Monday, October 24, 2011

Retiring A Blog Born Out Of The Arab Spring

When this blog was launched it actually filled a void for a while. Few Washington-based bloggers were paying attention to the freedom uprisings on the Arab Street.

That has changed.

In the past few months the story moved to the front pages and the top of the newscasts. The phrase Arab Spring is standard today in the American lexicon.

The fall of Gadhafi, free elections in Tunisia and exciting new opportunities present a grand point in the experiment to step aside as an enlightened observer and pursue new challenges and responsibilities. The blog may be retiring, but the fierce pursuit of freedom and democracy surely will not.

Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fruit of the Arab Spring: Tunisia Votes & Libya Declares 'Liberation'

History will remember this day as one in which the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring took one of their biggest leaps towards freedom and democracy.

For Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings and reforms that swept across North Africa and the Middle East, voters turned out in en masse to cast ballots for a 217-person assembly that will forge a new government and constitution.

For Libya, the day marked the official declaration of liberation by the Transitional National Council and the freedom fighters who ousted the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

An estimated two-thirds of eligible voters in Tunisia cast ballots 10 months after street vender Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, doused himself with a flammable liquid, set himself ablaze in Sidi Bouzid and triggered the unprecedented and thriving freedom movement. 

The breaking point came Dec. 17, 2010 for Bouazizi, when a policewoman unlawfully confiscated his vegetable cart and produce in the city located 190 miles south of Tunis.

His self-immolation triggered street protests across the country that were met with a heavy-handed response by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's security forces and secret police.

The thirst for freedom only grew for the Tunisian people, who were already plagued with poor wages, lousy living conditions and out-of-control inflation.

Bouazizi suffered and eventually died on Jan. 4 2011. Ali was toppled 10 days later.

"I congratulate the millions of Tunisians who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring," President Obama said in a statement.

"Just as so many Tunisian citizens protested peacefully in streets and squares to claim their rights, today they stood in lines and cast their votes to determine their own future," Obama said.

Conditions were not much better for the Libyan middle class, even with an ocean of oil under their desert country. Gadhafi used the excessive profits to fill the treasuries of his family, his henchmen and African despots who had pledged their allegiance.

But backed by the most powerful coalition air force and navy on the planet, the revolutionaries were transformed by foreign military advisers from a rag-tag band of spirited, but ill-trained and equipped fighters into a force able to execute one of the most impressive offensives in modern history.

Like Tunisia, the new Libya presents the potential for democratic reform and freedom from tyranny. The TNC has vowed to embrace reform as it seeks to rebuild its nation.

"The transitional authorities can build on this movement by promoting reconciliation and respect for human rights across Libyan society, while helping to prevent reprisals and ensuring the justice and due process that the Libyan people expect and deserve," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"The path to democracy is a long-term process that requires the participation of all Libyans," Clinton added.

It is very, very early to predict how the freedom movement will continue to play out, but the path that the revolution has taken shows signs that Bouazizi's extreme form of protest and ultimate sacrifice was not for nothing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gadhafi's Demise: The Drone, the Mirage and the Unknown Gunman

As the fog of war slowly lifts in Libya, it still is not clear how exactly Moammar Gadhafi died Thursday while trying to flee his hometown of Sirte in a conspicuous convoy of about 100 vehicles.

What is known, thanks to confirmations today out of Washington and Paris, is that an American Predator drone teamed up with a French Mirage 2000 fighter jet to halt the convey and send its passengers scrambling, including Gadhafi.

Both the Predator and Mirage fired on the convoy, striking at least two vehicles. As videos and photos show, Gadhafi was wounded in those strikes, but was very much alive after he ran and hid in a roadside storm drain.

Revolutionary forces quickly hunted down the men who ran from their vehicles, finding several, including Gadhafi, down the drain.

Video and still photos show Gadhafi being roughed-up, but still alive in the revolutionary fighters' custody. A short while later, he was dead apparently the victim of a gunshot wound to the head, and, according to some reports, his chest and stomach, as well.

In Geneva, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the images "are very disturbing" because they suggest Gadhafi was killed after he was captured.

"We believe there is a need for an investigation," Colville said. "More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture."

So far there is no great rush by the governments in Tripoli, Washington, Paris, London, Ottawa or Istanbul to make a big deal of the details of the death of Gadhafi, whose body was put on ice in Misurata while people decide what to do with his remains.

Instead, the more universal sentiment from the revolutionary government, NATO members and their allies is that, for Gadhafi, the Arab Spring is over and the world is better off without him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gadhafi Reported Captured and Dead Near Sirte

Moammar Gadhafi was killed this morning, possibly while trying to flee his hometown Sirte when NATO warplanes attacked his convey, Reuters is reporting.

There are also reports that Gadhafi was only wounded and remains alive in the custody of revolutionary forces.

Celebrations are erupting throughput Libya, but U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that the unconfirmed reports of Gadhafi's demise will pan out.

Gadhafi has been rumored to be hiding in Sirte or Bani Walid, the last two remaining loyalist strongholds since the vfdalkl of the regiume in August. Bani walid fell last week, but revolutionary forces are still fighting their way through Sirte, where Gadhafi was born.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Clinton Maps Out Clear Role for Women in a Democratic Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted today that a new Libya must strive to give women a progressive and respected role in its emerging democracy.

At a press conference after her surprise meetings in Tripoli with the Transitional National Council leaders of the revolution, Clinton noted with glee that she has brought up the matter of universal human rights for women more than once in talks with TNC leaders.

The longtime champion for equal rights offered a thorough opinion, when asked, of how Libya should move forward to give women a righteous place in a progressive society:

"I would make three points. First, no country can become a democracy, no economy can develop as fully as it could, if half the population is not included. And the women of Libya have the same rights as their brothers and their husbands and their fathers and their sons to help build a new Libya. So we are very committed and very outspoken about what we hope will be the full inclusion of women in a democratic future.

"Secondly, women also sacrificed in this revolution. Women were in the streets. Women were supporting the fighters. Women were sending their sons and their husbands off to an uncertain future, and many will never see them again. So women have sacrificed. They may not have been on the front lines holding a weapon, but they were holding together the society and supporting those who were fighting for Libya’s independence. So they have earned the right to be part of Libya’s future.

"And finally, there is an opportunity here that I hope Libya will seize. I believe because you have won your freedom – no one handed it to you, you fought for it and you won it – that you will find it in your hearts to demonstrate to the entire world that Libya is not only free, but Libya is equal, Libya believes in the rule of law, Libya will educate all of their boys and girls to take their rightful places in the world. I would hope that I could come back to a free, democratic Libya in a few years, and it would be a shining example of what is possible when free people make their own choices.

"So I cannot imagine how that could come to pass if women are not given the right to serve their country, to run their businesses, to be educated to the best of their abilities. So I will certainly look to ways that the United States can support the women in Libya to be able to take their rightful places in this new democratic future."

U.S. Puts High Priority on Rounding Up Gadhafi's Weapons

Even as the Libyan rebels battle for control of the remaining Gadhafi-loyalist strongholds, the U.S. and NATO allies are engaged in swift and serious programs aimed at destroying the regimes' weapons before they get into the hands of arms dealers or terrorists.

Stealthy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Tripoli since the government of Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, revealed today the deep concern the Obama administration has for loose arms, including shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles and chemical weapons.

"We will stay focused on security: I am pleased to announce that we are going to put even more money into helping Libya secure and destroy dangerous stockpiles of weapons," Clinton said. 

"And the Administration, working with Congress, is going to provide $40 million to support this effort. We will also work with Libya to destroy chemical weapons stocks, she added.

Moammar Gadhafi had about 20,000 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles before NATO warplanes and missiles starting taking them out, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. The U.S. wants to corral the shoulder-launched missiles that were not destroyed in the revolution or captured by the anti-Gadhafi forces.

Eventually, the U.S. and NATO will want the TNC to account for weapons on both sides of the revolution.

The U.S. already has invested about $6 million, putting arms-disposal experts on the ground in Libya to track and round up conventional weapons, and funding to two European mine-clearing operations.

The U.S. will oversee the decommissioning and safe storage of weapons in "a months-long effort," Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs Andrew Shapiro announced late last month.

"We’re going to continue until the new government of Libya is able to manage the stockpiles on their own," Shapiro said.

On the political front, Clinton, who met with Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, provisional Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and provisional Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni, called for clean elections within eight months.

"There are many people who say they support elections, but only if they get elected. They want one election, one time, and then if they are elected no more elections," Clinton told reporters, during a visit that had remained a secret until she arrived in Tripoli.

"So these are all the kinds of challenges that Libyans will face in putting together their democracy. But people must renounce violence, they must give up arms, they must be committed to a democracy that respects the rights of all," Clinton emphasized.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Evangelical Leader Backs Perry; Dubs Romney Non-Christian

Southern Baptist Convention leader Pastor Robert Jeffress urged evangelical voters to back Gov. Rick Perry for President, declaring today GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney is not a Christian and his Mormon religion is "a cult."

There have long been whispers that part of Romney's failure to runaway with the nomination is because the powerful evangelical wing of the party looks upon his religion with disdain and does not trust his flip-flop from pro-choice to pro-life on the contentious abortion issue. 

At the powerful Value Voters Summit in Washington, the leader of the influential First Baptist Church of Dallas introduced  Perry as a "genuine follower of Jesus Christ" who unfunded the "slaughterhouse for the unborn," Planned Parenthood of Texas.

"Rick Perry's a Christian. He's an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ," Jeffress told reporters after he introduced Perry at the conference. "Mitt Romney's a good moral person, but he's not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult."

Mormons insist they are Christians, and the Perry campaign distanced itself from Jeffress's hardline position.

"The governor doesn't get into the business of judging other peoples hearts or souls. He leaves that to God," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said in a statement.

Jeffress's endorsement was not planned by the Perry campaign and it was the summit leaders who chose him to introduce the governor, the campaign said.

Boston Bruins Hoist 2011 Stanley Cup Banner

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Raising Cain: Herman Hunting for Michele and Sarah's Supporters?

Pizza baron Herman Cain is not sitting back and letting his surge in the polls (Stats guru Nate Silver has Cain atop the polls tonight) flounder, especially amid the infatuation with Gov. Rick Perry's $17 million fund-raising bonanza.

With Michele Bachman's backers fleeing and now Sarah Palin's supporters up for grabs, Cain is taking aim at the unemployed, a favorite punching bag for conservatives, along with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have drawn the ire of some of the GOP presidential slate.

Cain even threw on a little extra cheese with some conspiracy theory during his interview yesterday with The Wall Street Journal.

"I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration. Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!" Cain said.

"It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded, it is someone’s fault if they failed," he added.

With then field set, Cain has grabbed the flavor of the month banner from Perry, but until he starts getting attacked by his GOP bretheren the former boss of Godfather's Pizza might not fold anytime soon.

No Accident Obama Chooses Words Carefully on Occupy Wall Street

The last thing President Obama and the Democrats want to do is politicize the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading to cities around the country, as was demonstrated by his cautious words about the growing protest movement at today's White House press conference.

The once-rapid recruitment of the Tea Party was stunted when it was revealed the movement had been co-opted by the GOP and conservative bank-rollers, like the Koch brothers. The Democrats do not want to make the same mistake with the Pavlovian protests against what the demonstrators say is corporate greed.

The media, though schizophrenic in its coverage, has tattooed the "astroturf" label on the forehead of the Tea Party, while the Occupy Wall Street movement so far remains a grassroots uprising in eyes of the press, which, for better or worse, likes to highlight the anarchist element at its core.

Here is Obama's answer to two questions on the subject by Jackie Calmes of The New York Times:

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you travel the country, you also take credit for tightening regulations on Wall Street through the Dodd-Frank law, and about your efforts to combat income inequality.  There’s this movement -- Occupy Wall Street -- which has spread from Wall Street to other cities.  They clearly don’t think that you or Republicans have done enough, that you’re in fact part of the problem.

     Are you following this movement, and what would you say to its -- people that are attracted to it?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Obviously I’ve heard of it.  I’ve seen it on television.  I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel -- that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.

     So, yes, I think people are frustrated, and the protestors are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.  Now, keep in mind I have said before and I will continue to repeat, we have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow.  And I used up a lot of political capital, and I’ve got the dings and bruises to prove it, in order to make sure that we prevented a financial meltdown, and that banks stayed afloat.  And that was the right thing to do, because had we seen a financial collapse then the damage to the American economy would have been even worse. 

But what I’ve also said is that for us to have a healthy financial system, that requires that banks and other financial institutions compete on the basis of the best service and the best products and the best price, and it can’t be competing on the basis of hidden fees, deceptive practices, or derivative cocktails that nobody understands and that expose the entire economy to enormous risks.  That’s what Dodd-Frank was designed to do.  It was designed to make sure that we didn’t have the necessity of taxpayer bailouts; that we said, you know what?  We’re going to be able to control these situations so that if these guys get into trouble, we can isolate them, quarantine them, and let them fail.  It says that we’re going to have a consumer watchdog on the job, all the time, who’s going to make sure that they are dealing with customers in a fair way, and we’re eliminating hidden fees on credit cards, and mortgage brokers are going to have to -- actually have to be straight with people about what they’re purchasing. 

And what we’ve seen over the last year is not only did the financial sector -- with the Republican Party in Congress -- fight us every inch of the way, but now you’ve got these same folks suggesting that we should roll back all those reforms and go back to the way it was before the crisis.  Today, my understanding is we’re going to have a hearing on Richard Cordray, who is my nominee to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  He would be America’s chief consumer watchdog when it comes to financial products.  This is a guy who is well regarded in his home state of Ohio, has been the treasurer of Ohio, the attorney general of Ohio.  Republicans and Democrats in Ohio all say that he is a serious person who looks out for consumers.  He has a good reputation.  And Republicans have threatened not to confirm him not because of anything he’s done, but because they want to roll back the whole notion of having a consumer watchdog. 

You’ve got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we’ll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place.  That does not make sense to the American people.  They are frustrated by it.  And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you’re rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaining the system. 

So I’m going to be fighting every inch of the way here in Washington to make sure that we have a consumer watchdog that is preventing abusive practices by the financial sector. 

I will be hugely supportive of banks and financial institutions that are doing the right thing by their customers.  We need them to be lending.  We need them to be lending more to small businesses.  We need them to help do what traditionally banks and financial services are supposed to be doing, which is providing business and families resources to make productive investments that will actually build the economy.  But until the American people see that happening, yes, they are going to continue to express frustrations about what they see as two sets of rules.

Q    Do you think Occupy Wall Street has the potential to be a tea party movement in 2012?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream.  That’s how you got ahead -- the old-fashioned way.  And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren’t rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren’t doing the right thing are rewarded.

And that’s going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we’re getting back to some old-fashioned American values in which, if you’re a banker, then you are making your money by making prudent loans to businesses and individuals to build plants and equipment and hire workers that are creating goods and products that are building the economy and benefitting everybody.

Nowhere in his answers is there a definitive endorsement for the Occupy Wall Street movement, or even the politician's routine stock response that demonstrations are a traditional form of expressing American democracy. Instead, Obama highlighted his own agenda on questions that he was definitely prepped for before going into his press conference.

It sounds a lot like the President is walking a fine line, but it is more like he is doing cartwheels in a crosswalk, much to the delight of the protesters skeptical of Washington and politically savvy Democrats who are aware of the anti-Wall Street movement's room to grow.

Comparisons with the Tea Party aside, that movement has failed to win the support of mainstream middle class Americans hurt by the banking and finance industry's shenanigans, while the opportunity remains for the fledgling Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs Broke All the Rules, Until He Made All the Rules

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011, R.I.P. You changed our lives and let all the PC monkeys rip off all your ideas, from the mouse to pull-down click menus. You were the Thomas Edison of our day (Posted with my IPad).

Sarah Palin Joins Chris Christie on the Sidelines

Sarah, Inc. is staying open for business.

A day after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said for the last time he is not running for President, Sarah Palin finally ended her would-be candidate charade as well, saying after self-reflection she will not seek the Republican nomination.

"This has been prayerfully considered," the Fox News commentator said today on a popular right radio-wing radio program.


Like Christie, Palin used her pretend run for President to help raise money. Through June, Palin's PAC had raised $1.65 million from 24,000 individuals, the Center for Responsive Politics reported.

Why would Palin leave her cash-happy life as Queen of the Tea Party for a low-paying job like President of the United States?

Steadily falling in the polls, it became clear Palin would not run for President when she abruptly quit her job as governor of Alaska in 2009. Being a quitter was considered not to be a good sign of leadership.

More recently, she showed her hand when as she threatened to sue author Joe McGinniss over his best-selling book, "The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin." Serious Presidential candidates do not sue authors, they push back.

Palin ended her Barnumesque ruse today when she told conservative radio host Mark Levin
that she will not be seeking the Republican nomination for President. Levin read a statement from Palin on the air.

"I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office -- from the nation's governors to congressional seats and the presidency," Palin wrote.

"I will continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for president where our candidates must embrace immediate action toward energy independence through domestic resource developments of conventional energy sources, along with renewables," she said. 

"We must reduce tax burdens and onerous regulations that kill American industry, and our candidates must always push to minimize government to strengthen and allow the private sector to create jobs," Palin added.

The move sets the table for center-right candidate and frontrunner Mitt Romney to have a clear path to the GOP nomination, barring a Lazarus-like resurrection from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose support for illegal immigrants and mush-mouth debate performances have him in a death spiral in the polls.

It is probably not good news for the Obama campaign, which would have loved to play against one of the Tea Party darlings in the White House sweepstakes next year. Romney is a different cup of tea, topping President Obama in the current head-to-head polls.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Riding for LiveSTRONG on My Birthday -- Again!

This year we also celebrating my dear friend Paul Basken's 50th Birthday on the bike by raising money for cancer awareness and the cure. It is a great tradition.

And please remember October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I urge folks to give to Lance's organization or the wellness program of your choice.

Spotsylvania Livestrong Day Cancer Awareness Event:
October 2, 2011
Brief Description
Every year, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, AKA LIVESTRONG holds a global cancer awareness day. Last year almost 1500 events of all sizes and descriptions were held all over the world. This year, residents of Spotsylvania and the region are holding a SPOTSYLVANIA LIVESTRONG DAY on the grounds of our fabulous new Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center. Our goal is not only to raise awareness and funds in the fight against cancer, but we want to help improve the lives of the 11 million people in the USA and the 28 million people around the world who are living with cancer! Together we can do more!

Here is what we have planned and we look forward to see you there!

We will be holding a 7 kilometer (4.35 mile) RACE, RUN, JOG, AND WALK! Too far? The join us in walking as far as you want and can around our beautiful new hospital. One time around is about a mile!

NOT A RUNNER? No problem: Join us on a beautiful BIKE RIDE of either 25 or 50 miles.

Or come to our Health Fair and learn how you can eat better, LIVESTRONG and learn ways to reduce your chances of being impacted by cancer!