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.
Despite his scholarly eminence, Faust is bored and disappointed. He decides to call on the Devil for further knowledge and magic powers with which to indulge all the pleasures of the world. In response, the Devil’s representative Mephistopheles appears. He makes a bargain with Faust: Mephistopheles will serve Faust with his magic powers for a term of years, but at the end of the term, the Devil will claim Faust’s soul and Faust will be eternally damned.
July 14, 2010. Washington, DC.
President Obama paces in front of his desk in the Oval Office, when his secretary pops in.
“Your 2 o’clock is here.”
“Send him in.”
Dressed in an Armani suit, Mephistopheles appears. He can pass for a lobbyist, despite the faint whiff of sulfur.
“Mr. President,” Mephistopheles smiles – but the president’s manner is brusque.
“You’ve probably already gathered why I called this meeting,” Obama says. “I’ve spent 18 months in office, and I can’t help but notice – you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.”
Mephistopheles sits, uninvited, on an Oval Office sofa. “What ever do you mean?”
“I mean we had an agreement that I would be given transcendent powers of persuasion and an unprecedented mandate to transform our fractured national discourse, resulting in positive political gain and reaffirming the resilience and greatness of our nation.”
“Oh, but you have,” Mephistopheles insists. “How quickly you forget that you were nothing! A community organizer in Chicago, who despite coming from a racially-mixed, peripatetic and fatherless childhood rose above circumstances and all manner of plausibility to become a senator, electrifying a flatlined Democratic Party, redeeming the very principles of democracy in the eyes of a jaundiced electorate, whose historic presidential campaign has also helped restore the world’s faith in the United States as a global leader! You’re the first post-racial president! Your middle name is ‘Hussein’ for Satan’s sake!”
Mephistopheles stops to draw a breath.
“Don’t you remember, ‘Yes, we can?’”
“Yes, I do,” Obama says, his voice clipped. “But the arrangement we made covered 8 years in office, and I can’t help but notice you’re slacking off on your end of the bargain.”
Mephistopheles rolls his eyes. “Would you stop saying ‘bargain, arrangement?’ You sold us your eternal soul.”
“And what am I getting in it for return?” Obama says, his voice rising, striding around the Oval Office. “We’ve got an ongoing financial crisis thanks to the rampant greed on Wall Street, we’ve got would-be terrorists in Times Square, we’re still in Iraq, the question is only how badly we’ll fail in Afghanistan, closing Guantanamo’s a bitch, and we may be losing the House in the fall.”
“Oh, so now health care - and excuse me, but the Nobel Peace Prize – don’t count for anything?” Mephistopheles’ voice is laden with sarcasm.
“And don’t think I haven’t noticed that some of the biggest problems are coming from underground. The Haitian earthquake? Oil pouring out of a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico? The volcano?”
Mephistopheles looks up – clearly surprised.
“You thought you could slip that by me by putting it in Iceland? Don’t think for a second that I don’t recognize your handiwork.”
“Fine!” Mephistopheles stands up. “But the boss and I have problems, too!”
“We’ve been losing ratings to cable and the internet like everyone else! It takes a critical mass of belief in the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Lucifer, a Corporeal Manifestation of Absolute Evil for us to sustain original programming! I mean, Come on – Oprah? Dr. Phil? Lifetime? Susan Boyle? All this happy do-gooder self-affirming nonsense is putting a dent in our bottom line!”
It’s Mephistopheles’ turn to start pacing.
“Even the pedophilia scandal across the breadth of the Catholic Church, the cover-up to which implicated the Pope – the Pope, for Satan’s sake – didn’t give us the ratings bump that we deserved.”
“Yeah – well, I feel your pain,” Obama sneers.
“No, you don’t,” Mephistopheles shoots back. “That was your Democratic predecessor.”
Obama looks taken aback. “I’m not your first president?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Mephistopheles shoots Obama a withering look. “And have you ever wondered why Dick Cheney just won’t die?”
Obama looks down at the floor for a moment and exhales. “That all may well be. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. Unless I see some performance changes, you’re simply not getting my eternal soul.”
“Fine.” Mephistopheles prepares to leave. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Obama stands in front of him. “That’s not good enough. Let’s start with the Gulf of Mexico, financial reform, and then take a look at the mid-term elections. If those go well, then we’ll talk.”
“All I’m saying is, I’ll take it to the boss,” Mephistopheles grumbles.
“You do that.”
And with just that hint of brimstone in the air, Mephistopheles goes.
President Obama buzzes his secretary. “Ok, what’s next?”
July 15, 2010
– The Washington Post. “Congress gave final approval Thursday to the most ambitious overhaul of financial regulation in generations, ending more than a year of wrangling…”
By MP NUNAN
It is the late, great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whom the Winter Olympics Games in Vancouver keep reminding me of.
“Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent, 35 year old woman,” he wrote in The Salmon of Doubt, a posthumously published collection of Adams’ works.
And I think he’s right. Certainly, as an intelligent, 35+ year-old American woman, I wish the US would do more to emulate Canadian healthcare, gay marriage rights, and responsible foreign policy, with an emphasis on peacekeeping.
But then again, as someone who worked as a stringer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for five and half years, with a Canadian ex in my past, and a healthy handful of Canadian friends… the temptation to poke fun is just too much to resist.
The thing is – it’s just so damn easy. Canadians suffer an identity crisis best summed up by the question: What does it mean to be Canadian, if it means something more than simply not being American? Throw that one out there at a Canadian-heavy dinner party, I dare you – but make sure you’re sitting near the door.
That’s not because Canadians are violent – far from it. It’s because the discussion will carry on for hours. The word I hear most about Canadians by Canadians is that they are always “reasonable.” My Canadian ex’s favorite joke? How do you get 25 Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, “Hey – get out of the pool.”
And I’m not the only one to ponder the state of the Canadian soul at the time of the Olympics. Google “Canada” and “identity crisis” and you get close to a million hits – including op-eds by some Canadians who think the Olympics represent time to get over it.
I’ve concluded that if America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy and Canada is like an intelligent, 35 year old woman – then the Olympics are like alcohol.
The Olympics are the booze that exacerbate all those latent feelings of hostility, inadequacy, beer muscles and beer goggles, percolating right beneath the surface of your otherwise well-composed self.
You wanna talk belligerence? The US wins a hockey game (sorry, Canada) and suddenly it’s a re-make of “Miracle on Ice!” This conveniently ignores the fact that a) Jimmy Carter had pulled the US out of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – so Lake Placid was a grudge match and the only Olympics we had; b) the Cold War is over; c) as Stephen Colbert points out, al-Qaeda doesn’t field a team; and d) our opponent this time around was a centuries-old ally, at whom we’ve never pointed a nuke. In fact, we find them useful for generic drugs.
And think about Beijing.
I happened to see some New York stand-up shortly after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. A guy – who never in a million years would have ever cared about the sport of swimming — was thumping his chest about American Michael Phelps. Why did you lose, World? ‘Cause you didn’t put a fucking dolphin on your team! America, fuck yeah.
Now consider China itself! That was a serious case of beer muscles! After a few incidents in which the Olympic torch relay was interrupted by protesters, the Chinese diaspora turned out by the thousands to protect the torch at relay pit-stops around the world. They opened the games on 8-8-08, the most auspicious day of the decade, and put on an extraordinarily dazzling display of strutting national pride at the opening and closing ceremonies to ensure – in the minds of the people – global hegemony.
The closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, by contrast, reveled in Australian kitsch - and featured Kylie Minogue riding a giant flip-flop, while singing Abba.
Back in Vancouver, meanwhile, the Canadian Olympic Committee launched a program called “Own the Podium” to help Canadians win Olympic medals. A funding initiative for the training of athletes, it’s also being described as a national exercise in building self-esteem – so that Canadian athletes and their supporters feel worthy of competition at an Olympic level. A Canadian friend of mine (and others) describe it as simply “embarrassing.”
Canada, oh Canada! With such self-defeating flaws, and some shots of the Olympics under your belt, that intelligent 35 year-old woman is suddenly Bridget Jones, drunk on cheap chardonnay and weeping about dying alone and being eaten by a German Shepherd.
So pick yourself up, Canada – you already know you’re better than that. It’s those seeds of self-doubt that the rest of the world likes to play on. We’ll stop when you stop.
I know this will do nothing to make me popular in certain quarters – another American commenting on the Canadian national soul. But there – I said it. Let the hate mail – or excuse me, the reasonable mail – begin.
By MP NUNAN
The New York Times is running an interesting piece, critiquing the broadcast coverage of the Haiti disaster, commenting in part on the tendency of broadcasters to reach for a good-news-bad-news paradox, and more importantly – the careful balance anchors try to achieve between “compassion and self-congratulation.”
The piece is by Alessandra Stanley. Please read it.
I understand the natural instinct to push for the good news. The purest definition of news I’ve ever heard? News is the aberration of normality. Amid all that tragedy, doing a story on a kid being pulled out of the rubble isn’t some over-produced moment intended to pull on the heart-strings. It’s an aberration.
Stanley goes on to observe:
The line between compassion and self-congratulation is thin on television; in a calamity this vast and acute, many viewers flinch at any sign of reportorial showboating.
She cites some examples along that thin line:
I’m torn. As a freelance journalist who spent 17 years overseas, the US broadcast teams were by far the most egregious “parachute” journalists – dropping into a situation they knew virtually nothing about, covering it with the thinnest veneer of journalism, while relying on teams of local fixers and producers who do the actual legwork of journalism, before flying out again. (CNN is the exception in some – but not all – cases.)
That doesn’t appear to be in the case in Haiti. In disasters, reporting is a veritable “embarrassment of riches” – stories abound. It doesn’t require much investigation.
In the cases Stanley lists, would you rather Katie Couric didn’t hold the kid’s hand? We don’t actually know if the producers said, “Let’s go do a story about Katie and a suffering kid,” or if they were focusing on a kid and Couric just happened to step in. (I imagine she, and every journalist there, have had to walk by a lot of suffering kids this week.)
And I actually appreciate Brian Williams’ guilty admission that NBC isn’t all that hard up on the ground in Haiti – I’m sure they flew in a charter flight of their own camping supplies. And he’s right: the purpose of journalism is to inform.
Sanjay Gupta…He’s there as a journalist, not a doctor, so no – I don’t expect him to be treat every injured person he comes across. And I can believe that he takes a little time out to help when he can. And the apparent repetition of that segment isn’t coming from Sanjay Gupta, it’s coming from CNN producers in a control room somewhere in the US.
But at the same time, in the celebrity-soaked US culture, I think there’s far too much focus on the anchor-as-a-personality.
During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, for example, my broadcast journalist friends and I widely mocked CNN’s Anderson Cooper for his infamous crying stand-up. At one point, shooting a piece-to-camera amid the devastation, Cooper got teary.
Why did we mock him? Because it wasn’t live. Cooper had the opportunity to re-shoot that piece-to-camera – without crying – but the calculated, cynical decision made by him or by CNN was to run the one in which he got a little weepy. That shifted CNN’s editorial line in that segment from being about New Orleans, to being about Anderson Cooper’s reaction to New Orleans. That made it “Broadcast News.”
In my 17 years overseas, primarily in Southeast Asia and South Asia — when the “big story” happened — the non-American networks including the CBC, the Australian networks, the BBC for example, had been covering the area in some form before a) disaster struck, or b) the riots happened, c) the elections were held, etc. They had a presence and a body of work to represent their interest in foreign news without any personalities attached – beyond working-grunt correspondents. (NPR was there, as were US print media.)
So if you’re an American network, and you’ve decided to do some foreign news, you don’t pay your anchor $15 million a year…. not to hold the kid’s hand.
Without being on the ground in Haiti, we’re never going to know the point at which the genuine feelings of an anchor give way to the “information triage” that goes on in a disaster… remember – news is the aberration of normality.
But I’ve always thought it would be nice if a network would pay their anchor, oh - I don’t know, $5 million a year to squeak by – while devoting the other $10 million to coverage of foreign affairs like their broadcast colleagues around the world. Then they’d really be doing their duty to inform.
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:
By M.P. Nunan
Much to my surprise this week, I picked up Newsweek to find it asking, Did Britain wreck the world?
It lists Britain’s former colonies of Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Somalia, Nigeria, India and Pakistan, all of which are confronting “festering conflicts” as reasons to suggest it did.
As a journalist who spent five and a half years covering the post-colonial seismic transformations in a former Dutch colony, Indonesia – my colleagues and I had picked a different contender for Worst Colonial Power: Portugal.
I mean, Come on – Mozambique and Angola are almost synonymous with civil war and land mines. Equatorial Guinea? From what I’ve read, you could take that place over in a weekend. East Timor spent a long time as a rather unhappy place – and still hasn’t completely recovered.
So let’s do the math.
Foreign Policy magazine puts out an annual Failed States Index – and I’m a big fan.
The index uses a point system to take into account several variables to come up with its rankings. These are demographic pressures, refugees and IDP’s, group grievance, economic flight, delegitimization of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, factionalized elites, and external intervention.
The higher the points accrued, the higher the nation’s listing on the Failed States Index. This year’s winner is Somalia, with 114.7 points. On the other extreme is Norway, with a mere 18.3 points.
Let’s take the eight former British colonies listed by Newsweek, add up their points and take an average (perhaps not the most scientific method, but I’m sticking with it.) Again, these are: Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Israel/West Bank, Somalia and Nigeria. The average comes to 99.84 points.
And let’s look at eight of Portugal’s former colonies: East Timor, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe.
The average is 83.79. So by that ranking, yes, Britain is the bigger boogeyman.
However, the British list is massively incomplete. (While Portugal had many more colonial outposts than those I’ve listed, not as many of their former colonies became independent nations. For example, Goa is part of India. Macau is part of China.)
So let’s throw in a few more former British colonies.
How about the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore? Does that skew the playing field? For good measure, let’s also throw in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Burma.
Now, the average drops to 81.04 — meaning Britain screwed up its colonies LESS than Portugal – whose average is 83.79 (remember, a higher number means a higher listing on the for Failed State Index.)
Also, perhaps we should rethink Iraq. After all, what has propelled it towards failed state status in recent years were not the fraying vestiges of colonial power, but a pre-emptive modern war with dubious motives.
If we take Iraq out of the equation, Britain’s average drops to 79.2.
Sorry Newsweek – and sorry Portugal! But this means if you’re a citizen of a nation that was a former colony – as so many of us are - you’re better off to have hailed from the British Empire, than a Portuguese one.
I’ll leave someone else to do the math on the French and the Dutch.