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June 2008

Greetings from Chicago

From Mr. Crab:  Hey ya'll. I'm in Chicago for the first time in a decade, and my first extensive trip here. Chicago is a cool city with a hip, fun vibe. I'm here mainly for business but I've had the chance to see a few touristy things. For my upcoming book, I checked out an exhibit at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute: "Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past." I'm crashing with my old college buddy PokerGrub.  Last night we caught a flick ("Get Smart".  Pretty good and funny. Good, but not great). The movie ended about midnight, stopped for another drink then met up with PokerGrub's workmate. The night was young so we decided to hit Green Mill, the oldest continously-operating jazz club in the United States, if not the world. During the Prohibition Era, it was one of Al Capone's speakeasies.  We heard some great jazz for only $5, perched at the bar next to a woman who may or may not have been a high-class escort and her male friend who may or may not have been her John. Anyway, we did not get back to  his flat until 4am, only to be woken at 9am by another college pal.  The oddest part of the whole night was the cab driver: He was Kurdish Iraqi whose father was killed in the 1988 Halabjah massacre. His jaw dropped when I told him I recently had traveled to his hometown of Sulaymaniyah, Halabjah and Erbil. Small world!

President Bush in London

President Bush received a less-than-warm welcome in London yesterday. The trip was the next to last stop on his Europe Farewell Tour 2008 that also included stops in Slovakia, Berlin, Rome and Belfast. Bush had high tea with the Queen and dinner with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. A few thousand protesters turned up in Parliament Square in the shadow of Big Ben. London Metropolitan Police (aka Scotland Yard) sealed off Whitehall Road, preventing protesters from getting within 3 blocks of No. 10 Downing Street.

I'm all for the publics' right to protest, but what strikes me is the odd folks that turn out for political rallies. The majority are rather mainstream folks, but you always get the handful of loonies. And none are loonier than the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists. Even stranger to me is that most of these conspiracy theorists are high-educated people. Twice in the past month, I've been verbally attacked by these so-called conspiracy theorists in London. One was a British tech guy; the other was an American high school teacher. It's no point even debating these people because they are completely absent of reason, logic and facts. Go figure. Anyway that's my rant for the day.

Here's a couple more shots from Sunday's anti-Bush protests. Lots more posted on Flickr; just click on any of the photos to see the full collection:


Dubya in London

Bush_queen   President Bush, on his "Farewell Tour" through Europe, will be in London this Sunday. On his to-do list: tea with Queen Elizabeth II and her hubby Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; and dinner with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at No. 10 Downing Street. Bush will receive a State welcome, but Londoners won't be as hospitable. Thousands of protesters are planning to converge downtown including the Stop The War Coalition and even a group of American Expats in London!

The anti-war folks are vowing to defy a ban on protest marches near the Parliament building and Downing St.  Whether any protesters will show up remains to be seen. Bush has actually received a relatively warm welcome on his stops in Slovenia and Berlin this week. He'll be in Rome tomorrow, Paris on Friday & Saturday, London on Sunday and wrap it up with a visit to Belfast on Monday.

Next up: South America

Co-mapFrom Mr. Crab:  In August, I'll be traveling to Colombia, Brazil and Peru on assignment for Lonely Planet. This trip will mark my first visit to South America, and the first time I've traveled south of the Equator. One of these nations will also be the 50th country I've visited in my lifetime. My goal is to travel to 100 countries by the time I turn 40, but I think age 50 is probably more realistic.  ;o)

I'll be covering the region northeast of Bogota including Bucaramanga and Cucuta. I'll also be hitting the southeast Amazon River basin. That's the tiny bit on the bottom-right of this map, identified by the only city of any substantial size there: Leticia. 

But first up will be two separate trips back to the U.S. of A. More details on that later.

Dumb Americans, part 5

When I read CRAP like this, it just makes my blood boil. These are actual quotes given to the Associated Press by voters in Pennsylvania:

"I don't think we're ready for either (a black or woman president) yet," said Doug Richardson, 62, a contractor from Latrobe. Obama "just hasn't impressed me," he said over midmorning coffee with a friend at Denny's. "His middle name bothers me a lot." That name is Hussein.

Robert Miller, 72, who lives in a government subsidized room in Bedford, said the Constitution should be amended so it will "not let any colored people run for the White House." He seemed unsure about his voting record in recent elections, but vividly recalled voting for Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

Dixie Pebley of Johnstown, 71, explained her distaste for Obama, saying, "black doesn't bother me, but Muslim does." When reminded that Obama is a Christian, she conceded the point, but added: "He was born Muslim and raised Muslim, that's enough for me. He just scares me to death."

On behalf of America, I apologize. I certainly hope these idiots do not represent the average Pennsylvania voter.  But analysts are already describing Pennsylvania as "Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in between."  Scary.

Somebody remind me: is this 2008 or 1958? 

Why Hillary Lost

1685484  The U.S. Presidential Election has captivated folks here in London.  Barack Obama dominated the front page of every UK newspaper this week. The Brits, and Europeans in general, love Obama. I theorize it's because he represents the new face of American politics -- literally and figuratively.  And liberal Europeans, of course, would like to see a Democrat back in the White House. 

So how did Hillary go from presumptive nominee 18 months ago, to has-been?  I'm no political strategist or expert wonk, but here's a few Two Crab theories:

1. The Iraq War.  Clinton voted for the 2003 Iraq war, something her most fervently anti-war supporters seem to conveniently forget. And then she's surprised when somebody brings up her vote. What? Me?  Time and time again over the past year and a half, she's been asked by audiences and reporters whether she made a mistake voting for the war. And time and time again, Hillary repeated with the same cliched, bullshit, non-answer answer: "Knowing what we know now, I would never have voted for it."  That leads me to her biggest personality fault:

2. Complete inability to admit mistakes. This, in Mr. Crab's opinion, is Hillary's biggest flaw as a leader and as a human being. "I made a mistake".  That's all she had to say in response to voting for the war in Iraq.  We're all human, we all make mistakes...unless your name is Clinton. Her inability to admit mistakes makes her appear untrustworthy and less than, well, human. After her shocking comments that suggested Obama might be assassinated like RFK, she issued a half-hearted statement saying she did "regret" the comment, but she stopped short of apologizing or admitting she made a mistake. Elton John said sorry is the hardest word to say, but the word doesn't exist in Hillary's vocabulary.   Her inability to admit mistakes did not stop with Iraq or RFK:

3. The Bosnia Debacle.  Hillary not once, not twice but at least three times claimed in interviews and speeches that, during a 1996 visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, she came under sniper fire and was forced to run with her head down to an awaiting vehicle that whisked her to safety. Within days, a damning video spread on YouTube showing Hillary calmly strolling from her airplan to an awaiting welcoming ceremony on the tarmac at Eagle Base Tuzla, Bosnia, and even stopping to accept flowers from a child.  It took a week for Hillary to respond to the video evidence, and even then refused to admit a mistake (see #2) and instead simply claimed she  "misspoke."  (For the record, I was a soldier stationed in Bosnia at the time and even had the opportunity to shake hands and meet Hillary and Chelsea. And at no time during my six-month deployment in Bosnia did I ever witness, see or hear sniper fire at Eagle Base Tuzla, neither before, during or after Hillary's visit.)  Taken as a whole, this Bosnia incident might seem trivial. But for others, especially those with military experience, this incident spoke volumes about her trustworthiness, her personality, her inexperience with foreign and military affairs, and especially how she is prone to exaggeration.  

4. Denial: It's not just a river. The election was over a month ago, but Hillary continued her "stay the course" strategy despite the overwhelming mathematical odds were against here. The result was a divided Democratic Party that cannot put aside their differences and unite for the common goal.  She left other casualties in her wake, including staff resignations, mounting debt and superdelagates who changed teams. She has a complete inability to admit defeat.  Hmmm, a leader  who is mired in a losing battle, refuses to admit defeat, adopts a "stay the course" policy despite public outcry and mounting debt and casualties. Sound familiar?

5. The female factor.  Before you say I'm sexist, hear me out. Many of Hillary's female followers, including some of my own relatives, voted for Hillary solely because she's female.  Hillary was banking that all American women would follow her simply because she was a woman. She was wrong. Young and educated women flocked to Obama. Voting for somebody because they look like you is not the way to pick a president.  We'd all love to see the first woman U.S. President. But she was the wrong woman at the wrong time.

6. Baggage.  To say Hillary has a lot of baggage is like saying the Titanic was kind of a big ship.  Where do we start?  Whitewater, the healthcare reform failure, her decision to "stand by her man" after the Monica Lewinsky scandal when most women would have thrown him to the curb, and the biggest bag of all:

7. Bill Clinton. The former president may be more beloved than Hillary, but lately he has had a major problem with sticking his foot in his mouth.  A lot.  When he was asked to tone down his anti-Obama rhetoric, he increased his attacks. If Hillary can't control her own husband, how would she control her staff?

8. Dom Com Bust:  Hillary's old pal Al Gore once claimed that he invented the internet. At least he's heard of it. The Clinton campaign failed to take advantage of the internet to raise voters and dollars. Her website looked like it was designed by some college kids in 1999.  She barely used the Internet as a fundraising tool.  She focused on attracting donations from the wealthy and traditionally politically-active voters who can afford to attend $2,300-per-plate dinners. Obama, meanwhile, embraced the power of the Internet to reach out and connect to raise millions from regular people who gave just $5 or $20 or $50 a pop. His website allowed people to start their own blogs, organize neighborhood events, recruit volunteers, and interface with tons of social networking sites. Obama knows DotCom. Heck, he can probably even program a TIVO. Obama campaign even built separate web pages aimed at specific voters: Americans Abroad like us, veterans, gays, Latinos, Asians, African Americans, women People of Faith, and even Kids. By focusing energies on a good web site, he was able to appeal to young voters and show that he's a regular guy.

9.  Failing to see the big picture. The Hillary campaign assumed that the nomination would be locked up by Super Tuesday, and therefore spent little money in states with late primaries. They assumed Iowa win was a foregone conclusion. They were dead wrong.  In contrast, the Obama campaign deployed staffers to every state to spread the gospel, taking swing states to Obama, and limiting the damage from states that Clinton won. By focusing all her time and money on the early states, Clinton was practically bankrupt by April.

10. Likability.  Hillary's strategy of trying to portray herself as "every-woman" was a joke. Regular women don't have multi-million dollar bank accounts. Most women cannot afford to write a $5 million check to their campaign.  Regular women don't wear pant-suits when visiting farms or BBQs.   She would speak with Southern accents when speaking to southern audiences, and adopt a New York accent when chatting with her constituents. She came across as a condescending carpet-bagger with a silver spoon in her mouth. Hillary should have known by now that most people either like her or hate her. There's no gray area, and she did little to improve her image to attract new fans. How disliked is she? Polls show that potential Obama voters will flock to McCain if Clinton is on his ticket.  But Obama and ANYBODY ELSE would trump McCain.