Tag Archives: united nations

What just happened?

Last week, life was just so simple. Donald Trump was a narcissistic sociopath and I disagreed with everything he did. This week, he is still a narcissistic sociopath but I agree with something he did, what the hell happened?

English: Brasilia - The president of the Syria...

English: Brasilia – The president of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar Al-Assad during a visit to Congress Português do Brasil: Brasília – O presidente da República Árabe Síria, Bashar Al-Assad, em visita ao Congresso Nacional (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Syrian President Bashar al Assad decided to up the game in the civil war in his country by dropping Sarin gas on Tuesday. People say, “That doesn’t make sense, he is winning. Why would he do this?” Well, there are some ideas as to why Assad would gas his own people. None of them are good reasons but there are some ideas.

This is from a piece in the New York Times

“Militarily, there is no need,” said Bente Scheller, the Middle East director of the Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation. “But it spreads the message: You are at our mercy. Don’t ask for international law. You see, it doesn’t protect even a child.”

This is not the first time Assad has gassed his people. More from the NY Times piece:

The fall of Idlib led to another turning point: Russia’s full-on entry into the conflict, adding its firepower to the Syrian government’s. Russia said it entered to fight the Islamic State, but directed most of its strikes at places farther west, like Idlib, where rival insurgents more urgently threatened government forces.

Chlorine attacks continued — investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations concluded the government had carried out at least three in 2014 and 2015 — with little international reaction.

Now, I am in the strange position of supporting Trump and military action. Liberal friends of mine say, “Yeah, this is like Iraq.” There are a number of reasons that this is not like Iraq. In the first place, we bombed an airfield. If it worked, it knocked out a way for Assad to bomb more people. In the second place, the Iraq invasion was misguided for a number of reasons and that country wasn’t six years into a violent civil war that had caused one of the largest refugee crises of our time. There are five million refugees because of this.

To equate this conflict with other things going on is silly. To say what we did was a “war crime” is crazy. I do not support Trump but I support what he did in Syria last night. I suspect hell is freezing over.

When we said “never again,” we were kidding

“One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic,” Joseph Stalin

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide.  In the span of 100 days, 800,000 people were murdered with machetes.   That is the official death toll but it could be as high as one million.  I wrote about that here.  As this is the anniversary, I am watching Hotel Rwanda.  I have been lucky enough to have met Paul and Tatiana Rusesbagina and they inspire me every day.

A lifetime ago, I climbed Kilimanjaro.  After the climb we went to Odulpai Gorge, the site where the first human footprints were found.  Looking over the gorge gave me this great sense of connectivity — we are all from there.

One of my heroes is astrophysicist, Neil de Grasse Tyson. He has said, “We are all stardust.”  I love that idea and it sits at the heart of my atheism.  Looking up at the stars gives me the same sense that looking over that gorge did.

One of the advance trips I did for President Clinton was to Norway.  He was there to commemorate the life of Yitzak Rabin (side note: when he was assasinated I was in an Emily’s List press training, name drop alert: Chuck Todd was in my group, when they told us the news, it took my brain about ten minutes to comprehend them, it was weird, I knew all the words but could not grasp what they meant).  I watched Clinton give a speech about our DNA.  We share 99.99 percent with every other person on the planet.  This is what makes DNA evidence so powerful in criminal cases.  During that trip, Clinton met with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. Like soap in the shower, peace in that part of the world often feels so close only to be lost in a short time.

We are unique and that is special.  When we celebrate our uniqueness, we celebrate our species.  When we use the tiny spaces that make us unique to divide us, we all suffer.  We are in this boat together.

Hutu, Tutsi.  Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist (or atheist).  We are the same.

Paul Kagame led the revolt that ended the Rwandan genocide but he is not the savior he has been made out to be.  He didn’t really end the conflict, he just moved it next door to the Congo.  Dear President Kagame: please learn from Nelson Mandela.  Step down and prove you have created a real democracy.  Learn from George Washington who stepped down after one term.

And to end on a happier note, watch this.

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  There is a big event in DC planned to pay lip service to ending this horrible disease.  Bono will be there.  President Obama will be there.  Former Presidents Clinton and Bush will be there.  It’s too bad that this comes on the heels of the announcement that for the first time since it was founded ten years ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has cut funding to poor countries.  This funding is essential for programs in these countries and its absence will have devastating consequences for millions of people.  This is literally a question of life or death for millions of people.

The Global Fund now directly keeps alive 3.2 million people on anti-retroviral treatment.  (Together with other funders that means that around 6.6 million people are now on these life-saving drugs.) It has financed 8.2 million courses of TB treatment and the distribution of 190 million insecticide-treated nets to fight malaria.  We are seeing a historic turn in the progression of these pandemics.  — Jeffrey Sachs, Politicians just don’t care enough to tackle this scourge.

Health care is a basic human right.  That’s just my opinion.  That’s part of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This is not the time to withhold funding vital to programs that are working.  Malaria prevention efforts are starting to have a real impact in places like Africa.  We tend to think of certain infectious diseases as being other people’s problems.  They strike in poor countries, far away from us.  The problem with that thinking — other that the callous nature with which we view the world through the prism of how does this impact me personally? — is that is is just wrong and shortsighted.  Infectious diseases, for instance, that kill people over there, are just as deadly when they strike here.  These are often diseases of poverty, we have that here.

Over the past year, I have been working with a nonprofit health organization — they develop and deliver medicines for infectious diseases such as visceral leishmaniasis, which is nearly 100 percent fatal when left untreated.  Like AIDS, it destroys its victims immune system.  Our military personnel are being infected because they are fighting in areas where it is endemic.  New studies also show an increasing number of co-infections – -VL & AIDS.

TB is a scourge in the US, too.  Washington, DC has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation.  What’s worse is that many cases are of the drug resistant variety, a side effect of a treatment that can take up to two years is that people don’t follow through with the full treatment.  (Topic for another day is how our antibiotic abuse is making them less effective. short version, if your doctor doesn’t give you one for the sniffles, don’t demand one.)

Other, less famous diseases such as Dengue Fever are making a comeback in the US as well.  The mosquito that carries the potentially deadly illness has been found as far north as North Carolina.  Mosquitoes don’t care about borders.

The bottom line is that if a disease can strike anywhere, it can strike anywhere.  We risk losing important ground gained over the past decade because we lack the political will to do the right thing.

Not sad but not excited by the death of a terrorist

When something is thrown upwards, there is a point at which the object’s upward momentum and the force of gravity are equal. For some time period — even if it is incredibly small — when the object hangs suspended. That is the emotional space I have occupied since learning about Osama bin Laden’s death. Any relief/closure/positive emotion has been tempered by my normal instinct that death is bad and deaths, even of bad people, are not meant to be celebrated.

Now, I should confess a few things. I grew up on Long Island and live in Washington, DC. My emotional location vis-à-vis 9/11 had been a strange place. It remains one of the worst days of my life and few things would make me happier than seeing the towers built back exactly the way there were and despite knowing New York as well as I know any place on earth, I still get lost in lower Manhattan sometimes because I still look for the WTC when I get out of the subway. Growing up, that was my compass in the city. It may always be. These are the reasons, my liberal friends tell me my opinion of anything 9/11 related is less valid because I am too close to it.

At the same time, I will never think we should do to ourselves what the terrorists could not; destroy out way of life and take away our belief in the ideals that inspired our republic. Racial intolerance cannot be mistaken for vigilance against terrorism. We cannot convince anyone outside of the US  to believe that we believe in the importance of the rule of law if we do not apply it uniformly within the US. And the Bill of Rights is as important today as it was on 9/10/2001. These are the reasons my conservative friends tell me my opinions on this subject are less valid because I “do not understand the impact 9/11 had on America.”

You can see the paradox. One might think these opinions would give me more reason to hate Osama bin Laden but I don’t. I can’t. He doesn’t deserve that. The closest thing I have had to “joy” at seeing him be killed was when I laughed at a photo of President Obama that had the caption “I am sorry it took me so long to get you my birth certificate, I was busy killing Osama bin Laden.”

At the end of the day though, if I were to become the kind of person who celebrates any loss of life — even of someone as reprehensible as this mass killer — I just become more like them and I don’t want that.