Published on December 1, 2015.
PARIS—The question, raised again and again on French TV hours before the climate change talks in this city commence, can be understood even by those of us who cannot read or speak French. Is success possible, for the ambitious 21st Conference of Parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change?
The ambition, in procedural terms, is for the 195 countries and the European Union (the “parties”) to agree on a new, legally binding treaty that will limit greenhouse gas emissions below the 2-degree Celsius threshold. In substantive terms, it is nothing less than to save the planet.
Is success possible? The last time the international community came close to reaching agreement on a new treaty applicable to both developed and developing economies, to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. But that conference ended in turmoil and uncertainty, in large part because of the contest of wills between China and the United States, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Continue reading
Published on December 17, 2013.
The controversy over the Obama “selfie” at the Mandela “funeral” invites us to reconsider the role photographs play in the public space, in the Instagram age.
“Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing,” Susan Sontag wrote in that instant classic, “On Photography”—but she could not have foreseen, all the way back in 1977, that in 2013 smartphones would make picture-taking even easier and photography even more popular.
Or that, in the same year the Oxford University Press declared “selfie” as the word of the year, a self-portrait taken by the Danish prime minister at the memorial (not the funeral) service for anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, while seated in between British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama, would be readily taken as evidence of marital discord or, worse, “mental infidelity.” Continue reading
Published on November 13, 2012.
Say this for that much-disparaged American invention, the Electoral College: It makes a convincing mandate possible in a closely divided nation. While Barack Obama won the popular vote by Lincoln’s whisker—a simple majority of 51 percent to Mitt Romney’s 48 percent, according to NBC News—he won well over three-fifths of the 538 electoral votes at stake. (The popular vote margin was some 3.3 million votes, much lower than the 10-million vote differential recorded in the 2008 election.)
The “main argument” for the use of the College then, as Timothy Noah of The New Republic manages to mention in a thoughtful post proposing the abolition of the institution, “is that it manufactures majorities.”
Published on November 6, 2012 — several hours before the polls in the United States opened.
ON THE eve of the US elections, I cede my column space to a friend and labor organizer, Chandler Ramas III, now based in California. I hope you’ll agree that his analysis, which I sympathize but cannot fully agree with, is novel and provocative.
Bakersfield, California—The Filipino-American vote in US politics used to be difficult to determine, even to target, in the same manner as the Hispanic/Latino vote, which is famously courted even in local district or small town elections. Now that there are some tools to identify and count the Fil-Am vote a little better, I do not know if I should be excited or frustrated—because for the life of me, I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that Fil-Ams now comprise one of the largest minorities in the Republican party.
With links to three previous posts. Published on September 11, 2012.
It is already conventional wisdom to say that Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, fell flat—especially when compared to his wife Michelle’s stirring speech on the first day of the convention, or to the master class ex-President Bill Clinton gave on the second day, or to his own soaring words when he accepted the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in Denver, Colorado, in 2008. Okay, maybe, but flat according to whom?
I have been worrying this question since I read Molly Ball’s assessment of Obama’s anticlimactic, “perplexingly lifeless” address in the Atlantic Monthly. I thought his acceptance speech was solid, substantial, not so much sober as sobering. But Ball, whom I read regularly, thought otherwise (and so did many others). Continue reading
Notes on Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the DNC; third of a series.
On the third night of the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama walked out on stage and up to the podium with a heavy burden of high expectations. According to what has now gelled into conventional wisdom, he came off the stage three-quarters of an hour later with those expectations largely unmet. I am not too sure.
A comparison of his prepared text and his actual remarks (the Washington Post version here, the more complete New York Times version here) shows some differences; he too had responded to the moment as Bill Clinton did, but hardly on a Clintonesque scale. (The instance I remember best—I was following his speech on CNN with a copy of the prepared text—was when he dumped a reference to Google in favor of Steve Jobs.) Continue reading
Second of a series: Notes on Bill Clinton’s magisterial performance at DNC 2012.
Bill Clinton’s nomination speech on the second night of the Democratic National Convention was an outstanding, even thrilling example of political rhetoric. He made the case for Barack Obama’s reelection in an almost scholastic manner: He raised each of the main charges leveled against Obama’s presidency, and then argued masterfully against each of them. That in almost each instance he demolished the Republican view was icing on the cake; the real gift was the conversational but detailed approach to policy he sought to engage his increasingly rapt audience in. Continue reading
A White House official’s rational exuberance–and its implications for understanding the Pacquiao-Mosley fight. Published on May 10, 2011.
Buyer beware—that’s the thought bubble that pops up in my head these days when I come across the name of John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s advisor on counter-terrorism. By my reckoning, the most egregious errors in the first White House account of the daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were attributable to Brennan. The assertion, for instance, that Bin Laden used his wife as a human shield. Continue reading
Published on May 3, 2011.
IT DIDN’T seem possible, even as recently as only the other day, that there will ever be an unambiguous victory in the wars of the Age of Terrorism—and yet there the crowds were outside the White House and in Times Square in New York City, at past midnight, celebrating like it was V-E or V-J Day.
The late-night televised announcement by US President Barack Obama (just before noon, Manila time) that a special US military operation had killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden in a firefight in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was electric news all around the world, and generated spontaneous crowds in some US cities. The wars on terrorism will never be as uncomplicated, at least in public perception, as World War II (the “Good War” to those who fought it in countries other than their own). But for a couple of hours, the Age of Terrorism lost some of its ambiguities, and joyful crowds (the one in front of the White House had swollen to thousands of Americans before the revelers headed home) exulted. Continue reading
A conclusion. Published on September 28, 2010.
The photographs from last week’s seven-minute meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and US President Barack Obama are rich in nuance. Allow me to add another possible layer of meaning: the Indonesian connection. First, both presidents have suddenly cancelled state visits to Jakarta, because of domestic politics (Obama cancelled twice). And second, Obama has a statue in the Indonesian capital, showing him as a little boy, to mark the years he spent in the city; because of a backlash, the statue (built with private funds) was moved from a public park to the grounds of the government school he attended. In contrast, Aquino doesn’t have a statue in Jakarta, but should. I don’t mean a monument or a marker of himself, but of a Filipino whose cause the President can advocate and make his own when he meets, finally, with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Continue reading
A couple of friends asked, so here goes nothing. The best I could manage, at around 10:26 pm on Friday, December 18, was this scruffy shot.
Fortunately, about 40 minutes earlier, the first time Barack Obama used the back of the press conference room at the Bella Center in Copenhagen as emergency exit, an AP photog was doing his job.
The following passage from Barack Obama’s inaugural address (solid, but without Lincolnesque lift, as I hope to discuss one of these days) must have been aimed at the Putins and Mugabes, but I won’t be surprised if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will find herself perceived (by her critics and perhaps by others too) as being in the subset of the admonished.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.