Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days and Counting: Grading the President

The last 100 days in the United States has been one of the single most significant 100 day period in the history of the United States. Significant because for the first time in the two hundred and thirty three year history of this nation, a man of African descent was elected President of this country. President Barack Obama's ascent to the Presidency is interesting because, perhaps for the first time -besides at sporting events- Americans from varied walks of life rallied behind a person of color for the highest office in the land. What inherently began as a rocky and at times tense political campaign season gave way to an albeit eventful first hundred days in office.

The first few days of the Presidency were marked with trivial yet interesting complaints. The first of these complaints came from Inaugural day festivities. The first lady was criticized for snubbing African-American fashion designer and instead using other non-Americans to supply the outfits she wore. Then came the outburst from Etta James who felt insulted because Beyonce rather than she was invited to serenade the first lady and Mr. Presdent to their first dance to just not any song, but one she made popular. Interestingly, I doubt that the White House ever addressed any of these complaints. So, there began the first days of the Obama Presidency.

Over the next few days, the President announced that he would be sending 14,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden still remained at large, and the war in Iraq still showed no signs of coming to an end. Following closely on the heels of the war decisions came the signing of the Mexico City documents, a key blow to supporters of the pro-life movement. Then, we heard of an interesting character, Bernie Madoff. No surprise there, his last name said it all. Then the questions came rolling in. Would the government step in and if so what role would they play in a recovery effort of some sort?

Speaking of recovery, the first hundred days have seen some natural disasters. From wild fires to the flood scare in the Midwest, the level of readiness by response teams has been challenged. However, Obama has not had to deal with a large scale natural disaster such as Katrina. Facing such would definitely be a test of the new FEMA, a response that would reflect on the President's legacy.

Importantly, the Obama Presidency has had to deal with the issue of bank failures and bail-outs and Timothy Geithner's near demise from office in the wake of the AIG scandal. The AIG scandal raised the interesting issues all presidencies have had to face, of "who knew what and when." Thankfully though, the crisis was managed with recovery of some bonuses from some AIG workers and Geithner remained the Secretary of the Treasury.

The President has also had to handle weightier matters like Guantanamo Bay and the issue of torture as a means of coercion employed during interrogations. Was the President's decision to look into the use of torture fair or was it a politicized move? Definitely heads will roll, but could Obama potentially be preparing his own gallows?

Then there was the successful landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson river and two other deadly plane crashes that followed. Sure the President is not directly connected to these events but they do bear on his Presidency.

Another hot topic that has not received enough attention is the issue of gun control. When and if it does become an issue, the ensuing debates on both sides of the spectrum will show how much of their freedoms Americans will be willing to surrender or will have to surrender for the hope of a somewhat safer union.

On the international stage, the President has ventured into Europe, initiated talks with Cuba and showed a willingness to bring an end to former hostilities. Then there was the incriminating hand shake with Hugo Chavez for which the President caught much flak. South of the border, Mexico has once again become a hot topic with the issue of drug trafficking and most recently, the swine flu. The Obama presidency also witnessed the capture and release of a U.S. vessel by Somali pirates, albeit with some bloodshed. The ensuing murders of some of the Somali pirates were indicative of vengeance for the Black Hawk incidence of 1993.

Surely, the President has had a busy 100 days in office, more eventful than he perhaps anticipated. However, some issues still remain tabled; immigration reform, healthcare, and more efficient energy solutions. Definitely, Obama has been on his toes but surely, this is not the best he or his administration can give. It's still early to fully access what progress if any the White House has made, but it is safe to say that at least there is a vested interest in serving the common good, and that in itself is a step in the right direction. In all, The Harriet Project gives the President and his administration a grade of B-.

For more information and to track Obama's accomplishments regarding his promises on the campaign trial, visit Politifact.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Containing the Swine Flu

The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that it might not be feasible to control the spread of the swine flu. So far there have been 64 confirmed cases of the disease in the United States but no fatalities. No major warnings have been posted by the Deparment of Hoemland Security besides the travel advisory against nonessential travel. However the Cuban government has moved to ban all travel to Mexico. The virus has been spreading fast and there have been other reported cases in Spain and in Israel proving that the swine flu is fast becoming a pandemic. While containing the flu is not an option been considered, preventive measures and good health practices should be observed to prevent further spread of the virus.

Already, the outbreak is causing waves that might distabilize national markets. With the global stress on world economies, the flu or any pandemic of any sort is the last thing the world needs right now. In 2003, the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated in Asia supposedly in Hong Kong severely distabilized world markets and resulted in over 700 deaths worldwide with about 8,000 cases of illness. With pandemics, the challenge is not to contain outbreaks but rather to make sure there is an effective response team to handle cases of outbreak. Consequently, the United States government has moved in to disseminate information -even though some of it is vague- and prepare a response team to handle a massive outbreak of the disease.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Spanish Influenza

This time yesterday, the number of casualties supposedly claimed by the Swine Flu was still under a hundred, and the reported cases in the United States were a little over a handful. But a day does make a difference. Whereas the United States government was wary about discouraging travel to Mexico, today came the appeal to halt any unimportant trips to the region. The European Union was much frightened and issued a warning against all nonessential trips even before the United States government made the announcement. The specter of the next great plague and of emerging diseases has fascinated and terrified at the same time. From movies to television there has been no shortage of human creativity in bringing to life the effects of some supposed super bug. So, is this that dreaded super bug or just some wart that will be easily thwarted?

My Mother Remembers Spanish Influenza

I was the first person in our town
to catch the Spanish Influenza.
I heard it came over on the streetcar,
hissing and snapping to itself
as it crossed the river
And when the car stopped at the foot of our hil,
the bell rang twice, the flu got off
and burst inside my head
like sparklers on the Fourth of July
Soon it was smooth and hot as rails in the sun,
running inside my head, metal on metal, ice on ice.
When it began to go away,
the neighborhood children took it, piece by piece,
on the thick, round wheels of their roller skates.
Mother brought me a white paper bag
of coconut macaroons.
I ate three and I was sick
into the gray metal basin
filled with disinfectant and water
that was kept near my bed.
Mother doubted that the flu came on the streetcar.
It seemed more likely to her
that my two young uncles
had brought it back from France with them,
hidden in the silk webbing
that stretched between the carved ivory fingers
of the painted fan they had given me.
But I knew better.
I could still hear it, when Mother left the room at night,
whispering to itself about itself
as it came across the river on the last car.
It stopped at the foot of our hill for a second,
and then rode on down the valley to the carbarn,
where it waited out the night.


Published in the September 17, 1979 issue of The New Yorker magazine, the poem was written by Ratti about his mother's recollection of the Spanish Influenza of 1918.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Great Swine Flu of 2009

Is this the big one that's supposed to wipe millions of the face of the earth? Should we fear for our lives? These and other similar questions have been on the minds of several people since news of the outbreak of the swine flu in Mexico and parts of the United States was released. So far, 81 deaths have been reported in Mexico, while about 20 cases have been identified in the United States. Cases of the flu have also been reported in Canada and in New Zealand, some students who recently vistited Mexico have shown flu-like symptoms that are believed to be the swine flu upon their arrival. The H1H1 swine flu is associated with pigs and can be spread from person to person. When the flu spreads in this way it becomes challenging to treat because each transmission is accompanied by a mutation of the flu virus. Symptoms of the swine flu include fever, sore throat, lethargy, lack of apetite, coughing, running nose, diarrhea, vomitting, and triedness according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, the White House is monitoring the situation but has not issued any general travel precautions. President Barack Obama recently returned from Mexico but so far has shown no symptoms of the swine flu. However, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a public emergency warning with regards to the flu. As with most influenza strains, the general precautions remain the same. According to the CDC, the best preventive measure against the flu is to get vaccinated. In addition to getting the flu vaccine, other precautions include avoiding close contact with those who may have the flu, frequent proper hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, avoid touching nose, eyes and mouth, and observing other healthy behavior.

As with any epidemic, severe precaution needs to be taken. We are in the age of emerging diseases and viral strains are proving more hardy and resistance to some old and even new treatments. This could possibly turn out to be more deadly than was imagined or conversely good public health measures can help to contain the outbreak. Nonetheless, it's better to be cautious and report to a physician immediately any flu-like symptons are observed. For more information on the swine flu, please visit the Department of Health and Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is The First Family Over Exposed?

Is it just the excitement of the first hundred days in office or is this a foray into a never ending celebrity frenzy? I like to think I had more excitement and energy on January 20th than a school bus filled with middle school cheerleaders. I jumped, I sang, and I cried as I watched the first family. First as the President took the oath of office and as he and Michelle Obama danced the night away at several inaugural balls. In the days following I was all too excited to see the first family on the television and say with a warmth in my insides..."that's my President, that's my President."

Now all of a sudden, he is everywhere I turn. From the cover of tabloids to magazines and journals worth their salt, I see his face. Michelle too hasn't been left behind. Each time I glimpse at fashion blogs or magazines she is there! At one point her face graced the front covers of "Vogue," "O," and "Essence." The first couple seemed to have taken the nation by storm. This was a blitzkrieg of some sort. And of course let's not forget the darling children and now the rambunctious little Bo.

Like most other Americans, I appreciate seeing our elected officials and knowing that they are at work in their posts. Nonetheless, it seems like everywhere I turn these days the President is there. I remember sometime a few weeks ago he was doing so many press conferences, appearing on talk shows, giving so many interview, dabbling in so much, and trying to take on the whole world all at once, just like Superman. Now, while it was reassuring to know that he was not vacationing at Camp David or running off to Hawaii to further tan his already sun-kissed skin, I began to get a little wary of him.

"Just go away will you, so I can miss you some." I almost cried. It seemed as though the more I saw of him, the less interested I appeared to be in hearing what he had to say. I wasn't advocating that he be gone so long that his sighting when it did occur would be like that of the sun god, but the President didn't know when to stop. Michelle was no better either, reveling in the warmth of the spotlight too. And not only wer they seen, but they were heard through a loud gramophone.

The danger in all this is that the more he (especially) speaks which is a given at these many events, the greater the opportunities are for those foot in the mouth incidences. Further, when the public sees too much of the President and of course hears his voice, they become inundated and somewhat irritated [at least I was getting so]. There's a law about demand and supply and a theory about scarce goods and the stock market. So as the first one hundred days in office approaches, and the President clouds his calendar with pizza parties, galas and balls, maybe he'll find time for a one on one with Paul Krugman. That's hoping he'll finally get the pronunciation of Krugman's name right. Hey, Mr. President, incase Occidental and Columbia forgot, it's time for Economics 101: Fewer Presidential Sighting.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Torture and Sleeping Dogs

By the end of the week, there will be more interesting and perhaps shocking documents that will be reviewed as the Obama administration determines the extent to which torture was used by the Bush administration. Since the investigations began, I have been somewhat concerned that in an attempt to be transparent the Obama administration might be creating precedent that will undoubtedly prove a tough act to follow. Regardless of the system of governance in any country, I can almost unequivocally admit that torture as a form of coercion is always employed. Even when the victim of the oppressive method isn't a foreign national there are still subtle forms of torture used in most interrogations.

Beginning this week, the Obama administration launched a series of investigations backed by the ACLU and other civil liberties groups around the issue of torture and particularly water boarding used as a tool of coercion by the past administration. If Obama moves forward with a thorough investigation, he will be making good on his promise of transparency. Nonetheless, he will be reneging on his promise of not awakening old ghosts.

It is an open secret that the United States has used torture methods against perceived terrorists and other antagonists. Tales from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay are proof that human rights injustices are a common thread in the way Americans treat perceived law breakers. The story of John Walker Lindh as narrated in a recent issue of GQ magazine gives a glimpse into how the American government will and have treated antagonists.

There are several cases in which the need to use a form of torture, however subtle come into play. If the United States were to capture Osama bin Laden, the administration will be hard pressed to not employ some means of torture in extracting useful intelligence information from him. Obviously, bin Laden will be prosecuted by the United States legal system should he be brought to trial and not in an International Criminals Court. Hence, with the duty of prosecuting him, the United States will want to build a strong case against him and if it entails starving him or using waterboarding as a means to an end, who is to say what entails torture? I am not making the argument for or against torture, but rather building a case that shows that torture regardless of how subtle is routine.

Already, former Vice-President Dick Cheney has spoken on the issue and maintains that his administration's use of torture was pertinent to national security and was useful in warding of a supposed attack. While Cheney's claims are incredible, I will be interested in a study that shows how the attack he refers to was directly intercepted through means of torture. Nonetheless, I am convinced that when the Bush administratin acted, they did so in the perceived best interest of the American people. So, as the investigations proceed, the future of several individuals will be at stake. From top aides within the government to pundits in academia, heads will roll.

Many have already advised that the investigations be stopped and that if at all an independent panel should be brought in to review the allegations. If the investigations continue, it is possible that top aides in the Bush administration will be subpoenaed and possibly face imminent jail time if convicted. Hence, as the Obama administration makes such bold moves, they need to make sure their rear guard is up at all times. While the use of torture should be evaluated on a case by case basis, there is some wisdom that can be garnered in President Ford's decision to pardon his predecessor Richard Nixon. Obama is not yet a hundred days into his administration. But, the world is becoming increasingly volatile and as long as he remains in office he will make his own mistakes and someday face the possibility of been held accountable by an administration yet unborn.

Chasing Pavements

Onwards from akqa on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Perez Defiled: The Miss California Saga

Since the Miss U.S.A pageant aired on Sunday night, the controversy over Miss California's repsonse has garnered wide media attention. During the pageant Miss California responded to a question by celebrity judge and blogger Perez Hilton that many speculate might have caused her the title. Hilton asked Miss California for her opinion on Vermont's decision to legalize same sex marriage and if she believed other states should follow suit. In posing the question Hilton asked Miss California to argue for or against same sex union.

Miss California proceeded to answer the question by stating that while American values embraced freedom of choice, she believed that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman. Her response was greeted by almost equal numbers of boos and applause. For some, it came as a shock that a pageant contestant from the state of California would express views that were intepreted by most same sex advocates as divisive. In the end, Miss California echoed the opinion of California voters who voted last winter in favor of Propostion 8, a California State ballot that changed the State Constitution to to restrict the definition of marriage to opposite sex couples thus denying same sex couples the right to legally be married.

First, I commend Miss California for speaking out boldly in defense of her beliefs regarding the issue. As I sat back and watched the pageant, I knew even before the results were announced that she would not win because of her remarks. No sooner had the competition ended, I went on Perez Hilton's eponymous blog and was not surprised when I saw he had already posted a response to Miss California, providing his own version of how he believed she should have answered his question.

Now, Miss California was asked by Perez to give an opinion on the issue. She then did and was now penalized because she did not give an answer most judges wanted to hear. In Perez' opinion she should have given a response that was politically correct so as not to come of as polarizing but rather unifying. Is this the America that our founding fathers fought for? One where personal opinion and beliefs are stifled in favor of popularity and being politically correct? Miss California wasn't asked to give an answer that would suit the judges she was asked to give an answer that was reflective of her beliefs which she did.

Sadly, Miss California is now being scorned because according to Perez Hilton and some celebrities who have spoken out on the issue, the duty of a potential Miss USA should be to represent the views of all Americans. Hence, given this broad definition, Miss California does not in the opinion of some fit the description as a unifier and as the face of this country because she is opposed to same sex marriage. Had she responded in favor of same sex marriage, she would have been more representative of the varied landscape of this nation.

Surely, the United States is a melting pot. There are hard working, honest citizens and there are bank robbers as well in this nation. The terrorist is neighbor to the pacifist, and the serial killer is neighbor to the priest. That President Barack Obama does not support the Ku Klux Klan does not make him polarizing or any less of a leader representative of the diversity this nation has come to be known for. We all do not have the same ideologies and no individual should be faulted for their beliefs. Nonetheless, irrespective of whether she won or lost, I believe the title of Miss USA belongs to the young lady who is able to capture and hold the attention of the media and so far there is no contest regarding whom the title really belongs to.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

All The Way

Through the good or lean years
And for all the in between years- come what may

But if you let me love you
It's for sure I'm gonna love you- all the way, all the way

I don't write personal posts that much. Nonetheless, it's been a really eventful week in more ways than one. Those who know me know I am extremely fond of Ol' Blue Eyes...yes, Frank Sinatra. In view of this week, I found no other song to sum up the way I feel than Sinatra's song "All The Way." Don't ever settle for less than what's real.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sometimes in April

Remembering the 15th Anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda. For a full time line of the 100 day massacre that began on April 7, 1994 please visit HBO Films.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Manifesto, Another Killing

In what is being called the worst mass murder since the Virginia Tech massacre Jiverly Wong, a 41-year-old Vietnamese immigrant armed with two hand guns burst into the American Civic Association in Binghampton, New York, where he took the lives of 13 immigrants enrolled in citizenship and other skills classes before turning the gun on himself. The killings that occurred on Friday, April 5, bear so many similarities to the murderous spree that took place on the campus of Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

The perpetrators of both crimes were both Asian immigrants who believed they were being persecuted by society. Both killings occurred in the month of April, the murder scene in both cases were institutions of learning of some sort, both killers were described as having mental health issues and importantly, both of the killers sent in manifestos to television stations either detailing or trying to provide an explanation for their inexplicable tirades.

Jiverly Wong is a coward and a weakling. Frustrated with his own life he decided to take the lives of others, some of whom were satisfied with their own personal journey. Wong took the lives of 13 immigrants each with a different face, background, and life path. What most of his victims shared in common was they had all come to New York in pursuit of the American dream.

Wong took the lives of promising people like Layla Khalil, 57, an Iraqi immigrant who was settling into a peaceful existence for the first time in many years in the United States. He also ended the hope of an American dream for a Haitian couple, Marc Henry Bernand and his wife, Maria Sonia Bernand who leave behind two children, forced to face the world without the love and direction of their parents.

There has been no explanation, other than that Wong's biggest frustration beside losing his job was that he was constantly taunted for his poor English diction. Hence, I cannot understand why he would kill others like himself who were probably facing the same ridicule. He killed immigrants, most of whom were not proficient in English either. If his intent was to inflict punishment on his antagonists why didn't he seek out a gathering of perfectly blue-eyed, blond haired, baseball watching, hamburger eating, full blooded Americans? Why did he choose to murder immigrants like himself? The reasons for which no answers may ever be found just go to show that Wong was indeed, like Seung-Hui Cho a frustrated coward. The murders were senseless. Whether he had killed Americans or immigrants will never be enough justification for his actions. Almost every human has endured some form of ridicule or felt inadequate at times.

Like Cho, Wong was not new to the United States. Records show that he came to the United States in the early 1980s. He had held a series of jobs and while it might be unfair to indict him for not learning to speak English he's had almost thirty years to learn the language.

Are Wong and Cho a unique case or do they provide a warning that perhaps needs to be heeded. Both killers are Asian immigrants and although China and Vietnam may seem worlds apart, could it be possible that there is something Asian about the killings? Both men had a history of mental health issues that their families were aware of. And while both their families were shocked by the killings, it seems they expected these individuals to snap at some point.

It will be interesting to study the perception of mental health in the Asian community and the responses if any to the issue. Is mental health so stigmatized that affected individuals in the community are unable to get the help they need? Further, Asian communities are often perceived as tight knit, so why did Wong and Cho fall through the cracks?

The repercussions of the Virginia Tech massacre and Friday's killings on members of the larger Asian community will be grave because the parallels between both separate incidents reveal a pattern, one that might be interpreted as an outright attack against American culture. If so, it may be helpful to begin useful dialogues within Asian communities, not only in light of the killing sprees but because behind the facade of a strong communal bond might be individuals who are time bombs waiting to go off.

Cho still holds the unfortunate record for the single greatest mass killing spree in the history of the United States. Perhaps, Wong may have attempted to beat that record. Hence, when the history of the world is written April will be remembered for Cho, Wong, Columbine, and the Rwandan genocide. Is it something about April or something about Asian immigrants? Or, maybe it's something about suburban white kids, or tribalistic Africans. But then it all occurred sometime in April...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Madonna Shunned in Malawi

Madonna and Angelina Jolie didn't invent international adoption, but they have made the trend very popular. Yesterday, Madonna was stopped by a judge from adopting a little girl from an orphanage in Malawi. If she were allowed to adopt the little girl this would have been the second African child for Madonna. The judge denied Madonna's request because there was no direct proof that the child did not have a good quality of life in Malawi. The argument was if the child's life was endangered or threatened, then there would be a reason to approve the adoption which wasn't the case. Further, she was denied based on residency issues because the law requires that adoptive parents should have lived in Malawi for at least 18 months.

Long before the trend became popular, I also fancied the idea and wanted to adopt a little girl from Brazil. Although I have always advocated for adoption, I found it worthwhile to actually step back and reveiw my motive. If I was interested in giving a child the best quality of life, then why did it matter where the child came from? I might as well adopt from the neighborhood orphanage or take a drive down to Memphis or Mississippi. There simply is no reason to go south of the continent in search of that special child from Brazil whose life I could improve. But we all know that Gisele Bundchen is from Brazil.

Importing children from different countries to give them a good quality of life is quite humble and definitely praise-worthy. But when the number of children in the United States foster care system wiating for stable homes is considered, then the international adoption shindig loses its flavor. More so, when it's celebrities in the picture, the motives become even more questionable because the lines between humane effort and publicity stunt become blurred. Sure, some African and Asian children do need to be adopted but shouldn't charity begin at home?

Photograph courtesy of The New York Times

Thursday, April 2, 2009

World Market Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

Had he not been killed, Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. would have been seventy years old today, having died twenty five years ago on April 1, 1984, murdered at the hands of his own father Marvin Gay Sr. Reflecting on the life of the singer Marvin Gaye, there's much to be said about his art and the social consciousness behind his music.

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) was realeased as the third and final song on Marvin's chart topping album "What's Going On." The lyrics of the song echoed his frustrations with inner city life in the United States.

In celebrating Marvin's life, the good news is that this song is still relevant today because sadly, the inner cities haven't changed. They are still much the same or perhaps worse than when Marvin himself lived in inner city Washington D.C.

Poverty is still rife, and based on recent reports, the alarming increase in new cases of HIV infection in the D.C. area have made the nation's capital the poster child for worse case scenario of new and existing HIV infections, taking the cake from some African countries that formerly bore the title. But AIDS is not D.C's only problem these days. Big bonuses, reckless spending, dishonesty, tax evasion, cover-ups, bribes, bad government and more. If this doesn't make you wanna holler...

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

This ain't livin', This ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no

Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
Honey, that I can't pay my taxes

Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands

Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we're heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don't understand