At Large

At Large

All For Want of a Good Five-Cent Cigar

By 8.22.14

Michael Brown lost his life after pursuing his unrestrained, but not unrequited, love for Swisher Sweets, which he heisted from a Ferguson, Missouri, shopkeeper without even the pretense of subterfuge. I despise his by-any-means-necessary passion for smoking Swishers. But who can gainsay the tobacco martyr’s tastes? Like Ulysses S. Grant, he died for the love of cigars.

Often stale, always sweet, Swishers smoke as the Cadillac of cheap cigars. Before such tobacco promotions became outlawed, I eagerly exchanged multiple proofs of purchase seals for a black T-shirt—worn proudly—with a red Swisher insignia and an uplifting message conveyed in smoky lettering: “Roll out the sweet times.” Say what you will of the decedent’s ethics. Michael Brown knew stogies. He could have stolen Dutch Masters or Phillies. He swiped Swishers. He chose right after choosing wrong.

As far as thieves go, Brown occupies the next-to-lowest rung on the ladder of larceny, right above the cowardly-in-the-crowd looters inspired by him. There is something basely admirable about the safe cracker, the swindler, and the museum burglar. They work hard for your money.

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At Large

The Young and the Restless in Beijing

By 8.4.14

Beijing
Everything in China appears is big. The population is big. The cities are big. The people’s aspirations are big. The state’s ambitions are big.

The battle over the future also is big.

I recently returned from several days in the People’s Republic of China. It’s always a fascinating place with a future as yet unresolved. The country is growing economically, but no one really believes the government’s statistics. The “one child” policy has created a birth dearth that may leave the PRC old before it grows rich. Rising domestic confidence has yielded growing regional assertiveness, sparking an ever stronger negative reaction from once complacent neighbors.

Almost certainly Beijing will end up an influential global player. But when—and whether—it will battle America for world domination is far less clear. The PRC’s international future is not yet determined.

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At Large

Cease the Cease-Fires

By 7.29.14

Many years ago, on my first trip around the world, I was struck by how the children in the Middle East — Arab and Israeli alike — were among the nicest looking little children I had seen anywhere.

It was painful to think that they were going to grow up killing each other. But that is exactly what happened.

It is understandable that today many people in many lands just want the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians to stop. Calls for a cease-fire are ringing out from the United Nations and from Washington, as well as from ordinary people in many places around the world.

According to the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping for a cease-fire to “open the door to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for a long-term solution.” President Obama has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” — again, with the idea of pursuing some long-lasting agreement.

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Live and Let Die

By 6.6.14

When symbols on the “coexist” bumpersticker come to represent people who would rather you not exist, then it’s time to rethink koexistieren, coesistere, and coexistir. The word, in any tongue, implies live and let live — not live and let murder me.

One can forgive Europeans for growing a bit squeamish about the influx of Muslims. The near hacking off of a soldier’s head with a meat cleaver last year, and the periodic bombings of train-station commuters, tend to shake even the most zealous secularist of a blind faith in tolerance.

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Bilderberg and Big Government

By 6.5.14

This spring marked the 60th anniversary of the Bilderberg Group summit, a gathering of major power brokers so apparently selective it makes the World Economic Forum’s annual Davos gathering in Switzerland look like a blue light stampede at K-Mart.

Charlie Skelton, who covered the three-day summit for England’s left-wing Guardian newspaper, describes this year’s anniversary event as “a red-letter occasion” where the summit’s chancellor has spent his time “deep in conference with the heads of MI6, NATO, the International Monetary Fund, HSBC, Shell, BP and Goldman Sachs International, along with dozens of other chief executives, billionaires and high-ranking politicians from around Europe.”

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Abbas’ Empty Gesture

By 4.30.14

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made headlines on Sunday when, in a written statement, he condemned the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in modern era.” Abbas’s statement came on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t buying it. During an interview with Bob Schieffer on the CBS program Face the Nation, Netanyahu argued that he could not “reconcile” Abbas’s statement on the Holocaust with his decision to form a unity government with Hamas: 

I think it’s an overture to American public opinion, to world opinion to try to placate and somehow smooth over the fact that he made a terrible step away from peace. He made a giant leap backwards, away from pace, because he embraced Hamas that calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide, for the eradication of Israel.

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Perspectives on Egyptian Politics

By 4.25.14

The Western press corps has clearly misunderstood the character of political change in Egypt. On January 25, 2011, the world’s television cameras were focused on Tahir Square. The images showed approximately five million people expressing their dissatisfaction with Mubarak. After days of protest, the government fell. It was a moment of national jubilation. But it was short lived.

The military establishment restored order and after several months an election was held. On these points, neither detractors of the revolution nor supporters disagree. Then the tire hit the road.

Although there were many interests represented in the election only one was sufficiently organized to take advantage of the accelerated desire for a national vote: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). It was elected with five million votes, a plurality, but by most accounts a democratic victory. Although supposedly reluctant to run for the presidency, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi did so and was elected.

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Much Ado About Voting

By 4.23.14

Voter ID is not a big deal. Or, rather, it is a big deal, but it probably shouldn’t be. Let me back up a bit. Over the past decade, there has been a growing movement in a number of states to require individuals to show photo identification when voting. Twelve states have adopted a photo ID requirement so far, and more than a dozen others are considering it.

Proponents of Voter ID contend that the measure is necessary to combat voter fraud. Opponents, however, claim that the laws have a more nefarious purpose. At a speech before Al Sharpton’s National Action Network earlier this month, President Obama claimed that, efforts like Voter ID were a malign attempt to disenfranchise Americans: “About 60 percent of Americans don’t have a passport,” Obama said. “Just because you can’t have the money to travel abroad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to vote here at home.”

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The Sacrificial Love of Lebanon’s Christians

By 4.18.14

I recently returned from the Middle East, where I captured stories for a film project about Christians living their faith in the face of crippling persecution. In Beirut, Lebanon, I spoke with two Lebanese Christians, Georges Maalouly — a 48-year old, Orthodox father of three — and his friend Father Joseph — a priest at St. Tetla’s Catholic Church. They explained how Christians in Lebanon are coping with the arrival of more than a million refugees from Syria.

Most Syrian exiles are Sunni Muslims, and their arrival has started to drastically alter Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. Economically, Syrian workers are driving down wages, and refugees place a severe burden on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. Despite this, many Lebanese Christians are choosing to help meet the needs of these refugees.

Jordan: The civil war in Syria has been raging for over three years. How has the conflict affected the Lebanese people? What challenges have you faced? How do you balance fear and compassion?

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Ready to Join the International Community?

By 4.16.14

The United Nations Human Rights Council angered Iran by renewing the mandate of monitor Ahmed Shaheed, who has criticized Tehran’s abuses. His work remains vital as long as Iran violates its citizens’ most basic rights.

At the same time nuclear negotiations continue. Dealing with Tehran could turn into the Obama administration’s greatest foreign policy success or another disaster. If the interim Geneva agreement leads to permanent denuclearization of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Barack Obama can claim an achievement nonpareil. If the effort collapses, he will look dangerously naïve.

Everything depends on whether Tehran, and not just President Hassan Rouhani, is serious. No surprise, many analysts — and more importantly, paladins of Capitol Hill — remain skeptical. And that doubt has fueled efforts to impose new sanctions, which would impede if not kill efforts to reach a final accord.

If Iran is serious about joining the community of nations, it should demonstrate that commitment in practical ways. One of the most important symbols of Iranian irresponsibility today is its ruthless persecution of religious minorities. 

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