Is Hillary Jealous of Bill? Or was it sexism?

Jealousy probably is the wrong word to use, but that’s exactly what a lot of media watchers concluded after the Secretary of State got testy in answering a question thought to be about her husband. Bill Clinton, you see, casts a long shadow. His work in freeing those two journalists from North Korea sent speculation abuzz.

What new role might he play in an Obama Administration? Did he freelance? How much did Hillary know about the mission in advance? There were even jokes about his being on the plane with two women.

For a lot of people, this meant the Big Dog was back.

For his wife, it meant having to share the spotlight on a situation that’s normally handled by her office. And remember, this is a woman who came close to being President of the United States, and now handles foreign policy for the most powerful nation in the world. So how is this made manifest?

A university student in Kinshasa, Congo asks her what was translated as “Mr. Clinton” would think about a World Bank concern regarding a Chinese loan offer to the Congolese government. Clinton fired back, “My husband is not Secretary of State. I am”. If you look at the video of her response, her exasperation is clear.

And you know what? She’s got a point.

Reverse the people involved here, and ask yourself if Bill Clinton would have been asked a similar question in an identical situation. Maybe, maybe not, but could Mrs. Clinton have been reacting to what she felt was a sexist inference? To add an ironic twist to the saga, ABC News says the translator got the question wrong, and that the student was actually asking what President Obama, not former President Clinton thought of that loan offer.

So now we’ll go through at least one news cycle with snarky talking heads, male and female, cocking their eyebrows and asking “What’s wrong with Hillary”? And the substantive work she’s been doing since her appointment will mean nothing. Is she getting enough rest? Will Bill be ordered to fade into the shadows? How are they really getting along?

And once again, we’ll see one unintended consequence of cable news without end. I’ve talked about it far too many times on this blog, but only the demands of the 24 hour news machine can take a possibly misunderstood question and run with it like this. And that’s because we as news/political junkies need our fix.

Too bad. But what do you think?

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Should the Episcopal Church Let Dissidents Leave?

It looks like the Episcopal Church, the church to which I proudly belong, will end its moratorium on the appointment of gay and lesbian bishops.

The bishops themselves voted Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to them, thus ending a three year “moratorium” that angered both sides in this divisive dispute. The resolution has been written in such a way that dioceses can now consider candidates to become bishops, but there’s no mandate forcing any diocese to do so.

This sounds to me an awful lot like free choice.

Not being naive, however, I know the forces in the church that oppose the consecration of gay bishops won’t be happy. They’ve been fighting this battle since Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003.

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Sad to say, some of those most vocally opposed to equality for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church are from Africa.

Here in the US, a number of dioceses have split off from the church over the issue. They’ve formed their own “Anglican Church in North America”. Many of the bishops opposed to rescinding the moratorium cited fears more dioceses will leave the fold. The central question facing the church now is whether to find another way to mollify the dissidents.

I must admit that at first, I saw all those opposed to the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy as little more than a bunch of throwback homophobes.

My initial reaction to the threat of breakaway dioceses was “Let ’em go! Who needs ’em?” It was this type of thinking that made me pull away from the church myself as a young man.

When discussing the issue with my former parish priest a few years ago, I was surprised by his calm approach to the problem. I expected him to be a fiery advocate for gay and lesbian clergy. After all, he is gay. Yet he counseled me not to overreact, not to condemn these folks as simple homophobes with whom no dialogue was possible. Instead, he expressed the belief that the two sides can find common ground. There may be some Episcopalians who would never accept gay clergy, he said, but eventually most would come to accept it.

I’m starting to think he was right. The fight for gay rights and equality has come further than I would have thought possible just a few years ago. In fact, some lay members of the church’s House of Deputies who voted three years ago in favor of the moratorium voted Sunday to rescind it. One woman who spoke to the New York Times cited the fact that no matter who decides to leave, inclusion is where the Episcopal Church is. Amen, indeed.

So it’s my personal hope that dialogue between these opposite sides will continue, and serve as an example to other Protestant denominations who look at this divide and wonder when it will come to their church.

What about you?  Should the Episcopal Church continue the conversation about the consecration of gay and lesbian bishops?

Eric Holder to the Rescue?

If there’s one area of the Obama presidency that’s been vexing to many of his strongest supporters, it’s been his reluctance to take a hard look at the past sins of his predecessor.

Specifically, questions about torture, illegal surveillance and the like have been given short shrift by this president.

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The thinking of his inner circle seemed to be that dredging up the past serves no purpose, even if laws were broken. That rationale was bogus from the start.

Now it looks like things are changing, and light may finally be shed on alleged misdeeds of the Bush cabal. The president and his people, or at least most of them are starting to realize that some of the stuff Bush and his people allegedly did can’t be ignored. The “let’s move on” school has suffered a serious setback. With allegations that the CIA, at the behest of Dick Cheney, put together a counterterrorism program without letting Congress know, and that Attorney General Eric Holder may name a special criminal prosecutor to probe whether US interrogators tortured suspected terrorists, those who have been pressing the administration to get the facts have new and potent ammunition.

Even the naming of a prosecutor may not go far enough if all they’re looking at is some CIA grunt who may have gone too far. Who were the lawyers, who were the policymakers who either affirmed the use of torture or looked the other way when they knew it was happening? The narrow focus of a Justice Dept. probe may not get all the facts. And of course, there’s already pushback from Republicans with a raft of silly pronouncements about why there should be no investigation at all.

“What’s going to be the positive result”? asks John McCain. “This is a terrible trend”, argues Texas Senator John Cornyn. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama could only come up with Dick Cheney’s service to his country. All these arguments are so weak as to be laughable.

However, don’t think for a minute that some of these Republicans won’t try to hold Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation to the Supreme Court hostage to stop any serious attempt to hold anyone accountable.

Think it can’t happen? Think again. Washington ‘Beltway’ politics is a strange and often ugly thing to watch.

Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing starts Monday. Watch some of these same senators try to drag out that hearing while at the same time, on the down low, they try to horse trade with President Obama. This is where AG Holder comes in. There are reports that, even though he’s been a reluctant convert to the idea of looking at this stuff, he’s not really on board with the idea that the president’s political advisors were calling the shots against a serious investigation.

So, is it Eric Holder to the rescue,

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or does the Obama Administration need to go even further in probing Bush era misdeeds?

Who Will Win the Battle of Global Warming?

Yes, folks, it’s back in the news, and with good reason. Climate change is on the front burner in Washington, where the Senate is taking up the climate change bill the House passed recently. It’s also being debated at the G-8 summit in Italy.

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In the Senate, one should keep in mind a climate bill has been rejected three different times. We ought to pray there isn’t a fourth, but the politics of the environment isn’t always a cut and dried thing, Al Franken’s swearing in not withstanding.

What’s troubling about the latest round of “what should we do about the environment?” is the strong pushback against the idea that global warming is even a problem. Don’t believe me? Keep in mind that Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe once called global warming “the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people”. He’s still at it, and at the same time arguing about the cost, and whether US action alone will make any difference.

That’s where the G-8 comes in.

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Despite most developed countries agreeing in principle with the notion of fighting global warming, some countries are resisting the idea, especially during this time of economic crisis. That’s all the cover Senate Republicans need. Their thinking goes like this. If countries like China and India aren’t ready to work on the problem, why should the US? At the root of their argument, however, is Imhofe’s skepticism about the need for any action at all. Global warming, the argument gores, just doesn’t exist.

Al Gore speaking at Oxford and comparing the threat of global warming to that of the Nazis only pours gasoline on the flame. To top it off, the media seems to be giving more and more time to scientists who side with Inhofe. Some have fall back positions. They argue against the need for unilateral action, then the need for immediate action, then the need for any action at all.

Part of the problem is that the consequences of inaction could take years to be made manifest in a tangible way. Despite what many of us say about making the world a better place for those coming behind us, if we have to sacrifice in any real way, our words ring hollow. The Republicans know this. That’s why they try to link nuclear power with solar energy in legislation. They don’t figure any of them (or us) will be around for the next Chernobyl. Or will we?

Reasonable people may disagree about how long it will be before the effects climate change smack us in our collective face. Yet the science is there. The world, no matter what the temperature where you may be now, is getting warmer, little by little. The question is whether our Beltway lawmakers have the guts to tackle the issue.

What do you think? Do they?

How Will Michael Jackson Be Remembered?

Michael Jackson’s memorial service at the Staples Center in LA was an extraordinary event to view. First, I was grateful that I watched it on a local channel that didn’t clutter it with needless commentary as it went on. There was, simply, no need. The memorial spoke for itself. It was well organized, celebratory, reverent, sad, and passionate all in one.

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What struck me, and has since his death at the age of 50 was the sheer volume of his work. As radio stations played his music, I kept realizing how much of it I’d forgotten, or wrongly attributed to another artist. His musical legacy alone is astonishing in its depth.

His revolutionizing of the music video was equally as profound.

The memorial managed to make the negative coverage of his passing look well, cheap, tawdry, totally unnecessary.

Michael Jackson was a human being who managed on a certain level to transcend all the attempts to marginalize his genius.

Keep in mind 1.5 million people went online to get tickets to this unique memorial service. That in itself is extraordinary. In life, he may have been the King of Pop. In death, as Berry Gordy put it, he stands alone as the greatest entertainer who ever lived. That’s not hype. People from around the world knew and acknowledged his greatness as a performer.

As to those incidents in his life that were less than stellar, keep in mind that every genius is ever so slightly twisted. For Michael Jackson, that twist seemed to lie in his lifelong quest to experience a childhood denied him because of his gifts.

For every Peter King, the Long Island congressman whose anti-Jackson rants indicate he must be getting ready to run for something, there are millions who can cite signposts in their lives that were marked by his music.

And, there’s this. Michael Jackson, more than any artist before or since, presided over a paradigm shift in music. What had previously been a strictly aural medium suddenly became both aural and visual. The next performer who will herald such a change hasn’t even been thought of yet. Such was his impact that kids today know his music, as did their grandparents four decades ago.

And so , leave the questions about what drugs were in his system, who prescribed them, how much debt he was in, who will look after his children, and all the rest to those who make their money asking them.

Tuesday’s memorial wasn’t for them. It was for the tens, no hundreds of millions of people around the globe who were touched by his music, by his dance, by his soft spoken and often childlike manner.

Do you remember the time?

Uighurs Back in the News- How Much Do We Really Know?

We posted about the plight of the Chinese Muslim minority group the Uighurs some time ago. Then, the question was whether the US would resettle a small number of them freed by the courts in this country.

Now, they’re back in the news, and again, American media is largely playing catchup. This time, the Uighurs are making news in their homeland as they clash with Han Chinese in the western desert region of the country.

The violence, which flared over the weekend, has left 156 dead and more than 1000 injured. The Chinese government, apparently fearing whatever governments fear when people freely express themselves, have locked down the regional capital of Urumqi. They’ve also taken the trouble to cut off cellphone and Internet service. They want accounts of what’s been going on to be their accounts. However, things reportedly aren’t going exactly as the government has planned.

Hundreds of Uighur men, woman, and children are defying police and crashed a state run tour of the riot torn area for Chinese and foreign journalists.

Sometimes stage managing of human misery doesn’t work.

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The protestors want the government to release Uighur men they say have been detained after the violence started. Make no mistake. This is the worst ethnic violence in China for some time. And what is at its root? Could it be the inability of Uighurs to freely practice their Islamic religion without government interference?

There’s also the issue of continuing tense relations between the Uighurs and the Han. The Uighurs charge the Chinese government favors the Han when it comes to jobs and services. In fact, the rioting that took place last weekend reportedly began as a peaceful protest demanding an investigation into a deadly brawl between Uighurs and Han that took place thousands of miles away. Despite the paucity of information western news media have had access to, new technology has played as great a role in this situation is it has in Iran.

Published reports say the calls for protest by Uighurs were spread through Web sites and the most popular instant messaging program in China.

That would explain why the government prioritized shutting down cell service in the region, as well as cutting off Internet service. Hopefully, it won’t work.

Despite our ignorance and suspicion about Uighurs living in the US, their situation in China cries out for our scrutiny and concern.

Violence, be it religious, ethnic, racial, whatever, ought to be condemned. Despite the secretive nature of the Chinese government, they’re not immune to international calls for justice and fairness.

What’s happening to the Uighurs makes you wonder. What other people around the world are crying out for a level of basic humanity from their government and their fellow citizens?

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I’ll bet there are more than a few we don’t know about.

The question is, do we care?

Manuel Zelaya –Will Honduran President Foil the Coup?

President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras is the kind of guy that used to give America fits. That is, he wasn’t the kind of reliable ally the George W. Bush and others before him used to count on in Central America.

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This past Sunday, about 100 soldiers entered this elected president’s home, and rushed him onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. His crime? He wanted to hold a referendum on re-writing the Honduran constitution.

Part of what Zelaya wanted was the chance to serve a second four-year term. That’s prohibited in the current constitution. What’s interesting about this is the striking similarity between what Zelaya wanted to do, and what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did here.

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There are some major differences, however. Bloomberg got his chance to run for a third term by suborning the local city council. If he’d submitted the question to a referendum as Zelaya wanted to do, he might have lost.

The political parallel between the two can’t be denied.

Politicians generally are loath to leave office if they don’t think they’re ready. They may mouth platitudes about their need to serve, but, like fighters, some just can’t give up the spotlight. So it is with Bloomberg, so it appears to be with Zelaya, even though he’s nothing near the power hungry dictator in waiting some US media have made him out to be. When you read that he raised the minimum wage by 60% during his time in office, you wonder whether, if the Honduran people had a chance, they might not re-elect him.

Of course, not everyone thinks raising the minimum wage is a good thing. And when Zelaya fired top military General Romeo Vasquez for refusing to implement preparations for the referendum, the stage was set for the military and the Honduran oligarchy to act in concert. Zelaya’s support of Honduras’ poor people was too much. However, subsequent events must have taken them by surprise.

First the region, then Europe, then even the US lined up to condemn the coup.

It’s been condemned for what it is, a strong-arm tactic by a group of thugs in uniform. Here the similarity to recent events in Iran is worth noting.

So too is the reaction of President Obama. While he’s been hesitant to take some steps that could probably give the coup leaders pause, his statements demanding the reinstatement of Zelaya are welcome and needed. The next step is, of course, to cut off US aid to the country if it’s clear the money will go into the hands (and pockets) of the plotters. The firmness of Obama’s resolve could go a long way toward ending the reported brutal repression of protests against the coup.

Manuel Zelaya says he’ll return to Honduras on Thursday. What do you think. Will he be reinstated as president?