Archive for the ‘Domestic (U.S.) News’ Category

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At State, Holbrooke Says New US Afghan Team Strong

July 13, 2010

Fifteen months ago, the world had never heard the term ‘SRAP.’ In the city with the self-proclaimed worst acronyms, from MANPADS (man portable air defense system) to MINUSTAH (English translation: UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti), SRAP, or Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, took some time to catch on. But now, in addition to the US’s venerable (or wounded, however you look at it) Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, there are now 35 international SRAP counterparts. This development over the past year and a half not only calls to attention the increased focus on the Civ-Mil cooperative efforts in the region, but also to the resurgent, and I argue, continually strong diplomat position of Ambassador Holbrooke.

Although recently described as a “wounded animal” in the obviously contentious Rolling Stone piece documenting 10-days with then ISAF and US Forces-Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the forever strong-willed, if not tired, Amb. Holbrooke painted a picture of a newly strengthened US team working on Afghanistan and Pakistan. After first playfully catching State Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary PJ Crowley for his “AfPak” faux pas, Holbrooke set out to laud his current and past team associates. On newly minted ISAF commander Petraeus, he said that “David Petraeus is one of the most extraordinary people to wear a uniform that I’ve ever known” and that his transition into the position has been “seamless.” He also pointed out that General Petraeus is just as committed to the Civilian-Military cooperative effort at General McChrystal was, all without even evoking the former Commander’s name.

On derogatory comments made by current JFCOM and future CENTCOM Commander General Mattis on Afghan people, Holbrooke’s first response was, “He’s a Marine, right?” Later, when asked to remind the press what was said in the RS article, Holbrooke joked to the premier AP reporter at State, “Don’t you have to be accredited to be here?”

The only point on which Holbrooke seemed to call into question the strength of the current team is in the recent loss of Jack Lew, current Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources slated to take over the OMB from Peter Orzag. On this point, Holbrooke stated that his leaving “leaves enormous shoes to fill” but reiterated that his new role at OMB will allow him to place a heavier emphasis on the region’s need in the overall budget.

The combination of friendly derision and a strong handle on the crowd is the reason why this reporter always enjoys a stateside visit from the US SRAP. And although the strength of his position has been questioned in the past, I will agree with other colleagues in that it seems as though now, at least, he and his partners are a good position to go forward.

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Culture of Mutual Validation: AIPAC Policy Convention 2010

March 25, 2010

This past week, DC’s otherwise morbidly silent Convention Center saw the influx of over 7500 conference attendees. The agenda included rousing speeches by pastors, multiple standing ovations, and much raising of hands in the praise of speakers. But no, this was not an assemblage of self-help or a burgeoning baptist conclave. It was the 2010 American Israel Public Affair Committee Policy Convention. Speakers at the event included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as Jewish and non-Jewish pro-Israel lobbyists.

Outside the Convention Center, it was business as usual for the annual AIPAC Conference. Code Pink, an outspoken, anti-war women’s group that grew out of a desire to oppose former President GW Bush’s invasion of Iraq, made a new name for itself as the most creative group of the pro-peace movement. Starting its Monday morning by issuing a fake AIPAC press release calling on the cessation of all settlement building in East Jerusalem, they continued by fashioning themselves as apartment buildings – in case we all forgot the recent contentious announcement by the Israeli government to build a spate of housing units on the current site of the Shepherd’s Hotel in a predominantly Arab neighborhood.

But inside the Center, recent tensions in the US-Israel relationship colored the Convention. Speakers rallied behind the indelible US-Israel relationship. Even Secretary Clinton stated that the U.S. “commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring, and forever.” But Clinton combined praise of the relationship with further condemnation of settlement construction, stating that she has always stood by “the longstanding American policy that does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlements.  As Israel’s friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed.” And just a few hours later, Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t do himself any favors when he stayed intransigent on settlements, stating”the Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years,” adding, “Jerusalem is not a Jewish settlement.”

And in the press pit, where yours truly was stationed for much of the action, the confusion continued. Stalwart champions for journalistic impartiality were stunned to see other members of the Fourth Estate jumping to their feet in praise of speakers condemnations of Palestinian “agression” and even a few waiving US, Israeli, and yes, even British flags to correspond to different speakers national loyalties. At the end of the day (literally, as Bibi’s speech started late and went long), the display was enough to surprise and, more than anything, tire any seemingly unbiased journalist into submission.

Obviously, this was a Convention of pro-Israel lobbyists. So one might ask, why be surprised by the overt displays of partiality among press and crowd? Isn’t  a complacent and unquestioning support of all Israeli government actions part of parcel of being a pro-Israel lobby? But, if one takes newly formed and much less funded J-Street as a comparison point, I think that question answers itself.

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Excerpts from State of the Union Released 7:00PM

January 28, 2010

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_______________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 27, 2010

EXCERPTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

We face big and difficult challenges.  And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.  For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds and different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same.  The aspirations they hold are shared.  A job that pays the bill.  A chance to get ahead.  Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share?  They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity.  After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school.  They are coaching little league and helping their neighbors.  As one woman wrote to me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  Despite our hardships, our union is strong.  We do not give up.  We do not quit.  We don’t allow fear or division to break our spirit.  In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.   And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.

By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance.  Millions will lose it this year.  Our deficit will grow.  Premiums will go up.  Co-pays will go up.  Patients will be denied the care they need.  Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.  I will not walk away from these Americans.  And neither should the people in this chamber.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new.  Let’s try common sense.  Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we cannot stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress.  And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.  They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change.  But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

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Why the Google.cn Issue Won’t Ruin Sino-US Relations

January 21, 2010

Among China watchers in Washington, DC , the big news today revolved around Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s speech on Internet Freedom. Given at the Newseum in downtown DC, Clinton railed lambasted governments and individuals who use communication networks like the Internet to lessen personal freedoms, human rights, and incite racial and political hatred. While some saw it as especially salient this week as Google decides whether or not it’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto can be upheld in its China operations, the bottom line is that no amount of verbal rhetoric or posturing can ultimately weaken the economic and regional security partnership of China and the United States.

Hillary Clinton has her ear to the ground on internet freedom.

Anticipating the Secretary’s speech today, the Vice Foreign Minister of China, He Yafei, tried to disentangle the Google.cn issue from overall Sino-US Relations. “The Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries; otherwise, it’s an over-interpretation,” he said, addressing a press conference in Beijing, then adding that “If foreign companies have different viewpoints with this regard, they should also seek solutions according to the law.”

But is this nothing new? Is the Vice FM correct in saying that this won’t hamper future relations? I think so and for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, President Obama has been extremely careful to lay down a good foundation upon which to build better Sino-US ties during his Presidency. I would think his scuttling of the human rights issue in Beijing, gentle refusal to meet the Dalai Lama before he met with Chinese leadership, and lengthy Asia trip extolling the virtues of the, what State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley characterizes as a “broad, deep, expanding and durable relationship.”

Also, we must consider the implications for a negative turn in Sino-US relations. Even coming from a hippie optimist like myself, a dip in relations would affect our domestic economic situation (China increased its foreign reserves by $453 billion last year alone), regional security situation (China is the chair of the Six-Party Talks, aimed at bringing North Korea back to the table on nuclear weapons talks), and cultural influence (the US benefits just as much from cheap Chinese imports as the Chinese do from McDonald’s, Nike, and knock-off Playboy t-shirts…they’re more popular than you think).

Clinton today made several strong statements. She said “We stand for a single internet, where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas and we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it.” But, she also said that “the United States and China have different views on this issue and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship [italics mine].” Strong statement and Global Internet Initiatives aside, the U.S. is, and will remain, willing to work cooperatively with China on issues as seemingly black-and-white as human rights. The bottom line is that the U.S. has to – considering global and regional power relationships, there is no other choice.

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US-China Relations Outlook 2010: 什么样的关系?

January 13, 2010

A hearing on recent security developments in the People’s Republic of China provided a somewhat bleak outlook for the near future of US-China relations, echoing the wary sentiments of pundits and academics in recent weeks. Meeting at one of the House Visitors’ Centers’ many committee rooms this morning, the House Armed Services Committee heard testimony from top Department of Defense, State, and PACOM officials on what we can expect this year from the growing strength of China in the global arena.

In unusual agreement with pundits’ (see Robert Cohen’s recent NYT Op-Ed) and academics’ recent warnings concerning China’s military and economic might, Pacific Command Admiral Robert F. Willard, USN, expressed him uneasiness at China’s PLA capabilities. He said that China’s stated goals of peace and stability in the region and world are unmatched by their recent military buildup.

Building on issues of military might, Department of Defense A/S Wallace C. Gregson describes current US-Chinese relations as operating in a “dynamic environment with little historical precedent.” Positives in the relationship, which include China’s support of UN Security Council Resolution 1874  and anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden are matched by negatives such as an overall lack of transparency  and the pace and scope of their military buildup.

Concluding remarks came from Department of State Deputy A/S for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David B. Shear, who seemingly tried to re-prove to the House members how State officials have tried to engage the region in a dynamic and cooperative manner, bring up the numerous POTUS and Secretary trips to the region. However, his recap of the last year of efforts in Asia was darkened by a statement on the recent near-decision by Google to pull out its operations in China in light of an apparent cyberattack perpetrated by China against various Chinese human rights activists who use GMail. He reiterated today’s remarks from Secretary Clinton that State was briefed on the matter by Google previously and that a scheduled press conference on internet security and openness scheduled for next Thursday was scheduled prior to this fact.

The overall tone of all testimonies given seemed to parallel the feelings of many China watchers these days – although China is becoming more accountable to global norms of transparency and responsibility, this is only a natural change due to its increased presence on the global stage. Stated goals and dreams of peace by the PRC seem to be what they’ve always been – lipservice – and the PLA military buildup’s actions speak louder than these words. Wariness seems to be the best posture to be taken by the US at this point – wariness and preparedness. Within the next few weeks, China’s moves on the Google issue and on Iran sanctions could prove as a good litmus test to actions in the rest of 2010.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

November 4, 2009

Last night, HBO debuted the first ever behind-the-scenes Obama documentary, “By the People,” in a nod to the President’s one year anniversary since election. Usually disinterested in domestic politics, this blogger followed the 2008 presidential election as closely as someone who has only a high school understanding of caucuses and the electoral college can, which turns out, is pretty closely. But, in the year between that night and this, it has been easy to forget the feeling that this momentous election brought out in us. This documentary helped bring it all back.

Importantly, it both reminded me of events and facts which I had forgotten (such as the single tear that fell from the then Senator, not President’s eye when speaking of the death of his grandmother only one day before his election) and showed me the work that goes on in the background, surpassing the confusing but brightly colored graphics, endless pundit chatter, and general-BS of the mainstream cable news networks.

ByThePeople_poster

The documentary, which was both screened at offices across the country as well as featured in “viewing parties” in people’s private homes, serves as a reminder of that incomprehensibly, proud feeling felt by Obama supporters the night that he was named President Elect. But now, hopefully it will be able to serve as a hot knife, slicing through the rhetoric, in-fighting, and distrust that has grown out of Astroturf political movements, democratic division, and simple lies.

And if that doesn’t help, maybe a simple reminder of what’s on the President’s plate can be helpful. In the international arena, this administration might not be seeing many results yet, but let’s count the months he’s been in office – nearly 10. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which has been brewing, arguably, from anywhere from 50 to 1000 years, will not be solved in just one. Nonetheless, the amount of time and energy spent in the Middle East, including the President’s historic Cairo speech and numerous visits by Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell, cannot be overlook.

This can only be matched by the new priorities put on the Asia-Pacific region, often rebuffed and even ignored by the last administration.  Speaking at the Foreign Press Center in Washington yesterday, acting senior official for APEC Kurt Tong indirectly agreed with the assertion that the Obama administration has realized the economic and political advantages of being involved in the region and will not make the same mistake of ignoring it as has been the trend in the past (Secretary Clinton even made an undeniable show of support for the region when she made it her first official foreign travel destination in February).

This is not even to mention the two wars, problems with the legitimacy of the new Afghan president and the question of additional troop deployment, new differences of opinion with the Japanese government, climate deals with East Asia and Europe, deflecting the charm offensive of the North Koreans, combating corruption, violence, and crimes against women in Africa, and helping to broker the Honduras situation with former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

Compound this with domestic issues such as health care legislation, immigration reform, the economy/jobs, the ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ policy, and clean energy technology, all while being attacked as a Nazi, a Muslim (which shouldn’t have a negative connotation anyway), a socialist (also okay in my book), and not-American – too liberal, too moderate, too slow, too fast, aren’t we past these issues? Perhaps we should look to Europe and the general popularity that Obama continues to enjoy there and takes a deep breath.

Just a year ago the nation was awash in the exitement of a new, young, vibrant president elect. What a difference a year makes. That man has not changed, but people have allowed themselves to become disillusioned with his message. Give the man at least until his second year in office and remember, he’s thinking long-term so maybe, just maybe, we can be a little more patient.

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POST: They Lie, Reform Dies

September 15, 2009

This past weekend, the Tea Party “Patriots” descended, like a plague of Biblical locusts, upon Washington, filling the streets and the National Mall with slander and bigotry. Because of this and other issues, it’s been hard for me to read or watch domestic news lately. But tonight, as I took a nice, evening run on that same politically hallowed ground on which they had stomped the night before, I couldn’t help but start to think about it.

On my way to my local bank on the weekend, I passed by a few of these teabaggers, a self-appointed term by these “patriots” of which not only I have noted the hilarity. With signs and obligatory American flags, they stomped to fight Obamacare and his, as Rachel Maddow sardonically notes, “secret plan to kill old people.” One marcher was quoted, in front of a news camera, the following:

“We think we are losing our country. We think the Muslims are moving in and taking over. We do not believe our President is a Christian.”

The sign reads, "Obama-nomics. Monkey See. Monkey Spend." What else is this but pure, disgusting bigotry.

The sign reads, "Obama-nomics. Monkey See. Monkey Spend." What else is this but pure, disgusting bigotry.

There are so, so many things wrong with this statement, the least of which is my hope that in my lifetime, our freedom-loving, free speech-defending citizens will realize one can be moral, intelligent…and not Christian.  But what really hits home is the pure ignorance of the crowd and the lightly veiled (and sometimes even blatant) bigotry. It utterly, deeply scares me. In all of this melee, it’s difficult for me to even imagine these sentiments coming from the mouths of real people.

My question is, where is the ANTI-tea party, PRO-health care march? Can someone please get on that?

The bottom line – it is okay to march, to protest, and to voice your opinion.

But, now, the debate is CLEARLY not about health care anymore.

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POST: Who Needs Reality TV When You Have the National Health Care Debate?

September 4, 2009

I have never been a fan of reality TV – although I have friends and, ahem, a Mother who loves it. The truth is, millions of people tune in every day to watch shows like Top Chef, Next Top Model, and A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.

But, who needs Rock of Love these shows when you have the national health care debate? Sure, I have been recently pretty disgusted by the nature of town hall meetings and the perversity of the lengths to which anti-health care astroturfers have gone. But the truth is, the drama wasn’t YET at a level to rival Flavor of Love, rapper Flavor Flav‘s search for true love (i.e. something that resembles a women in a slutty Halloween costume gone bad)…

That is, until yesterday. At a town hall meeting yesterday in Ventura County (embarrassingly, the county just to the North of my home county of Los Angeles), two attendees started a brawl that ended in one getting his pinky finger bitten off. The bite-ee decided not to have the finger sewn back on (war wound ensues) and the biter has not yet been found.

I think at the next town hall, two attendees should have a fight in a kiddy pool of pudding. At least then chocolate will be involved.

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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.