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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Compare and Contrast: Obama and Paulson on Economic Crisis


Here’s part of what Barack Obama said today about the problems plaguing Wall Street:

The situation with Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions is the latest in a wave of crises that are generating enormous uncertainty about the future of our financial markets. This turmoil is a major threat to our economy and its ability to create good-paying jobs and help working Americans pay their bills, save for their future, and make their mortgage payments.

The challenges facing our financial system today are more evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren’t minding the store. Eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans have brought us to the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Now here’s part of what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said today:

We’re working through a difficult period in our financial markets right now as we work of some of the past excesses, but the American people can remain confident in the soundness and resilience of our financial system. . . . We’ve got excesses we need to work through and we need to work through them as quickly as possible, and I think we’re making progress.

I appreciate the fact that Paulson is, along with Bernanke, doing his best to prevent a total meltdown of the economy, and I recognize that both men are largely trying to fix problems created by their predecessors.  But come on — who exactly does Paulson think was responsible for the “excesses” that brought about this mess?  Or is the Bush Administration going to try to do what they did with 9/11: blame it on the Clinton-Gore team?

The reality is that for the past seven (nearly eight) years, the Bush Administration has allowed the rich to play with everyone else’s money in ways that has left many Americans exposed to real risk.  In the process, it also has failed to fix many any of the other problems the country is facing — a weakened industrial base, an eroding infrastructure, a blooming debt, a growing climate crisis, a continued dependence on foreign oil, and a declining dollar, just to name the first six that come to mind.

I do not discount the role played by people who bought houses they could not afford.  But who allowed the market to exist in the first place?  Who ignored the problems we faced until it was too late?  Republicans’ arguments that this is all somehow the fault of people who took out sub-prime loans is little more than blaming the victim.  That is so typical of Republicans:  blame the middle class and the poor for the fat cats’ mistakes.

Should things really go south, there really isn’t a safety net capable of preventing the slide.  Face it:  we’re broke.  As a government, we’re no different that Lehman Brothers:  our debits exceed our assets.  Do people really think that the Chinese are going to continue to bail us out, especially now that they’re beginning to find other markets for their goods?  (For the Chinese perspective, read between the lines of this piece.)

Large segments of the world would like nothing better than to see the United States economy crash and burn.  Yes, there will be some short-term impact on global markets, but the reality is that the rest of the world will quickly find that it can live quite well with a weakened United States.

This is, in many ways, even worse than the Depression, even if the final economic consequences prove not to be as dire (something we are not yet assured will be the case):  this time, the government doesn’t have the ability to turn this around.  Unless, of course, à la Zimbabwe, we start printing worthless money (but of course that just creates a new set of problems).

I don’t know whether Obama or McCain or anyone can reverse this slide.  I do know that an Obama administration would be far more likely to convey the reality of the situation than a McCain administration.  An Obama administration would be able to work with a Congress more likely to act on his prescriptions.  But that doesn’t mean that what he wants will work.

In my gut — and that’s all it is at this point — I can’t help believing that this isn’t merely the start of another recession/depression.  It feels much more like the beginning of America’s slide off the top of the pyramid.  I hope I’m mistaken.

In the meantime, you might want to go back and take a look at this James Fallows piece from 2005.  He gets some of the details wrong, but I think he’s scarily on target in terms of the big picture.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

The Future of Music in China


Former Ministry/Public Image Ltd./Killing Joke drummer Martin Atkins went to China in 2006 to meet and record the next generation of Chinese musicians.  The result is Sixteen Days in China.  Here’s the trailer:

My favorite line:  “He’s such a good scratcher, he should have leprosy.”  Heh.

Atkins believes that what’s happening in China now is not unlike the London punk scene circa 1977 and New York’s new wave circa 1980:

The backdrop is different, but the immersion, the focus on just the music and attitude feels like a definite ripple from those times. It doesn’t feel strategized in a careerist way. The guys in D-22, who now have a label called Maybe Mars, and their venue reminded me of the vibe of CBGBs. . . .I think a natural process is underway. One of the reasons I mentioned New York in 1980 and London in 1977 is that both of those places and times seemed to be on another planet to me. . . . I thought I was going to get shot in Times Square while eating pizza. Whether that was true or not, it certainly adrenalized our activities and adrenalin opens up the pathways.

You can find more on the documentary, including the full interview with Atkins, here.  I can’t wait to watch the whole thing.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

How China Views Us


Basically, they’re laughing at us.  From an editorial in China Daily, via the World-China Bridges blog:

With the clout of China and India rising on the international arena, some people in the West, who are concerned over the already fragile, US-dominated unipolar world political structure or the Western hegemony, have rushed to offer a variety of recipes for inter-power relations in the 21st century and for the world’s new power structure.  These recipes include multi-polar, non-polar or collective power models, a “democracy value alliance”, a new trans-Atlantic union, and even a joint China-US governance idea.

All these concepts are in essence changed versions of the new US or Western hegemonic model that proposes maintaining the world’s established power structure through absorbing some emerging powers. The model also proposes carrying out reforms of the new power structure. In all this the idea is to keep the US and Western hegemonic position intact as much as possible. The new situation emerging from the very beginning of the 21st century indicates that neither the US nor the Western hegemony will last for ever, and there will not be a transfer of the old hegemony to a new one. In the 21st century, the world will see the end of not only the US-dominated hegemony, but also of the hegemonic model that allows a few world powers to control global affairs.

The decease of the US and Western hegemony will not be caused by the challenge from such rising powers as China or other countries. It will be caused by the world’s irreversible efforts for a hegemony-free political structure. As the result of this situation, we can expect a hegemony-free and harmonious world in the 21st century in which big countries will fulfill their responsibilities and obligations and small ones can enjoy equality, democracy and assistance from each other.

In the 21st century, the United States, the protagonist of the current unipolar world, will gradually evolve into a common power because of accelerated efforts of many countries which will advocate an end to the unipolar power pattern. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a “balance of power” has come into being among the major countries. Despite its sole superpower status, the United States cannot always succeed in solving some global issues. It is even incapable of handling some domestic issues such as the subprime crisis. All these transmit to the world a strong signal that the US hegemony and Western dominance are now in an irreversible process of decline and final disappearance.

In dealing with some global issues, today’s United States not only needs substantial support from staunch allies, but also needs understanding, participation and cooperation from other key world or regional players. Sometimes, it even has to give up its leading role to other big powers in finding settlements of some intractable issues.

The title of the piece is “The Coming Collapse of the Hegemonic World.”  I may not like the ChiComs very much, but it looks like they understand our declining role in global affairs better than we do.

Just whatever you do, don’t send this to John McCain and Sarah Palin.  They may threaten to start yet another war.  We’re going to have our hands full enough with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia without adding China to the list.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

While We Were Putting Lipstick on That Pig. . .


One of the tragedies of the current campaign is that the two candidates have not yet had a serious debate about America’s role in the world.  Both McCain and Obama have laid out very different visions — to oversimplify, McCain’s robust nationalism versus Obama’s effective internationalism.  But instead of debating the future of American foreign policy, the campaign has degenerated into discussions about such salient topics as lipstick, pigs, celebrities, and bridges.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic suggests that this isn’t a coincidence — McCain is pursuing a vicious campaign because he knows his worldview won’t get him elected.

Like many people who have covered John McCain, I think of him as a deeply serious man, preoccupied with America’s defense and its position in the world. So I’ve been confused for the past few days, trying to figure out why he’s allowing his campaign to make a circus of this election, leveling unserious and dishonest accusations about Barack Obama’s positions on sex education and Sarah Palin.

Then it came to me: The answer can be found in. . .John McCain’s philosophy of war, and in particular with the doctrine of preemption, which McCain still endorses. . . . McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.

So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.

I think this is largely true.  Thanks to the Bush Administration, preemption isn’t exactly a popular concept right now.  It’s not merely intellectually bankrupt, it’s also despised by the rest of the world.  What McCain, Bush, Cheney, and I presume, Palin (once they explain everything to her) view as America asserting its interests is viewed in the rest of the world as exceptionalism and even imperialism.

Four more years of such a policy may destroy what’s left of American power and credibility in the world.  Right now, Russia is asserting itself, and they’re doing it by using the Bush playbook.  While no one is paying attention, Venezuela is quite effectively building a new anti-American bloc in Latin America (more on this in a future post).  Erstwhile American allies are beginning to reevaluate whether it makes sense to continue to make friendship with a weakened, angry, and often bellicose United States a priority in their foreign policy.  And perhaps most troubling of all, a strong and assertive China is confidently asserting itself — not merely by hosting the Olympics, but in a number of other ways, most notably through massive foreign assistance projects that just happen to give China access to the natural resources it needs to continue to grow.

Let’s be blunt:  nobody is really that impressed with us anymore.  We’ve become the annoying guest who insists on dominating the conversation but who has little of value to contribute to the conversation.  We’re on the verge of becoming the kid who was a star athlete in high school but who never reaches similar heights in adulthood.

It’s not only that we’re despised.  It’s that we’re increasingly a laughingstock.  If McCain is elected, it could be a tipping point.  Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and a number of lesser states will see no reason not to organize in opposition to our interests.  We will find it harder to assert ourselves, or even to be heard.

To be clear, I’m not interested in appeasing or even appealing to such states.  But I’m also not interested in poking all of them in the eye with a sharp stick, especially when we do it constantly and frequently simultaneously.  McCain doesn’t seem to understand that there are a finite number of states you can anger before people start seeing you as the problem — even when you’re in the right.

It’s almost as if McCain wants to go it alone.  After all, that’s what has worked for him in campaigns.  Why not turn it into a foreign policy?

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Paralympics: Shame on NBC


You may not know it, but the Paralympics are going on in Beijing right now.  Not that any network is covering it.   That’s a shame, because it looks just amazing.

For more of these photos, go to The Big Picture, The Boston Globe’s fantastic photo blog.  Time has more photos here.

When the regular Olympics were on, NBC had six networks covering them — NBC, MSNBC, USA, CNBC, Univision, and Universal (their HD channel).  For the Paralympics, they couldn’t be bothered to show it on even one.

Do they think the Paralympics are less dramatic?  Do they think that people wouldn’t want to watch these amazing athletes?  I would bet good money that this would draw more than whatever crap USA or Universal is showing every day.

This is just part of what makes NBC so blinkered.  If you watched NBC’s primetime coverage of the “regular” Olympics, you might have thought that there were only four sports:  swimming, gymnastics, track and field and freaking beach volleyball.  The only time other sports got coverage was if the United States won a gold medal.

What is so infuriating about this is that people don’t remember, but gymnastics never was popular until Olga Korbut came along in 1972.  First Korbut and then Nadia Comaneci made gymnastics into the hugely popular Olympic sport it is today.  And they weren’t even Americans, for crying out loud.  That couldn’t happen today.  NBC would never give it a chance.  For all we know, there is another sport that has the potential to break through now the way gymnastics did then.  Perhaps the Paralympics have that potential.  But thanks to the soul-sucking money-grubbing pinheads at NBC, we’ll never know.

Guess what?  The ChiComs are broadcasting them.  According to Time, it’s making a huge difference in China in terms of how people there see the disabled:

The disabled have traditionally been marginalized in China. Ahead of the Olympics, organizers issued an official apology for a manual cautioning volunteers that the disabled can have “unusual personalities” and can be “stubborn and controlling.” Beijing alone is home to nearly 1 million disabled, but they’re a largely invisible part of the population. Those that can work are funneled into the few jobs that are open to the disabled, like paraplegics who can drive three-wheeled motor taxis or those who are sight-impaired and work in massage parlors. The Paralympics offers the hope that watching disabled athletes compete will change old attitudes and improve opportunities for the nation’s 83 million handicapped.

It is possible that the Paralympics will have an impact in China similar to the passage in the United States of the Americans with Disabilities Act, helping to mainstream the disabled into society.  But, as Time notes, that is going to take more than installing a few ramps in Beijing.  But at least the whole country is getting to see these talented athletes in action.

Unlike those of us in the United States.

Shame on NBC.  Shame on them for putting a misguided sense of profits ahead of an incredibly compelling and exciting story.  Shame on them for treating these talented athletes as somehow second class.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:15 pm

Russia: Anything You Can Do I Can Make Worse


A few weeks back, Dubya sent a ship to visit Georgia.  The Russians were outraged.  Now we have their response:

Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers, the government said, announcing an unprecedented deployment to the territory of a new ally at a time of increasingly tense relations with the U.S.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the two Tu-160 bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission. It said in a statement carried by the Russian news wires that the planes will conduct training flights over neutral waters over the next few days before heading back to Russia. . . . In Moscow, Defense Ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky refused to say how long the Venezuela deployment will last or say whether the planes carried any weapons. . . .

Earlier this week, Russia said it will send a naval squadron and long-range patrol planes to Venezuela in November for a joint military exercise in the Caribbean.

Everyone keeps saying it isn’t a new Cold War.  I certainly hope that’s true.  But let’s look at the evidence:

  • The U.S. and Russia are no longer cooperating on reducing nuclear arsenals.
  • Cheney just spent the past week running around Europe and warning against Russia (more on this later).
  • The EU is looking into ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and oil.
  • Russia is developing close relations with a Latin American neighbor of the United States, and has potentially sent strategic assets within striking range of the continental U.S.
  • U.S.-Russian space cooperation appears to be a thing of the past.
  • Both the Bush Administration and the McCain campaign no longer talk of Russia as an ally, but as a rival.
  • Russia and China have become more and more friendly since Putin came to power.
  • Russia has supported the establishment of two nascent organizations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), either of which could evolve into a rival to the United States/EU/NATO.

Is it me or is it getting chilly in here?

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

So Much for Mars


Further proof of the absolute inability of this Administration — and its allies in Congress — to think through the consequences of its actions:

NASA is about out of options for keeping U.S. astronauts in space after 2011.  Unless President George Bush intervenes, or whoever succeeds him in January immediately steps into the space arena, the dismantling of the space shuttle program will be too far along to reverse course. . . .

The three-ship fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2010. NASA wants to use the shuttle’s budget for developing replacement ships that can go to the moon as well as to the International Space Station. The new vehicle, called Orion, won’t be ready until 2015 — five years after the shuttle stops flying.

NASA had counted on buying Russian Soyuz capsules to transport crews to the space station during the gap. But in recent interviews, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said he has no hope Congress will pass the legislation needed for NASA to keep the Soyuz assembly lines running. . . .  “My guess is that there is going to be a lengthy period with no U.S. crew on (the space station) after 2011,” Griffin wrote in an email to top NASA managers that was posted on the Orlando Sentinel’s Web site.

The agency cannot purchase Russian rockets unless it receives an exemption from a trade sanction Congress levied in 2005 after Russia reportedly helped Iran develop nuclear weapons technology. Griffin has said the exemption to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act, needs to be in place by early 2009 to keep U.S. and partner astronauts in orbit.  U.S. outrage over Russia’s handling of a dispute with neighboring Georgia has pretty much nixed any chance Congress will lift the trade ban again, Griffin said.

“Exactly as I predicted, events have unfolded in a way that makes it clear how unwise it was for the U.S. to adopt a policy of deliberate dependence upon another power for access to ISS,” Griffin wrote.

When I was growing up, there was nothing more exciting or romantic than the space program.  John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon by the end of the decade was both a great achievement and a wonderful example of what we as a nation could do if we put our minds to it.

In contrast, our policy today, as Griffin notes, is “deliberate dependence.”

Here’s the thing.  I think it would be cool for us to go back to the moon or to Mars.  But I also think that there are other things that are more important and more worthy of funding if we have to make difficult choices.  I’d love for us to do all the things we’d like to do, but those days are gone, at least for a while if not forever.

But if we are going to have a space program, is it too much to ask that it not be completely half-assed, utterly dependent on unreliable “third parties,” and hopelessly unrealistic about the gap between what we want to do and what’s possible with the money we plan to spend?

Ask not what the Bush Administration can do for you.  Ask the Bush Administration whether they can screw things up any more than they already have.

Maybe we can beg the Chinese to let us hitch a ride.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:16 pm

China: It’s Still Propaganda and They’re Still Dictators


James Reynolds of the BBC has a short post today about just how human Chinese leaders are:

China’s leaders sometimes do their best to look as stolid as possible (they wear identical black suits and blank expressions, they sit in oversized chairs and clap politely). But many of them are known for more than just staring straight ahead and signing decrees.

He recalls that Deng Xiaopeng was an avid bridge player and that Jiang Ziemin liked to sing — even attempting Western opera.  He then highlights the current leaders’ hobbies:

The current president, Hu Jintao, doesn’t appear to sing in public (apart from the national anthem, presumably). But it’s mildly worth knowing that he took a dance class when he was at university. And, as noted here before, he’s pretty good at ping-pong.

The current premier, Wen Jiabao, is also a successful poet. One of his poems has been used in a new film about reform in the forestry industry, Drawing the Border. It’s not exactly a Jackie Chan martial arts action film, but it’ll no doubt attract a loyal audience of Communist Party members and people intrigued by the latest developments in the forestry industry (there are always many).

The film tells the story of how party officials successfully persuade local villagers to take part in the reform of the forestry industry. The film-makers have used one of Mr Wen’s poems, called Looking up at the Starry Sky, as the lyrics of their theme song.

And this is news?  Mr. Reynolds appears to have forgotten the fact that the propaganda arms of dictatorships do everything they can to portray the leader as decent, kind, and good.  Hitler liked children.  Stalin was a good and loving father.  Mugabe is a revolutionary hero with the best interests of his nation at heart.  It’s all nonsense.  In the end, it doesn’t matter that Jiang Zemin likes to sing opera — what matters is his role in maintaining ChiCom rule, including the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.

Perhaps the most famous example of efforts to humanize a dictator was Yuri Andropov, who was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (in other words the guy in charge) from November Yuri Andropov1982 to February 1984.  As his Wikipedia profile notes,

The Western media favored Andropov because of his supposed passion for western music and scotch.

In a 1983 article in The New Republic, Edward Jay Epstein explored this legend in greater detail:

Andropov’s accession to power last November was accompanied by a corresponding ennoblement of his image. . . . Harrison Salisbury wrote, “The first thing to know about Mr. Andropov is that he speaks and reads English.” Another Times story took note of his “fluent English.” Newsweek reported that even though he had never met a “senior” American official, “he spoke English and relaxed with American novels.” . . .Time described him as reportedly “a witty conversationalist,” and “a bibliophile” and “connoisseur of modern art” to boot. . . .

Soon there were reports that Andropov was a man of extraordinary accomplishment, with some interests and proclivities that are unusual in a former head of the K.G.B. According to an article in The Washington Post, Andropov “is fond of cynical political jokes with an antiregime twist. . . . collects abstract art, likes jazz and Gypsy music,” and “has a record of stepping out of his high party official’s cocoon to contact dissidents.” Also, he swims, “plays tennis,” and wears clothes that are “sharply tailored in a West European style.”  . . .The Wall Street journal added that Andropov “likes Glenn Miller records, good scotch whisky, Oriental rugs, and American books.”

. . .According to The Washington Post, Yuri Andropov is “a perfect host.” On some occasions, he would invite “leading dissidents to his home for well-lubricated discussions that sometimes extended to the wee hours of the morning,” after which he would send his guests home in his own chauffeured car. . . . Andropov’s library, according to an earlier Times story, included Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann, and How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn. . . .

Moreover, according to Salisbury, Andropov regularly invited dissident muscicians to his apartment for “private recitals.” His record collection included the “Glenn Miller Orchestra and other American bands,” and his bar, “scotch and French cognac.” . . .The Wall Street Journal [reported] that Andropov’s home was furnished with Hungarian furniture, the gift of Janos Kadar, Hungary’s Moscow-backed leader, as an apparent gesture of appreciation for Mr. Andropov’s role in suppressing the Hungarian Revolution.”

. . .What emerges from these attempts to piece together a version of Andropov’s life is a portrait worthy of “Saturday Night Live”: the head of the K.G.B. as one wild and crazy guy. After a hard day at the office repressing dissent, Brezhnev’s heir spends the evening at home, telling antiregime jokes in fluent English and playing jazz. For dissidents.

The reality, of course, is that Andropov was the only former head of the KGB to go on to rule the Soviet Union.  He was ruthless, brutal, and never invited dissidents to do anything other than join work details in the Gulag.  He also played a central role in the repression of the Hungarian Revolution.

But much as Reynolds does with the ChiComs, journalists at the time of Andropov’s ascension were looking for something — anything — to tell their readers about the guy.  Half-baked stories from what Epstein calls “elusive” sources were better than the reality of a ruthless ex-KGB director now ruling a nuclear superpower.  During Andropov’s brief rule — and perhaps while listening to Glenn Miller or Frank Sinatra, he authorized the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight KAL-007, which had accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace.

Of course, in the end, the press missed the real story:  that Andropov, 71 at the time of his accesion, already was suffering from the kidney disease that eventually would kill him.  After six months a year in office, he suffered renal failure, and from August 1983, he ruled from a hospital bed.  He died in February 1984, only fifteen months after he had come to power.

Image:  Wikipedia, used under a GNU Free Documentation License

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:45 pm

Beyond November: Ruben E. Brigety


The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

The series took a brief hiatus during the conventions, but it’s back and will continue from now until the election.  Today, we’ll hear from Rube E. Brigety.  Future posts in the series will appears every Thursday.  You can find the previous posts here.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz for making the cross-postings happen.

Regardless of who wins the Presidential election in November, America will face challenges around the world that are arguably unprecedented in their complexity and scope. The list of urgent issues is well known – two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, resurgent powers in China and Russia, a weakened U.S. dollar, the need for energy independence, and the effects of climate change, just to name a few.

A common thread connecting all of these problems is that they cannot be solved with the approaches that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for the last eight years. For much of the last decade, particularly since 9/11, our government has resorted to unilateral methods to solve multilateral problems, and resorted to the use or threat of force to advance our interests abroad. Time and again, this has contributed to America’s declining popularity in the world even as it strains our military, marginalizes our alliances, and leaves crucial problems to fester. All of this can be traced to a zero-sum world view which does not tangibly link the security and prosperity of the United States with needs and aspirations of most of the world.

Our country needs more than new policies to confront the foreign policy challenges of the next decade. It needs a new worldview. It needs a framework for understanding the limits of unilateralism and military might, and the potential in cooperation and non-military methods of influence.

At the Center for American Progress, we have advanced an idea called “Sustainable Security.” An amalgamation of national security, collective security and human security, the Sustainable Security paradigm recognizes the importance of improving the lives of other people around the world as a critical security concerns for the United States. Rather than seeing foreign assistance as charity best relegated to the periphery of our statecraft, sustainable security emphasizes investing in social and economic development in countries around the world as a means of countering various threats – from the growth of radical extremism to the ravages of climate change. Furthermore, it posits that true “security” for the United States and other countries can only happen when development assistance is pursued in a cooperative manner with other countries and when it is closely coordinated with our other diplomatic and defense priorities. While there will always be a place for use of force, sustainable security argues that we have as much to gain from investing in the welfare of others as we do from investing in weapons systems to advance our nation’s security interests.

From this worldview, a few important foreign policy priorities follow. First, the United States should adopt a National Development Strategy. Despite the fact that we spend more on development assistance than any other country in the world, we do not have an articulated strategy to guide its distribution or to relate it to other aspects of American foreign policy. Promulgating a National Development Strategy from the White House that is applicable to every federal agency involved in delivering assistance would be a major statement of the important of foreign aid to our national security and provide crucial guidance for this important instrument of policy.

Second, we will have to reform the structures that deliver foreign assistance. The most important reforms should include the creation of a cabinet level development agency and a recapitalization our development infrastructure. Most of our allies that are major donors of development assistance have a cabinet agency to direct that activity. We are in the distinct minority in this regard. Elevating development assistance to a cabinet level status will not only show how important it is for us, but it will also ensure that development considerations are appropriately accounted for in our foreign policy. The next time we are forced to go to war with another country, we would be much more likely to take into account post-conflict considerations about economic reconstruction and rule of law if we have a powerful agency whose job it was to think about it and to perform the required tasks. Also, we cannot make development a major part of our foreign policy as long as there are more drummers in military bands than there are development professionals in the employ of our government. With less than one-thousand Foreign Service officers assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development, our ability to do vital development projects, and to support our defense and diplomatic initiatives, is imperiled. This is a situation which must be reversed.

With great risk comes great opportunity, and this is particularly true for the next Presidential administration. Changing how we approach the problems of the world is vital to achieving durable solutions for ourselves and our allies. Let’s hope our next President take on the challenge.

Reuben E. Brigety, II is Director of the Sustainable Security Program at The Center for American Progress. Prior to joining CAP, he served as a Special Assistant in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Brigety is also an Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University. He is the author of Ethics, Technology and the American Way of War (Routledge, 2007) and a variety of other articles and book chapters. Before entering academia, Brigety was a researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. He served on HRW research missions in Afghanistan in March 2002 and in Iraq in April and May of 2003. He also served as HRW’s coordinator for crisis management during the Iraq war and as an HRW delegate to the Convention on Conventional Weapons negotiations in Geneva. Before joining HRW, Brigety was an active duty U.S. naval officer and held several staff positions in the Pentagon and in fleet support units.

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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Hey, Kids! Let’s Play Hide the WMD!



Back when I was in graduate school, Chernobyl happened.  Being graduate students, we responded to this tragedy in the only way we knew how:  we threw a party.  We covered the walls with aluminum foil, replaced all the light bulbs with flashing red lights, and renamed the keg the cooling tower.  We had so many people there, that the floor almost collapsed and the heat generated by the foiled-up walls caused the air conditioning unit for the entire building to fail.

That was the last time I remember connecting nuclear power to dancing.  Until now.  If you’ve been watching the conventions, you’ve seen this commercial:

You may not have noticed it, given the awesome animation and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” playing in the background, but if you pause at 0:09, you’ll notice a couple of words down in the lower right hand corner:

YELLOW CAKE

So that’s where Saddam put it!  Canada!

And what is up with this ad?  Funkytown?  The happy shiny strip mining?  And the apparent argument that we should have nukes so that people can play Dance Dance Revolution in Shanghai?

So the ad is at least two years old.  The first version was in French.

{{PAGENAME}}You wouldn’t know it from the commercial, but after a check of The Googles, I found out that Areva is “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that is mainly known for nuclear power.”

Oh.

Did I mention that the company also manages those yellow cake mines in Niger?  More happy shiny strip mining!

That means Areva played a role, albeit indirectly, in the whole Valerie Plame scandal.  And the Iraq war.  And, of course, the lies of the Bush Administration to justify both the war and the Plame leak.

Now that’s some serious funk.

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28 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Controlympics: Not Exactly the Best Case for Rio 2016


Oh jeez.  To paraphrase Michael Corleone, every time I try to get away from the Olympics, I get sucked back in.

I don’t know what’s up with the usually reliable Passport blog over at Foreign Policy magazine, but all of a sudden they seem to have lost their bearings.  First came Blake Hounshell’s argument that Michelle Obama should have thanked the Condi for being “assertive” over the past seven years, and now we have this gem from Patrick Fitzgerald:

We’re still a year away from learning who will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. But, while Beijing is fresh in our minds, I thought it’d be high time to consider the lessons and legacies of the 2008 games with an eye on the future.

If we learned one thing from Beijing 2008, it’s that the Olympics are a perfect pretext for a massive security crackdown. So why not award the 2016 games to a city that could actually use a massive security crackdown?

The murder rate in the state of Rio de Janiero is down to 39 per 100,000, from a high of 64 per 100,000 people in the mid-1990s. That’s still high, and one still encounters machine guns while browsing shopping stalls. Some think meditation may do the trick, but an Olympic effort to crack down on petty crime (not political opposition, mind you) could do wonders.

Now here’s what Human Rights Watch said last year about the Police in Rio — make sure you note what it says in the last graph:

According to government figures quoted in press reports, 44 people were killed during a two-month police operation aimed at dismantling drug trafficking gangs in Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhood. Violence reached a peak on Wednesday, when 19 people were killed during confrontations with the police. According to allegations widely reported in the Brazilian media, the police carried out many of the killings through summary executions.

“A thorough investigation of these killings is absolutely critical for establishing the truth and improving public confidence in local law enforcement,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The state must ensure independent inquiries that will lead to successful prosecutions, no matter who the perpetrators are.”

According to the state’s Secretary of Security, José Mariano Beltrame, all of the deaths occurred in confrontations with the police. However, in media reports, residents said that police killed and wounded unarmed bystanders. Three teenagers, ages 13, 14 and 16, were identified among the dead yesterday. Residents also claimed that police had killed a 10-year-old boy.

Last year, 1,603 people were killed in alleged confrontations with police in the state of Rio, according to the Institute of Public Security (ISP), the official statistics bureau for public security information. In the first four months of 2007, their bureau registered some 449 deaths, an increase of 36.5 percent in relation to the same period last year.

The operation in the Complexo do Alemão occur[ed] just two weeks before the beginning of the Pan-American Games in the city.

Like Fitzgerald, I think there are plenty of compelling reasons to give the games to Rio.  As he notes, a South American city has never hosted the Games, and it’s about damn time that someone do so.  But let’s not openly encourage a police department that operates like a death squad to undertake a “massive security crackdown,” because last time they did it in advance of a major sporting event, forty-four people died.

And let’s not give Brazil ideas about imitating China.  Brazil is now a stable democracy (albeit, as the HRW report shows, one with significant problems), but it is not that far removed from a series of dictatorships that trampled human rights and silenced dissent.

I don’t know who’s running things over at Passport, but this is now two really ignorant posts in two days.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:00 pm

Controlympics: Schadenfreude Medals (#4 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners, the losers, and winners who in fact lost.

Now it’s time for the medal winners in the schadenfreude competition.  These are the top three moments where an individual or country did something bad that made people feel good.

Bronze:  The French 4×100 men’s freestyle relay team. Before the race, the French team trash-talked, suggesting they would crush an American team that included Michael Phelps.  After 350m, the French had nearly a body length lead and Alain Bernard, the world-record holder in the 100m freestyle, in the pool.  And Jason Lezak somehow caught him.  After the race, the French looked like they had been hit by a truck.

Silver:  American swimmer Amanda Beard. After posing nude for a PETA protest against the Chinese export of fur, Beard failed to make the finals in any of her races.  And along the way, 41-year-old Dara Torres took away her title as America’s hottest swimmer.

Gold:  former Cuban President Fidel Castro. When the Cuban Olympic team did not meet expectations — and a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked a refugee referee in the face after being disqualified from a bronze medal match — Castro managed to blame corporate interests, the mafia, European chavinism, dirty referees (including the one who got kicked in the face), the United States — basically everyone already on his enemies list.  He also preemptively attacked officials at the 2012 games, in the apparent assumption that Cuba would not perform well there either.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:00 pm

Controlympics: Winners Who Lost (#3 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners and the losers.  Now let’s take a look at winners who in fact lost.

1.  Chinese women’s gymnastics team — nobody believes they were all sixteen years old.  Not even the Chinese.  They may have won gold, and the Chinese may have avoided a scandal as a result of forged documents, but the reality is that sooner or later, someone will talk.

2.  Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — the American bikini-clad, gold medal-winning women’s beach volleyball team may have been the ugliest winners in the entire Olympics.  And May-Treanor’s “slap my butt” antics with President Bush set back both the sport and America’s image.

3. Russia — Russian athletes came in third in terms of total number of medals won.  After the invasion of Georgia, however, nobody wanted them to win anything.  And at one point in the Games, Georgia had as many gold medals as Russia.  In addition, Russia’s hosting of the winter games at Sochi in 2014 may be at risk, given their location only fifteen miles from the Russia-Georgia border.

4.  Zhang Yimou — the director of the the Opening and Closing ceremonies actually praised the “precision” of North Korean performers and dissed the New York Metropolitan Opera as whiners.  He also ignored his own history — as a victim of the Cultural Revolution — to suck up to the Chinese leadership and produce massive extravaganzas without any consideration of the resultant human cost.

5.  London 2012 — they may have the next games, but they have to follow what was (setting aside, for the moment, human rights abuses and other problems) the best-organized Games ever.  And the London contribution to the Closing Ceremonies was beyond bad.

Next up:  the medal winners in the Schadenfreude competition.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 pm

Controlympics: Losers (#2 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners.  Now let’s take a look at the losers.

1.  Human rights — the Chinese did everything they could to stifle dissent, and with the exception of a few brave Chinese and Westerners, they succeeded — so much so that they even managed to prevent any protests in the officially managed protest zones.  In the process, they also silenced and/or arrested hundreds if not thousands of dissidents; shipped tens of thousands of migrants and homeless out of Beijing; and perhaps most depressingly, created new electronic surveillance systems that give them the ability to shut down dissent before it starts.

2. Western media — with a few exceptions, the Western media mindlessly bought what the Chinese were selling.  And there was no bigger culprit than NBC, whose commentators (with the notable exception of Bob Costas) often sounded like apologists.  Worst of the worst:  Joshua Cooper-Ramo at the opening and closing ceremonies and Mary Carillo’s insipid travelogues.

3.  Chinese athletes — for all their victories, Chinese athletes didn’t look like they were having much fun.  The pressure to win was so great that it seemed to suck all the joy out of their participation.  There were exceptions, of course, but all too often we saw images of Chinese athletes looking like their lives had ended after failing to win gold.  Best example of this:  Chinese diver Zhou Luxin, who lost to Australian Matthew Mitcham on the last dive of the 10m platform competition.

4.  International Olympic Committee — for seven years, we’ve heard how the Olympics were going to open up China.  When it became clear that wasn’t the case, the IOC fell back on the old trope of the Olympics being above politics.  And when that didn’t work, they tried to change the subject.  From his blather before the games that he couldn’t talk about human rights to his criticism of Usain Bolt to his complicity in the cover-up of the Chinese gymnastic team age scandal, Jacques Rogge looked even worse.

5.  George W. Bush — while Russia invaded Georgia, he was playing hide the volleyball with Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh.  Given his subsequent rhetoric about the conflict, he sure took his sweet time getting back to the States.

Next up:  winners who lost.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: Winners (#1 of 4)


Most of you already have forgotten all about the Olympics, but here at Undip, we already have London 2012 fever!  After all, who doesn’t want to see Jimmy Page balance his guitar on top of his walker while some eighteen-year-old in go-go boots mangles Whole Lotta Love?

Oh wait — that already happened.

All kidding aside, I’d like to share a few final thoughts on what arguably were the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. First, let’s take a look at the winners.

1.  The Chinese government. Like it or not, the ChiComs pulled it off.  It was, in many ways, a spectacular show.  Despite some problems, embarrassments, and even a few unscripted moments, the Olympics that Hu Jintao and company wanted were the Olympics they got.  And most of the world bought their message hook, line, and sinker.

2.  Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter not only captured three golds, but he managed to make Jacques Rogge cranky.  That alone made it a good Olympics.  Bolt looked particularly good when, a day after Rogge whined about his “antics,” a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked an athlete in the face — and Bolt donated $50,000 of his prize money to earthquake relief as a “thank you to the Chinese people.”

3.  Michael Phelps (and his mom). Put it this way:  the Intertubes are still buzzing about the 100m fly.  Debbie Phelps will be the unexpected breakout star of the Olympics.

4.  Clean air. Does it matter whether the Chinese got lucky (rain at just the right moments) or actually knew what they were doing?  In the end, the pollution became a non-story.  And athletes who acted like it mattered — the American cyclists showing up in masks, the Ethiopian marathoner who passed on competing — looked foolish.

5.  Lopez Lomong. The Sudanese lost boy turned American flag bearer may not have won his race, but he had a gold medal moment.  Kudos as well to the American athletes who chose him for the job.

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26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Controlympics: All Those Other Sports


I know the Olympics ended two days ago, but with the DNC going on, and constant McCain’s annoyances, I still haven’t had a chance to put together a few wrap up observations.  Let me start with two links.

If you aren’t familiar with The Boston Globe’s The Big Picture, do yourself a favor and check it out.  They have a great photo essay up right now on the Olympics, highlighting all those sports that NBC pretended didn’t exist.

Second, check out Thomas Boswell’s column yesterday in The Washington Post-dated.  It may be the best summary of why the Olympics left a bad taste in my mouth (and in many others’):  Here’s a sample, but make sure to read the whole thing.

All day long, every 20 minutes (to the split second), hundreds of buses run back and forth from media hotels to the Olympic venues. There’s even a special “Olympic lane” for all official traffic to the Games. Because the Chinese are obsessed with appearing efficient, the number, size and frequency of buses comically exceed the need. I often had a bus to myself.

However, I can barely believe what I saw Saturday when, by accident, I had to return to my hotel at 1 p.m., when almost no reporter has reason to leave the Olympics. Several football fields full of buses all pulled out simultaneously, headed to hotels all over Beijing, theoretically transporting media.

But I was the only rider on any bus I saw. Dozens were empty.

They still made their runs. They still wasted fuel. They still clogged traffic. But nobody, in an activity as state-controlled and Communist Party-scrutinized as these Olympics, would deviate from the original plan, no matter how stupid it might be.

In decades at The Post, this is the first event I’ve covered at which I was certain that the main point of the exercise was to co-opt the Western media, including NBC, with a splendidly pretty, sparsely attended, completely controlled sports event inside a quasi-military compound. We had little alternative but to be a conduit for happy-Olympics, progressive-China propaganda. I suspect it worked.

Everything that met my eye at every venue was perfect. Everybody smiled. Everybody pretended to speak English. Until you got past “hello.” Everyone was helpful until you went one inch past where you were supposed to go. Then, arms sprang out to stop you. . . . As sports spectacles go, I’ve never seen one more efficiently or soullessly executed than this one. I have no idea where they put the real people for 17 days, but I felt like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show.”

More later on the winners, losers, winners who actually were losers, and what I like to call the schadenfreude awards.

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25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Controlympics: China Deports Westerners


The BBC is reporting that China has released the Westerners detained for protesting during the Olympics:

China has deported eight Americans detained in Beijing last week for demonstrating about Tibet during the Olympic Games. The eight left China on Sunday while the closing ceremony was taking place after American officials pressed for them to be released.

The eight should be thankful:  they were spared the horror of actually having to watch the closing ceremony.

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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:47 pm

Controlympics: Tape-Delayed Blogging the Closing Ceremonies


Hey boys and girls, it’s time for the Closing Ceremonies!  You know, the ones that actually took place 12 hours ago!  The ones that NBC wouldn’t let you see until now!  And I’m here to give you tape-delayed play by play.

Let me admit up front that this is going to be pretty snarky.  If you’re looking serious analysis, go elsewhere.

Oh goody.  Comrade Joshua (Joshua Cooper-Ramo) is back.  NBC hasn’t even started showing the damn thing and I already want to hurl.  (For those who missed my tape-delayed blogging of the opening ceremonies, Comrade Joshua is a paid shill of the ChiComs er, I mean, a partner in the Beijing office of Kissinger Associates.  Oh wait — there’s no difference between the two, is there?)

Another massive fireworks display.  This one looks less like Triumph of the Will and more like CNN’s coverage of the first night of the Persian Gulf War.  I’m pretty sure that’s not what the ChiComs were going for.

The three stooges were just introduced:  Hu “Is Lying Now” Juntao, Juan Antonio “More of the” Samarach, and Gordon “I Will Have Trouble Getting Tickets to the London Games” Brown.

They’ve got Chinese in ethnic costumes again.  This time, it’s adults.  I wonder if they’re all Han Chinese again?

Something tells me that NBC is milking this for all they’ve got.  I think the first commercial break ran for something like 45 minutes.

Is it my imagination or do the drummers look like Iron Man wearing bike helmets?  Were they afraid they’d get conked by the guys bin the row behind them? Wait, they’re not just bike helmets — they’re bike helmets painted with gold glitter paint!

Molly just said that they guys hovering over the stadium look like they’re playing giant Gouda cheeses.  And why are the women dressed like Aztecs covered with glow brights?

I’m sorry, but that first piece looked like the North Korean version of cell mitosis.  At least the opening ceremonies made sense.  I mean this is so weird that even Comrade Joshua doesn’t have anything clever and butt-kissing to say.

Whoopsie — spoke too soon.  Apparently Comrade Joshua thinks that this is a representation of what Chinese philosophy will have to say in the future.  Uh, okaaay.

Have to say the guys on the giant unicycles are pretty cool.

Okay something looking like a giant white sperm just plunged into the big cell in the middle.  I’m telling you, it’s like a cross between Cirque de Soleil and your 8th grade sex ed class.

Terminator 6:  Arnold battles the cyborg pogo stick clones

I would not want to be the guys hanging off the underside of the gouda cheeses.

Time for another 206 minute commercial break.

Here come the athletes.  I wonder if NBC will show anyone other than the Americans, Europeans, Chinese, and Australians?  Maybe the Jamaicans.

Comrade Joshua is blathering again about harmony.  It’s like the reverse of It’s a Wonderful Life:  every time Comrade Joshua talks about harmony, another human rights activist gets thrown in jail.

Now he’s moanaing about how great the Chinese sports system is.  Now he’s calling the athletes an engineering project.  Nice analogy you twit.

I didn’t know they had found a way to miniaturize Shawn Johnson.

The third biggest star of the Games, behind Michel Phelps and Usain Bolt?  Michael Phelps’s mom.  I liked her new commercial, even though it’s sappy.

Once again, all happy and sappy commercials — until John McCain shows up, sounding like the grumpy uncle who can never enjoy the family picnic.

I wonder if they’re showing all of this on the big screens at the three protest zones. Heh.

Best parts of this are the replays of the best moments of the Games:  4×100 freestyle relay, Phelps’s amazing win in the 100 butterfly, Usain Bolt in the 100.  Still waiting for the Cuban guy kicking the ref in the face and the two little old Chinese women being sentenced to one year each in a reeducation through labor camp for attempting to organize a protest.

You want to know just how tape delayed this is?  Last night, NBC showed the tape delayed results of the men’s marathon.  Tonight, they’re showing that event’s medal ceremony, as it’s part of the closing ceremonies.  That’s not tape delayed, that’s the History Channel.

Sorry, but the kids escorting the athletes are really, really creepy looking.  I think they welded the smiles on their faces.

Comrade Joshua is talking about how all the volunteers spent a year getting ready.  Not to make light of the contributions of the volunteers, but reports of children spending twelve hour days after school each day practicing doesn’t sound to me like volunteerism.  As Zhang Yimou, who directed both the opening and closing ceremonies noted, “uniformity can bring beauty.”  Of course it also brings pain, nervous breakdowns, and a range of other maladies.

Now Joshua is talking about how great everything went.

Here comes Jacques “the slime-sucking, lying dillweed” Rogge.  He thanks the people of China and says these were sixteen days we will cherish forever.  Except the people thrown in jail, of course.

A choir is singing “God Save the Queen.”  In China.  So much for communism.

They’re lowering the Olympic flag, and you can see empty seats in the background.

What’s up with this double-decker bus?  First of all, it’s incredibly ugly.  Second, didn’t they discontinue those?  And the pantomime Londoners are worse than the Chinese.  Oh man, the British presentation is just freaking awful.  I take back everything bad I ever said about the Chinese portion of the ceremonies.

I think Leona Lewis is lip-syncing Enya.   Oh. My. God.  Now she’s lip-syncing Whole Lotta Love.  With a 200-year old Jimmy Page guitar-syncing.

The London section is so freaking bizarre.  What were they thinking?  What is Jimmy Page thinking?  This is worse than a really bad high school production of Hair.  All the athletes are standing around not quite sure how to react.

And now David Beckham?  Did someone slip me a tab of really good acid?  Am I high?  WTF?

Mary Carillo just said, “nice taste of London.”  Really?  Have you ever freaking been to London Mary?  Go back to the Three Gorges Dam and jump off.  Now.  Please.

Okay, there are ten thousand athletes here and they’re using actors to play the athletes leaving.  Maybe they can take Mary Carillo with them.

Comrade Joshua just said all 91,000 spectators were “trained” ahead of time to wave red lanterns.  Apparently the training didn’t work, because most of them are taking pictures instead.

The Chinese are now trying to win back the gold medal for bizarre ceremonies from the British.  Two guys covered head-to-to in white chalk are dancing on top of a giant five story tower.

The flame just went out.  I can’t help thinking of the flame held by the goddess of democracy in Tiananmen Square back in 1989.  Maybe someday a Chinese government will finally recognize which flame was more important.

The five-story tower is now writhing, covered with humans in silver and red jumpsuits.  I know I should be impressed by these feats, but all I can think of are swarming bugs.  Part of the problem is I keep hearing Zhang talking about how much he admires the North Koreans.

Mary Carillo just called it the “holy flame” of the Olympics.  I’m about to start calling her Comrade Mary.

The red strips of cloth on the five-story tower make it look like that scene from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert where Guy Pearce is strapped onto the top of the bus.

Why do all male pop singers in China look like the Back Street Boys channeling Elvis in Memphis circa 1968?

OMG it’s the Chinese version of the video for Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love.  Except the girls are smiling.  And wearing yellow tops and white pants.  And playing an electrified version of a traditional Chinese instrument.  But other than that, it’s almost identical.

I think they’ve cloned Daft Funk.  There are something like 200 guys in track suits, glow-brights, and  motorcycle helmets bouncing up and down like yo-yos.

It’s official: Bollywood music seriously kicks Chinese pop music’s butt.  This song that Wei Wei is singing is just bloody dreadful.

Jackie Chan can’t sing.

Molly just said that the goal of the closing ceremony should not be to make you want to shut off your tee vee.  Can’t say I disagree with her.  Chinese pop music is a crime against humanity.  It’s so bad that they’ve managed to silence Comrade Joshua.  Even he can’t rationalize this away.

They just don’t know how to end this, do they?  Please tell me that the confetti cannons and fireworks are the end.

Now they’re in London, via the BBC.  Has the BBC not gotten around to upgrading to High Definition yet?  And who is this moron interviewing Michael Phelps?  He sounds like the host of Top of the Pops.

It. Is. Over.

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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: What Happened to Cuba?


Has anyone noticed the decline of Cuba as an Olympic power?

Communist countries have long used a factory system to create large numbers of successful Olympic athletes: identify young people who are athletically gifted, force them to learn a particular sport, and ruthlessly cull until you identify as many Olympic champions as possible.  Cuba was perhaps the best example of a small country using the system to its advantage.

This is what Fidel Castro once said about the Cuban Olympic program:

What has Cuba’s role been in the Olympic Games? What has it achieved? What has been the fruit of our efforts to promote healthy clean sports? At the 1972 Olympics, we finished 14th among 122 countries. At the Montreal Olympics in 1976. . . we finished 8th among 88 participating countries. In 1980, in Moscow we finished 4th among 81 countries; in 1992, in Spain we finished 5th among 169 countries; and in Atlanta, in 1996 we finished 8th among 197 countries. Could anyone refuse these figures?

The Cubans boycotted the 1984 and 1988 games, which is why Castro does not mention those years.  So given their history, I wondered what they’ve been doing this time around:

Cuba’s Angel Matos deliberately kicked a referee square in the face after he was disqualified in a bronze-medal match, prompting the World Taekwondo Federation to recommend Matos be banned for life. Matos was winning 3-2, with 1:02 left in the second round, when he fell to the mat after being hit by his opponent, Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. Matos was sitting there, awaiting medical attention, when he was disqualified for taking too much injury time. . . . Matos angrily questioned the call, pushed a judge, then pushed and kicked referee Chakir Chelbat of Sweden, who required stitches in his lip. Matos spat on the floor and was escorted out.

You can find the photo of Matos kicking the referee’s face here.

In fairness to Cuba, this could have been an athlete from any country.  But it’s clear that we’ve not seen Cuban athletes play a prominent role this time around.  Certainly no superstars like Alberto Juantorena or Teofilo Stevenson.  So I wanted to see where they were in the medal count compared to past years:

The 2008 figures are through last night (Saturday).  If you use the Chinese (gold medals count) system, the Cubans are tied for 27th out of 79 countries that have won medals.  If you use the American (total medals) system, they are ranked 12th.

What strikes me here is that while the total number of medals is not that far off their previous average, the number of golds is down significantly.  Their only two champions are Mijain Lopez in the 120 kg men’s Greco-Roman wrestling and Dayron Robles in the men’s 110m hurdles.

Cuba has suffered from a large number of defections over the past sixteen years, so that may be part of the what’s happened.  But I think it’s something deeper than that.  With Fidel’s decline, has sports become less important?  What are the official government organs making of this?

Something tells me that Fidel isn’t going to be bragging about these numbers.

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23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

Controlympics: Mugabe Wins Gold in the Deceitathon


Via Reuters:

President Robert Mugabe may have decided to abandon power-sharing talks aimed at ending Zimbabwe’s deep crisis, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday.  Tsvangirai said Mugabe’s intention to open parliament next Tuesday was a “repudiation” of a Memorandum of Understanding on the basis for talks to end a political deadlock that followed disputed June elections.

Hmm.  Tuesday, August 26.  That would be. . .exactly two days after the Olympics end.

From a July 28 story in The Telegraph (UK):

A demand by China that the Zimbabwean government “behave” in the run-up to the Olympics lies behind Robert Mugabe’s surprise decision to open negotiations with the opposition.  Beijing put pressure on Mr Mugabe to begin talks because of fears that the continuing crisis in Zimbabwe risked overshadowing the Olympics, according to government and diplomatic sources.

China’s leaders, who have have long enjoyed a close relationship with Zimbabwe’s beleagured president, feared growing protests in the run-up to the Games and so leaned on Mr Mugabe to agree to the historic talks.

At the time, I wrote the following:

Turns out that China, fearing bad publicity due to its close relationship with Zimbabwe, has told Robert Mugabe and his gang of thugs to cool it for a while. . . .

And does this mean that Mugabe will renege on the power-sharing agreement as soon as the Olympics are over?

Looks like we have our answer.

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