Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category.

Here vs There

Ten years ago if you had told me that in a decade’s time a state would arise in the Middle East that would make Saudi Arabia look as liberal as San Francisco by comparison I’d have thought you were high. Back then the Sunni tribes had gotten fed up with Abu Masab al-Zarqawi and joined forces with the US to kick al-Qaeda out of Anbar province. Today we have a community organizer in the White House, and ISIS controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria (including all of Anbar province), and sub-Saharan Africa is becoming one giant caliphate stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Tigris-Euphrates valley. What the hell happened?

Over here a woman drags her 50 lb mattress to her college graduation to protest the man she accused of rape being cleared by campus authorities and local police. Over there hundreds of school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram a year ago in Nigeria are still missing and presumed sold into sexual slavery. Over here a former Olympian gets the best plastic surgery only his millions can buy, transforming himself from a youthful male athlete on a Wheaties box into a geriatric pinup model on the cover of Vanity Fair. Meanwhile over there homosexuals are thrown head-first off tall buildings.  Point out the fact over here that under Islam women are mere property and LGBT are KIA will get you called “islamophobe,” but saying the same thing over there won’t arise any attention at all for stating the obvious.

I cannot help but wonder how History will judge us and our time as we ignore the flowering of institutionalized evil once more on our planet while obsessing over comparative trifles in our own country. I expect it to judge us as harshly as those today judge our predecessors for being “racist”, “sexist” and the newly-minted epithet “transphobic.”



We’ve lived under the Obama administration for 6 years, 2 months. During that time we have witnessed a world turned upside down, one where our allies are treated like our enemies and our enemies are courted. Alliances that can be measured in lifetimes have been ignored, such as the “special relationship” with the UK. Others like Israel have been actively undermined. Even the Canadians have suffered at the hands of this administration as it has pivoted to China and kept the Keystone Pipeline mired in indecision and red tape.

Russia annexes the Crimea, the first territorial annexation in Europe since the Third Reich. It assassinates and jails the critics of its leadership. It invades Ukraine and even shoots down an airliner full of Europeans without consequences. Russian propaganda broadcasts throughout Russia unopposed, developing an ultranationalism straight from a work of fiction or video game. Critics of this coddling are accused of Cold War era thinking, and the administration continues to engage with the regime even as the US people view it as the single greatest threat.

The Obama administration leaves Biden to negotiate the status of forces agreement with Iraq, wasting the blood and treasure expended during the Bush administration. Any physics student or poli-sci major can tell you that nature abhors a vacuum, so Iran takes over in the East and an Islamic Death Cult rises in the West. An ignominious Vietnam-like defeat would have been preferable as Obama wouldn’t have been able to interfere in the region as he has done so. No love letters to Iran and certainly no attempt to overthrow the only friend we have in the region.

Leading from behind a harmless loon is attacked in Libya, leading to a failed state in Libya and the death of our first ambassador in two generations. What difference does it make? Evidently none because there are no consequences for the man in the White House or his Secretary of State minion who orchestrated the affair, the latter of whom is measuring the Oval Office for drapes as the 4th Estate gives her a standing ovation.

In 2008 I worried we had elected Carter. It turns out we elected Nixon instead, although one with a press who would call modern-day duo of Woodward and Bernstein racist. When Nixon went to China the Right had no fear that he would sell out our country to the Communists, a political fact that made it into of all things a Star Trek movie. There is no such comfort with Obama’s obsession for a nuclear deal with Iran. The Mullahs can write any deal they want, chanting “Death to America” all the way to the Bomb.

The Obama administration took power, sneering at the apparent ignorance and failures of the previous administration. Yet this supposedly bright and intelligent group of people have done some incredibly stupid things, mistakes so bad they can only be made by extremely intelligent and ignorant people. Boko Haram in West Africa, al-Shabaab in East Africa, ISIS in North Africa and the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan in Middle East and Central Asia, Russia in Europe and Asia, China in East Asia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina and Venezuela in Central and South America. All these actors are stronger in the world today than they were 74 months ago. America and its allies are all weaker thanks to the efforts of this narcissist and his administration.

Can America survive the next 22 months, and if it can, will it have any allies left?


Ebola in America: How to Fund Research

This article in the New York Times points out a problem in medicine and the pharmaceutical industry: how to support research and development of treatments and vaccines for rarely occurring diseases or conditions that only affect the poor. As Ebola shows today these diseases have a habit of becoming egalitarian real quickly, citing the Ebola virus and the discovery of a vaccine 5 years ago.


Its development stalled in part because Ebola is rare, and until now, outbreaks had infected only a few hundred people at a time. But experts also acknowledge that the absence of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries. Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay.

Instead pharmaceutical companies chase after profits,  meaning that in the US tens of billions of dollars are spent on new erectile dysfunction drugs and cosmetic treatments such as botox injections, yet treatments for diseases that kill in poor countries such as malaria and chikungunya, or those that only affect a few in wealthy countries have to rely upon charity to fund their research.

Diseases don’t check your bank account before they infect you. Sure some diseases are more prone to the poor than wealthy due to sanitary conditions and other factors, but not all. A disease that strikes the poor abroad can easily take up residence among the wealthy at home, as the spread of HIV proved in the late 1970’s through early 1980’s, moving from Haiti to wealthy enclaves in the US.

So the question arises: How do we develop treatments for diseases that are uncommon and/or appear only in poor countries? Providing money to prevent an Ebola vaccine from being shelved is not a completely altruistic act given the reality of how contagious the disease is. The dollars spent today will not only save lives over there, they will also save our lives here.  But how do we fund it?

Although I hate taxes in principle, why not levy a 5% tax on all elective surgeries and lifestyle drugs? That money could be placed into a pool and used to provide grants for the research and development of treatments for diseases that are too rare to justify researching, or to subsidize treatments of diseases like malaria, Guinea worm, and drug resistant TB. Alternately the corporate tax laws could be amended to deduct the costs spent on these diseases on a 1-1 basis: for each dollar spent a firm’s tax burden is reduced by a dollar. Neither is a perfect solution and both are prone to avoidance, abuse and the usual “unintended consequences” which are inevitable in any public policy change, but the Ebola scare in the US should serve as a wake up call.

Almost a hundred years ago the Spanish Flu influenza virus swept through the country, killing millions of Americans in their primes. It touched every family, rich and poor, black and white, immigrant and native born. In my own family it killed a great-aunt and a young cousin and left two other cousins orphans. A few decades later Jonas Salk tamed the beast of polio which had been the dread of all families that came with the approach of the cool autumn. For the past half-century only HIV has risen to the level of concern, but that virus is actually quite hard to catch. It doesn’t survive outside the body of its host for long and cannot penetrate the skin. Besides we have tamed that with anti-virals, turning what had once been a death sentence into a chronic condition.

Ebola has more in common with the Spanish Flu than it does HIV. It can survive for lengthy periods on surfaces outside of the body. It can penetrate the skin. There is evidence that it can be transmitted through the air. And besides Ebola there are other viruses lurking abroad just a flight away from our borders such as MERS and SARS. Each plane arriving here is a dice throw, and eventually we are going to be on the losing end of the odds.

The recent Ebola scare in the US has shown the authorities are not prepared for another pandemic. It has also showed us the limits of our health care system. We need to take these lessons and learn from them to prepare ourselves and our society for the  next thing Mother Nature is going to throw our way. But America has a wonderful habit of hitting the snooze alarm until the very last minute. Hopefully it will awaken before more die here and millions die there.

Ebola in America: 2 Weeks In

Two days ago a 26 year old nurse in Dallas, Nina Pham, tested positive to the virus. She was one of Thomas Duncan’s seventy caregivers. Her diagnosis puts a pretty smiling petite face on a horrendous disease, and one can only hope that by discovering the disease early she will be luckier than the man she treated at Texas Presbyterian hospital.


We don’t know exactly how she caught the virus from Duncan. She wasn’t one of the responders who came into contact with him during his first visit to the hospital, after which he was sent home with antibiotics and Tylenol. Evidently she had worn the gear dictated by the CDC, “gown, glove, mask and shield,” yet still got sick. The CDC stated there must have been a “breach in protocol” but Ms. Pham doesn’t recall when it may have happened and neither do the investigators who have interviewed her. The CNN article notes “Or the problem could have been something else entirely.”

“Something else entirely” means maybe we don’t know this disease as much as we think we do, and after 40 years of research that isn’t very much.

Take for example the question of whether the virus is spread through the air. The CDC states unequivocally “Ebola is not spread through the air or by water,” but others aren’t so sure. “We believe there is scientific and epidemiologic evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients, which means that healthcare workers should be wearing respirators, not facemasks,” writes Lisa M Brosseau, ScD, and Rachael Jones, PhD in commentary published by the Center for Infectious Disease and Research Policy (CIDRAP). According to CIDRAP Brosseau and Jones are nationally recognized experts on infectious diseases, not tin-foil hat posters from ZeroHedge.

Here’s the distinction between an airborne infectious disease and one spread through aerosoles. The common cold is considered to be an airborne virus, potentially spread from one person to another without landing on any surface. An aerosolized one is defined by Brousseau in a 2011 research paper as one where disease is spread through the air between people, or as Brousseau writes, “defined as person-to-person transmission of pathogens through the air by means of inhalation of infectious particles. Particles up to 100 μm in size are considered inhalable (inspirable). These aerosolized particles are small enough to be inhaled into the oronasopharynx, with the smaller, respirable size ranges (eg, < 10 μm) penetrating deeper into the trachea and lung.”

Notice any difference? Let me know if you do because I don’t.

I would expect that scientists would disagree about how a relatively new disease like Ebola spreads, but the CDC needs to be honest and it needs to assume the worst. The medical workers currently treating Ms. Pham need to assume the virus can be spread through the air and a 10 micron virus will spread through a facemask or around a plastic shield as if it weren’t there. They should wear respirators.

Americans need the Truth. Truth will deter panic more than empty assurances from pseudo-politicians in the CDC.

Update: A second hospital worker has tested positive to the disease, and it’s increasingly likely that Ms. Pham didn’t make a mistake removing her protective gear. Instead it’s looking like the CDC protocol for handling this disease is wrong and needs to be changed.

Since the advent of antibiotics and common vaccines we have been spared the pandemics that raged through our history like Bubonic Plague, Smallpox and Spanish Flu. These diseases not only killed millions, they changed our history countless times. Since these were tamed, however, the only large outbreak has been HIV so most of the experience of public health professionals has been with this virus. Unfortunately HIV and Ebola are very different viruses. HIV is quite weak outside the body. It breaks down quickly on surfaces and can only penetrate the skin through a wound. Ebola on the other hand is much stronger. It can remain virulent on surfaces for long periods. It easily passes through the skin and doesn’t need to gain entry to the body through a cut the way HIV does. Worse, the those infected shed much more of the virus through diarrhea, uncontrolled bleeding and vomiting. HIV doesn’t cause such symptoms making it much harder to transmit.

My guess is that the CDC’s protocols are based on HIV and if so, they are inadequate and must be changed. “(CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden) outlined new steps this week designed to stop the spread of the disease, including the creation of an Ebola response team, increased training for health care workers nationwide and changes at the Texas hospital to minimize the risk of more infections.”

Mistakes are going to be made, and demanding perfection is unrealistic. As long as we learn from the mistakes and deal honestly with their consequences we will eventually control the advance of this disease. Am I scared? Of course I am. This is a nasty disease but what other choices do we have?

Update 2: It gets worse. The second hospital worker, a nurse named Amber Joy Vinson, flew from Cleveland back to Dallas just 12 hours before she came down with a fever. The plane stayed in Dallas overnight and then was used for several flights the following day before being taken out of service today.

The likelihood of a passenger on any of those flights catching the disease from Ms. Vinson is low but it is not zero, and given the failures so far to stop the spread in Dallas I’m wondering whether it would have been too much to ask for hospital management and the CDC to make the following rule:

If you are being actively monitored for potential exposure to the virus (as Ms. Vinson was), don’t fly.

It seems like common sense to me.

One other note: We will soon be entering cold/flu season and millions will be developing fevers that are not caused by Ebola, providing a perfect screen for the disease to spread in. While perfection from the CDC may be too much to ask, we should expect them to at least up their game.

Update 3: Ms. Vinson knowingly boarded the plane with a temperature of 99.5 degrees. This is below the threshold of 100.4, but what the heck…

Update 4: March 1, 2015 – Pham survived the disease and is now suing the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital for failing to protect her and the other caregivers.


Ebola Observations: 3 Days After Announcement

So far the mass panic everyone expected to happen after the first case has not materialized. People are going about their daily lives and unless you are in the immediate vicinity of the hot zone in Dallas, things haven’t changed all that much. But being married to a medical professional provides a deeper glimpse into how people react. Dr. Wife is fielding questions about the disease and she is counseling people to keep calm, telling them that the spread of the disease in West Africa has more to do with the poor sanitation and hygiene, as well as unusual funeral customs, than it does from the virulence of the virus. “Wash your hands and don’t handle dead bodies,” pretty much sums up her advice, and so far it is working.

The next three weeks will determine whether people keep calm and trust the CDC and other authorities or whether they disassemble and panic. So far I am personally concerned with the response of the public health authorities. I’ve read about the specially designed treatment areas within local hospitals that have been set up to contain the outbreak, but no mention has been made about the bleach baths medical personnel are using when they exit a treatment area. Viruses can be tracked out of an area on your shoes, so medical personnel in Liberia wear rubber boots and step into a pan full of disinfectant after spraying down their bodies with bleach to kill the virus.

How not to leave a hot-zone

I also don’t understand why the people the Thomas Duncan was living with aren’t being quarantined at a hospital. We know they were exposed to the virus and there’s a good possibility they will come down with it. Placing them in a hospital would allow them to be monitored closely and more importantly, allow the decontamination of their living quarters, in this case an apartment. Apartments are not built to be isolation zones. Why are the authorities waiting to clean up the place?

Overall I am not impressed with the handling of this health crisis so far. It seems to me that authorities are taking this outbreak way too nonchalantly. I understand the importance of not causing panic, but we need the authorities to act transparently as well as effectively. Seeing these two public health workers leave a hot zone without any protective gear, an area where we know without a doubt a man was sick with Ebola, leads me to believe that they are underestimating this disease.

Ebola in America

Watched the CDC press conference concerning the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the US. Overall I believe the conference offered enough facts to avoid a panic. But CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden was asked two questions about the patient’s first visit to a hospital, where he was sent home, and offered no details.

This is the weakest link in the public health argument that he was using to assure the public. On Sept. 26, the patient was exhibiting symptoms and was likely contagious at this point based on Dr. Frieden’s explanation about Ebola transmission. The patient visited the hospital and came into contact with several medical personnel as well as other patients and staff, but was not diagnosed with Ebola and was sent home. That hospital was not identified, and Dr. Frieden avoided the questions concerning this failure to diagnose the patient. Two days later the patient went to Texas Health Presbyterian and was correctly identified as a possible sufferer of the virus.

While there is no need to panic, the CDC must remember that facts and the Truth reassure. Silence or avoiding straight answers like a politician do not.


Ebola – Don’t Panic But Don’t Underestimate The Virus

As someone who is married to a doctor who spends her vacations in Africa treating rural villagers I take Ebola very seriously, especially since quite a few medical personnel have died from the virus. Although this virus has been infecting people since the 1970s we know very little about it. In the past it has burned itself out by pretty much killing everyone who came into contact with it in the African bush. This time around it has made it to the cities, and news stories are circulating that it has left Africa and made it to Europe and perhaps the US.

The crazies are beginning to take notice. Michael Savage has slammed the CDC for bringing two Ebola victims, an American doctor and nurse, to the US for treatment. He asks, “Why have they brought an infected doctor and another patient from the area of contagion to Emory University in the U.S. when these individuals could treated just as well in Africa? Perhaps they are using these two patients as guinea pigs in a trial for a new vaccine from which billions are to be made if successful.”

Evidently Savage has never spent time in an African hospital. I have seen my share, and if your idea of a hospital is an American public high school nurse’s office except with fewer drugs, then you have a pretty good idea of what constitutes the average African hospital. They simply do not have the resources that Emory does. Could we bring Emory over there? Perhaps in a few months sure, but the Americans had hours to live. Was there a risk to bringing them here? Absolutely, but that risk had to be weighed against the likely outcomes for the two Americans. A few weeks ago someone found a stash of old smallpox vials that had been forgotten. We’ve been experimenting with dangerous biological organisms here in the US for decades; it’s not like this is the first time a virus as notorious as Ebola has been brought to US shores. So the risk was miniscule compared to the odds against the two Americans suffering from the virus. In my view it was the right decision. Oh, and Michael, the gist of your argument makes you sound as wackadoodle as the anti-corporate progressives.

Ebola is a frightening virus, but the way forward is to combat the virus with scientific research, not throwing up the walls and cowering in fear. And it certainly isn’t by using one’s favorite whipping boy to stifle a vaccine.


The Entitlement Mindset

I normally ignore any headline with a number in it, but the following article is an exception. 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person should be required reading for everyone, especially those new to the workforce. Alec Baldwin is a world-class @sshat, and while I disagree with the article writer that it’s the greatest scene in movie history (better than Roy Batty’s speech in Blade Runner? The Wagnerian assault on the VietCong outpost in Apocalypse Now? Any scene from Casablanca?) it’s an amazing scene. Now I want to close some real estate…

Everyday my wife deals with extremely poor people on medicaid who feel entitled to everything. They’ve got thousands of dollars in tattoos covering their torsos but they can’t afford the $3 office visit copay. The local free clinic has gone bust, and the local non-profit hospital is circling the drain because people won’t pay their bills. Oh but they are poor, right?

I’ve seen poor. I’ve walked the streets of Dar es Salaam and seen beggar children missing limbs, victims of the civil war in Mozambique, who are moved around the city by their pimps. I’ve been in smoky mud huts that people have lived in their entire lives who scratch out just enough from the soil outside to survive. Medical care was a fantasy for them because they couldn’t make it to the towns where it was offered by the NGOs or government. Trust me on this: compared to what you’ll see in sub-Saharan African, there is no poverty in America.

When I came back to America from living abroad for 5 years I remember riding the train into Philadelphia through Chester PA and being shocked by the rubble that passed for the city. That’s not poverty, at least as defined by the lack of money. The citizens in Chester were rich compared to the street families in Dar, what they were suffering from was a poverty of ambition. They were stuck in a hell all right, but not the one that progressives and liberals believe. It’s one that money can’t solve – as proven by the trillions spent on the War on Poverty that has led only to a complete surrender. Money can’t fix attitude nor can it light a fire within that compels one to better one’s situation.

I currently live in one of the poorest areas of the country. We moved here at least partly due to a noble cause. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, and I figured that we would do what we had done in Africa. Not only would the Wife treat the sick, but we’d plow our incomes back into the community. While conducting research in the Bush we expanded the research payroll with our personal funds, knowing that each person we hired would then be able to support their families. We hired anyone who could do anything. If you could wield a panga you could cut trails. If you could walk you could earn money simply by walking around the forest listening for the chimps. We paid young men to dig trenches around the research camp. For a year the people of the Kasiha village in the Mahale Mountains had some security in their lives, and they appreciated it. They were hard workers and protective of idiot Americans stumbling around in the Bush like myself. We left with $20 and no regrets.

Here in North Carolina I have had trouble finding people willing to cut my hay fields. I bought a hardwood stove but then had to take it back because I couldn’t find anyone willing to install it. After one of my dogs was killed along the road I asked a local carpenter to extend the fencing, a $3,000 job. He blew me off and never showed. Other property owners have the same trouble finding anyone willing to work. One said, “No one wants to work when the government pays them to sit at home.” Some have taken to hiring illegals, but I refuse to do that because I have a moral issue with it.

Yet these same people traipse into the Wife’s office and demand MRIs and expensive tests and procedures without knowing what they are asking for. When she refuses they question her judgment, as if they had gone through 4 years of undergraduate studies, 2 years of pre-med prep, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency and internship and 4 years of practicing as an attending. She brings 17 years of training into the exam room, yet these people disrespect her and her staff.

Disrespect. Dis as the verb. As the article above points out, respect is something earned by what you can do, not your intrinsic qualities. My Wife earns respect because she knows how to tell the difference between a harmless common cold and life-threatening pneumonia. 17 years of training has honed her clinical skills to the point where she now has instincts that have saved people’s lives. Seriously saved lives. I know of a handful of incidents including one where she had to battle an insurance company for a test that proved a cancer diagnosis. What have her patients made besides children, and it takes two of them to do that?

Anyone who demands respect doesn’t deserve it. If you are feeling dis’d it’s because you’ve done nothing worthy of respect. If you want to be respect, do something deserving of it.

RIP Nelson Mandela

I was living in Tanzania when South Africa elected Nelson Mandela as its first post-apartheid president. Mandela meant a lot to the Tanzanians who saw him win not through bullets and bombs but through promises of peace. I can almost here the ululations from the village we lived near at the time as his inauguration was broadcast on shortwave.

Mandela wasn’t perfect, nor was he a saint. He started his career in the ANC as a believer in violent uprising. During his presidency he turned a blind eye to other African nations such as Zimbabwe who suffered much more under home-grown dictators than they ever did under colonial rule. After he left the office he remained overly critical of the United States, Europe and Israel in their fight against Islamic extremism while ignoring the very real threats these nations faced. I even penned a letter to him in 2002 after he publicly questioned Osama Bin Laden’s role in the 9-11 Attacks. Christopher Hitchens himself took Mandela to task for his support of Saddam Hussein.

But imperfect though he was, he did lead a people during a very crucial time in their history. Had he not been there it is difficult to imagine South Africa making it through a transition to majority rule without tens of thousands dying. At a time when South Africa didn’t have one, he gave his nation a future promising peace and prosperity.

Martin Luther King jr said:

Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

South Africa has not made it to that promised land just yet, but it’s on its way thanks to Nelson Mandela.

Failure – The Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Legacy

I’m fascinated by disaster and failure. I’m not talking natural disaster; although fascinating in themselves (who around back then does not recall when Mount St. Helens blew up in 1980?) natural disasters don’t provide teachable moments the way a man-made failure or disaster does. Soon the Discovery Channel and The Science Channel will simulcast a scripted movie about the Challenger disaster. The movie is based on Dr. Richard Feynman’s memoir “What Do You Care What Other People Think” and will invariably show how Science and the human analytical mind went from a cloud of smoke and debris at 50,000 feet to the reason for the disaster: an O-ring seal in a solid rocket booster. Such failure analysis is why travel on large aluminum jets is the safest method of transportation in human history, going from perhaps the deadliest form of transport to the safest in less than a century. Such success came about through hard detective work the scene of each disaster, followed by a long period of investigation and analysis where the failure was pinpointed and most importantly, having the lessons learned applied to the rest of the industry.

The bible for those interested in the study of failure is German professor Dietrich Dorner’s 1996 book, The Logic of Failure. The book is based on a set of cognitive experiments done with software simulating a small town’s society in the US, and a fictional area in the Sahel. The studies found that while participants came from varied walks of life and backgrounds, “People court failure in predictable ways.” It then ties the experiments to real life failures such as the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl. As a systems analyst involved with complex multi-million dollar software development programs, I consider the book “must reading” for everyone in IT. Feel free to pass along a copy to those behind the Obamacare rollout.

Five years ago the people of Iraq had, thanks to the blood of thousands of American and allied soldiers, achieved a level of freedom unparalleled in their history. The national sport of kite flying was legal again and girls headed to school in Afghanistan. al Qaeda and its affiliates were on the run and confined to lawless patches in northern Pakistan, northern Nigeria and Somalia. Iran was boxed in between biting sanctions that undermined the regime internally, successful American military operations on either side of it, and an Israel ready, willing and backed by American leadership to attack Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons. China was busy flooding the world with cheap crap, content to use North Korea as its proxy to stir up trouble in favor of the regime in Beijing. Our relationship with Russia had begun drifting away from engagement towards confrontation over its aggression towards Georgia, but Russia was clearly a state in decline both internally and internationally. Even Syria was seen as a player, with Democrats having genuflected at Bashir Assad’s feet, Nancy Pelosi having claimed “the road to peace begins in Damascus” in 2007, four years before Vogue’s schmaltzy interview with the Assad family, “A Rose In the Desert.”

Today Iraq is a client state of Iran, its skies filled with Iranian cargo planes resupplying the Assad regime in Syria and Hezballah in Lebanon, its social fabric once again ripped by car bombs as the Sunni/Shi’a war rages on the ground. The Obama administration, convinced of its failure before it took office walked away from American success in Iraq by its refusal to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Baghdad. Historians will one day ask “Who lost Iraq?” and the answer will be Barack Obama. Immediately after setting up their base in Afghanistan in 2001, the Marines buried a piece of steel taken from the World Trade Center rubble on the site. Soon the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies will reclaim this as a war trophy as the kites and girls disappear from the streets, and the music that has filled the air in Kabul since 2001 will be replaced once again with silence punctuated by gunfire and explosions. Again historians will ask “Who condemned these people to savagery? Who lost Afghanistan?” Again the answer will be President Obama, a man who once called Afghanistan “the good war.”

After taking power President Obama fluttered around the world on what critics like me called his “Apology tour,” apologizing for American misdeeds both real and imagined, in the belief that the new-found humility would please our friends and sway our enemies. The Obama Administration has accomplished exactly the opposite. Today Iran is expanding its “Shi’a Crescent” throughout the Middle East, and the only ones standing in the way is Israel in an unlikely (and unspoken) alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This after a popular rebellion took the streets in 2009 that could have changed the course of History, but it received no hint of support or backing from the Obama administration and it was ruthlessly crushed. It will be decades before the people rise up against the theocracy, if they ever do.

Today from Morocco across northern Africa to the Sinai, and from Nigeria across the continent to Somalia Africa burns with Muslim extremists allied with al Qaeda. Obama’s support of the rebellion to replace Mohammar Khaddafi in Libya has opened a Pandora’s Box of weaponry built over decades by Libya’s Great Loon, handing AK-47s, RPGs, and anti-aircraft missiles to everyone with an axe to grind and a Koran burning a hole in their hearts. Where there had been one failed state 5 years ago, Somalia, there are now at least 3 (Somalia, Mali, Libya) with numerous others (Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Western Sahara) circling the drain. After Khaddafi’s fall al Qaeda training camps sprouted like mushrooms across North Africa and the Sub-Sahara, breathing the lawlessness that the Libyan Debacle created, and repaying the Obama administration for its “lead from behind” strategy by killing an American ambassador and his three bodyguards in the first such incident in 30 years.

Although the administration’s failure vis-a-vis China is not as bad as the disaster it has created in the Middle East, the Obama Doctrine of placating our foes while dissing our friends has been noticed in Asian capitals. South Korea is developing closer ties with China at the same time Japan rearms and prepares to ditch its anti-war constitution ghost written by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Nations like Pakistan who haven’t really decided whether they are American allies or its enemies see no downside to throwing their lots in with the Chinese or Iranians. Pakistan even provides China the tail-section of a top-secret stealth helicopter used in the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, America’s enemy number 1 watching porn in air conditioned comfort on Pakistani soil. There is no blow-back, no consequences suffered for entertaining the man responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and none for handing over the tail rotor section to America’s greatest military adversary. And to top it off, the true hero of the event, a local doctor who had the guts to help the Americans confirm Bin Laden’s identity, sits in jail as a traitor to his people. If anything playing up to America’s adversaries almost wins respect from the Obama administration itself. China understands this best, waging a cyber war against the US government and private industry without retribution.

Then there’s Europe. When the Obama Administration hasn’t sacrificed its allies to appease its enemies in Teheran and Moscow, it bugged their phones, proving yet again this administration’s inability to differentiate friend from foe. “Everyone does it,” is not an acceptable excuse for a superpower. There is absolutely no reason the US should be bugging Angela Merkel’s phone just as there is no reason it should be spying on 10 Downing Street. Perhaps the mushy-headedness that comes with moral relativism has blinded the administration to the differences of say, between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, or David Cameron and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The “Special Relationship” with the UK is special for a reason, one that is much older than the inhabitants of the West Wing and much more sublime than the political wonks can comprehend. Ditto the German Chancellor. Frau Merkel was born in East Germany and has first hand experience with illegal and unjustified surveillance. Unlike some of her predecessors, she has not risen to power on an anti-American platform, and has done an exemplary job of aligning the interests of Germany with the broader interests of Europe and the United States. Spying on her was a stupid idea that should never have been approved, and once approved, it should have been cancelled, and if not cancelled it should never have been revealed. Yet a contract DBA waltzed off with the keys to the entire American Intelligence in the worst espionage failure since Klaus Fuchs handed the Soviets the Bomb. Again, no consequences. No one fired let alone jailed.

Many on the right have concluded that this is all by plan, that the Obama administration and his Democratic party supporters have been intent on taking the ship of state and intentionally running it aground because they are socialists or communists. In the Irving Kristol Lecture to the American Enterprise Institute on February 10, 2004 Charles Krauthammer suggests it is more complex and subtle than that:

“What I do know is that today it is a mistake to see liberal foreign policy as deriving from anti-Americanism or lack of patriotism or a late efflorescence of 1960s radicalism.

On the contrary. The liberal aversion to national interest stems from an idealism, a larger vision of country, a vision of some ambition and nobility – the ideal of a true international community. And that is: To transform the international system from the Hobbesian universe into a Lockean universe. To turn the state of nature into a norm-driven community. To turn the law of the jungle into the rule of law – of treaties and contracts and UN resolutions. In short, to remake the international system in the image of domestic civil society…

And to create such a true international community, you have to temper, transcend and, in the end, abolish the very idea of state power and national interest. Hence the antipathy to American hegemony and American power. If you are going to break the international arena to the mold of domestic society, you have to domesticate its single most powerful actor. You have to abolish American dominance, not only as an affront to fairness but also as the greatest obstacle on the whole planet to democratized international system where all live under self-governing international institutions and self-enforcing international norms.” – Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passion, Pastimes and Politics

Seen in this light, Obama’s foreign policy has not been a failure at all. It has accomplished exactly what it was intended to do. It has weakened America’s foreign policy hand across the board. America’s military is weakened through political purges of its officer corps, lack of direction and budget cuts. Its diplomatic corps is undermined by the lack of protection of its staff, as proven in Benghazi, by the White House’s high-handedness shown towards America’s closest friends the UK and Israel, and the spying program targeting American allies as well as its enemies that State Department personnel are forced to explain in their host countries. Its adversaries Syria, Iran and North Korea are all in better positions than they were five years ago. Ditto China and Russia. As the US weakens its enemies strengthen, and its allies are then forced to either band together (EU standing up to Russia and encouraging Ukraine to join, ASEAN nations co-coordinating efforts to balance China) or leave its sphere of influence entirely (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and perhaps Israel in the Middle East, South Korea in East Asia).

Obama has domesticated America on the international stage, to use Krauthammer’s term: so now what? Where is the Golden Age promised by Locke and the internationalists? If they are correct, a humbled America should encourage its enemies to stop their own military buildups (they don’t need offensive military capability with America’s gone). North Korea and Iran no longer need nukes now that American nukes are rusting away awaiting destruction as Obama unilaterally disarms. Without American backing Israel should engage its enemies diplomatically in a desperate bid to secure peace with the Palestinians. The world should be much better today than it was five years ago.

Is it? I suppose that depends on your perspective. Five years ago Americans could have traveled safely throughout Africa except for one nation Somalia. Today I’d hesitate to walk through the narrow streets of Zanzibar as I once did freely nearly two decades ago, and have struck Valley of the Kings in Egypt off my bucket list until further notice. Northern Kenya, Mali, Eritrea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Western Sahara, and Libya are now no-go areas for Westerners. I suppose that’s great if you can’t help but shout Allahu Akhbar every time you touch an AK-47, but for the rest of us things have gotten worse not better under the new regime.

Dietrich Doerner writes, “For them (people who failed most often at complex analytical tests) to propose a hypothesis was to understand reality; testing that hypothesis was unnecessary. Instead of generating hypotheses, they generated ‘truths’.” The Obama administration came to power proposing a hypothesis, that the world would be a better place with the United States weakened. It treated this hypothesis as a truth, steadfastly refusing to let go of it, sacrificing ambassadors, diplomatic relationships built over generations, and American influence in the process. When Doerner’s study participants failed, they invariably blamed others for their failures just as the Administration has focused the blame on the GOP.

When the Obama administration took power I and many others had hoped it would govern from the center, that things wouldn’t be as dire as we had feared. We hoped that it would try its crazy ideas, learn they didn’t work, then try something else. But they didn’t learn. They stuck to their “truths.” Five years on our foreign policy is a shambles, America weaker and friendless as it has been at no other time in its history. The disaster is worse than we expected, and we still have 3 full years left in this president’s term.

Will America be able to survive this epic failure? Thirty-two years ago Ronald Reagan took power and turned around foreign policy debacles of the previous Carter administration pretty quickly. Will a Republican president be able to do the same after eight years of disaster? And what if the GOP selects the wrong candidate and Hillary Clinton wins in 2016? How much failure can this country accept and still survive?

Word to the White House: Don’t F*** with Grandpa

They stormed the beaches of Normandy and Okinawa, fought for every square inch of Belgium and Luzon. The might of Hitler’s Wehrmach and the Japanese Imperial Army could not stop these guys. And yet a candy-assed Kenyan* thinks he can?

Once again the White House shows its disdain for the American people. For such a supposedly intelligent crew they sure act like a bunch of morons.

* Note: I do not mean this as an insult to Kenyans. Having visited at length in Kenya I have nothing but the utmost respect for the average Kenyan, especially these guys.

I doubt this guy has a candy-ass. In fact I’m 100% percent sure.

And no I don’t subscribe to the theory that Obama is not a natural born citizen, although there’s less evidence than the crazy Trig conspiracy beloved by Andy Sullivan, and we know more about President George W. Bush’s National Guard stint than we do Obama’s Ivy League years, even excluding the work of fiction that brought down Dan “Kenneth” Rather’s career.




Stark Choices for Wildlife Conservation in Africa

The news that poachers killed 90 elephants with cyanide in Zimbabwe comes as bad news to those of us who have worked in animal conservation in Africa. But Africa seems full of bad news these days, and it’s tough not to become cynical. Perhaps our distant ancestors had it right, getting the **** out of Africa as soon as they could. If it’s not the diseases or the wild animals, the bad politics and toxic religion will kill you.

It seems to me that the choices for nature conservation in Africa are stark: either the people of Africa have to develop a solid middle class, or we have to take the animals and plants out of Africa and import them into a wealthy society to save them. I have been thinking about this for years ever since I met the Tongwe people, a small Tanzanian tribe that were pushed off their land and saw it turned into a national park where I worked. Poaching in the park was always a problem, and it’s not too difficult to sympathize with people who didn’t get the dollar a day jobs the park and conservation programs offered to those outside the park. Poachers that are actually catching the animals aren’t making much by western standards, and when it’s a choice between a poacher feeding his family or seeing them starve only the most heartless conservationists think they should be jailed or worse, shot on the spot.

Some wealthy environmental and conservation groups have tried co-opting the poachers by paying them better and turning them into guards. Other groups have set up co-operatives that help the locals profit from their natural resources through tourism and research. Most of these initiatives have failed and the few that haven’t continue to struggle.

Being free market oriented I’ve thought, “Okay, why don’t the groups and wealthy individuals buy up the land the animals sit on, then fence it.” But there are several problems with this. It has been tried in Kenya and South Africa with limited success. Fences may keep the animals inside the park, but they don’t keep determined people out. Shooting poachers on sight might sound good to some in Europe and the United States, but all it does is piss the locals off. When this happens they can make life very difficult for conservationists in many ways, from stealing their supplies to harassing their staff, and eventually in some democracies, electing politicians who support their positions. After all, chimps don’t vote but Tanzanians do.

So in order to support conservation of the animals, the foreign groups and individuals have to buy off the politicians. This may work for awhile, but it’s difficult for a politician to stay bought when their constituents aren’t very happy with them. Africa also has a poor track record when it comes to respecting property rights. A chimpanzee conservation group could buy up hundreds of thousands of chimp habitat in the Central African Republic only to see a new government take power and decide that the foreigners don’t own the land anymore. What are the groups going to do? Sue? In which court? The one whose Supreme Court Justice is the president’s brother?

The basic problem is that the wildlife we wish to conserve is in Africa, and the legal and economic systems capable of protecting it are outside of Africa.

In order to protect the animals of Africa we are going to have to import one of those. Either we bring the animals to North America and Europe or Africa imports our legal and economic systems. Since the latter should strike some of the politically correct minded as “colonialism,” the likelihood of Africa developing a thriving middle class and a legal system guaranteeing property rights will take much longer than the animals can survive poaching and habitat destruction. Westerners like to blame the ills of Africa on colonialism, and there were some serious ills like King Leopold II’s atrocities in The Congo, but after half a century of independence are the former colonies of France and the UK better off today than they were before independence? Is it possible that the roots of Africa’s problems do not lay in colonialism, but something else like the corruption that is endemic to the tribal and family-based communitarism?

The conservationists I have met who are serious about saving African wildlife tend to be socialists, and they all subscribe to a top-down model of government control over natural resources, or a bottoms-up communitarian approach whereby a whole village has a vested interest in the stewardship of wildlife resources. They must begin to challenge their own beliefs and either come up with new approaches to save the wildlife or buy it and ship it to wildlife refuges in North America and Europe. But they’d better act quickly, because the elephants of Zimbabwe and the rest of the wildlife on the continent are running out of time.


Ignore Iran Today – But Not Tomorrow

American diplomacy is a mess. Much of this can be blamed on the current administration who came into power believing they were different from the previous ones, gifted with talent and intelligence their predecessors lacked. But the truth is American diplomacy has always been a mess because honestly, we suck at it.

Having the ability to talk your way to get what you want is only useful for someone who is weak. In the hundred years or so after America’s founding when it was relatively weak to the Great Powers in Europe, we were far enough from the fray to not really matter, and the Europeans only took interest of us when they thought they could use us in their schemes against their primary European opponent. Thankfully American administrations heeded Washington’s advice to avoid foreign entanglements, and were content with expanding power across the continent.  At our weakest point, the years of the Civil War, when the European powers had the opportunity to sway the outcome of the war, it was only a blunder by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to bully the European powers using cotton exports to European textile mills as his primary bargaining chip to attain diplomatic recognition of the Confederate states, and the Union’s more benign and positive support of free trade and past military cooperation with Britain and France that convinced these powers to stay out of the fray. Had Davis been more diplomatic and the European powers more interested in the goings on across the Atlantic, chances are good I’d be writing from my seat in the Confederate States of America.

Things changed after America achieved its “manifest destiny” of spreading across the continent, and began following in the footsteps of the European powers in constructing an empire. During this time diplomacy didn’t matter; what mattered was brute force and the ability to wield it, first in Mexico then throughout the Central America and the Caribbean as it displaced first France and later Spain. But America came late to the game, so its empire was small and inconsequential compared to the great empires of France and Great Britain, and the world wars that followed in the 20th century exposed the danger of empire building as well as the limitations of diplomacy. The Europeans chewed the fat with Hitler for years and it didn’t stop him from taking over continental Europe. Had Neville Chamberlain advised the King to select Lord Halifax, whom he liked and was the popular choice at the time, instead of the unflappable Winston Churchill, it’s quite possible Hitler would have held it.

Americans came closest to learning the art of diplomacy during the Cold War when military supremacy was far from assured while mutual destruction was. This was a decades long learning curve, and during that time the Soviet Union and the United States stood at the brink of war, most notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But these lessons have limited value in today’s world where there is no superpower to challenge us. Worse, the Cold War proved the Soviets were “rational actors”, something that isn’t assured by countries like North Korea, Iran or terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.

American foreign policy in the Middle East has never been handled well. After World War 2 America imported British policies in the region, then tailored them to fit the realities of the Cold War. These policies favored stable dictatorships that were either friendly enough to host America forces sent to guarantee the West’s oil supply, or at least were friendly enough not to host Soviet forces. The Soviets weren’t stupid, of course, and the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt who assumed a neutral stance towards the superpowers offered them an opportunity to expand their influence throughout the Arab world. Although officially non-aligned, the Egyptians followed policies that for all intents and purposes matched those of the Soviets, provoking the Eisenhower administration to isolate Nasser by supporting the Saudis as a counter-weight in the region. Thus began the alliance between the Saudis and the Americans, an alliance that has dictated policies by both governing parties over the next 50 years.

Has this policy benefited the United States? The Saudi monarchy and its supporting administrations have proven to be master diplomats. They’ve had to be because they have a valuable resource in a dangerous area and have limited means to defend it. The Saudis took power in the Arab peninsula by first co-opting the Wahhabi preachers prevalent in the area, then kept them under control by providing them a portion of the oil wealth they could use to spread their version of Islam around the world.

Wahhabi Islam is the most intolerant religious sect in the modern world. Imagine the Westboro Baptist Church with tens of millions of followers and billions of dollars yearly at its disposal, and even this analogy is limited due to the WBC’s non-violent teachings compared to the exhortations to violence that regularly appear in Wahhibi sermons and commentary. Yes WBC hold signs at military funerals stating “God Hates Fags,” but they don’t execute suspected homosexuals as the Wahhabis do.

Islam is a conversion-based religion, spreading throughout Asia and Africa and laying siege to Christian Eur0pe first in Spain and later in Eastern Europe. As Islam spread it changed as most conversion based religions do, incorporating customs and traditions of the natives, thereby making it more desirable to the locals at the expense of doctrine. Also lacking a central authority unlike Christianity, numerous strains of Islam appeared, making the Islam of Indonesia different from the Islam of India, which was different from the Islam of Iran which itself differed from the Islam of the Arab nations.

The Wahhabis took their opportunity to re-establish purity and achieve Mohammed’s dream of a global Caliphate by sending well-funded (thanks to Saudi money) missionaries to set up Wahhabi mosques and schools throughout the world, paying special attention to countries with large communities of Muslims. The Wahhabi missionaries would arrive in a community flush with cash, then set up a new mosque and madrassa preaching Wahhabi teachings. These mosques and schools could provide education and services that outcompeted the existing mosques and schools since these relied upon local funding to survive.  The result has been the radicalizing of Muslims in previously multi-religious societies throughout Africa and Asia. Countries where Muslims and Christians had lived intermingled for years suddenly experienced religious strife such as has happened in Indonesia and most recently Kenya and Tanzania.

American foreign policy seems filled with ironies, and none is perhaps as ironic as the fact that the United States supported the Saudis to fight the existential threat of communism during the Cold War, only to create the existential threat of religious intolerance-bred terrorism.

The only thing that has kept Saudi Arabia from appearing on the list of states sponsors of terrorism has been its alliance with the United States. This alliance goes very deep, and the likelihood of its rupture is minimal. The Saudis have built deep personal ties with American leaders in politics, business and academia in their effort to sway American policy to favor their kingdom. The relationship has weathered Saudi sponsored terror attacks including 9-11 and the funding of Sunni militias in Iraq that killed hundreds of American soldiers. So far these ties and the influence that comes with it have convinced the Americans to defend Saudi Arabia from Saddam in Iraq and an Iranian regime seeking nuclear weapons.  In a private comment released by Wikileaks former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the Saudis were willing to fight the Iranians to the last American, yet American leaders have been more than willing to give Saudi Arabia a pass on its sponsorship of terrorism while focusing on such sponsorship by its Shiite nemesis Iran.

Into this complicated situation America has elected its most inexperienced, arrogant and incompetent leader since before the Civil War. The Obama administration’s policy failures in the Middle East, from its failure to secure the peace in Iraq, through its naïve support of the Arab Spring to the gross mishandling of the civil war in Syria has destabilized the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The selection of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran has presented a tempting diplomatic opportunity for the United States, one that President Obama seems to be entertaining, as Rouhani makes tempting noises in the press about normalized relations with the West.

Is a normalized relationship with Iran worth entertaining? First, there is no doubt that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, whether through its own Revolutionary Guard or through its support of Hezbollah. There also is no doubt Iran has American blood on its hands. But Shi’a Islam is nowhere near as intolerant a sect of Islam as Wahhabi Islam. Iran is much more tolerant of other faiths than Saudi Arabia, and has not built an industry out of sponsoring mosques and madrassas to inspire hatred of other faiths and sects. Traditionally Shi’a Islam also has something roughly akin to a separation between Church and State, something that the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei have downplayed in order to maintain clerical supremacy of Iranian society. In the long run it is unlikely that Iran would present the existential threat to the United States that the Saudis have through their support of Wahhabism, and would likely be more amenable to taking a slower track towards nuclear weapons.

This is what Obama likely sees, and its a vision that in the eyes of a worthy leader could change history for the better. But Obama is not that leader.

Obama is desperate for success, and like any man who is desperate he will reach for anything. The Iranians know this which is why they are making gestures towards the current administration. They smell Obama’s desperation, and see an easy opportunity to separate the United States from its traditional Saudi and Israeli allies. They will negotiate from a position of strength, guaranteeing any diplomatic successes will only be attained through great cost by American negotiators.Is the Saudi relationship on the table? Perhaps not wholesale but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put some daylight between the Saudis along with the Israelis and the American regime.

Given this administration’s track record, such offers should not be surprising. Look at the deal Putin got out of the President. The diplomatic community hasn’t seen a come-down like that since Carter tried rescuing the hostages in 1980. Obama’s idea of political horsetrading is making a speech. He’d be unable to get a good deal on a used car lot let alone in the international arena where regimes like the Saudis, Israel and Iran are fighting for their very existences.

There will come a time when America can strike a deal with Iran that will benefit both nations, but now is not that time. Such a time will only come when the situation is reversed, when America is negotiating from a position of strength and the Iranians are weak. Such a deal would likely see the United States freed from Saudi influence of its policies, allowing it to see the existential threat that the oil rich kingdom has unleashed on the world for what it is. Such an event would inevitably lead to the downfall of the House of Saud which is the policy Americans should have been pursuing all along since the end of the Cold War.

Now is not that time.

UPDATE: As usual Michael Totten explains why we should “Beware Persian Leaders with Masks” better than me, pointing out that Rouhani is not the leader of Iran: “Seriously, getting excited about Rouhani is a like foreign heads of state swooning when the United States gets a new Senate Majority Leader.”

How Taking the Black Vote For Granted Is Racist

I’m a white guy and I don’t claim to understand what it means to be black in the United States although I try. I grew up in a house with a father who worked with black people and spoke about them using an assortment of epithets. When I referred to my late father as a bigot, my elderly mother was shocked and defended him saying that he didn’t have a problem with black people just those he worked with. I grew up in a different era after the Civil Rights struggle had been won, raised by a mother who cultivated a conscience within me, one based on the morality of her strong Roman Catholic faith mixed with egalitarianism arising from her German work ethic. My political heroes were men like Martin Luther King Jr., FDR and Abraham Lincoln. My favorite baseball player electrified the diamond whenever he made it to base: Lou Brock. And the music I listened to with my friends as we explored the woods surrounding our suburban neighborhoods: rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash, the Gap Band and Kurtis Blow.

But appreciating black culture doesn’t mean that I understand what it means to be black. Living in Japan I was regularly discriminated against because I was a foreigner, and that gave me an insight into what it must be like. I’d walk into a store and the clerk behind the counter would watch me suspiciously afraid that I would steal something (and afraid I’d speak English to him). Newspapers regularly insinuated that foreigners were behind all crime even though statistically 95% was carried out by native Japanese. Restaurants with empty seats that I entered suddenly became “full.” Landlords refused to rent an apartment to my wife and I, so the rental agent who assisted us resorted to calling prospective landlords and asking them flat out, “Are you willing to rent to Americans?” After 25 or 30 we found one willing to take the $8,000 bribe known euphemistically as “key money” (reikin) and rented to us. At the English Language school I taught at one of the teachers had been warned not to date a Japanese girl. A few days after that warning he was assaulted by a biker gang and nearly killed, spending 3 weeks in the hospital.  For four years there I was a subject of scorn and fascination wherever I went, and it took several years after leaving Japan for me to regain my perspective and love of the Japanese and their culture. But escape from that racist environment was only a plane ticket away, and for a variety of reasons I chose to live there. I recognize that isn’t an option for black Americans.

I lived in a very isolated place in Tanzania for a year and that showed me the limits of skin color. The people I associated with shared the same skin color but were very different. The Tongwe tribe that I lived with had avoided Arab slavers during the 15th-19th centuries by hiding in the mountains. They had been forced off the mountains and their small villages into large towns of mixed tribes during President Nyerere’s socialist collectivization experiment known as Ujamaa. They were very poor and viewed as backward by the other tribes, especially the Chagga, the tribe making up most of Tanzania’s ruling elite. I noticed these differences whenever I traveled up Lake Tanganyika from our research site to Kigoma with some Tongwe I hired as guides and helpers. They were quite uncomfortable in town, and acted in the way you would expect someone from Iowa might after stepping foot for the first time in Manhattan, and relied upon me to deal with government officials and merchants even though my command of Swahili was rudimentary. At the time I was noticing the differences between tribes in Tanzania, I was also exposed to the aftermath of the greatest genocide since the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Outside of Kigoma refugee camps had been set up for the Hutus who escaped to northern Tanzania after the Tutsi took over of Rwanda, ending the Hutu’s slaughter there. There was no difference in skin color between Hutu and Tutsi – but like the Tongwe and Chagga they came from cultures different enough to cause trouble. To the Tongwe that meant a lower standard of living and subservience to the Chagga; to the Tutsis it meant slaughter on a horrific scale.

Skin color hasn’t mattered in other conflicts either. Consider the Troubles in Ireland. There is not a spot of difference in skin tone between the Irish Republicans and the Irish Unionists. You could take DNA from both and find that the two had the same genetic makeup. But that didn’t stop them from killing each other for almost a thousand years. The two groups are culturally distinct however, and that is what matters most to them. The two groups even pronounce the letter “H” differently; simply reciting the alphabet would betray one’s unionist or republican sympathies, a tactic used by the paramilitaries on suspected spies.

So if skin color doesn’t matter in places like Africa, why should it be valued so highly by African-Americans in the United States?

Barack Obama has skin the same color as  African-Americans, but he does not share their culture. Obama was raised by white women and attended schools that weren’t available to most African-Americans. He has lived in a predominantly white culture over his entire professional career, that of liberal white academia, which is why when he tries to sound “black” he sounds as phony as a white guy talking “street.” Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesa, not Detroit and Philadelphia. The only streets he knew were the quiet suburban ones that his grandmother lived on – not the streets alive with the scent of ethnic cooking,  rap music and occasional police sirens.

In 2008 Barack Obama was black and his election to the presidency was a milestone in our history because it was the first time America elected a president having black skin. But America didn’t elect an African-American. It elected a liberal Democrat that happened to have black skin.

To Barack Obama that should be enough to placate the African-American community. He garnered 90+% of the community’s vote in 2008, and expects the same support in 2012. For the past 3 years he has done nothing more for the community. In fact he has put in place policies that make black unemployment worse such as his administration’s refusal to close the border with Mexico. Illegal immigrants don’t compete for jobs held by white people in investment banks; they compete with jobs held by African-Americans at factories and construction sites.

Why? He believes he has the African-American vote in his pocket be he has to compete with the Republicans for the Hispanic vote.

Until the 1960’s Democratic Party was a bastion of unreconstructed racists. Today the party practices the racism of low expectations and the assumption that African-Americans are best served by the culture of liberal whites and too stupid to learn otherwise. Republicans, the party of emancipation, once received the lion-share of the black vote. It receives only a few percent and has written off even attempting to garner support from the community.

That is a shame for both Republicans and African-Americans. Columnist John Hall gives 5 good reasons why African-Americans should reconsider their knee-jerk support of the Democratic Party, including the one I mention above: they are taken for granted. GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has gone so far as to claim that the Democrats have brainwashed black Americans into voting for them. If true, it’s time for African-Americans to wake up and wield the power they have to control their destiny.

The American Jewish community is waking up to the damage their support has done to one of their most important causes: Israel. The Republican Party supports Israel in such a big way that it scares liberals who believe that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved by Israel giving up more land for Palestinians – to launch rockets and mortars from judging by the Israeli experience after its withdrawal from Gaza. American Jews are questioning whether their socialist economic policies that are anathema to the GOP are more important to them then unwavering GOP support for Israel. Simply by questioning whether they should continue to allow themselves to be taken for granted by a party that appeases Israel’s enemies they improve their status as viewed by both parties. The Jews are now in play for the 2012 whereas the African-American community is not. Yet.

Blacks need to put their votes in play for the 2012 election. They need to honestly reevaluate the GOP and see whether the party will give them more for their support than the Democrats. Merely by doing so they will force the Democrats to respond and improve their status within the political sphere.

African-Americans need to recognize that skin color is shallow, and it is time in the immortal words of Martin Luther King jr. for politicians to “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  The GOP has also been reconsidering its relationship to the black community. Two of its rising stars are Herman Cain and Congressman Alan West. Both men happen to be black, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the support they garner among whites. They symbolize the demise of racism even as white liberals call them racists.

Liberals want to keep black Americans down. They want them to remain dependent on government programs that the liberals can control. The moment African-Americans like Cain, West or even Bill Cosby question this control, the liberals slap the word racist on them. That is the liberal way of dealing with “uppity n———” just as their Democratic forefathers in the South resorted to the lash.

UPDATE: Lloyd Marcus takes O’Donnell to task, “Arrogant White Liberal Tells Cain How To Be Black.”

South Africa’s Neville Chamberlain

UPDATE: Thanks to the Watcher’s Council for awarding this post the top council post of the week 6/27/2008. I humbly appreciate the honor considering the quality of posts the council produces every week. – SK

Thabo Mbeki has sat silently while his country is flooded with refugees fleeing the economic and social collapse of South Africa’s northern neighbor Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s liberator turned oppressor lost the parliamentary elections held in March, then scrambled his thugs to action to make sure that his loss wouldn’t be repeated in the run-off to be held Friday. While international pressure against Mugabe mounted, Mbeki resisted joining the chorus of condemnation and use the leverage his nation has over Zimbabwe to get Comrade Bob to relinquish power. Instead Mbeki pursued a “soft-softly” conciliatory approach, telling the rest of the world, in particular the US and the UK, to but out of what he considered to be an “internal matter.”

But Mbeki’s soft-softly approach has failed spectacularly as the Guardian notes:

“Mbeki has fundamentally misread the situation in Zimbabwe; the political advice and intelligence reports he has been given is appalling,” said (Piers Pigou, director of the South Africa History Archive), who called the quiet diplomacy policy “a remarkable example of how to mess something up”. “He [Mbeki] overestimated his influence over Mugabe and Zanu-PF, thinking that his politics of appeasement would be reciprocated by concessions from them. It wasn’t.”

Ray Hartley, editor of the Times of South Africa, is furious with Mbeki’s approach:
Regional leaders and South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, in particular, have failed to act against Mugabe even as evidence of the torture, murder and mutilation of opposition campaigners has mounted. They have not raised a finger to stop brazen election rigging and what now amounts to the theft of the run-off election by Mugabe’s thugs.
Mbeki’s flaccid diplomatic has failed utterly and yet, like a man who believes he can press reality into assuming his likeness, he persists with this weak initiative.
What is needed now is action against the Mugabe regime.

The Mark Bellamy and Stephen Morrison writing in the Washington Post call Mbeki “quietly complicit for enabling Mugabe’s misrule,” while the Post itself in an editorial blamed Mbeki for preventing Zimbabwe’s neighbors or the UN from intervening to stem the catastrophe that has driven 3,000,000 Zimbabweans to flee their own country.

The big question is why Mbeki has taken this approach. Piers Pigou believes the natural friendship between liberation movements is overblown. Liesl Louw, associate editor at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria South Africa, ponders the question as well.

Surely Mbeki, who has successfully run the largest economy in sub-Sahara Africa and mediated in crises in Burundi or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, would not support a man who has driven his country to economic collapse? The collapse has caused millions of Zimbabweans to stream across the border. It has also cost the South African economy billions in loss of export revenue.

Perhaps Mbeki’s problem has nothing to do with western pressure or liberation comradeship even though he has stated that Zimbabwe’s problems are “an internal matter” – odd coming from a man who worked to make aparteid an international cause in the late 1970’s. Reading his background Mbeki has been involved in some pretty tough negotiations, but that may be the problem.

Mbeki is a diplomat. In 1985 he negotiated as a member of the ANC with South African businesses. In 1989 he led talks with the South African government that led to the banning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners including Nelson Mandela.

Diplomats are by nature incapable of making decisions. Decisions are left to leaders who set goals for talks and approve or decline compromises. Diplomats function well when two sides are willing to give up something, but are useless when one side refuses to give up anything at all.

And that’s exactly what Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe. By turning a nation into his own personal estate, he sees nothing to gain by leaving power. He pried it from the hands of the white colonialists. He alone has ruled it in the thirty years since. In his mind Zimbabwe is his. Why should he negotiate? He already has what he wants.

To call Thabo Mbeki South Africa’s Neville Chamberlain would risk using a cliche if it weren’t for the fact that both men were diplomats and both failed to recognize that one party was not willing to give up anything or compromise in the least. A leader will recognize and walk away from a negotiating table the minute he senses that the other party has nothing to offer; not so a diplomat. A diplomat will always believe that he alone can pull success out of any negotiation if given enough time and effort.

Robert Mugabe is a leader. He will not let a diplomat pry his property from his own hands, even if in the process he is strangling that property to death. Thabo Mbeki is a diplomat who is incapable of stopping him.

I always believed that Thabo Mbeki was incapable of filling the shoes of another leader whom he served, Nelson Mandela, but later reconsidered and thought that maybe South Africa needed a diplomat  to keep the peace between divergent power centers in the land. While Mbeki has been successful in that diplomatic role, he has completely failed his international role as a leader of post-colonial Africa. The people of the region need a leader to step up and recognize that the time for talk is over and the suffering must end. Unfortunately for them Thabo Mbeki is not that leader.

NOTE: I also would like to thank Zach Barbera for his excellent commentary on Zimbabwe around the time that confiscation of land began occurring in 2002. It has stood the test of time for being prescient as well as some of the best writing on Mugabe and the nation he has pillaged over the years. I don’t know where you are, Zach, but thanks!

Liberal Enablers of Mugabe here.