Thursday, July 10, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Archive: April, 2013

POSTED: Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 9:28 AM
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I grew up in Boston and my childhood memories of the Marathon are vivid. What’s especially obscene about the bomb attack is the desecration of an event that was unusually pure.

The marathon symbolized the best in people. Whole families lined the early phases of the route to offer water or spritz the runners as they headed through Boston suburbs. Children in Boston, who got the day off from school, headed by subway to Copley Square – or earlier phases of the route - with their parents, to try to get a glimpse of the runners.

Participants came from all over the world, and the crowd along the route cheered them all, with special pride that so many foreign runners participated. There were also special cheers for those who ran more slowly but kept slogging determinedly to the finish line an hour or more after the winners.

POSTED: Monday, April 15, 2013, 1:44 PM
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        If you want to understand the nuclear  bluster of North Korea’s dictator, I’d suggest reading two fascinating books on the lives of some of the few defectors who have made it out alive.            

        It’s no wonder that Kim Jong-un has to engage in nuclear theatrics (although he failed to conduct an expected missile test today on the birthday of his grandfather, North Korea’s  founder, Kim Il Sung). He can only maintain his huge military machine by conducting the most vicious repression of a starved population and by keeping them ignorant of the outside world.

          Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick, a longtime, former Inquirer staffer, now the  Beijing bureau chief of the L.A. Times, offers  a rare, detailed portrait of life inside the Hermit Kingdom. By conducting extensive interviews in China and in Seoul with North Koreans defectors from one particular town, she was able to piece together the stories of six North Koreans – including a couple of teenaged lovers as well as a model factory worker who thought she loved Kim Il Sung more than life.  

POSTED: Sunday, April 14, 2013, 4:47 PM

     Just returned from Fairmont Park where I watched the fabulous Tamagawa Taiko Drum and Dance Group performers at the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival which goes on until April 26.  This is the kind of event that makes Philadelphia a global city.

   Today, Sakura Sunday, was the highlight of the festival when the cherry blossoms are at peak, framing the drummers, who leapt, postured, hammered and attacked their huge drums with enthusiasm and power. 

    Drum performances such as this, with their driving martial beat, can be almost frightening, especially if the drummers maintain stony or fierce expressions.  But these young men managed to combine machismo with laughter, making clear they were enjoying the performance as much as the audience was. 

POSTED: Thursday, April 11, 2013, 9:08 PM
FILE - In this March 5, 2013 file photo, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks in Washington. The murky allegations involving Menendez, one of his top donors and prostitutes in the Dominican Republic have twisted in confusing directions this week. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Growing frustration in Congress with administration policy on Syria – or lack thereof – was in full view at Senate Foreign Relations hearings Thursday. For a minute, it almost looked like Sen. John McCain (R. AZ) might come to blows with the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. And Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D, NJ got pretty frustrated, too.

McCain grew irate when Ford said that Syrian civilian and military leaders were “grateful” for U.S. aid. Saying he had spoken to those leaders, and to Syrian refugees, McCain said they were bitter at the United States and he understood why.

“We’ve watched as more than 80,000 were massacred and we’ve given them MREs (meals-read-to-eat) with an expiration date of June,” McCain said. He was referring to the administration’s refusal to arm Syrian rebels, while only belatedly deciding to provide them with army rations, and possibly with body armor.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 10:50 PM
This undated photo provided by Tom Smedinghoff, shows Anne Smedinghoff. Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was killed Saturday, (AP)

Reading about the death of a promising young U.S. woman diplomat in Afghanistan on Saturday, I was reminded of the tough choices that foreign service officers have to make.

Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was killed by a Taliban car bomb while she was on a daytrip delivering books to schoolchildren in southern Zabul province. She was killed, along with her military escort of 3 U.S. soldiers, a DOD civilian, and several Afghans when they were walking a short distance from a small airbase to the school.

Many good foreign service personnel in troubled countries are frustrated by the security rules that keep them from mixing with locals, and getting a feel for the country. There is always a tension between the desire to escape the embassy fortress and the risk of attack.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 8:35 AM

My pick for most bizarre foreign story of the day is the tale of Eric Haroun, a former U.S. army private from Arizona who’s under arrest for fighting with Syrian rebels seeking to topple the Assad regime.

Keep in mind that the United States backs the efforts of the Syrian rebels. But Haroun, who says he set out to join a unit of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group that Washington supports, wound up fighting with the most effective Syrian militia, the Nusra Front which is allied with al-Qaeda.

POSTED: Monday, April 8, 2013, 2:39 PM
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meets with her friend and political ally President Ronald Reagan during a visit to the White House in Washington in 1985. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / Associated Press, file)

Looking back at Margaret Thatcher, one can see that she was far more interesting than the caricatures would have it. If you look beyond her “handbagging” of opponents, beyond her hardhearted rep as “Thatcher the milk snatcher” (from poor kids), beyond her nasal voice, you see that she was a revolutionary.

She fit her times. She shook up a tired, ossified Britain- sometimes for the worse, but frequently for the better. Her uber-conservatism was a necessary tonic for an England gone gray. But beware of any efforts by Thatcher’s euologizers to apply her formulas to today’s America. Her prescriptions suited 1980s England, but not the United States of 2013.

What was so astonishing about Thatcher is that she didn’t only shatter the glass ceiling - she shattered the class ceiling. Before she took office it was not only inconceivable for a woman to lead Britain (or any major Western state) it was inconceivable that a grocer’s daughter could do so. An archaic class system smothered British political, social and economic life like a heavy rug.

POSTED: Friday, April 5, 2013, 9:24 PM
Mikhail Gorbachev, left, the former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, acknowledges the audience after being presented with the 2008 Liberty Medal by former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Chairman of the National Constitution Center, during a ceremony at the center, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, in Philadelphia. Gorbachev is being honored for his role in ending the Cold War. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Here’s my pick for most interesting foreign news story of the week – and it isn’t the absurd and dangerous posturing of Kim Jong-un.

It’s the sharp verbal jab delivered on Monday by ailing Mikhail Gorbachev to the pretensions of Vladimir Putin. Although Gorbie is frail and ailing, he denounced Putin for curtailing freedoms and curbing civil society. Mr. Putin, he said, had adopted “a ruinous and hopeless path.”

Gorbachev changed world history when he chose, in 1989, not to order the East Germans (still under Soviet control) to fire on the Berlin wall-jumpers. The Soviet leader thought he could reform communism, and he failed to grasp that the sclerotic communist system was beyond reforming. But he understands now that Russia can't move forward under Putin’s new tsar-ism.

About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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