Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Annapolis: Why care?
It’s easy to brush off news of yet another
In this era when the media seems obsessed with sensation over substance, those of us who cover the less light-hearted matters of war and peace, in turn ask ourselves, if no one cares, why do we go to all the effort, risking our lives, worrying our loved ones, frittering away our youth covering a story with no end and no solution‹in sight?
Even though it would make not a fig of difference who Natalie Holloway’s murderer is or who killed the British exchange student in
In this part of the world, it is generally taken for granted that the bitter struggle between Palestinians and Israelis for this small sliver of land in the eastern Mediterranean is one of the main sources of fuel for violence against the West, specifically the
The October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, during which Egypt and Syria tried militarily to take back their territory Israel seized in the 1967 war, resulted in the Arab oil embargo, when most Arab oil producers refused to sell oil to the West in retaliation for its support of Israel.
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein sent his troops into
There have been several wars between
During that last twenty years, the Palestinians have twice risen up against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and
War and instability in the
The deliberations in
But insignificant it is not. If the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not resolved, if the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to fester, violence, and specifically anti-American violence, in the Middle East and beyond, is a certainty.
What is puzzling is that given all that is at stake - global security and stability, the health of the world economy, the standing of the
-- From Ben Wedeman, CNN International Correspondent
Monday, November 26, 2007
Hair lurked in great thickets in his nostrils and sprouted wildly in his eyebrows. Only on his head did it grow more sparsely, combed over to disguise a creeping baldness.
Charisma eluded John Howard even at the height of his powers. Back then, in 1984, it seemed improbable he could ever rise to enjoy the lavish and repeated public praise of a
That was the first time I met him. He was already a formidable political figure. He had run
Howard interrupted his flow to look at me in good humor, and to grin sympathetically.
Howard didn’t. I sensed he was an awkward man, forgiving of awkwardness.
The natural graces of the star politician seemed beyond John Howard. In the late 1980s, I covered a speech he gave in rural
In 1993, when his career was at its lowest point, rejected by his party and apparently doomed to see out his service on the backbenches, John Howard turned up in
Howard, whose father and grandfather both fought in the trenches, was tagging along. At one point, a trail of elderly men was tottering across a road between a restaurant and their bus. Howard, instinctively helpful, respectful of elders, leapt into the road to try to manage the traffic. The French drivers ignored this nondescript man. One old soldier muttered contemptuously, “What’s he doing here?”
Two and a half years later, John Howard would be
How could the same man be those two men?
John Howard said himself the times would suit him. Australians were exasperated by the Labor Prime Minister. Paul Keating was brilliant and charismatic but never disguised his belief in his own intellectual superiority.
John Howard won the vote in 1996. Within weeks,
Howard did something conventional conservative political thought said was impossible and improper to do. He instituted gun control legislation and forced it through. Such was the fear of backlash, for a brief while he took to delivering public speeches with a bullet-proof vest beneath his suit. There has not been a large-scale shooting in
He barely survived his first electoral test, losing the popular vote but scraping back in 1998 on a narrow majority of Parliamentary seats.
His main achievements were pushing through an unpopular consumption tax and ordering a military intervention to support East Timor, after the population voted for independence from their occupiers,
However, that seemed likely to be Howard’s end. By early 2001 he was trailing so badly in the polls that only he seemed to sustain any faith in his party’s survival.
But the defining Howard years were still ahead.
Weeks from the 2001 election he seemed likely to lose, Howard tightened his line on asylum seekers trying to enter
When the crew of a Norwegian freighter, the
He sent the military, including special forces troops, to keep the
Then came 9/11.
John Howard was in
His prime ministership can ultimately be divided into two near-equal periods. Before 9/11 and after. Post 9/11, his philosophical closeness to George W. Bush gave him unprecedented access in Washington and made Australia’s voice more prominent than a nation of barely 20 million people has a right to expect.
By then the man of bristling eyebrows and nostrils, of jagged teeth and barbershop hair, had been groomed into the best possible approximation of an elder statesman. He remained personally courteous, but seemed to tolerate policies that trampled the rights and dignities of people outside his beloved “mainstream
By 2007, Australians knew John Howard intimately. They knew his tricks and the levers he pulled. The Labor Party, in the Chinese-speaking former diplomat Kevin Rudd, had at last an Opposition leader who didn’t scare school-children, who wasn’t tainted by unpleasant memories of the previous Labor government, and who seemed socially and economically disciplined. So much so that revelations of a boozed-up night at a
Howard had the chance to leave as an undefeated Prime Minister. He could have handed over to his long-time deputy and treasurer, Peter Costello. He didn’t. In fairness, he might have believed – as many of his own MPs believed – that he was the best chance his government had of re-election.
Late polls showed the opposite was true. But by then it was too late.
A friend of mine who was with the Prime Minister on Saturday November 24th at his official
That evening, the votes were counted. Howard was swept out in a landslide.
-- From Hugh Riminton, CNN International Correspondent, in
Friday, November 23, 2007
A Thanksgiving Toast from Bangladesh
When I sat down to write this, my immediate thought was: what do I have to be thankful for? I'm surrounded by death, disease and destruction. The airlines lost literally everything I own - I've been wearing the same clothes for over a week, and I just got done with a 12 hour round trip boat ride to an
But then I remembered what thanksgiving is all about. And so I stand and toast to the following:
First, to our crew of misfits. Cameraman Sanjiv Talreja, who I saw leap off a ferry to get a shot as his blackberry flew into the water - also a man who can sleep anywhere - including on the back of flying motorbikes. Producer Ayanjit Sen, who can speak more languages than I knew existed, somehow managing to keep our expenses in line, when you're tipping local boys on barren islands who help carry our gear that can't be an easy feat. To producer extraordinaire Tim Schwarz who swooped into country from Hong Kong with gear and the heart to carry the story forward - literally editing pieces in speedboats across the vast
To our foreign desk - always a calm voice on the other end, making our pieces stronger, available 24 hours a day for anything, and making sure the world sees the tragedy that has struck this beautiful nation.
To our families - who put up with so much. So many missed holidays, year after year - checking the TV to see how we're doing instead of watching football as many others are, and always looking on the Internet to see how we're doing. Text messages in the middle of the night, expecting the worst, but always sending supportive messages. Our wives and significant others - who groan when that phone rings and we leap out the door - another holiday burned . they still stand by our side.
To all journalists, who are in war zones and disaster areas around the world - from
To the people of this beautiful country who have lost so much - but still try to hand us what little water they have left - when we look thirsty and insisting all the way through thick jungle and past mass graves to carry our heavy gear.
To the children of
Finally and most important - the people who live on the island of Char Andar, all the way in Southern Bangladesh - in the Bay of Bengal. They have very little to be thankful for - other than for just being alive - surviving the storm.
I hope they know somehow, I will never forget the day I met them, Thanksgiving Day, 2007.
-- From Cal Perry, CNN International Correspondent, in Bangladesh.
Australia's Election Showdown
First a confession – just don’t tell the boss. I don’t care who wins the Australian election, although I think it’s a fascinating clash with implications particularly for the endless campaign in the US.
My first focus whenever I arrive in Sydney is simply to race to the harborside or the beach, and suck in a huge lungful of Australian coastal air. Say what you like about the Chinese economic miracle but to live in China, as I do, tends to bring home every noxious particle of its miraculous growth.
On the Australian coastline, where most of the continent’s population lives, it feels easy to be happy.
Which raises the first mystery of this Australian election. Economic growth has been churning along for more than a decade, largely fueled by funneling resources into the mighty engine of China. Almost every Australian has a job. Unemployment is at a generational low of barely 4% and getting lower.
After eleven and a half years as Prime Minister, John Howard is urging voters to ask themselves the same question.
The latest polls show a tightening of sentiment, but the Labor Opposition is still the bookies’ favorite to form government once Saturday’s vote is counted. Some polls still put them nearly ten percentage points ahead.
The last time Labor toppled a conservative Coalition government was 1983. Ronald Reagan was still a first term president.
Such momentous changes – should they be confirmed by the voters - indicate something important. The Bill Clinton/James Carville mantra, taken up since by both sides, “It’s the economy, stupid” will have been turned on its head.
If that happens, climate change may emerge as a decisive issue. Indeed, global warming may have contributed for the first time ever to the toppling of a national government.
Of Australia’s two major parties, Labor has made climate change its issue. Howard’s coalition has been far too late to spot the danger.
Until recently, Howard enjoyed the sport of dismissing global warming as the obsession of a crackpot fringe. It left him flatfooted. His attempted re-positioning, promoting nuclear power as a potential answer, failed to grip in a country that currently has only a single research reactor. No-one has yet found a community keen to have one built down the road.
Now not just country areas, grappling with a record drought but middle class suburbanites fret over a warming planet. Already farms are reverting to deserts and urban water supplies are strained.
Veteran conservative commentator Piers Akerman says there is a warning here for US Republicans. “Climate change is definitely a vote winner with younger voters these days,” he says. “You must be aware of it and you must have a coherent policy to address it.”
Associate Professor Rodney Smith from the politics department of the University of Sydney goes further, saying the Australian experience is that it is not just young voters taking it up. Polls show it draws a strong response, he says, among older voters too. And it crosses traditional party lines.
Expect a scramble in conservative politics to reposition more convincingly. Less Bush, more Schwarzenegger.
As an Australian who no longer lives here, there is much to be proud about this country. The melding of so many nationalities is one great achievement, a process far more successful than is sometimes projected.
But it is the air and the water, the spectacular clarity that strikes every visitor, that is influencing this election. Perhaps after years of growth, Australians are expressing the truest conservativism of all: they like things as they are. They worry that change is coming. They are weighing their votes.
-- From Hugh Riminton, CNN International Correspondent, in Sydney.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Pakistan's unanswered question
How popular is Benazir Bhutto?
It is one of the central questions in Pakistan politics right now. No one knows for sure. She would have the world believe she can mobilize millions of supporters at the click of her fingers, but so far she’s been unable to do so.
But Bhutto is a master of rhetoric and hyperbole. Take, for example, her claim that 3 million people turned out to greet her in Karachi last month as she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile. The police and most media put the figure at closer to 200,000. We were there filming for CNN and certainly didn’t see crowds anywhere near 3 million.
Since then, her Pakistan People’s Party has been ruthlessly hounded by the authorities, amid a widespread crackdown on opposition by General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president. As a result, the PPP’s organizational structure has been decimated, with many activists behind bars, and has been unable to orchestrate rallies against the government. Last Friday’s failed demonstration in Rawalpindi – which was successfully blocked by security forces acting under Musharraf’s ongoing state of emergency decree -- state of was testament to just how crippled the PPP now is.
Now, Musharraf has gone on the offensive, suggesting Bhutto is not nearly as popular as she claims.
“Go into the rural areas of Punjab, go into the cities of Punjab, and see whether she has gained in popularity or gone down in popularity because of certain actions, certain comments she has been making,” he told a press conference in Islamabad this weekend –- implying that journalists would discover that many of the rural poor traditionally identified as being Bhutto supporters have in fact become disenchanted with her.
What the General didn’t spell out is that could be in part because she had started cozying up to him after years of being one of his harshest critics while in exile. That was all part of a power-sharing deal, being brokered by the United States. That deal now appears to lie in tatters, with Bhutto and Musharraf on a dangerous collision course.
But amid the ever-shifting sands of Pakistan politics, it’s almost impossible to gauge how each side is faring in the court of public opinion.
“It is very difficult to find out how popular she is,” Rahul Roy-Chaudhary of the International Institute of Strategic Studies said. “I mean, one basis of course is the last election, where the PPP came out as single largest political party. But since then several years have passed, and Benazir Bhutto has been in exile.
“Plus, of course, there is a prospective relationship deal between Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf which would weaken her position and her public support,” he added.
Many of her traditional constituency would support her no matter what she does. Her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who during his career served as both the country’s president and its prime minister, is still revered here, and the Bhutto family name carries a lot of weight, especially in Sindh province. But some of her supporters have become disillusioned by the allegations of corruption and incompetence that dogged Benazir Bhutto’s first two terms as prime minister.
Lt. Gen. Talat Masood retired from the Pakistan army some years ago, but is a seasoned observer of politics here. He acknowledges Bhutto has a long way to go to convince the educated middle classes that she should be given another chance.
“She has a major problem of trust –- both with the political parties and with many with many people of Pakistan, so I think she has to revive that trust,” he said.
But reviving that trust will not be easy – first she has to get into office. She is threatening to conduct a “long march” to democracy, leading tens of thousands of supporters from Lahore to Islamabad.
There’s just one problem -– the military is again attempting to block her path, using the excuse that her life could be in danger from suicide bombers and pointing to the attack in Karachi the day she returned to Pakistan as proof. And that will mean that we won’t be able to see how many people she could actually get onto the streets –- and the central question in Pakistani politics will remain unanswered.
-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Reflections in Madrid
Thursday November 1st is a national holiday in Spain, All Saints Day, to be precise. The city is quiet, even the politicians. It’s a great day for sober second thought in Spain and people here surely need it. The Madrid bombing verdicts were decidedly mixed, but as we searched out the survivors and the families of those who were killed, the interviews weren’t about loud outrage, but quiet frustration. I remember the first day of the trial and the mood couldn’t have been more different. Six months ago, families were still expecting and demanding answers, now they’re resigned. As a journalist it was much easier to illicit comment from survivors and families when the trial still held such promise.
A lot of the expectation for this trial rested on the shoulders of prosecutor Olga Sanchez. I just couldn’t believe it when shortly after the verdict I saw her march out of the courthouse and head straight for a makeshift Spanish TV studio just outside the front steps. We all settled in, watched the interview and waited to pounce as she took her microphone off and walked towards us. I was shocked; an interview was no problem she said. Her reaction and interview were completely disarming. She seemed to be content with the verdicts and relieved it was over. She cautioned that as disappointed as the survivors and victims’ families might me, this was a legal victory. She confidently, resolutely told me this was a legal landmark because as least three defendants were convicted of direct involvement in mass murder.
So we return to the day of rest here. We journalists would love to attend an early morning press conference, as if those ever happen in Spain anyway. But they definitely won’t be happening today. This is a day of bright sunshine, autumn strolls, long café conversations and above all quiet reflection. I sensed the families were relieved the verdict would come the day before this holiday, All Saints Day. As is custom, many of the victims’ families will go to their loved ones’ graves today. This will be a slow, sobering day best suited to truly digest these verdicts and what they achieved or didn’t achieve without the clamour from politicians and journalists.
-- From Paula Newton, CNN International Security Correspondent, in Madrid
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