. But, the bottom line is that everyone is covered. Most Brits I talked to about the NHS during my tenure in London stated that it has its flaws, but it sets their minds at ease that care will always be within their reach and within their means. And, if those flaws weigh on Americans’ minds, it should ameliorate their worries that the U.S. plan has strayed so far from what can be deemed universal care that its a moot issue. (At the end of the day, the US won’t have universal health care for many years, even if this bill passes, due to the concessions Democrats have had to make).

A nurse in central Taiwan cares for a baby...can we get those Hello kitty heath care digs with our new plan?

A nurse in central Taiwan cares for a baby...can we get those Hello kitty heath care digs with our new plan?

So, if the NHS has its flaws that Americans are unwilling to accept, why didn’t they look towards other systems as well? The one that comes to my mind is the Taiwanese system. Developed in the 1980’s after the period of economic boom in East Asia, the Taiwanese system employs the most efficient mechanism – single payer, mandatory health care. This means that the government covers all health care and that every citizen is required to sign up.  Sound scary to Conseravtives?  Well put this in your pipe and smoke it – even if Taiwan increased its health care spending by almost double, to 10% of GDP, it would still be 6% under what the US spends, and with palpable results. That’s right, in 2008 Taiwan spent about 5.5% of GDP on health care and covered 96% of its population…while the U.S. loomed somewhere around 16% with much lower satisfaction.

Taiwan uses a system of ‘smart cards‘ that one carries around, onto which your medical history, medications, and past visits are recorded.  Say you wake up with a bad cold (swine flu, anyone?) and need to see a doctor right away, you are able to do so (that’s right, NO LINES) the same day. The doctor examines you, charges your smart card, and the costs are billed to the government. This way, the Taiwanese authorities save millions of dollars on unnecessary administrative costs (think about all those papers, charts, and the red tape that is required of switching cities, even of switching doctors within the same office?).  Even with these low costs, the Taiwanese system boast a super-high level of efficiency, customer satisfaction (around 70% satisfied), and coverage of 97% of the population. Not only is there a lack of satisfaction in the US, but before the lies began to be propagated anew in this administration’s fight for care, a 2004 poll showed that 1/3 of Americans thought the system needed to be “completely rebuilt.”

I understand that Taiwan is a tiny island and its system still has its problems (which could be remedied by a slight increase in spending, some say) and the US a behemoth. But come on, we’re making the effort enough to change health care domestically, why couldn’t we have considered this paradigm first? Thoughts?

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POST: It’s Not Only Harry Potter Who Lives in ‘Little Whingeing’

August 12, 2009

Alan Duncan can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. First, while Shadow Business Secretary, Duncan was caught skiving an important Tory nationwide tour “to help families and business in the economic slump”…as Business Secretary. Later, after his demotion, he came under fire during the (ongoing) expenses scandal for having refused to pay £4,000 over four years for gardening expenses. One prominent video activist and apparent garden lover even sneaked onto his garden dug him pound shaped flowerbed.

A Masterpiece

A Masterpiece

But the gaffs certainly don’t end there. In April of this year, the openly gay Conservative party member joked about murdering a Miss Teen California contestant for her statement that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. Specifically, he said, “If you read that Miss California has been murdered, you will know it was me won’t you?”

Embarrassed enough that the contestant is from my home state, I most likely wouldn’t joke about murdering her (I said most likely…). Who knows, maybe Duncan”ll get lucky and she’ll simply come before one of Obama’s death panels.

But, today Duncan had a nice long whinge that probably felt very satisfying to get out…until he realized it was being recorded on a buttonhole camera by a local videographer. In the wake of the expenses scandal, Duncan today stated, that being an MP is like “being nationalised, you have to live on rations and are treated like s***.” Hmmm…I’m sure an important component of Duncan’s daily rations include the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…

Now don’t get me wrong – I love a good rant by a politician. I (nearly) applauded Hillary’s outburst this week at a town hall meeting in the Congo. Everyone needs a good rant now and then. But Duncan’s tendency to rant, and its content moreover, are the more pervasive problem. Along with Lord Mandelson, another British politician that we don’t need around.

Oops!

Oops!

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POST: In Praise of Mr. Olbermann

August 11, 2009

Last night’s well-thought out, highly personalized, and not to mention passionate Special Comment on Countdown with Keith Olbermann should be touted. And thank god, it has been…by some. I want to add my voice to those that approval of his capacity to not only put into words all that I could was so eloquently feeling, but he did so with a poetic aptitude that certainly met with the approbation of this lowly blogger.

He first started out with a studied attack on Sarah Palin, stating the (to me, all too obviousness) that she is “a clear and present danger to the safety and security of this nation.” As for the possibility of her return to politics, this Viscount of Volubility said that her assertion that ‘death panels’ would determine your and your families ‘worth’ ” should debar you, for all time, from any position of responsibility or trust in the governance of this nation or any of its states or municipalities.” He warned Palin and others favorable to fear mongering to be wary of their actions, citing a story I hadn’t heard of of a AstroTurfer bringing a gun to a town hall.  He finished his Palin ministration with a much needed, “God forgive you, Ms. Palin.”

He then went on to eulogize the death of rational American political thinking, citing such veteran irrationals as Glenn Beck (all around lunatic and poison fetishist), Lou Dobbs (birthers supporter), Senator John Corynyn (R-Texas) (well-known now for his assertion that the WH is trying to compile personal contact information under the guise of soliciting health care opinions), and the infamous birthers.

To finish, he cited this from President Lincoln’s first inaugural address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

It saddens me that in 2009, frustrated media men have been forced to quote the words of a man battling the ravages of the Civil War, to combat the hatred spurned bu AstroTurfers, birthers, and other all around racists. Sure, it’s not as though racial inequalities and racism in general would disappear (or even lessen) with the inauguration of President Obama, but the flare-ups of racism disguised as health care debate, or, so ludicrously, as ‘real’ interest in the state of American politics, more so than making me angry, simply make me tired.

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POST: WTF: Roseanne Barr’s ‘Burnt Jew Cookies’

August 7, 2009

Okay, I’m not going to do a whole article about this, but as I surfed Current TV‘s website (you know, the now ubiquitous news source began by former VP Al Gore and made famous by Laura Ling and Euna Lee) I happened upon their video on “This Week in Magazines” featuring Roseanne Barr in Jewish Heeb magazine dressed as Adolf Hitler and cooking…Jew cookies? I think I’m going to have nightmares tonight…

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POST: Poolside Prince of Darkness: Why Does Labour Keep Lord Mandelson Around??

August 7, 2009

For the past two days, no one has been running the UK.

Thing I’m joking? Here’s the scoop.  Two weeks ago, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown left 10 Downing Street for his summer vaca, leaving Labour MP from Camberwell/Peckham (next door to my old house in East Dulwich!) Harriet Harman in charge.  She was overwhelmingly omniscient in her two weeks at Number 10. No joke.  She proceeded to create a veritable layer cake of Harman-osity: beginning with a five layers of public appearances, then adding a quite superfluous I’m “not going to become a shrinking violet,” and finishing it all off with a healthy dollop of  “financial collapse would have been averted if women had been in charge.” Scrumptious.

But Mandelson seems nearly unperturbed with his stint in the office. So much so that he’s doing the first four days of it ALSO on vacation (if all that one needs to run the British government is a BlackBerry and a pool to sit by, I can be on the job in a few hours…). Yes, Lord Mandelson is in Corfu, after having accepted an invitation to return to the villa at which he spent last year.

Well, maybe Mandelson simply doesn’t want to be rude. I mean, if you RSVP to the villa, you mustn’t break your plans for the simple matter of helping to run a country.

Lord Mandelson Slimed

My favorite picture of Lord Mandelson - "The only thing green about the Prince of Darkness" - after he got slimed by that G20 protester. Plus it's right outside of my old workplace!

The only reason I find this so frustrating is because it’s added to my previous incredulity over why Labour keeps Mandelson around.  More than that – why they insist on bringing him back into the fold over and over again. Has everyone forgot his first (yes, there has been more than one…) resignation after he received a tax free ‘loan’ of 373,000 GBP from the Paymaster General? And not to mention his second resignation after attempting to push through the naturalization of a wealthy Indian businessman after contributing heavily to the Faith Section in the Millenium Dome. THEN, after these scandals, they thought it appropriate to make him a life peer, allowing him to join the House of Lords and thus have permanent access to British politics.

What FURTHER frustrates me is that it makes me agree even further with the Conservative Party (something I don’t want to do…) and with their Chairman, Eric Pickles, when he said “Lord Mandelson’s vice-like grip on power means he’s untouchable and can do whatever he wants.” But, I am forced to.

Why, oh why, do they keep him around? Thoughts?