It’s that time of year again — when Manhattan bears witness to the expression of the highest aspirations for global harmony and the most inspirational ideas for the advancement of humankind. Yes, Fashion Week - followed quickly by the United Nations General Assembly!
While one event captures the world’s attention for its political intrigue, backroom negotiating, nail-biting suspense and life-altering drama, the other is the UN General Assembly. So let’s take a look at it from a fashion perspective.
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak Thursday. His sartorial choices almost always lean towards Brooks Brothers, except for one “Weatherproof” jacket he wore simultaneously on the Great Wall of China and three stories high in Times Square.
With off-the-rack and angry voters confronting him at town-hall meetings, the president may very well wish he could be two places at once, and the General Assembly may give him the room he needs for some soaring bespoke rhetoric, reaffirming American leadership in these, our troubled times. It beats thinking about the mid-terms.
But overall, Barack - from the fashion point of view, where’s the hope and change? The fashionista to watch here is First Lady Michelle Obama, who aims for simple elegance with the not-so-haute couture of J Crew - which may still be too high-falutin’ for the Tea Party crowd. Attention K-Mart shoppers!
Another member of the US delegation strutting the catwalk of power is former First Lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - whose straightforward pantsuits and skirt and jacket ensembles are nearly always in primary colors! (Seriously.) Maybe that’s why Hillary hasn’t entirely eluded her past just yet.
But with Iran inching toward becoming a nuclear power, Iraq without a government, and trouble-spots from Haiti to Yemen needing attention, are pantsuits the image the US needs to project around the world? Remember when Condoleezza Rice made headlines with the leather boots she donned shortly after taking the same job, in a look that said dominatrix-meets-war-on-terror? Even President Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright celebrated fashion by jabbing back at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein - who had called her a “serpent” - by donning a golden snake brooch.
C’mon, Hil! The “Hillary Doctrine” may be about the “American moment” and the pantsuits of pragmatic internationalism. But mix things up a bit. This year’s asymmetrical hemlines say unpredictability! Keep al-Qaeda on its toes!
Of course, one of the most-watched world leaders to make their way into the General Assembly Thursday is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He dressed in business-casual on Monday, with a tie-less suit at the Millennium Development Goals summit - in which he declared capitalism dead. Hey Mahmoud! Karl Marx called and he wants his manifesto back!
But all eyes will be on Ahmadinejad on Thursday for his address to the General Assembly. Will he stick with business casual, or go with the “Members Only” jacket - the look he’s sported so frequently since the brand premiered in 1981? That happens to be the same year the US embassy staffers held hostage in Tehran were released after 444 days of captivity - a siege in which Ahmadinejad allegedly took part!
Ahmadinejad will likely be dressing for sanctions-blocking success, as he maneuvers to
consolidate Iran’s power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons technology. Is Ahmadinejad’s jacket of choice a sly reference to his push for Iran to join the world’s “members only” nuclear club? Will he be so bold as to block future UN weapons inspectors from the country, like he did in June? That line of thinking is so 2002, Mahmoud! And it didn’t work for Saddam!
But let’s not ignore some of the lesser pariah states.
Shifting slightly from fashion to personal styling, another favorite to watch is Zimbabwe’s dictat - excuse me, President Robert Mugabe.
Taking Zimbabwe from Africa’s brightest hope to international basket-case during his 30 years of iron-fisted rule, Mugabe at least has the decency to be the only world leader to sport a Hitler-like moustache! It’s a look that truly says, “Only God can remove me from power.”
Last but not least, a plea for a fashion intervention for Great Britain. The Brits’ coalition government features, of course, David Cameron as Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg as his deputy. Sure, their dress-sense says “10 Downing Street,” but they’re both the blandest looking white people, you probably have to be British to tell them apart. They’re the “Lands End” of global politics. Really, Great Britain, if you want to move on from the Tony Blair “lapdog” era of British power, isn’t it time to break some fashion rules? Maybe Ahmadinejad can loan you some jackets.
The stars must be aligned strangely in the heavens this week, because it’s the stars who are dominating foreign policy news. Stars - or at least some celebrities and a super-model.
But it’s not a pretty sight.
Naomi Campbell has been compelled to testify at the Special Court for Sierra Leone at the Hague. Prosecutors hope to link alleged war-criminal and former Liberian President Charles Taylor with the illegal diamond trade - by literally tracing the path of illicit gems from his commanders’ hands into those of a manicured model.
While Campbell testified that she didn’t know the “dirty” and unimpressive un-cut diamonds she received in the dead of night after a 1997 dinner party hosted by Nelson Mandela were from Charles Taylor - others disagree.
This includes her former agent, Carole White and fellow dinner-party guest Mia Farrow, who testified that Campbell was “mildly flirtatious” with Charles Taylor - and spent the night text-messaging about, and giddily awaiting, delivery of the stones from his underlings - whom prosecutors allege were rebel commanders.
Campbell says she “planned” to give the diamonds to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which the dinner was intended to benefit.
But how can we be sure?
Subpoena the housekeeper, I say! In 2006, Campbell was arrested for throwing a “jewel encrusted” cellphone at her housekeeper. Only the housekeeper can confirm if the gash on her head requiring stitches was caused by diamonds. And if they weren’t blood diamonds before, they sure as hell were after!
And while we’re at it, what was up with that guest list, Nelson Mandela? You invited former Liberian President Charles Taylor - war criminal - to a dinner, intended to benefit your Children’s Fund? What was that about?
As a rebel leader, Charles Taylor was renowned for the recruitment of child soldiers and the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Liberia’s civil war, which had spilled into neighboring Sierra Leone - for control of the diamond trade - in 1991.
So really, the dinner was about selling out Sierra Leonean kids for South African ones?
You, sir, got out of jail in early 1990. I know you had a country to fix - but virtually the entire time since you were released from prison - up to and beyond that 1997 dinner party - Charles Taylor was a murderous thug. No excuse for not knowing!
As for Mia Farrow? Well, we’ll let that one slide.
On the other side of the world, pop-star Wyclef Jean from “The Fugees” has announced his candidacy for the presidency of Haiti - for which his only qualifications appear to be that he’s written a song called “If I Was President” - in which he predicts his own assassination.
If I was President, I’d get elected on Friday, Assassinated on Saturday, Buried on Sunday, Then go back to work on Monday.
At least that’s a more lyrical refrain than, “If I was president, I’d compel donors to follow through on pledges of $5.3 billion in funds following the January earthquake, not only to rebuild shattered physical infrastructure, but to revitalize a government that was so riven by factional fighting that it required the presence of UN peacekeepers for the last 16 years in an effort to stop gang-warfare, glutinous corruption, and the wholesale destruction of the environment; while enacting a series of effective policy initiatives to alleviate poverty, stimulate the economy and push for the lifting of restrictions with trading partners like the US - saving Haiti from continued existence as a failed state and the poorest in the Western hemisphere.”
(Or how about: If I was president, I’d learn the subjunctive.)
Now, that’s a tall order for anyone - even Bill Clinton, the UN’s special envoy. And another self-appointed savior of Haiti, actor Sean Penn, and fellow “Fugee” Prakazrel Michel, don’t think Wyclef’s got it in him.
Psssst! They’re not alone.
Bizarrely enough, “If I Was President” includes a warning that “it’s not all that’s bling that’s diamond/ Most of y’all wear cubic zirconia.”
Maybe that’s a hidden lesson for Naomi Campbell. As those “dirty stones” suggest, it’s not all that’s diamond that’s bling. And she probably should have stuck to cubic zirconia - it doesn’t land you in the Hague.
A trove of more than 90 thousand documents released by the self-proclaimed whistle-blower WikiLeaks offers a grim picture of the latest US foray into the Middle East – one that senior White House officials knew would likely end in failure: Sex and the City 2.
The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from June 1998 through May 2010 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the successful 2004 completion of the popular television series, producers refused to give up on the Sex and the City franchise even while opposition to it increased exponentially with the 2008 release of the first Sex and the City movie.
Sex and the City 2, released in May 2010, brings to the screen the now familiar gal-pals, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, who are flown on an all-expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi by an Arab sheikh. Culture clashes ensue.
“Frankly, since the movie was already a critical failure back in May, we thought we dodged a bullet,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject. “The fact that WikiLeaks released these documents means someone simply wants to embarrass Warner Brothers, HBO, and the White House.”
The reports — some spare summaries and others more detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the Sex and the City 2 production that pointed toward almost certain failure:
“The bitch, the slut, the princess, and the everywoman – forming a circle of friendship unlikely to sustain itself in real life -– these are stereotypes that might have had some traction in the late 90’s, but are long since past their sell-by date,” said one report.
“Of course they have to ride camels,” said one classified document. “Of course most Muslim men are portrayed as thugs, while Muslim women are all simply closeted Manhattanites.”
“This is what happens when power is taken out of the hands of the American movie-goer and put into the hands of those who benefit from product placement,” said another secret document. “It’s the rise of the fashion-industrial complex.”
The hugely popular Sex and the City television series starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Kim Cattrall - all hailed for their portrayals of modern women in a post-feminist landscape.
The series, which ran from 1998 until 2004, was nominated for 50 Emmy awards, winning seven times. The Sex and the City movie, released in 2008 – and focusing on the married lives of the characters - faced lackluster reviews.
While not directly involved in the production of Sex and the City 2, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says President Obama “is owning up to the responsibility” of what the US “foisted” upon its allies, the emirate of Abu Dhabi (UAE), where major segments of the film are set, and Morocco – where the movie was actually shot.
“These documents simply highlight what the President has been saying since the campaign,” Mr. Gibbs said in a White House briefing. “Not every superhero, not every theme park ride, and not every tv series needs to be made into a film – or a sequel.”
By MP NUNAN
Haiti-based businessman Maulik Radia has weathered two coup d’etats, two major hurricanes and now an earthquake in the country he’s worked in for the past 25 years.
But now he faces his latest challenge: the aid industry – and how it’s killing the demand for locally-produced buckets.
As the General Manager of a plastics company, Plastech Solutions, Radia has had to lay off more than 20 of his 150 staff because his company cannot compete with the free materials coming in from the US and other countries.
“Manufacturing has shifted to the US and benefits the US producer,” Radia says, adding that the US military has been shipping donated goods to Haiti free of charge.
“On top of that, the US gives tax advantages [to donors,] so it’s a write-off. So how do you expect me match that?”
Most heavily hit was the demand for 5 gallon buckets – used in a post-disaster situation for myriad tasks, including water purification, construction and as containers for carrying emergency household goods distributed by aid groups.
Prior to the January 12, 2010 earthquake, Radia could sell a single bucket for $4. Now, with donated buckets glutting the market, he has to push to keep the price above $2.50.
That earthquake is estimated to have killed more than 220 thousand people and left more than a million homeless.
I went to Haiti earlier this month on a trip sponsored by The Peace Dividend Trust, an organization that encourages international organizations to spend their money locally, rather than sourcing aid material from overseas. (Full disclosure: the head of The Peace Dividend Trust, Scott Gilmore, is a friend of mine. I shot a promotional video for PDT in Haiti.)
“Buying local” is a simple concept – but one that has been too often ignored by the aid-industry. In theory, after the earthquake, Plastech Solutions should have had more demand for 5 gallon buckets, and Radia should be hiring more Haitian staff, rather than laying them off.
But according to PDT, as little as 5 percent of aid money spent during a humanitarian crisis is spent in the local economy. Much of the funding goes toward foreign goods and ex-patriate salaries for aid-workers. (PDT’s “Haiti First” project is intended to link aid-groups with Haitian suppliers that meet international standards for goods and services.)
Now consider that the United Nations is sponsoring a donor conference on Haiti today. The Haitian government has asked for $11.5 billion to rebuild the country over the next several years. Five percent of that is a trifle over half a billion dollars to stay in Haiti. A relative pittance.
And that’s if donors agree to Haitian officials’ full request for funding. (It seems clear that a $3.9 billion short-term plan will likely win approval.)
I’m not suggesting that the international community ignore on-going humanitarian problems associated with disasters or war. Haiti still needs help.
But the Haiti situation represents the classic conundrum of balancing humanitarian largesse and the dangers of associated with the creation of a welfare state – versus the need to stimulate local economic growth.
(Some members of Radia’s Haitian staff have walked out of their homes, he says – even though they were left standing by the earthquake. They’ve moved into “tent city” refugee camps, where they get free food everyday. Because hey – why not?)
Radia says he hopes his business has stabilized and he won’t be forced into any more lay-offs. But he remains concerned.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is donating 500 tons of cooking oil to Haiti in April. Radia fears that will decimate demand for locally packaged cooking oil – and the demand on Plastech Solutions for plastic cooking oil bottles.
In an email, USAID spokeswoman Moira Whelan told me, “Ensuring that our work furthers the Haitian economy is a top priority to USAID. We work hand-in-hand with local business owners and have deployed market experts to make sure that the investments we make are sound and can become self-sustaining.”
It will probably take more than that to convince Radia – who says he has yet to be contacted by USAID or any other international agencies. (A letter he wrote to the Clinton Foundation, expressing concern about the effect international aid has on Haitian business, he says, has gone unacknowledged.)
Still, even Radia admits it’s difficult to know, after a disaster, just where to draw the line.
“How do you stop feeding everybody?” Radia asks. “How much is economic and not disaster-related? Somewhere along the line, people need to be told [the aid] needs to end.”
By MP NUNAN
‘Twas the week before New Year’s
And all ‘cross the globe,
It was time to review the
The news that was told.
The year started brightly on 20th Jan
For a new pres to realize his pledge: Yes, we can!
Across the sea, the news was not always so bright.
Wild fires in Australia burnt into the night.
There was mayhem in Bangkok in shirts red and yellow!
All ’cause of Thaksin – what a scandalous fellow!
Oil tankers were hit by pirates at sea!
Plunder’s Somalia’s growth industry!
When out in Sri Lanka there arose such a clatter!
Prabhakaran’s dead – the Tamil Tigers were shattered!
Iran’s students used Twitter, their regime to rebuke.
Ahmadinejad carried on with his covert nukes.
In June, the world shook with one giant gasp!
Michael Jackson, King of Pop, had suddenly passed.
US troops in Iraq may finally recede
Having been sent in to find fake WMD.
Letterman and Tiger – there’s sex in the headlines!
But Polanski’s the one to face serious jail time!
There was never a shortage of dumb tabloid chatter.
Jon and Kate and Balloon Boy – as if these things matter.
But my favorite fun story continues to be
The insane UN speech by M Qaddafi!
Obama won the Nobel for speeches that soar
While he also ramped up the Afghanistan war!
(The Prez has a long list of wins not yet won.
What the hell did you do to my public option?)
The world’s still a mess, with problems to tame
One final moment to call some by name:
On Pyongyang, on Burma, on Pak – a failed state?
Let’s stop global warming, before it’s too late!
On Zimbabwe, on Mexico, on al-Qaeda terror
Please, won’t you realize your philosophy’s in error?
On Congo, on Israel and Palestine, too
If they ever fix that one – ohmygod – what a coup!
Darfur’s still a nightmare, with a long way to go,
And what about closing Guantanamo?
That’s enough for the moment, I’ll put down my pen –
Except to wish everyone
A peaceful 2010!
By MP NUNAN
For comic relief on the world stage, no one beats Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Qaddafi.
You have to admire the audacity of a leader who calls for the dissolution of Switzerland.
And you have to admire one who travels around with the world with his own Bedouin tent, which he’s been looking to pitch somewhere – anywhere(!) – ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
Central Park is out – nixed by the City of New York. Apparently, Joan Rivers had considered hosting the tent, after New Jersey residents successfully lobbied for its prohibition on Libyan consulate grounds, in Englewood.
And you can understand their concern. Lockerbie – and the on-going controversy about the alleged deal-making behind the release of a convicted bomber - is a lot to get over.
Libya may be creeping back onto the world stage. Not only does Colonel Qaddafi address the UN General Assembly on September 23, but a Libyan official is serving as president of the General Assembly for the next year.
But with just a week before Qaddafi’s arrival, what’s dropped out of the headlines in recent days is whether he found a place to crash. In case he hasn’t – maybe he can post an ad. Maybe something like this: