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Obama, Bush, and R/rice


During his recent four-hour visit to Puerto Rico—the first by a U.S. president since 1961—Barack Obama mentioned several Puerto Ricans by name aside from Marc Anthony. These included Juan Castillo, currently on the verge of 101 years of age, who participated in World War II and the Korean War on behalf of the U.S. military, and Ramón Colón-López, who in more recent times acquired the U.S. Air Force Combat Action Medal when he and his team “killed or captured 12 enemy fighters” in Afghanistan.

Explained Obama:

…I tell this story because for decades, Puerto Ricans like Juan and Ramon have put themselves in harm’s way for a simple reason:  They want to protect the country that they love.  Their willingness to serve, their willingness to sacrifice, is as American as apple pie –- or as Arroz con Gandules.  (Applause.)  The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America.”

The American-ness of arroz con gandules—Puerto Rico’s traditional dish of rice and peas—is called into question by the number of times Obama referred to his notes prior to and during pronunciation. It is meanwhile not clear where the mirror idea came from, given Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the resulting improbability that its aspirations and struggles are identical to those of its colonial master.


Re-demobilized Colombian paramilitaries to sign Free Trade Agreement with U.S.

(Photo: EFRAIN PATINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Two years ago, my friend Amelia and I hitchhiked from Ecuador through Colombia to Venezuela and back over a period of four months. The Colombian portions of the excursion acquainted us with various complaints regarding the behavior of the country’s paramilitary formations, which had allegedly demobilized in accordance with then-President Álvaro Uribe’s Justice and Peace Law of 2005 but had in fact simply been reincarnated under different labels. The Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, AUC)—formerly the dominant paramilitary umbrella group—has, for example, been justly and peacefully superseded by organizations like the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles), which perform similar functions with an enhanced focus on controlling the drug trade. Human Rights Watch notes in its 2008 report on Colombia:

While more than 30,000 [paramilitaries] supposedly demobilized, Colombian prosecutors have turned up evidence that many of them were not paramilitaries at all, but rather, civilians recruited to pose as paramilitaries. Law enforcement authorities never investigated most of them.”


Gaddafi Flashback: The AIDS Option

Other ways of dealing with Gaddafi

Back in 1986, The Washington Post reported on a meeting at the White House, attended by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, about ways to undermine the regime of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. The terrorism option had already been tried.

According to an AP report on the story, it contained the following details:

…Mr. Reagan at one point referred to Colonel Qaddafi’s reported proclivity for flamboyant attire, saying, ‘Why not invite Qaddafi to San Francisco, he likes to dress up so much?’ and Mr. Shultz rejoined: ‘Why don’t we give him AIDS!’”

California officials took offense on behalf of San Francisco and the AIDS community.

Reagan smoothed things over by denying that he wanted Gaddafi anywhere in the U.S.

State Dept should limit self to Twitter communications

Lately I have been concerned about the job security of PJ Crowley, usual emcee of the U.S. State Department daily press briefings.

The bio on his Twitter account reads:

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, I carry out the Secretary’s mandate to help people understand the importance of U.S. foreign policy.”

However, recent performances would appear to be in direct contravention of this goal (see here, here and here).

Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner meanwhile replaced Crowley at yesterday’s briefing, although there have thus far been no reports that Crowley has followed recently deposed U.S. allies into a coma. As the following excerpts demonstrate, Toner’s performance confirms that State Dept. employment in fact hinges upon one’s ability to be vague and self-contradictory:


Toner reports that “we are deeply saddened by the apparent sinking of a tourist boat in Halong Bay in northern Vietnam today.”

QUESTION: Sorry, you said apparently sank?

MR. TONER: It sank, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, it either did or didn’t.

MR. TONER: It did sink. I’m confirming that it sank.


Questions about fighter jets

Worth how many fighter jets?

Today’s Jerusalem Post summarizes some of the rewards offered by the U.S. in its latest attempt to coax Israel into briefly curtailing its illegal activity on Palestinian land. In exchange for a proposed 90-day moratorium on settlement-building, East Jerusalem excluded,

The US administration would ask Congress to approve the supply of 20 additional advanced fighter planes to Israel worth $3 billion so that Israel can keep its qualitative [military] edge.

This defense assistance will be added into Israel’s security agreement with the US, so that Israel’s safety can be assured.”

I have just a few initial questions about this proposed exchange:

  1. Is the number of illegal settlements that can be erected in a period of 90 days somehow equivalent, in terms of qualitative military edge, to 20 advanced fighter jets?
  2. Is continued building in East Jerusalem vital for Israeli security, no matter how many fighter jets the state possesses?
  3. Do pauses in settlement-building embolden the Iranian regime and cause it to forget about Israel’s nuclear stockpile?

Additional questions might be posed to U.S. taxpayers, such as whether the Israeli ability to break the sound barrier over Lebanon is a personal priority.

U.S. mediates talks between Abbas and sculpture of comatose Sharon

(Photo: Sinai/Getty)

Following the recent unveiling of a life-size sculpture of incapacitated former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, ex-Sharon adviser Ra’anan Gissin registered his opposition to artist Noam Braslavsky’s rendering of the politico-military figure, saying that he did not care to remember Sharon in his current vegetative state but rather in his proper incarnation, when he was “always active, always doing something for better or for worse”.

Had Braslavsky been more considerate, he might thus have alluded to Sharon’s for-better-or-worse activity by installing his piece not at a Tel Aviv art gallery but rather at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem or the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.


Welcoming our Troops

Soon to be equipped with circus music.

I am picking up a Turkish friend from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas. His arrival happens to coincide with that of a planeload of U.S. soldiers back from a foreign theater of operations, in what appears to be a regular occurrence given the giant Welcome Home plaque permanently installed on the wall here in the arrivals hall, thanking troops for their service.

Family members have gathered with American flags and are being shepherded into two rows, forming an aisle in preparation for the arriving troops. The shepherds consist of a pudgy blond woman with a clipboard and a grey-haired military veteran with a baseball cap and an earpiece via which he is tracking troop movements toward the baggage claim.

The veteran is also in charge of the stereo that has been set atop a trashcan off to one side. Following confirmation by the earpiece, the stereo starts to blare music appropriate for a carousel. Behind the trashcan is a television screen featuring footage of previous troop homecomings and children hugging their fathers, lest the emotion of the actual moment not suffice. On hand are several video cameras to capture shots for future emotional recycling.