Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

A Power Play in Turkey

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Protestors in Istanbul struggle with tear gas deployed on them by police.

By Bob Gaydos

The question of the week is: Why would someone who has an entire country to run — to plan a budget, promote economic and social health, maintain an army, deal with leaders of other countries — bother with eliminating the last remaining park space in a busy area of his county’s largest city?

The answer: Because he can. Or, more accurately, because he thinks he can, and, even more accurately, because he wants to and doesn’t think anyone else can stop him.

It is, simply, the allure of power, perhaps the most cunning and pervasive of all addictions. In my limited exposure to the human condition, which includes writing about addictions, I’ve noticed that few are immune from the euphoria of the perception of absolute power. Which, of course, does not exist. Nor, as far as I know, does a 12-step program for those addicted to it.

In Turkey, where the power play over a popular open space area in Istanbul erupted into days of public protests, the demonstration of government power included an extreme overreaction by police, including widespread use of tear gas, arrests and efforts to shut down social media sites on the Internet. These are typical 21st century reactions to civil disobedience, as demonstrators in the United States, home of free speech, have also discovered. Even people who supposedly understand the necessary limits on it often abuse what power they have. Such is the addiction — do not dare to disagree with me, or else.

As this is written, the conflict persists in Turkey, but the rest of the world is well aware of what is happening, as it was when similar protests erupted in Turkey’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, recently. The Turkish protests seem to fall into the “last straw” category. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected fair and square, so to speak, in a democratic election. He replaced a military government, which many Turks found to be oppressive. Be careful what you wish for.

Erdogan, who insists on putting a shopping mall and mosque in a popular open area dotted with restaurants and shops (an issue mayors usually deal with), has turned out to be as intractable and authoritarian in his rule as any military type. In fact, perhaps more so because he seems to believe that winning the most votes gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, no matter how many of his countrymen and women it displeases. Compromise with a different viewpoint is not part of his makeup, nor, as events in Egypt suggest, is it part of the understanding of governing of other Islamists. Democracy in its truest sense will likely be slow to come in the Middle East.

But there are two sides to the power equation. Those in power can only remain there as long as those out of power allow. Where power is seized by force, obviously, the resistance and determination to alter the equation takes longer to materialize and succeed. But a tipping point eventually does come and revolutions happen. Turkey may be headed there today. If so, the aid and encouragement of nations that have a better grasp on the just exercise of power should pressure Erdogan to loosen his grip and allow all Turks to express their views without fear of violent repercussions.

It takes physical courage to take to the streets against an oppressive government, to stand in front of a line of tanks, to tear down a wall, to occupy a park, to declare independence. But it’s not always necessary to take to the streets to overcome abuse of power. The human voice when summoned and combined into a chorus of dissent can be a powerful weapon.

Today, the Internet makes it possible to martial tens of thousands of voices rather quickly. Find a cause, find a message, find like-minded people. Does Monsanto, the ubiquitous source of the world’s genetically modified food, have too much power over how the food is grown and packaged? The Internet is awash with the voices of those who believe so and do not hesitate to tell their elected leaders how they feel. Threaten those in position of political power with loss of their power and they may actually hear you. Complain to your friends and do nothing and the power remains with Monsanto and its money. (Example of success: Connecticut recently became the first state to require labeling of GMOs.)

I do not mean to suggest it is easy to redraw the power equation, that there are not sometimes very real dangers in trying to do so. But I do know that those who have power, however they come by it, seldom give it up willingly. And, like all addictions, it inevitably gives those afflicted a skewed view of the world and their importance in it.

Solidarity with the people of Turkey.


Diplomacy D-Day: What Would Willard Do?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Mitt Romney defends his criticism of President Obama, after four diplomats were killed during protests in Benghazi, Libya. Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP.

By Emily Theroux
With only eight weeks to go before the 2012 election, tensions are ramping up in Rightwingistan. Mitt Romney, sadly, got no bounce from his disastrous convention, while President Obama soared with a 12-point spike in the polls among independents. And even more humiliating for Mitt, Fox News released the poll results.

By September 11th, conservatives were wringing their hands. Nothing they could think of seemed to be selling this bill of goods to any undecided working-class voters who weren’t dyed-in-the-wool racists. (One white Virginian, who voted for Bush twice and firmly believes Obama is a Muslim, told a reporter that she wouldn’t vote for Romney because he didn’t know “everyday people” like her and would only help the wealthy. Surprisingly, Obama will get her vote. “At least he wasn’t brought up filthy rich,” she observed.)

Pastor Terry Jones

Rush Limbaugh was desperately goading Mitt to “get tough” with Obama, and Mitt’s pal Bibi Netanyahu was saber-rattling about Iran, suspiciously close to the November election. A show of “force” was needed on the world stage to bring independent stragglers into the GOP fold. When Florida’s infamous, Koran-burning pastor, Terry Jones, proclaimed this year’s September 11 anniversary “International Judge Muhammad Day,” and talked up the YouTube debut of a crude, anti-Muslim video, Romney saw his chance.

When the video appeared in an Arabic translation, outraged Muslims tuned in to horrifying, “cartoonish” depictions of their beloved Prophet Muhammad as “a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester, and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug,” wrote David D. Kirkpatrick  in The New York Times.

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens

News of the blasphemy spread quickly online.  Furious protestors ran riot in  Libya, attacking the American consulate and killing four American diplomats, including the widely respected U.S. ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens. It was the first time since 1979 that such a high-ranking diplomat had been murdered in the line of duty. In Egypt, protestors scaled the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and burned the American flag.

Mighty Mitt, hearing that a statement condemning “religious incitement” had been issued by the embassy in Cairo,  rushed in to seize the day. Before Stevens’ body had even been identified or his family notified, Mitt  issued an ill-advised proclamation of his own (despite the fact that he had vowed to refrain from politicking on the September 11 anniversary):

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Never mind that the embassy’s statement was issued six hours before the protests began. Obama apologized for America again! was Mitt’s take on it, and he was sticking to it. Obama loves Muslims. (Good line; reinforces the canard that Obama is a Muslim.) How dare “the Obama regime” target the “good-guy” American filmmakers instead of the evil Muslim protestors?

Then Mitt just sat back and waited for the fireworks to explode.

Faced with mounting criticism, Romney dug in
This morning, after the negative reviews of his rash reaction started flooding in, Mitt stepped to the microphone again and, instead of making amends, shocked the political establishment by doubling down:

“When our grounds are being attacked and being breached, the first response should be outrage Apology for America’s values will never be the right course. We express immediately when we feel that the president and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America.”

“A terrible course for America is to stand in apology for American values,” Mitt later told a reporter. (What does that even mean? Whose values – his? The entire substance of his attack on Obama was based on a deliberate, compound falsehood. The embassy didn’t issue an apology; their statement was an attempt to stave off the violence they saw coming well before the attacks; and Obama had no direct involvement in what they said.)

Did Mitt Romney jump the gun in issuing statements “that were laced with politics,” asked NBC’s Peter Alexander?

“I don’t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles,” replied a testy but self-righteous Mitt.

Romney clearly deplores “bad form” more than he appreciates good substance.

Mitt’s foreign-policy moves ‘craven,’ amateurish
The far right performed as expected. The following snarky Fox tweet was par for the course:

Somebody get some bandages and salve for Obama’s press corps — Romney just delivered a thumping.

— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) September 12, 2012

Michelle Malkin,’s John Nolte, and Dan Calabrese, writing for CainTV, piled on.

But moderate and even conservative members of the mainstream press — and members of the GOP establishment — took a much dimmer view of the way the candidate handled this contretemps.

  • “They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,’ said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an ‘utter disaster’ and a ‘Lehman moment’ — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader.” — Ben Smith, BuzzFeed Politics
  • “Likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign” — Mark Halperin, Time magazine
  • Romney hasn’t been “doing himself any favors. Sometimes, when really bad things happen, hot things happen — cool words, or no words is the way to go” — Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter
  • “Irresponsible”; “a bad mistake” — Chuck Todd, MSNBC
  • Romney’s attack “does not stand up to simple chronology” — Jake Tapper, ABC
  • Romney’s actions “ham-handed” and “inaccurate” — Ron Fournier, National Journal
  • “The Romney campaign’s politicization of the embassy attacks is even worse than I expected” — Blake Hounshell, Foreign Policy
  • “Who told Mr. Romney to issue a political broadside against the commander-in-chief the day after a U.S. ambassador was murdered?”  — Joe Scarborough, MSNBC
  • “Tolerance of a religion that represents 1/7th of the world’s population is a very wise policy” — former ambassador to NATO  R. Nicholas Burns

“I can’t remember in foreign policy, anything like this,” said Democratic strategist Bob Schrum, who served as a consultant to numerous Democratic campaigns. “This guy seems to have an instinct for saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in politics. He came across as craven and incompetent on national security. This is a disaster; this guy’s just not ready for prime time.”

As progressive radio host Joe Madison said, “This man is stuck on stupid.”

Is Mitt Romney even qualified to be Commander-in-Chief?
My question: Should someone with Romney’s personality flaws even be under consideration for the sensitive job of leading the most challenging foreign policy operation in the world? He lacks both experience and any respectable source of  advice. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t even have what my father, a Dallas native, used to call “kitty brains” — in this case, the instincts to choose a running mate who knows his way around the world. Romney has no habit of critical thinking, no facility for introspection, and no empathy for other people — and there’s not a diplomatic bone in his body. To my mind, he’s not at all “presidential.” All he’s got going for him is a boatload of money — and good hair.

Foreign policy involves a great deal more than braying chauvinistically about “American values,” shooting big guns, and deciding where and when to “put boots on the ground,” as the Bush/Cheney debacle should have taught the people who don’t understand how critical it is that they not vote for a redo of eight years of  sheer folly.

Someone said today that this was Mitt Romney’s three A.M. phone call. Thank God he didn’t have his finger on the nuclear trigger, or Benghazi might have been reduced to radioactive rubble last night.

Look! Marijuana, LSD, Booze and Sex

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Pat Robertson ... wants to legalize marijuana

By Bob Gaydos

As Mitt Romney “root canals his way to the Republican nomination,” in the words of Time’s Joe Klein, I find it refreshing to look at some off-beat news stories that have nothing (so far as I can tell) to do with politics:


“LSD may help alcoholics stay off booze”

My immediate reaction to this headline I spotted on the web was, “No kidding.” Then it was, “Are you kidding me?” Followed by, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

It seems a couple of PhD’s from Harvard and the Norwegian University of Science went through data from old research on whether LSD could be effective in combating alcoholism and published an article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology saying, in essence, maybe. They said alcoholics given regular treatments of LSD were less likely to drink than those not given the hallucinogen, but the results seemed to be good for only three months. They suggested exploring weekly or monthly LSD treatments to counter this.

The story on the study noted that the reported success may have to do with the fact that LSD changes perception, with some patients saying they “felt they were given a new lease on life” and resolving not to drink. That’s what traditional recovery programs work for without the use of drugs.

The two authors of the scientific article wrote, “It is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked.”

Geez, I don’t know. I’m not a PhD or anything, but maybe it has to do with the fact that when alcoholics drink to avoid the troubles of this world, they don’t want to be transported to a make-believe universe in order to escape. Or maybe that some people don’t think being on a steady LSD trip is a suitable alternative to addiction.

But hey, if you’re hung up on using LSD because of all that bad press it got years ago, the authors say other psychedelics might also work. They suggested mescaline, for one. No one noted whether any of the data was from personal experience.

Pat Robertson says marijuana should be legalized

This story struck my fancy not so much for the message as the messenger. Pat Robertson? Really?


The 81-year-old religious broadcaster, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, evangelical host of “The 700 Club,” said on his TV show recently: “I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance. The whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

He also told The New York Times, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. If people can go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of alcohol and drink it at home legally, then why do we say that the use of this other substance is somehow criminal?”

Robertson said he’s never used marijuana and won’t crusade for legalization, but thinks the nation’s “war on drugs” has been a huge failure, costing taxpayers billons of dollars.

There has not been any rush to follow Robertson from other conservative political or religious groups, but he does have a sizable, loyal following, so he could influence future discussion on legalization of pot

Personally, I think Robertson on many occasions has been loopy. He seems stone cold sober on this one.


$2 million bail set for ’Madam Mom’

Wow, a real juicy sex story right here in the Hudson Valley. Anna Gristina, 44, of Monroe, was charged with one — note than, one — count of prostitution for allegedly running a high-end call-girl business on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This has weird written all over it.

Start with the fact that Manhattan prosecutors appear to have come after the mother of four because she allegedly bragged, while under secret surveillance, of having police and wealthy clients protecting her and subsequently refused to give those name to prosecutors. They filed the one charge against her and a judge set $2 million bail, apparently assuming she had millions squirreled away to help her flee, even though he assigned her a court-appointed lawyer because she is indigent.

It goes on. Her real lawyer, who handles what he and she say are legitimate business dealings, offered to put up his $2.5 million Manhattan condo for her bail, because he says she’s penniless. She also apparently rescues pigs, who roam her Monroe property.

Now, somewhere buried in all this, I assume, is evidence of someone being hurt by something she has done, but I’m not finding it. If she indeed is running a call-girl business, matching willing females with willing and wealthy clients, she would be an entrepreneur in Nevada. You know, state’s rights and all that. This is not a sex slave ring story. Yes, Uncle Sam might want his cut of the action and, I would assume, if her alleged business were legal in New York, Gristina would pay her taxes or face the penalty. It’s only tax evasion now, if true, because a crime is alleged. A victimless crime. And because the prosecutors didn’t get to parade some big shots before the cameras.


Keep your nose out of our business

One for our fans of foreign news. In Egypt, al Nour, a conservative Islamist political party, expelled its parliamentarian, Anwar el-Balkimy, because he’d had a nose job. Some party members saw this as a sinful act. And you thought running against Rick Santorum was tough.

* * *

Comments on any of these stories are welcome and encouraged.

The Voice of America

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

President Obama, the elected voice of AmericaBy Bob Gaydos

Last week, I wrote about the revolution in Egypt and how difficult it can be for mere mortals to know what to do when life, as is its tendency, confronts them with the unexpected, never mind the unplanned. Specifically, I addressed those critics who were instantly telling President Obama what he should say and do with regard to the situation in Egypt, even though no one had any precedent to refer to in the Middle East. Arabs have not been in the habit of rising up against autocratic governments.

I suggested that Obama would best be served by paying heed to the message of the Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

I further wrote: “As I see it, Obama needs the wisdom part in this crisis. He can’t control what happens on the streets in Cairo or any other Arab nation. What he can do is speak forcefully and eloquently, in public to the world and in private to Mubarak et al, about what the United States of America stands for and hopes for and will support in any country whose people want it: freedom, human rights, dignity, opportunity, equality and justice for each and every citizen. That message always has and always will resonate around the world. …”

Among the comments I received were the following from my fellow blogger, Michael Kaufman:

“Bob, this is so beautifully written and full of great insights that I am almost hesitant to disagree with you about anything. Still, I have to take issue with your conclusion, not because I disagree with your sentiments regarding America’s vision for democracy and commitment for human rights, liberties, and peace, but because that vision has been so clouded by the actions of our government, our military interventions, intelligence agencies, private contractors (i.e., Halliburton, Blackwater, etc.), for decades. Where was America’s vision for democracy when the CIA toppled the Mossadegh government and installed the Shah in Iran? Or when our government assisted the Chilean fascists who overthrew the Allende government and murdered thousands of Chilean citizens? Have we forgotten the lessons of Vietnam, the napalm, My Lai? What vision of America did “Shock and Awe” and Abu Ghraib send to the world about what America stands for? And when will we learn that “American exceptionalism” might play well at home but it means nothing in Afghanistan, where we are just another occupying foreign power destined to fail. Given this track record the kindest thing we can do for the Egyptian people is to leave them alone. After all, until they took to the streets of Cairo, the United States stood for … Hosni Mubarak.”

OK. First of all, I appreciate the kind words and have the utmost respect for Michael as a writer and, even more so, as a decent human being. He cares passionately about the things people should care passionately about. But Michael, I believe, has fallen into the trap many liberals fall into when offered the opportunity to be unabashedly proud and patriotic in support of the United States — they look for any and every possible excuse to criticize their homeland and overlook all the reasons to praise it.

All those examples Michael cites of American misbehavior or outright criminality in regard to other nations are absolutely true. And wholly irrelevant. Simply because America has been guilty of reckless or abusive actions in the past — actions which belie its foundations in liberty and democracy — does not preclude it from reminding itself and other nations that those principles are written into the very birth of this nation and, through better and worse, remain the cornerstone of America.

Truth be told, millions of people around the world are weary of hearing about the grand American vision. Yet when oppressed citizens of other nations take to the streets to protest against their governments, it is virtually always to gain some part of that American vision, not the Russian or Swiss or French or Chinese vision. I think it’s because they know, even with all its flaws and self-serving behavior, America remains, not only the best example of how to offer the most people the greatest opportunity for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but also, by virtue of its economic and military might and influence (however varying) around the world, the most likely source of support for those seeking some measure of freedom.

Yes, America has propped up dictators and repressive governments in exchange for “stability” or security, or oil. We have engaged in wars without justification. We are far from perfect because we are human. This is why I did not use the word “exceptionalism” in my column. I think it is loaded with tons of freight, not the least of which being its suggestion of arrogance and egotism. We Americans clearly do not always know what is best for other peoples, even though some of our political leaders and “average citizens” may like to talk and act as though we do. But we are allowed to learn from our mistakes. (How about slavery?) No one can deny what the United States of America stands for because it is written into our Constitution, as amended over the years with a great deal of blood, sweat and tears.

(Brief aside: A local businessman told me that as the revolution in Egypt went on in the streets, with citizens demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down, some of his customers were saying, “We need to do that in this country.” No we don’t. We did that 235 years ago when we told the King of England to take a hike. It was a bloody mess. We now believe in the orderly transition of government in this country. We replace those leaders we don’t like through democratic voting. It’s one of the main qualities that sets us apart from many other countries and is a history lesson that should be well-known and cherished by any political group that takes its name from the American Revolution.)

At any rate, I humbly believe that an American president who has demonstrated not only an understanding of the limits of power and the value of humility in domestic and foreign relations — and who is also a living symbol of the opportunity awarded every (natural born) citizen of this nation — is more than justified in reminding citizens of other nations what America stands for and hopes for and will support in any country whose people want it: freedom, human rights, dignity, opportunity, equality and justice for each and every citizen.

If not us, Michael, who?

What Can You Do When Life Happens?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

By Bob Gaydos

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon famously, and ironically, wrote. You’re driving along on cruise control, daydreaming about the future and wham! Suddenly you’re in a Coen Brothers movie.

If only you had turned left instead of right. If only that idiot hadn’t run the red light. If the klutz had jumped over you instead of landing on your ankle.

Life happened to Hosni Mubarak last week as he was, perhaps, contemplating whether to remain as president of Egypt a few more years or pass the job on to his son, what with elections in his country being foregone conclusions. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were in the streets demanding that Mubarak resign. Three decades of autocratic rule apparently was enough. That, plus the lack of any meaningful work for young people in the onetime jewel of the Arab world.

Mubarak could be excused for not seeing this revolt coming because neither he nor any other Arab leader has spent much time paying attention to Tunisia, a poor neighbor to the west of Egypt, with an even more repressive leader and even fewer job opportunities for young people. What happened in Tunisia is the stuff of grand movies, and history.

One afternoon, a young man who helped support his family by peddling fruit was stopped by a female government inspector and asked for his license. Not having one, he offered to pay the $7 fine (a day’s earnings) if he could go on selling fruit. This was not an uncommon practice. The inspector not only said no, she reportedly spit on him, slapped him in the face and confiscated his fruit cart. Angry and humiliated, he went to government offices to appeal his treatment. No one would see him.

So the next day he returned to the street in front of the government offices and set himself on fire. With his death in the hospital, a martyr was born. Huge mobs took to the streets protesting against the government. More self-immolations followed. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country. Egyptians followed it all on television and the Internet. Heck, if Tunisians could do it, why not Egyptians?

Indeed, with the nascent government in Iraq being the only semblance of democratic rule in the Arab world, why not Jordan or Yemen or Libya or Lebanon or  Syria or …

And so, life also happened last week to Barack Obama, on the other side of the world and trying to figure out how to create jobs and revive the economy of the United States, the most powerful nation on the planet, which had plunged into a recession because everyone was too busy planning their retirement homes while banks were selling worthless mortgages. Suddenly, everything our president knew about the Middle East was meaningless because Arab citizens had never risen up so boldly against their repressive governments. Seeking stability through support of dictators has been SOP forever for the State Department, even though it backfired in Iran, a Persian, but Muslim, country. The downfall of the shah caught Jimmy Carter looking elsewhere.

And now everyone it seems has advice for Obama on what to say, what to do about Egypt, even though there is no history for this set of circumstances. “Does he want to be seen as the president who lost Egypt?” a talking blonde head asked on (of course) Fox News, while the rest of the world was still trying to make sense of what was happening and hoping things wouldn’t turn violent. Already producing talking points for the ill-informed opposition.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s the primary question on Obama’s mind right now. Of course he doesn’t want to “lose” Egypt. Nor does he want other Arab nations to fall under the control of militant Islamists. But he has to figure out exactly what he and leaders of other free nations can actually do to have a positive influence on events in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

That klutz in the second paragraph landed on my right ankle. Shattered it. Touch football. I was 35, athletic, divorced and out of work. Not a care in the world. Two operations and a right leg a tad shorter than the left later, I long ago stopped dreaming about running. No tennis, basketball or baseball, at least not in any competitive sense. I eventually got another job and, later, a wife and two sons. Life happened in ways I had not planned. Along the way, a friend introduced me to a prayer (I confess I am not a religious person) that I see as the companion piece to Lennon’s line (and it’s even more famous): “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

I eventually got Reinhold Niebuhr’s drift: Don’t get all worked up over stuff you can’t do anything about. Life happens. You can fuss for awhile, but focus on doing the best with what you can control; that’s where the rewards are. For me, that meant doing a lot of coaching of my sons from the time they were big enough to swing a bat or throw a ball. I could still move well enough for that and it was loads of fun for a lot of years. They turned out pretty good, too.

As I see it, Obama needs the wisdom part in this crisis. He can’t control what happens on the streets in Cairo or any other Arab nation. What he can do is speak forcefully and eloquently, in public to the world and in private to Mubarak et al, about what the United States of America stands for and hopes for and will support in any country whose people want it: freedom, human rights, dignity, opportunity, equality and justice for each and every citizen.

That message always has and always will resonate around the world. And it will survive even a fruit peddler being slapped by a bureaucrat in Tunisia.