What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Saturday, January 31, 2009

"The Dream Team"

Sometime during the campaign late last year, in the debate between Hillary and Barack for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer suggested that if either of them won and named the other as their VP candidate, that would be a real "Dream Team." Not everyone knows the origin of that term in basketball, but it is a term that resonates in the US.

In fact, the term team is a big deal in the US. Team, of course, is a sports term, but it soon came to be the core of an American belief in how you get things done in this culture. Teamwork is vital to any enterprise. It is also the heart of American management theory. I first heard the term used in that sense 20 years ago when a new Consul General and long-time friend Louis Schwartz, arrived in Rio de Janeiro and announced that we of the Con Gen staff would work as a team. That revolutionized my idea of organizations, because I had never known in my previous 20 years in the State Department anything other than a hierarchical concept of management. Teamwork has proven to be the effective way for organizations to operate in the information age.

I was actually disappointed that Hillary was not brought on as the Vice Presidential nominee. Although I like Joe Biden, Hillary it seemed deserved a place on the ticket given her very strong showing in the primaries. When she did not get that, I still hoped that perhaps her talents could be used beyond the Senate, and I queried a number of friends on the idea of Hillary becoming the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Frankly, given some of the rancor between the Obama and Clinton camps, I could not imagine that Barack Obama would give her a Cabinet department, so I satisfied myself with what I consider to be the next best thing to being Secretary of State, the UN Ambassadorship.

I could not imagine that Barack Obama had been reading A Team of Rivals, the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a good friend and former board member of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center when I was there. So because of the Team of Rivals, we have in fact gotten "The Dream Team." Seeing the President, Joe Biden and Hillary together at the State Department a day after the Inauguration certainly made that palpable. And also, as I approached the massive State Department building last Thursday and thought of the hundreds of embassies and consulates that report back to it daily, I could not help thinking to myself, "Damn, Hillary, this is a great empire you've been handed." In short, I think Hillary actually got the second best job in our government and think that there is no reason for Hillary supporters as I was during the primaries to bemoan the way the electoral process worked out. We got "The Dream Team" after all.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Small OOTB Idea: Why "Of" and not "For"?

I visited the State Department today to attend a seminar on a foreign policy matter (and was happy to meet Dennis Ross and at least three present and retired ambassadors and other US government analysts), but, not having visited the Department for at least nine months, was struck by the progress being made across the street on 23rd Street at the construction site for the new $100 million dollar building for the United States Institute of Peace. I love the work that USIP has been doing. It's mission:

"The United States Instute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help:
- Prevent and resolve violent international conflicts
- Promote post-conflict stability and development
- Increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital
The Institute does this by empowering others with knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as by directly engaging in peacebuilding efforts around the globe."

My only problem with the Institute is that its name bothers me. Why Institute "of Peace," rather than "for Peace?" It seems like such a trivial matter, but there is a very big difference. Of is a preposition that has about twenty meanings, but in this case it means simply "in reference (or pertaining) to." Use of this preposition makes it sound like the Institute is somewhat neutral about peace. It merely studies it. But its mission clearly goes much further than that. So why not change its name to the US Institute for Peace? I know the name is already rooted in legislation, but given the Obama administration's clear preference for diplomacy over military means, for peace over war, why not be very clear about the purpose of the organization which will soon have a gleaming new white building of considerable beauty and inspiration right next to the State Department. I recommend that this name change be made when the new building is inaugurated to make sure that its new name is used on the building and to call attention to the new emphasis on diplomacy and peacemaking.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Visionist as Synthesist

As one can read from my profile, I am a professional political analyst , previously with the State Department and now with the US military. I have studied and loved politics my entire life, and as a diplomat was actively engaged in political activity on behalf of the United States of America. But that is only half of it. For most of my life I have really thought of myself as a synthesist. Sure I can analyze political systems, by "slicing and dicing" them or "drilling down" to deeper and deeper levels, but to me a much more important facility is the ability to put together diverse, at times seemingly random, phenomena to construct something totally new. Not that analysis is a simple intellectual skill or that when really well done does not require a capacity to think holistically. But synthesis really does require thought that is out of the box (OOTB- for those who prefer the expression outside the box, that is OK too, but in honor of a popular local Norfolk radio music show by the name I prefer the former version.)

Now getting back to the Zeitgeist, a term given to us by Georg Hegel, Hegel also was the person who came up with the term dialectic, in which the result of bringing together two different forces, the thesis and the antithesis, resulted in synthesis. I like Hegel's formulation, and though it was hijacked by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, to come up with the term dialectical materialism, just as his concepts of Volkgeist and Zeitgeist were hijacked by Adolf Hitler to create Nazism, it seems to me quite clear that the process of history cannot be explained by a linear progression of events. If it did, trends would always allow us to predict the future. Dialectics, encourages us to view history as a tendency for clashing forces--political, social, cultural, military--to result in something totally new under the stars. In our own era of Globalization, we find that a Clash of Civilizations is driving us toward some new, as yet unforeseen global system. I am willing to suggest what this system is, but will save that for a later blog, but let's call it Global Governance. Synthesis has an association with the concept of synergy, in which two elements are brought together and what comes out of their fusion is a value greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy is the hope of synthesis.

But let's return to synthesis. My thoughts on this have really been driven lately more by my work as a part-time educator. In teaching college level students, particularly in my field of Political Science, I believe that it is my obligation to introduce some theoretical and conceptional underpinning. Moreover, there is a very large field of political theory. While this is largely for the more advanced students, nobody can study anything in my view without getting some kind of conceptual foundation for what is being observed. In politics, in particular, models and system types are widely referred to, even in the vernacular.

However, it is currently in vogue in education to educate more based on demonstrating the practical value of information. I have no problem with this and was taught these methodologies at CCNY's School of Education when I worked briefly as a New York City school teacher under Mayor Bloomberg's educational revolution. I actually had a short debate with my fellow instructors at TCC a couple of weeks ago over this, with some teachers thinking students could not handle too much conceptualizing. This led me to a debate at home with my visiting son Andrew, who has opinions about everything, over what is the highest level of learning in education, practical manipulation of information and experiences or what is usually called "critical thinking" by educators. Andrew, naturally, thought critical thinking is the lowest form of learning. I beg to disagree but recognize that critical thinking and conceptual thinking are not necessarily the same thing, but they probably come close. In fact, what is in vogue now in teaching, the Standards-Based methodologies, teach to national and state testable standards that are based on a hierarchy in which "critical thinking" is the highest level of learning.

At the top of the page you see Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning, what is sometimes called "Bloom's Rose." (Click on the rose to read it.) In 1956, Bloom and other educators wrote of a hierarchy of learning and created this circular representation of what he calls the cognitive domain. At the center labeled from 1 to 6 in reverse priority order are six learning objectives: knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis, synthesis and evaluation, with the last three considered of the highest order. Bloom's Taxonomy has been challenged and efforts to revise it have been made, but it has withstood over half a century of influence over educational psychology.
If synthesis comes in only second highest among the top three categories which represent critical thinking skills, that does not concern me. It does beat out analysis, and frankly as difficult as evaluation is--and I assume the members of the Supreme Court need to have this skill--frankly, I never aspired to be a judge. Synthesis represents creativity, and I would prefer to create than to evaluate.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finding the Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist. I am not sure I would have used another "high-brow" term to discuss what I am trying to achieve here, but after hearing Will-i-am of the Black Eyed Peas use it, I thought -- What the hell. It's a great term, and in truth, a visionist must be able to capture the "spirit of the times." You have to know where you are, to be thinking about where things are going and more importantly, where you want them to go. At some level, we are all trying to figure this out, to discover where in the world are we. We want to be in touch with reality, on top of things, going with the flow and want to be not only "in with the in crowd," but also moving ahead of the crowd because we already know where things are headed. This process begins already in high school, where kids wish to be cool, and ahead of others in matters of dress, music and style, so much that if strongly defines their identities, aspirations and relationships. You don't want to argue with a high school kid about his/her identity. This gets very tough when it comes to things like tattoos and body piercings.
I have always admired writers who seem to be good at this. Such futurologists as Alviin Toffler, who's Future Shock and subsequent books, made a big impact on me, or writers like Tom Wolfe, whose hip writing style and even hipper sartorial tastes for me defined the 1960s. Such an aspiration assumes that there is such a thing as "the times" or eras, or generations and if so that they can be defined as having a spirit. Such an assumption, I believe is no less an act of faith as is religious belief. But it seems almost inescapable.

In any event, it is my hope that in this blog I can help to both find and define the zeitgeist of this age we live in. Globalization I believe largely sums it up. We often use the term "Information Age" to describe our historic era. I was fond of post-modernism for a long time, and it was very popular in intellectual circles in Brazil when I lived there in the '80s, though some of my academic friends who took postmodernism for a ride, now say that it is somewhat out of style. I just want to know something: what ever happened to the Age of Aquarius anyway? And, oh yes, this posting is not in any way, shape or form an endorsement for the online film Zeitgeist, which I think is a bunch of bunkum.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Excellent Choice for the NY Senate Seat

Governor Patterson of New York has made a very good selection for the US Senate seat from New York vacated by Hillary Clinton. I lived in the Hudson Valley for almost seven years and being Executive Director at one of the Roosevelt Historic Sites, local politics was always part of life there. Besides being concerned with the United Nations and national political life, we were always interested in city, county and state politics and local congressional races. We usually knew our local political leaders. I did not know Kristen Gillibrand, because she was not a US Congresswoman when I was there, but I know about her predecessor, Rep. John Sweeney, who had the reputation of an ultra-conservative in that region. Sweeney earned the moniker, "Congressman Kick-Ass" from none other than President George W. Bush for his role in the 2000 elections in Florida. He also had a reputation for drunk driving and domestic violence that probably had something to do with his defeat in 2006 by Ms. Gillibrand.

Following is the text of an email I sent to her yesterday when I learned of her impending appointment to fill Hillary Clinton's US Senate seat.

Dear Representative Gillibrand,

I wish to congratulate you on the news that Governor Patterson will soon name you Senator from New York, replacing former First Lady and Senator Hillary Clinton. Though I no longer live in New York, I was the Executive Director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK) in Hyde Park, New York (1996-2003) and continue to be involved with the organization. Senator Clinton was a good friend of ERVK's, came to Val-Kill often, and was instrumental in getting funds for the National Park Service to improve infrastructure at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. As a former First Lady who admires Mrs. Roosevelt, her interest might appear obvious. However, her interest also stemmed, I believe, from the important work the organization is doing for women and girls, human rights, race relations and diversity and for honoring the " Greatest Generation" through its Elderhostel programs. I hope you have an opportunity to visit Val-Kill and ERVK soon.

I am also so pleased that you are to be appointed because you "took out" John Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney was responsible, in part, for the disruption of the vote count in the 2000 elections, using tactics reminiscent of a storm trooper. I am so pleased that you stepped up to the plate and replaced him. For that alone, you deserve this new honor.


Dan Strassser

See my blog: http://www.the-visionist.blogspot.com/

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our New Second Lady

Last night I sent a message of congratulations through the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.com/) to Dr. Jill Biden on her decision to teach at a community college in the D.C. area as opposed to taking a position at a more prestigious institution there. I think this is great. Jill has been an educator for the past 25 years, 15 of which have been teaching English at a community college in Delaware. (A bio of Jill is at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/jill_biden/)

I am so pleased that she sees as I do the importance for our society of community college educating. I have only been teaching as an adjunct instructor for one semester at Tidewater Community College, but have become totally committed to it. TCC is a great institution, educating almost 40,000 students, or 46% of all college students in the Tidewater/Hampton Roads area. The students, many of whom are also holding down full or part-time jobs, are in the classroom because the want an education.

I also love that in recent TV adds, TCC has college presidents from the four year public schools, from William and Mary in nearby Williamsburg, to Virginia Tech and University of Virginia, saying how glad they are to receive TCC graduates. Education is the key to both workforce development, personal fulfillment and an educated, prepared citizenry.

My experience at the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill, where I met such former First Ladies as Hillary Clinton, Leah Rabin, Queen Noor of Jordan and the First Lady of Brazil, Dr. Cardoso, have heightened my appreciation of the work that First Ladies do in the leadership of the country. It looks like we are going to have not only a great First Lady in Michelle Obama, but also a great "Second Lady" in Jill Biden. And it does not bother me that she let the cat out of the bag on Oprah. Hey, we are all human, and it makes us more charming to be so.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Save the Bay!

I have sent the first very first comment through the Environmental Protection Agency's website to EPA Administrator-Designate Lisa Jackson. You will increasingly see that water is one of those issues on which I will focus in my blog. Water is essential to human life, health and prosperity and must be at the center of environmental policy.

To see my comment, please check out the EPA website at:
or read it here:
Dan Strasser Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. January 21st, 2009 at 8:28 pm
As this article looks forward towards the new Administration, I would like Ms. Jackson to know how important those of us who live around the Chesapeake Bay think it is to get urgent action on this very important body of water that impacts on the lives of people in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Washington, D.C. is at the very center of the Chesapeake watershed. The Potomac and Anacostia rivers are tidal sub-estuaries of the Chesapeake. This is the Nation’s Bay, and its condition is a national disgrace. EPA and its federal partners can be instrumental in launching real improvement if they seize the opportunity and demonstrate leadership.
There is no better place to show that the Obama Administration is serious about clean air and clean water. More than ninety percent of the Bay and tidal tributary rivers that feed it are officially designated as impaired under the Clean Water Act. EPA must institute a strict pollution reduction budget with penalties for non-compliance immediately. In fact, the Clean Water Act requires it.
More information on proposals to help clean up the bay, can be gotten from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Good luck Ms. Jackson in your confirmation and in your future work.
Dan Strasser, The Visionist

Monday, January 19, 2009

Anti-Globalizers of the World, Unite!

In my very first blog posting, I mentioned that globalization is not just an irresistible historical process, but also is viewed by many as a process of choice in which global forces are urged to take sides: "the globalizers vs. the anti-globalizers, the Davos vs. anti-Davos." Today I got an email from one of my Brazilian brothers-in-law informing me that my wife's older sister, Lilia, is going to Belem do Para (city of Belem, state of Para; pictured below is the historic Ver o Peso market) in Brazil to work as an interpreter (she is one of the best and only one of several brilliant women intellectuals in the family) at the annual meeting of the World Social Forum, January 27-February 2. Well, the WSF is the anti-Davos, i.e. social vs. economic forum. Its meeting, which first were held in the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and later in Caracas, Nairobi and Mumbai, is now returning to Brazil, but this time to the mouth of the Amazon River with a strong emphasis on the environment, saving the Amazon and species and people within it, and emphasizing the importance of water as a global issue.
Most Americans, I am sure, are quite unaware of the World Social Forum, and would probably not be favorably impressed it they did. To me, it is rather comforting to kn0w that it has Brazilian origins and remains today in Brazilian hands. The WSF has become the place where every social movement, environmental, indigenous, class or race-based or just concerned with social justice, can come to sound off. Much of this sounding off over the years has been against capitalism and its global institutions: the IMF, World Bank, ITO, Wall Street and Zurich. As socialism was declared dead with the end of the Soviet Union and the conversion of China, socialists found few places of refuge, aside from Cuba and North Korea that is. However, we must not forget that social democracy, a soft form of socialism, remains the dominant political/economic system in most of Europe.
However, Marxism has never died among the social movements around the world. Thank Brazil, once again, for the resurrection of the NGO or civil society movement on a global scale, with the hosting of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Followed by the Beijing Summit for Women in 1995 and many others, by the time the United Nations sponsored a Summit for the Millennium, to establish world social and economic goals, civil society was a full and equal partner in the meetings. Now not all NGOs, nonprofits or charity groups are left-leaning for sure. However, there is the protest and mobilization element that is. The important thing to focus on is what will be the mood and appeal of the upcoming Belem WSF in the wake of the world financial meltdown and collapse of Wall Street institutions. Socialism, or "the role of government in the economy" if you will, is certainly going to feel vindicated at this meeting. Some people who we do not like, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is likely to arrive in Belem, strutting like a peacock over the new re-emergence of the socialist model that he has been marketing all over the Andes. The loss of petroleum revenues may take a little of the wind out of his sails, but I don't think it will slow him down much.
The larger implications of all this, however, is where are we going to stand on the question of the type of economic and social system that will evolve in the 21st century. In my view, we have gone too far in both directions, and it is time to recognize that there is a place for markets, a place for government and a place for civil society, once referred to more frequently as the Third Sector, to play a role in mediating between the other two and reminding us that we are all human beings and we live in one world.
Postscript: I could not leave this posting without mentioning my wife's ties to Belem do Para. Anyone not interested in personal stories can skip the following. My mother-in-law, Doninha Waichman nee Levy, was born in Belem of Moroccan Jewish emigre parents and had many sisters and brothers as was the habit in that part of Brazil in those days. Doninha met and married my father-in-law, Natan, a young Jewish Polish man, who had had the good sense to get out of Europe well before Hitler came to power. He was not the only European to get off the boat in Belem and marry one of the Brazilian young women. These gentlemen took a ship from Europe to Brazil, getting off at the first stop, Belem. Most of these "mixed"(Sephardic-Ashkenazi) couples, however, eventually moved to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo seeking a better life, education for their children and prospects of finding a Jewish spouse. Others who married locally remained. However, some of their children wound up moving to Rio or Sao Paulo to make a better life. Now it turned out that one of Doninha's sisters, Aunt Cota, married Jaime Levy, a gentleman from another Levy family of Belem, in a sense creating an even larger Levy extended family in Belem. The Levy's of both sides prospered, becoming engineers and businessmen. . There is a long history of the role of Jews in the Amazon, predating the European immigrants, mostly from North Africa. They were traders, who prospered during the Amazon rubber boom. So these Jews were Sephardic. Jewish cemeteries may be found throughout the Amazon. One of the Levys, the father of one of our dearest and recently departed aunts, Sultana (herself a brilliant author who wrote of Para while living in Washington, D.C. with her American husband Martin Rosenblatt), was known as Major Levy, because he was an important official in the region. Major Moises Eliezer Levy, in the Brazilian tradition in Brazil's interior where National Guard "colonels" ruled, was named the mayor of the city of Macapa, which was then part of Para, but would later become the capital of the State of Amapa. He served as appointed mayor off and on between 1932 and 1944, left a reasonable legacy of public works and serves as the great patriarch of the Levy family.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

From MLK to Milk

We are about to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday, and one wonders if he would ever imagine that beyond all of the enormous things he did for this country, Black , White, Hispanic, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Hawaiians and Alaskans, he would have also provided the happy coincidence of being born on the day before the day each four years that America inaugurates its new President and that one day an African American would be sworn in as President of the United States of America. I use the long version of the name, because I noticed that throughout the campaign, Barack Obama always did, never defaulting to the shortcut version of simply the "United States." Curious that.
American politics has become increasingly over the years about identity. racial, ethnic or national background, gender, religion and sexual preference. World politics also has speeded up and been brought more closely together by the forces of Globalization. It has been labeled on the broadest scale as a "Clash of Civilizations," one of the many big concepts brought to us by Samuel Huntington, a great thinker, a bit conservative for my tastes, whom we lost over the Christmas holidays (more on Sam Huntington at a later time).
On the purely domestic front, however, this presidential election is obviously a huge breakthrough in America's relentless march towards becoming a truly multicultural society. We could almost as easily have seen these past elections as the big breakthrough towards gender equality, if Hillary had only gotten a few more votes, here and there. But the women's movement has come a long way since the 1960s and we can easily imagine today that tomorrow's president could easily be a woman. One of the interesting twists about Obama's campaign and the significance of race, is that he was campaigning on the argument that race did not matter, not that it was time for a Black man to be President. If he had run as a Black candidate, we know how far that would have gone. Being half and half, Obama was comfortable in that role, even if our society tends to consider anyone with visible Black features as Black. In other countries, like Brazil, Obama might have been considered a mulatto (he has called himself "a mutt," a term not at all used as a pejorative there, and where the merging of races, once called "miscegination," has been offically celebrated on the national currency. Although there are a lot more women in this country than there are African Americans, and more women than men, it is just that the race breakthrough came first, because the wound of slavery was and has been more severe.
So now that we are past (and, thereby, post-) racial and gender bias (well, not totally obviously, but perhaps we are over the hump), it is time to confront the big issue of identity equality that we face, and that is of sexual preference equality. We need to get to the point where everyone in this country could just as easily say that the country could elect a Gay President. The Sean Penn movie Milk, about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in this country really hammered home for me this issue. That movie brought to the fore, for me as well, our capacity to intellectually accept the right to equal treatment and opportunity of the gay and lesbian community, based on the acceptance that being gay or lesbian is a matter of nature and not one of either choice, deviance or natural abnormality. But it also brought forth the deep seated feelings we are socialized into that makes straight people feel uncomfortable seeing men or women kissing each other in public (or even holding hands as I experienced this weekend at a jazz concert). I emailed my friend Rabbi Steve Einstein, and he sent me back immediately a sermon he has written about this issue which gave me a good assurance that at least the Jewish religion has come down firmly on the side of gay rights. We now have a little fun when someone points out that so-and-so is gay, especially our TV personalities. New Year's eve conversation watching Anderson Cooper celebrating New Years at Times Square: "He's the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. So handsome. Did you know he's gay?" someone commented. "Noooo!" was the general response. "Not that there is anything wrong with it" was the follow up.
I have great hope about the sexual preference issue as I do about all the other identity equality issues: the Millennial Generation does not care about any of these distinctions. Our kids are growing up to see the world as just a bunch of fello human beings. OK, my kids live in New York City in the Brooklyn-based arts and media environment where it may be easier to accept all this. But many of our schools today are like little United Nations, and the kids there, who all look different, all TALK the same language and in the same way. They are products of a highly integrated and globalized society. They get it. About half of my kids friends, including former and present roommates, are gay. That is also something spectacular. Where men and women used to have to go to gay bars and live in rather separate communities, the Millennials are just one big happy family. If you don't believe me now, just wait. All these issues of "Don't ask, don't tell" or a gay governor feeling he has to resign from office are just passe. America, get over it!
No this article has nothing to do with milk bottles. Well, Ed, Irv and Linda, I did think a little of your Dad, may he rest in peace, when I put the picture in the posting.

Good Quote - The Visionist as an Artist

“It’s the job of artists and storytellers to anticipate the future and either spot trends or spot things that ought to be happening. It’s not surprising that these things happen in fiction before they do in real life.” That was in a story, quoting 24 creator Robert Cochran, about how Hollywood anticipated our election of a Black President.

I have been wondering since a friend wrote to me that he thought perhaps this blog was a little too "high brow," which I interpret to mean too literary, that perhaps he is right. Then again, maybe not. I loved this quote that I just read on a blog called The Root (http://www.theroot.com/views/hollywood-s-leading-man?auto=true) :

James Joyce's novel, considered the 3rd best novel--his Ulysses was 1st-- in the English language by the Modern Library Board, had the most profound effect on me, as a young man, almost as much as The Outsider did.

Hold that thought.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Visionist in a Swivet

Referring to this blog, my brother wrote me the other day to say, "You've been a busy boy." Well, the last few days I have been even more busy, and I am not sure I can keep up the pace. However, the opportunities for learning and acting are immense and must be taken advantage of. There is nothing quite so heady as feeling driven. I can't relate the content of all the recent activities but will just capsulize them. I will try to get back to events I attend in other postings. These are the meetings and events (some cultural) I have been to over this extended weekend:

a) The first ever meeting of political science instructors at Tidewater Community College, spread out over four campuses, which I organized. There aren't that many of us--I am the only one at my campus--so only four instructors showed up, but at least 3 others indicated they would like to have attended and asked to be kept in the loop about future meetings. There is huge potential through this information sharing and collaborative spirit that came out in the meeting. Many of them teach internationali relations, and I am trying to be the link between IR and Globalization in the college curriculum.

b) Attended the second day-long meeting of the Globalization Seminar at TCC at the Virginia Beach campus, which I have never visited before. Meeting took place at the state-of-the art Advanced Technology Center auditorium--beautiful building--and included presentations by the business development director of Virginia Beach--which is the most populous city in Virginia--and a representative of the State of Virginia Economic Development Department from Richmond, both of whom gave great information on what local and state governments are doing to attract foreign investment and help promote trade abroad. A major educator and former president of two colleges, now involved in promoting international exchanges, including Fulbright Scholarships, gave in-depth perspective of how globalization or internationalization of college education can and should be achieve. The final speaker was a futurologist Dr. Roy Pearson, from William and Mary College, in nearby Williamsburg who gave a fascinating presentation of all the places to go on the Internet to find studies of predictions, estimates and outlooks as well as to find that data needed to make such projections and understand trends. Six faculty (me included) and six students in this seminar will travel to Southern Brazil this May for university and business exchanges related to Globalization.

c) Yeda and I attended a jazz concert at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Friday, by the John Toomey quartet. Hampton Roads, the home of Ella Fitzgerald, has a number of local jazz musicians, hosts the Hampton Jazz festival every year. Jai Sinnett, a jazz drummer himself and a one man promoter of jazz with his own daily radio jazz program, sponsors these concerts. Jai is really Mr. Cool. Oh yes, Wynton Marsalis was also playing here this weekend at the new Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, a beautiful new venue that opened in the heart of Va Beach's up and coming Town Center area.

d) Attended today the kick off lecture for 2009 of the Great Decisions Program of the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads at the Contemporary Arts Center in Virgina Beach. Great Decisions is organized by the Foreign Policy Association and takes place at World Affairs Councils throughout the US. First topic was Afghanistan and Pakistan and the speaker was Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward, Deputy Commander of US Joint Forces Command (photo above), who led the Navy Seals into Afghanistan in November 2001. Oh yes, I got to ask him what he thought about my Out of the Box Idea about dealing with Afghanistan (see below): General David Patraeus moving his CENTCOM Command to Kabul to assume direct charge of a new strategy there, giving President-elect Obama's commitment to focus attention from Iraq to Afghanistan and to plus up our troops in the latter by some 20,000. I must admit, he did not immediately embrace it, nor would I expect him to, but I was glad I was able to at least introduce the idea to someone of a senior level in the military hierarchy. Nothing he said dissuaded me of the viability of my suggestion.

e) Right after the WAC meeting, I headed over to the Virginia Beach Hilton where Operation Smile (http://www.operationsmile.org/) was holding its annual international conference. Operation Smile is one of a few international nonprofits based in Hampton Roads; it promotes providing operations for children who are suffering from cleft lip and cleft pallet. I heard a fascinating presentation on researching the web to advance Internet communication and marketing by the author of the book Click, Bill Tancer (http://www.hitwise.com/other/click.php). This is the future of Internet marketing and fundraising in the age of Globalization and Information. I also met Operation Smile's Latin America director and heard a presentation on what Operation Smile (Operacao Sorriso) is doing in Brazil

f) This evening Yeda and I attended a play at Norfolk's Little Theater in the company of another couple. The play, a kind of black comedy, was very interesting. Culturally, Hampton Roads has a lot of major cultural offerings: it is home to the Virginia Opera, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the annual Virginia Performing Arts festival, three little theatres, lots of jazz and blues venues. The opening of the new Sandler Center in Va Beach has brought a huge new resource to the community. Next week begins the opening of the annual Virginia Festival of Jewish Film.

Here are some conclusions I came to this weekend:

Hampton Roads is the future. Despite the recession, the heavy military presence here has made the area somewhat but not totally recession proof. (A just released ODU study of the local economy bears this out.) Both Presidents Bush inaugurated a new aircraft carrier here last weekend, the George H. W. Bush. A program to build a series of new nuclear subs here has just been approved. In a globalized world, sea power has returned to be a major source of American power and its ability to project that power throughout the globe. Local and state governments are successful in attracting private foreign investment and in promoting trade to this area, which also has fantastic port and rail facilities.

Community Colleges are the Future. TCC is experiencing double digit enrollment growth as the economy forces people to increase their marketability through education. Four year and private colleges and universities are suffering from the opposite. Students and their families can no longer afford expensive education and the credit for student loans is one of the victims of the financial melt down. TCC is not Harvard, but it serves a vast community; almost half of all college students in Hampton Roads attend TCC, about 40,000. Another advantage of community colleges is that people like myself, with a Masters Degree and lots of experience vs. a PhD and perhaps no life experience, can teach. Since the pay for adjuncts is so low, few do it for the money but out of other motivations. There is a pool of instructors out there.

Internet marketing and fundraising is the future. Presidential candidate Obama demonstrated the advantage of a highly sophisticated, networked fundraising and recruiting campaign. Organizations seeking support in an economic downturn, must move to on-line approaches and go for more, smaller donors by using the Internet for communications, research and outreach. Bill Tancer's book and research swirls around the question of why Prom Dresses are getting the highest number of internet search hits in January, when proms are usually held in May or June.

The Brazilianist - First Assignment in Rio de Janeiro

It may sound a bit frivolous to say I became a Brazilianist because I fell in love with the bossa nova, but that is absolutely true. But that is only the beginning. My brother Averill, college roommate Jeff Berkowitz and I were all into jazz, and we made a habit of going to Saturday jazz concerts, that went from 2-5 am at the Adams West Theater--where they showed Japanese films during normal hours, in downtown Los Angeles. At 5, we would head straight to the beach in Santa Monica to watch the sun come up and get some sleep and later lunch on the famous lemonade and corn dogs at Muscle Beach.

The bossa nova is a fusion of Afro-Brazilian music and jazz. Who can forget the Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto album, with Astrud Gilberto singing The Girl from Ipanema? I am glad that another high school - college friend, Steve Einstein, one of the Pacoima boys, reminded me recently that we had also seen the French made movie Black Orfeus together which introduced me to the magic and appeal of Brazilian carnival. This inspired me to study Portuguese at UCLA for a year with a very nice professor named Mr. Dias. (Mr. Dias, being Portuguese and not Brazilian, was quite formal. I remember him saying "In Lisbon, I would not think of going to mail a letter without wearing a coat and tie." An event at UCLA would also set the stage for my interest in Brazil, a lecture in 1964 by a controversial Brazilian politician and journalist, Carlos Lacerda. I still have notes from that lecture, and it led me to write a term paper on him when I got to graduate school. Lacerda, a right wing figure, had tormented long time Brazilian strong man Getulio Vargas. A failed attempt on Lacerda's life in 1954, blamed on Vargas's coterie, led to Vargas's eventual suicide that same year.
Although I studied about Brazil at Columbia, University, I had no idea how I would ever get there. After joining the State Department as a Foreign Service officer, instead of going to Latin America, I went to Vietnam (a whole other story), but Vietnam was my ticket to Brazil. At the end of my 18 month assignment to Vietnam, a grateful nation asked me where I would like to be assigned. My answer was "Brazil, preferably Rio de Janeiro." And that is where I was sent, following some additional Portuguese language training in Washington. I then spent the next two years, with an unusual 6 month temporary assignment back to Vietnam in the middle of it, in Rio.
As I young vice consul in Rio, I learned the benefits of diplomatic and consular service abroad. I arrived in Rio in mid 1972, was met at the airport by my boss and the two other members of the Consulate staff, driven straight to a beautiful 3 bedroom apartment overlooking Guanabara Bay and the Sugarloaf mountain, and before long, I was driving a beautiful Brazilian-made car, a Volkswagen with the lines of a Jaguar, called an SP-2. Before departing Rio, two years later, I would win the hand of Yeda, a "nice Jewish girl.....from Ipanema" and begin an adventure together. I was not in the least the most important officer at the US Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, but I did get to know quite a few politicians and leaders. I was the person most likely to visit university campuses, minor opposition leaders and to read 10 or 12 local newspapers to find out what was going on before deciding what major events to follow, who to go out and meet, and on which issues to report back to Washington. I also was the one to travel out of Rio to visit other cities and states in the consular district. Once asked to represent the Ambassador at the local Rose Parade in the town of Barbacena in the big state of Minas Gerais, I stopped off in the medium sized city of Juiz de Fora and met an energetic young mayor, Itamar Franco, who some fifteen years later would become the President of Brazil only because as Vice President, he succeeded the first popularly elected president since the military seized power, young Fernando Collor de Mello, impeached over corruption charges that led to his resignation.
Although only a short trip by hydrofoil across Guanabara Bay from the city-state and former national capital of Rio de Janeiro, officially called Guanabara state , the city of Niteroi, also the capital of the State of Rio de Janeiro, was rarely visited by US officials, and I had the whole state pretty much to myself. I interviewed a governor who had a history of belonging to the Brazilian equivalent of the Nazi Party (the Integralist Party). Many people did not understand why the Brazilian government had decided to "fuse" the city and state of Rio de Janeiro into a single state and build a very expensive Rio-Niteroi bridge across the span separating the two cities. To me it was obvious: a) the military-ruled Federal Government wanted to dilute the power of the opposition in Guanabara, the only state under nominal opposition party rule; b) there was so much corruption in the State of Rio de Janiero that the easiest way to clean up the problem was to simply "fuse" the state out of existence; and c) an argument could be made for economic advantages to improving transport between the land masses on both sides of the Bay, using political integration to drive economic integration and the development of the relatively backward hinterland of Rio de Janeiro. This may sound like a matter of little concern to the United States Government, but this was the type of issue that was of importance in the evolution of Brazil's former national capital.
Probably the most interesting political process that I covered in Rio was the coming to power of the new military government of Gen Ernesto Geisel in 1974. Geisel had been selected through a sham process which guaranteed control by the military and the old elites, but he was a different kind of military leader. Already retired, he had run the big state-controlled Brazilian petroleum company Petrobras, was far more Germanic than Brazilian and brought to office a more strategic view of his Presidency than the rather crude and repressive Medici government. Geisel appointed as he chief advisor the former head of Brazil's intelligence service, the SNI, a former general by the name of Golbery Cuoto e Silva, a noted geopolitical thinker who had served as the head of Brazil's Superior War College. Following his selection, Geisel spent several months in transition in Rio without going to Brasilia where ideas about his plans for the future government were systematically leaked to Rio's press. Nobody could meet these people. Their aparatus was impenetrable. However, over the weeks, I stitched together, based on press reports, the idea that the Geisel government planned to institute a path to a political "opening." It was during this period also that occasionally American political scientist Samual Huntington of Harvard, came to town to advise the Geisel government. If Huntington told the US Consul General of his involvement, I am unaware, but it was clear to me that his advice was having an impact on the regime. My only contact with him was when the CG brought him by my office and asked me to help him buy a Brazilian parrot and work out the legalities of shipping it to the U.S. , which I did. As far as I know, the parrot is still alive. What nobody could imagine, however, was that it would take the Brazilian military--already in power a decade in the guise of civilian appointed governments of retired military officers--ten more years to carry out the policy of "distensao," , relaxation or liberalization in English, which it described as "slow, gradual and sure." It is difficult to believe that duirng a total of only 16 months in Rio (my six month temporaty re-assigment to Vietnam was subtracted from my two years assignment in Rio), I was able to cover these rather important issues, meet a future President and find and marry the love of my life, but that is how it worked out.

The Visionist as Brazilianist

This will give you some idea why I am a Brazilianist. If you click onto it, please see it through to the end our you will miss the whole point. I am not kidding!

More to come on this subject. Much more.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Brooklyn" - The Millennials Are In

This morning I was listening to my favorite NPR news program, when I heard a little blurb about a new perfume called "Brooklyn." "A New York perfume company is about to launch a new fragrance named after Brooklyn, a borough not always associated with expensive scents. Brooklyn the perfume will be sold in a graffiti-covered bottle to evoke some of the hard-edged reputation of its namesake, the New York Post reports. But the contents combine grapefruit, cardamom, cypress, cedar and leather, not the scent of the Gowanus Canal or the sea breezes of Coney Island."

Well, I already knew about Brooklyn and had seen its graffiti-covered bottle because my son Andrew had shown me an image of it and told me it was designed by his former college and Brooklyn roommate, Shawn Lovejoy. I am so proud of Shawn and Andrew and all of their friends. They represent an entirely new generation that is nothing less than the hope of our country's and maybe the world's future: the Millennials. I know this is a big statement to say over a perfume bottle, even one as wacky as "Brooklyn." But this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have been following my own children's generation through their friends and associations, and was so impressed by everything I saw that I wrote a story on them called "The Kids from Cleveland." The more I studied these "kids," the more I was sure they were special, and then I discovered a growing literature about the "Millennial Generation."

I believe profoundly in the importance of Generations and generational politics and change. I am a Boomer, which I am proud of, although we do have some problems. There was the Greatest Generation of our parents, who got the country through the Great Depression and World War II. There was the brilliant Founding Generation of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams and George Washington and many others who helped launch this country at the end of the 18th Century.

The Millennials are unique in that they have been shaped by the Age of Globalization, of Information. They are focused on image and style. If I ever publish that article on the Kids, you will get the full story. I can't lay it on you here. But congratulations Shawn. Congratulations also to their other roommate Jed Holtz, who is working now with Emeril on his new "green" TV cooking show. And congratulations for Andrew, who goes by the professional name Bad Brilliance, and has been at the center of this very creative bunch of young people striving to express themselves, who also represent a kinder, gentler vision of our future. If our county is going through a generational shift, and I believe the election of Barack Obama is all about generational change, then the shift is towards these kids. I feel good about that.

I am not alone in seeing the future here. The following was written in "Now Smell This: A blog of perfume," and posted by Robin, who runs the site:

"Brooklyn is changing. New York’s legendary city within a city, home to a century or more of strivers, dreamers, and Nobel laureates, is reinventing itself, neighborhood by neighborhood, as an edgy metropolis. Sure, for a while there Brooklyn was a necessary second choice for the real estate-challenged Millennials seeking affordable rents and more square footage than formidable Manhattan could offer. But now— a whole new story. Today’s Brooklyn is preferable to a new generation of artistic émigrés. This is where the artists and musicians choose to move. It’s home to graffiti-ists, gaffers, and key grips, to web designers and aspiring editors. This is where fashion stylists live. New York-bound hip-and-cool Seattle-ites prefer to move to Brooklyn; smart Stockholmers book their hotel rooms here."

Brooklyn is.... the new Greenwich Village?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

OOTB Idea # 3 - Winning in Afghanistan

I am not an expert on Afghanistan, so if that is required for anyone to make a suggestion about how to deal with that conundrum, then read no further. However, with all the experts out there, we still do not seem to have figured out what to do to reverse the country's free fall into violence and decline of government control. We know that the Taliban is in aggressive resurgence, that the problems are intimately linked to the existence of a safe haven in Western Pakistan and to the failure of the Karzai government to fully and effectively govern its own country.

An excellent and critical study of the problem of Afghanistan has just been off erred by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), a prestigious independent think tank that is, however, funded by the U.S. Congress. USIP does excellent work on full range of issues related to war and peace, conflict prevention and management and post conflict-reconciliation. There is little need for me to try to come up with any better set of recommendations that those of the USIP study, which is available in its entirely at: http://www.usip.org/peaceops/afghanistan/book.html

The problem with these or any recommendations is who is going to implement them? Resolving a very difficult problem like that of Afghanistan of extreme poverty, the narcotics industry, war lordism, corruption and government incompetence requires a persistent and strong effort. It requires leadership. Although we see the importance of a multilateral approach to Afghanistan and most problems, that approach and all other efforts cannot be forged without the strong and forceful hand of the United States.

It looks like the Obama Administration is going to provide that leadership. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke has been widely said to be the Obama administration's Special Envoy for the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan (there is a competing version that his portfolio would be India - Pakistan, focusing on that conflict area). That is very good news. Amb. Holbrooke, whom I have met, is the toughest, most persistent and driven diplomat that we have and one of a rare breed of diplomats who know how to knock heads and charm the pants off of foreign leaders. His skills were amply demonstrated by the success of his negotiations leading to the Dayton Accords over Bosnia. His skill was also demonstrated during his tenure as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. However, I would suggest that for the problem in Afghanistan of military leadership is also vital, not just for military purposes, but also for the complex set of objectives involved in what today are called stability operations.

So here is the simple solution for Afghanistan: General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, responsible for the area of the Middle East and Central Asia, should move his headquarters to Kabul and assume full responsibility for working with the Karzai government to take full control of Afghanistan and to defeat the Taliban. Petraeus is already in charge of the region for the U.S., but the movement of his headquarters "to the front" would send a clear message that the United States considers this issue of utmost priority and move Petreuas himself in closer control of his forces in country. He should also be named as the Commander of all NATO forces in Aghanistan, although being dual hatted as both CENTCOM Commander and NATO forces commander would be unconventional, with all US and NATO forces unified. This would be totally consistent with the views expressed by President-elect and former candidate Obama.

The importance of leadership cannot be stressed enough. General Petraeus is our most distinguished and accomplished military commander. His success in Iraq has made him clearly the most popular military leader the U.S. has to offer, a leader of heroic dimensions. And he is really smart. As a model, Gen. Petraeus should use Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who moved his headquarters first to the United Kingdom and then to France with the advance of Allied Forces in Europe. A major war requires hands on leadership and I for one would like it to be in the hands of Gen. Petraeus.

Nothing in this proposal would pit Petreaus against Holbrooke. Rather there would be clear division of labor between the diplomatic efforts of coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the military and related Counter-Insurgency efforts within Afghanistan itself. Gen. Petraeus has already demonstrated how well he can work with State Department senior representatives in Iraq. He and Holbrooke would make up the key team, with US Ambassadors in both countries and senior military commanders in Afghanistan the second tier of leadership under their lead. Holbrooke should operate out of Washington, but have offices in our Embassies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I am quite sure that this arrangement would lead to a very quick turn around in the situation in Afghanistan and help resolve related problems in Pakistan and in the Pak-India relationship.

2008 in Words

This clip from the radio program "Hearing Voices," which plays really early on Sunday mornings on NPR, is really fantastic. I hope you listen to it and feel you have relived the year 2008 in words.


Words matter. I love words, and I love language and languages. I love English, but also other languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, French. Words give power. Speaking a foreign language gives one a lot of power. I hate to say this, but the British speak better English than we do. Anyone with a British--I will throw in Australian-- accent in this country can get a job in TV or radio. We love English actors and intellectuals, and prefer American intellectuals when they sound British. After all, it's THEIR language. By the way, I learned this week that community colleges in the State of Virginia no longer teach literature. What a shame.

Sometimes we forget that what differentiates humans from other animals is our capacity to express ourselves in words. Words allow us to have an advanced society, write our history and think about and plan for the future. Words allow us to understand most things. But words are tricky. People misunderstand and misuse words. Words are used to influence, convince and threaten others. People fight and even go to war over words. That is a scary thought. Every day I hear people trying to express themselves, but a lot of the time, they are talking past one another. Hello! and with all due respect, I work for the military. Enough said.

The 2008 elections were all about the use of words, words being spun, words being twisted. Words being used to offend others. For Mayor Giuliani, Barack Obama was just "a community organizer" not nearly as qualified to be President as "a mayor." Nuance is lost. Personal experience shapes the way we hear things. Peacemakers and visionists must be experts in the use of words and language. They must be linguists. We live in a very visual society. It is becoming more and more so. People are reading less and wanting slides and videos. TV, the internet and all those other devices are promoting this. Listening to the radio makes us use language as a means of understanding the world around us without having to see it. Reading uses our power of vision to simulate hearing without actually seeing the subject we are reading about. Reading the written word allows for greater depth and complexity than anything we can see on a screen. But we live in a world of visualization and there is great value to images. They can also be a source of great joy. Hey, I love movies, good documentaries and a well put together slide show now and then. We need balance, however, and must avoid becoming a totally visual society. BTW, I skipped the visualization piece for this blog posting. Didn't want to be a hypocrite.

Hey, I'm Bloggin Here!

This is something really new for me, so I hope you will all be patient with me. I started blogging on January 1 and am just having a ball with it. I'm blogging here! Ideas and inspirations are just gushing out. I have a lot to say and I hope it is of some value. I will try to stay focused on the issue of Globalization, but can only do that by also explaining my point of view and whence it comes. One of my friends said my blog was "too high brow" for him. Great! If I cannot ground my visions in some philosophical basis and my own life story and enrich it with a an attempt at being literate and--dare I say it-- literary, I probably would not want to do this. Blogger, which is the site I use to host my blog, now has about 3.5 million bloggers registered. So there are a lot of blogs out there.

Today, I heard on the BBC that the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan had ordered all of his ministers to start their own blogs. He had set up his own and apparently has been bombarded by questions about his government, including issues of corruption. Apparently, he has not yet answered them yet, but something is happening here. What will be the effect of this much openness and an ability of people to express themselves and instantly publish their views to anyone interested. Of course, for the private individual, there is a huge challenge in getting anyone to look at your blog. I am actually pleased by the response so far to just sending an invitation out to the people I know and getting a lot of very nice reactions. Some have even suggested edits, which I really like. If I can say what I am saying better, more correctly, and without any typos, misspellings or ungrammatical sentences or, heaven forbid, factual mistakes, so much the better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Visionist as Latin Americanist: Part II

Why I am a Latin Americanist: From Pacoima to the Prado

Although my current work focuses more on areas of conflict, such as the Middle East and Africa, I am by profession a Latin Americanist--more specifically a Brazilianist--and continue to maintain my interest in and knowledge of the countries in our own hemisphere that are important for us, but often are forgotten in the media and even by our own government. My expertise here goes beyond the fact that I have a Masters Degree in Latin American Studies from Stanford and spent most of my Foreign Service career in Latin America.

My connection with Latin America started early. Born in New York, I grew up in a Mexican-American area of the San Fernando Valley in suburban Los Angeles, called Pacoima. Most people have not heard of Pacoima. It has something of a bad reputation, typified by one of the bikers in a Cheech and Chong movie whose tee shirt read "Don't Mess with Me, I am from Pacoima. “Hey, Esse!” was what you heard every day. Some people who lived there insisted on saying they lived in Arleta, just because there was a post office in the non-Chicano section by that name. But one of its claims to fame is that it was the home of Ritchie Valens of "La Bamba" fame. I went to Pacoima Junior High School, the same school as Ritchie, who was there when my brother attended it, and I even met him once when he came back to the school for a welcome home visit and sang "Sumertime Blues." The movie La Bamba actually begins with a small plane crash at Pacoima Junior High, a real occurrence that traumatized the local community and haunted Ritchie's nightmares until his own death in a similar crash along with the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly in 1959. Not to get too diverted, however, most important in this story is that the study of Spanish began at the 7th grade at Pacoima, so that by the time I finished high school I had six years of Spanish and actually graduated as a Spanish major. I was on my way to being a Latin Americanist.

At UCLA, I studied International Relations, with a specialization in Latin America, and added Portuguese to my languages (due to an infatuation with the bossa nova and the Portuguese language’s sweet, sonorous and soft sound). While at UCLA, my brother Averill, my high school friend and college roomate Jeff Bekowitz and I made an incredible 2,000 mile train trip (second class tickets that cost $14) from Mexicali to Mexico City during Christmas vacation. The next summer I went back to Mexico City for a freind's wedding and spent the rest of the summer there. I spent a junior year abroad at the University of Madrid (where I made weekly trips to the Prado and purchased an oleograph copy of Bosch's "Garden of the Earthly Delights," above, which now hangs in the entrance hall of our home; this painting recently made its way onto the cover of Tom Freidmans's latest book on globalization). I also did a regional focus on Latin America during two years of graduate studies at the School of International Affairs at Columbia University, taking the classic Latin American seminar given by Frank Tannenbaum, a Latin Americanist whose work went back to the Mexican Revolution.

Diplomatic assignments included the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and three tours in Brazil and responsibility for Latin America at the US Mission to the United Nations, at the State Department's International Narcotics Bureau and while on detail to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

My work at the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill, in Hyde Park, New York, dealt mostly with the Roosevelt legacy, human rights, racial and gender equality, youth development and the role of the United Nations. However, I maintained my involvement with Latin America by including some key figures from the region, including the late First Lady of Brazil, Dr. Ruth Cardoso (pictured at right in the photo, alongside Richard Gere, Jessye Norman and Rob and Emile Dyson), and the current President of Costa Rica, Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, in our work.

I also served as President of the local chapter of Partners of the Americas, that unites Dutchess County, NY, with the island nation of Dominica in the Caribbean. In addition, I taught a one year course in Latin American History at nearby Marist College in Poughkeepsie, remained a member of the Latin American Studies Association and was an active participant in the activities of the Latin American Program at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. During this time, I also participated in a campaign along with others (including former Ambassadors to Bolivia Ed Corr and Bob Gelbard) to free from unjust imprisonment a Bolivian friend, brilliant writer and journalist, NGO and political leader and former Mayor of La Paz, Lupe Andrade, who I am happy to say was released from her torment. Her emails from prison were an inspiration to me.

Relating interesting experiences from my diplomatic assignments in Latin America would take a lot more space, and I will leave a recounting of these to an opportune time and to make specific points or to explain my point of view. There is too much to tell in one dose.

Globalization: The World "in a Swivet"

Dear readers,
I received a return email from Mexico City today from fellow Latin Americanist, George Grayson of William and Mary College, telling me he is "in a swivet" and too busy to read something I sent him. I mentioned the word "swivet, " which I had never heard before, to a fellow political science instructor at TCC, who said, "Excellent word, describes the state of business in the world today." I could not agree more.
Here is another presentation, with a long historical perspective, on Globalization from a respected academic institution: Yale University 's Center for the Study of Globalization, that might clarify it for some who are still asking, "what is this Globalony all about?"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Visionist as Latin Americanist: Part I

One of the causes which motivates me is the restoration of a strong alliance between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean. We have not always had a relationship of equality with the countries to our south, but we have shared a common history and destiny and it seems to me that we should struggle to sustain it.

I keep up a good relationship with colleagues in the State Department on matters concerning Latin America, and in all fairness, often the Department receives too much criticism for ignoring our own neighbors. There is actually a good record of relationships with the hemisphere. The Department has just put out an excellent fact sheet to prove it.

Unfortunately, in the business of foreign policy, perception is just as important as reality, and the perception that is most commonly held is that we are neglecting Latin America. Some in Latin America see that as a blessing, for in the words of a former Mexican leader, his country was "so close to the United States and so far from God." In reality, however, most people in Latin America want to know the United States retains a sincere, and benign but commited interest in its fate and our relationship.

The Americas were born out of conquest, slavery and revolution from colonialism and thus share a common legacy. I was excited to read a recent article that Gov. Bill Richardson wrote for Foreign Service magazine, advocating the development of a "New Alliance for Progress," and hope that his dropping out as President-elect Obama's nominee for Secretary of Commerce does not kill that idea. In my years representing the United States in Latin America, I was always struck by the strong bonds of friendship that unite our peoples and the admiration Latin Americans showed for the United States, its freedoms and its promise. Few Americans understand that one of the most prized possessions in Latin America is a current US visa.
Good relations between our countries were strong due to FDR's benign "Good Neighbor" policy. Latin America was a firm ally of the United States in World War II. The Kennedy years, despite the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, were years when the hemisphere felt a close connection with the United States and its young, dynamic (and Catholic) President. Not only the Alliance for Progress, but also the Peace Corps and such people-to-people exchange programs as the Partners of the Americas flourished. Although the Alliance "lost its way," the people-to-people programs have continued to be vital.
In truth, our narrow focus on economic interests and support for dictators who were "SOBs, but our SOBs" just after the War, and for authoritarian dictatorships during the Cold War during the second part of the 1960s and early 1970s created a legacy of mistrust and resentment that we live under today. What is often forgotten in the hemisphere is that to a major shift in favor of human rights and democracy under Jimmy Carter's Presidency siginficantly promoted a major return to democracy in the region in over the past thirty years. Nevertheless, our adherence to "neo-liberal" economic policies and the "Washington Consensus" did not earn us the love and tenderness that we had obtained during the period of either the New Deal or the New Frontier.
US interests in the hemisphere remain very large. The largest minority group in our country is now its Hispanic population, and its proportion is likely to grow as will our human ties to Latin America. Immigration is a huge issue that has not been successfully addressed. Despite the War on Drugs, the flow of narcotics to our country and the destructive affect of the drug trade both on our own society and on that of Latin America remain major issues. A major reassessment of our narcotics policy around the world by a blue ribbon commisssion would be of value. The current, large scale war among organized drug gangs in Northern Mexico constitutes a "clear and present danger" to the security of both countreis. Immigration and drugs will certainly be addressed by the visit of Mexican President Calderon to Washington this week to meet President-elect Obama.
Something really unfortunate happened in the broad flow of US-Latin relations: at the very moment democracy was triumphing in the hemisphere, a group of populist leaders , wedded to outdated socialist ideologies and an admiration of Fidel Castro and driven by indigenous and class resentments dating back to the Conquest, came into power in the Andes through fair and free elections. A failure by the elites in these countries and of the policy of the United States to address historic issues of socio-economic inequality and representation in the region fueled resentments and scape-goating. Without question, this phenomenon might not have reached this level of criticality, had it not been for the emergence of specific historic leadership figures in these countries. However, the decimation of the middle classes in these countries due to policies of the international economic system contributed to this process.
However, we have some strong partners in the hemisphere, including Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile and most of the countries of Central America and the Caribbean. We need to build on these relationships and gently win back the hearts and minds of the people of the Andes. A strong focus on indigenous rights and development is important. President Obama's participation in upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April will set an important tone for our relationship in the hemisphere. I worked on the first Summit, know how much goes on to shape those events, and hope that a lot of good work is going into its preparation. A non-event reiterating hackneyed rhetoric would be a lost opportunity.
I believe in a special relationship with Brazil. Brazil is the major nation of Latin America in terms of physical size, population, wealth, democratic vitality, energy and environmental leadership and potential to become a great power. I believe in the importance of "pivotal states," and Brazil certainly qualifies as the pivotal state in Latin America and our most important partner in South America. Brazil is the B in BRIC, a term used originally by Goldman Sachs to identify the emerging economic powerhouses of the globe, including Russia, India and China. Brazil's history and example of multiculturalism and racial tolerance is a strong beacon to the world. Its rich culture has charmed the world.
Brazil's political and cultural elites, however, often bristle at any idea of playing a second fiddle to Uncle Sam's violin. An effort needs to be made by well meaning people on both sides of the relationship to move it in the direction of equality and mutual respect and support. While the US cannot relinquish its relationships on South America, a careful collaboration with Brazil on things South American should be pursued. The US should name a world class Ambassador-statesman to Brazil--hopefully an African-American political leader--to forge a relationship that restores not only the letter but the spirit of the Rio Treaty in our relationship which will spill over to the rest of the hemisphere. Also, President Obama should make an early historic visit to Brazil and other leading countries in the region as soon as possible. The United States should support Brazil's aspirations to become a permanent member (without veto power) of the UN Security Council (as it has publicly supported that of Japan) in the context of UN Security Council reform. We should help Brazil to overcome resistance and resentment to this proposal on the part of some of Brazil's own hemispheric brother and sister countries.
Despite the ideas mentioned here, there is no single silver bullet for restoring our relationships in the hemisphere, but the advent of the Obama administration with its fresh face and promise of change offers the basis for creative diplomacy and the promotion of a common focus on democracy, human rights, social equality, civil society promotion, environmental custodianship and cultural and educational exchange and an intense effort to bring about successful conclusion of hemispheric and global trade negotiations. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of strong leadership and a talented, experienced diplomatic team under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trusteeeship for Gaza? Not such an OOTB idea

I just heard Thomas Friedman advocate on George Stephanopoulis's "This Week" Sunday program on ABC the establishment of a trusteeship in Palestine under NATO. I believe that it is the UN that is the appropriate overseeing authority for Gaza, but the idea of a trusteeship is gaining momentum. Although I sent Friedman the URL to my blog, I do not imagine he actually read my OOTB Solution for Gaza. It would be nice if he did. I consider Tom Friedman one of the most credible, knowledgeable and influential writers of our time. He knows the Middle East better than almost any other person, be it academic, journalist or diplomat, and he educates us all on the subjects in which he is interested. He discovered and popularized Globalization. He is a visionist.
I know that most Americans know nothing about the concept of trusteeship or the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations. Ralph Bunche, unquestionably the most distinguished American to work for the United Nations, began his career there as the head of the Trusteeship Division at the UN Secretariat. In future blogs I am going to discuss the importance not only of trusteeship, but also of the concept of self-determination, another idea that gets little attention in political discourse in the United States, but which is a powerful idea that has been driving international affairs since the end of WWII and has taken on additional importance in the era of globalization.

Gobalization: "Shift Happens"

This video brings home the challenges of Globalization:


Or if you do not have audio, try:


Next posting: The Visionist as Latin Americanist

Friday, January 9, 2009

OOTB Idea # 2 - How to Fix Somalia and Other Failed States

Until the world became transfixed with the terrible problem in Gaza, it was fascinated with the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates of Penzance. Now it's Pirates of Puntland. Arrgh! Before this problem exploded--and it has existed at lower levels for years--Somalia was already the prototypical "failed state." Ever since the US and the UN abandoned Somalia following the "Blackhawk Down" incident, Somalia has been mired in chaos and anarchy. A wild west land of warlords whose militias rode around in "technicals" and a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

In fact it was the chaos that brought into the forefront the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) that came close to taking control of the country, largely because they offered law and order to quell the disorder. In fact, it was the Mogadishu business community, which somehow managed to conduct its affairs in the country, that encouraged the CIC to bring Sharia law, peace and order to the anarchy. However, the rise of an Islamic group that included radical extremists posed a threat to both the United States and to neighboring Ethiopia. The US did not openly oppose the CIC, but it did not object when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006. Ethiopia's involvement was linked to a concern with a a historically redentist Somalia intent on taking back the Somali region of Ethiopia, commonly known as the Ogaden.

This is not the place to go into the complexity of relations in the Horn of Africa. What is important is that after two years trying to bring some order to Somalia in support of an extremely weak Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) whose legitimacy largely derived from its recognition by the African Union, it has decided to pull out. Only a small, undermanned Ugandan-Burundian AU peacekeeping force (AMISOM) will remain in Mogadishu. This is happening when the most radical wing of the Islamic movement in Somalia, a group called Al Shebaab, declared a terrorist organization by the US government and with ties to Al Qaida, is resurgent in the country and fast taking more territory.

At this very moment, the problem of Somali piracy burst upon the scene. Former fishermen turned pirates started overtaking and rendering ever larger ships, including a huge Saudi petroleum tanker and a cargo ship loaded with heavy weapons and tanks. By holding the ships and their crews hostage, the pirates have negotiated tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments and have turned once sleepy fishing villages into high life, big-spending centers of conspicuous consumption. No local Somali government has the force or the will to stop them.

So, doing nothing is not an option. The implosion in Somalia represents only the latest incident in which the world is feeling the risks and dangers of globalization. Globalization is in its essence the shrinking of time and space due to technological advances. A recent article in Foreign Affairs, actually pinpointed the onset of globalization with the invention of containerized shipping. It was predicting an "end to globalization" with the high cost of oil. This is a rather parochial view of globalization focused purely on international trade, but the advances in shipping are a huge part of globalization. The vulnerability of these ships to private individuals empowerd by simple technology of fast boats, GPSs, modern cheap weapons, cell phones and radios, however, is also part of globalization.

The world can no longer accept the existence of "ungoverned spaces." Whether Somalia or the under-governed tribal areas of west Pakistan, terrorists and criminal organizations can not be allowed to operate with impunity. The response to the Somali pirates has been to beef up and organize a multi-national naval force that is backed up by a united diplomatic effort or contact group meeting at the UN, which passed a Security Council resolution authorizing stronger measures against the pirates, including striking at the pirates' land-based lairs.

A few people have said, however, that the problem of piracy and anarchy and the threat of the establishment of a Taliban-like nation-state in Somalia cannot be dealt with by military means alone. The problems of Somalia are political. Where their is not a rule of law, i.e. governance, you get lawlessness. So the large question is will the international community take responsibility to bring governance to Somalia, or will it continue to be traumatized by the failure of "Provide Comfort" and keep an arms length and for how long?

The answer to Somalia and in my view other failed, failing or collapsing states is a UN organism that can assume responsibly for the political and economic aspects of these areas. Call it "nation building" if you will. Call it an ER for sick states. The logical organization within the UN system for this task is the now nearly defunct Trusteeship Council. The TC is the only organization of the UN to actually successfully work itself out of a job. It was asked, at the inception of the UN, to take overseeing the governance of former League of Nations Mandated territories as well as other territories taken from Japan, Germany and Italy following WW II, eleven territories in all. Large chunks of Africa gained Independence or joined together with other territories to gain independence through trusteeship. The last trust territories were the three Micronesian mini-states that found self governing status in the early 90s. The TC was then suspended. However, it was not abolished.

Trusteeship is a status that goes beyond a name. Indeed, many referred to such UN missions in East Timor, Cambodia and Kosovo as forms of trusteeship. There are, however, legal and political impediments to simply putting already independent states under the control of another state or entity. But it is not impossible. Sovereignty is not always a black or white kind of thing. There are shades of grey. There is nothing in the UN charter that says the TC cannot be assigned new territories to govern . Most likely, however, an amendment to the UN Charter would be required, but not a wholesale one. Also, one might want a name change that focused more on the positive purpose of re-establishing the failed state as soon as possible, such as the Council for Governance and Rule of Law. I would not abandon the TC and start from scratch, in part because the TC was designated as one of the UN's six "principal organs." It also has its own chamber at the UN Headquarters in New York. Together these status elements would demonstrate the UN's priority in finding a way of dealing with ungoverned spaces.

Bringing the UN back into Somalia (beyond its present humanitarian mission) should not be done as an invasion of a soverign state by foreign armies. the stage needs to be set diplomatically to get the various parties in Somalia, the TFG, the unrecognized governments of Puntland and Somaliland and the non-radical elements of the CIC, plus a large commitment by the AU. A significant UN/AU force needs to back up this civlian effort with enough cloat to either convince the more radical groups to agree to a diplomatic solution or to confront them.

Will this be easy? Not at all. Do we really have any better ideas? I have not heard any. What advantage we have is the coming into office of the new American adminsitration with a large amount of credibtility and capital and a capcity to spread hope, especially in Africa. It is also an administration publicly commited to using multilateral as opposed to unilateral solutions to global problems. This cannot be squandered or deferred. The Horn of Africa is an extremly vital and vulnerable geopolitical space. The threats looming there need to be addressed