Posts Tagged ‘US politics’

Racism, cynicism Kellyanne Conway calling cards

November 7, 2016

Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway grabbed my attention during the 2008 presidential race. After media questioned the Democratic contenders about an Obama-Clinton dream ticket, and the two candidates generously conceded the other would make a strong running mate, Conway appeared on CNN’s AC 360 to sneer, “Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama can ride in the back of her bus.” It was an extraordinarily cynical, racially inflammatory remark, projecting racism onto someone else who had displayed not an iota of it. I was so shocked by her racial Molotov cocktail that I wrote to CNN, where I once worked as a news producer, to suggest they ban Conway from their airwaves.

In this campaign, Conway’s cynicism on racial issues has blossomed, continually trying to convince minorities turn their backs on their champions in favor of a proven antagonist. The Trump campaign berates Clinton for failing to achieve economic and educational equality for minorities and even Jay Z’s lyrics, while ignoring Trump’s record of housing discrimination, demonizing the Central Park Five even after exoneration and leading the birther movement that claimed President Obama wasn’t born in the US. Now, under Conway’s tutelage, Trump talks about a rigged election and voter fraud, specifying minority areas, pandering to the far right and dog whistling to white supremacists.

On the final Sunday of the campaign, Conway wouldn’t correct a fake story about voting hours being illegal extended for “certain groups” in Clark County, Nevada. Confronted with the truth – officials followed standard procedure, allowing voters already on line by closing time to vote – Conway claimed she didn’t have “all the facts,” though that didn’t stop her from putting her false spin on the story. She also refused to repudiate the fantasy narrative of an “assassination attempt” on Trump in Reno, when the only person really in danger was the protestor who tried to display a “Republicans against Trump” sign.

With Conway and her ilk in ascendancy spouting cynical venom – and, compared with Donald Trump’s rants, seeming reasonable – there’s little danger of the country ever coming together. Which, of course, means more work for Conway.

As in 2008, I once again ask the media to just say no to Conway and deny her and her clients the oxygen of publicity. Someone with such blatant disregard for truth and for decency doesn’t deserve anyone else’s megaphone.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes, editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


Ask not what’s happened to America since JFK

November 22, 2013

I’d just walked into my second grade classroom after going home for lunch. Oddly, a radio was on a table at the front of the room, with a voice saying, “…and we pray for the health of our president.” I wondered, why are we praying for that? What could happen to President Kennedy? Then I heard what had happened.

The assassination of John F Kennedy has become a great dividing line in the America of my lifetime. It was the nation’s first great television event, profoundly sad black and white images shared by every American live: the caisson carrying the president’s casket down Pennsylvania Avenue, the riderless horse with the boots upside down in the stirrups, John-John’s salute, Oswald’s surreal shooting in the Dallas Police Headquarters basement. Then, in living color, came Vietnam, the riots in cities across America, the killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy that made us all question what kind of country we were living in, questions that only deepened with escalation of the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal.

Yes, much of the Kennedy presidency and legacy is about image, not substance. (The highs and lows of the Kennedy years are well chronicled in Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis and The Best and the Brightest.) In the early 1980s, I was waiting for rush tickets at New York’s Public Theater. As the curtain was about to rise and our chances for tickets evaporate, in walked Jacqueline Kennedy on the arm of her post-Onassis companion Maurice Tempelsman. I was struck by how tiny and fragile she looked, short and so thin, the quintessential “social x-ray” of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. She wore the facial expression of someone whose shoes were too tight.

Or maybe it was her just profound disappointment at where America had gone since the heady days of Camelot and where it was going. The clarion call of JFK’s inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” would be ridiculed in today’s toxic political atmosphere. Ask yourself, is this the America you want?

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

GOP inside scoop: still chilly on Romney

August 18, 2012

“On behalf of Fox News, let me call this session of America’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy to order. Vice President Cheney, you have the floor.”

“Thank you, Roger. When we all met about a year ago, there was broad agreement that to defeat Barack Obama we want this presidential election to be about Obama and not about our candidate. To achieve that, it was essential to find the most anodyne, inoffensive, bland candidate possible. And given the field of contenders that emerged, it became clear that our best choice was Mitt Romney. Karl, please continue.”

“Thank you, Master. We believed we had the perfect Stepford candidate in Mitt Romney. A man with no principles, no convictions he’s not willing to change to get ahead, a truly empty vessel of ambition with a recognized Republican pedigree, ready to do precisely as told on the campaign trail and in office. It was like W all over again, but not quite as stupid.”

“Stupid is underrated.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more, Secretary Baker. As I was saying, Romney’s spinelessness and overall lack of character and personality seem like a winning formula. So it came as a shock to discover – credit where credit is due to our opponents – that even a cardboard cut-out of a man like Romney could leave any footprints. Who knew he had a dog, that he had a car, that he had rope? Who imagined that he had a dancing horse? Did any of you ever hear of Palestinian culture or a known Polish soldier? Who would have dreamed there was anything wrong with being your average billionaire next door?”

“Another sign of how that Kenyan Muslim socialist is polarizing the country with his lies.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Ambassador Bolton. But to focus on the future, we need to find a candidate that will seem as innocuous as possible to the American public, someone with no history, no achievements whatsoever, that will give our opponents absolutely nothing to use against him and provide no distraction from Obama.”

“Is there anyone out there who is more white bread than Mitt Romney?”


“Of course, black people can be white bread, too, Condi…”

“Thank you, Karl.”

“You’re just not one of them…”

“May I interrupt?”

“Go ahead, Ari.”

“We’re talking about finding someone who’s as close to white bread as possible. But everyone in public life has a history, has a past, has a record, no matter how much they try to cover it up and deny it…”

“What’s your point, Ari? I’m living on borrowed time.”

“Sorry, Mr. Vice President. My point is that if we want white bread, then why not just nominate white bread?”

“Pardon me, are you saying we should nominate a slice of white bread to be the president of the United States?”

“Of course not, Mr. Vice President, Don’t be ridiculous. I’m saying we should nominate a loaf of white bread.”

“That’s the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard, dripping with utter contempt for the American public and the political process.”

“I like it, too, Secretary Baker. How do you think it would poll, Karl?”

“You’ve got the white, which offers an extremely effective contrast with Obama. You’ve got the bread, slang for money in my generation, again a strong contrast…”

“I’ve been sitting here, listening quietly to all of this…”

“And no one told you to change that, Peggy…”

“I felt I had to, Grover, because it seems to me we’re missing a fundamental point. There are a lot of people in this country today that won’t accept white bread. There are Republicans – and Democrats – who don’t want to bring additional carbs in their already difficult lives. There are Republicans, Democrats and independents who won’t accept processed flour. There’s the entire issue of gluten. So I think that we need to think about all of these issues very carefully before we choose a nominee for this election that’s so terribly important.”

“Peggy has a point. Maybe we need to offer the electorate something less controversial than white bread. What about a burger?”

“Karl, have you forgotten my cholesterol?”

“Sorry, Mr Vice President…”

“Something everyone likes…”

“Orange juice. Gets us a lot of traction in Florida.”

“And it’s a morning drink… Morning in America. That’s always been a winner for our side.”

“But we’re going to face a lot of questions with orange juice. Fresh squeezed or frozen? A growing percentage of juice and even oranges come from overseas these days. It could make our candidate the issue again, not Obama.”

“Orange juice and questions both give me acid. We need something more solid, less controversial…”


“No, that’s the movies, that liberal Hollywood crowd. Not the element we’re going for.”

“I’ve got it. A chocolate chip cookie. Who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookies?”

“I agree that people like sweets, but you still have to contend with chocolate allergies, processed flour…”

“Oatmeal raisin?”

“Too lefty.”

“Not to mention fruity.”

“And we’ve gotten awfully far from white bread.”

“Right. It’s got to be plain, inoffensive, likeable but not overpowering or particularly attractive.”

“Whoever invents that will make a fortune…”

“Wait, how about vanilla ice cream.”

“I like it.”

“Everyone does. Who doesn’t like ice cream?”

“And what’s plainer than vanilla?

“Now, with something so white, to broaden its appeal, something brown as a running mate…”

“As always, you make a compelling argument, Condi. But you can’t put two cold candidates on the same ticket.”

“So are we all agreed on vanilla ice cream?”

“Run down the assets for us, Karl.”

“Vanilla ice cream provides a clear color contrast with Obama. It’s very likeable, very desirable, but not the least bit memorable. It’s totally easy to swallow. It’s completely malleable, can be bent and shaped to any position we want. And there’s a huge bonus.”

“What’s that, Karl?”

“It melts away by inauguration day, and then we can run the country any way we want.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau bribe tale winds toward Beijing, Vegas

July 18, 2012

Last month, just after the great and good of the casino industry gathered for Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau, the Wall Street Journal showcased the world casino capital’s shady side. The newspaper reported that Macau lawyer and legislator Leonel Alves passed along a $300 million bribe request to casino operator Sands China from a “high ranking” Beijing official.

I wrote that the report raises more questions than it answers. Among other things, I suggested the Beijing angle on the bribe could be camouflage for local graft; Alves, who’s been all over the place in his explanations, said in a recent radio interview that there was a Macau developer involved. My Asia Times article also suggested potential legal troubles for Sands China and parent company Las Vegas Sands stemming from the incident, even though it’s clear that the proposed bribe was not paid.

Answers are emerging thanks to a ProPublica investigation of Alves and his relationship with Sands China. The probe leads straight to Sands China chairman, Las Vegas Sands founder and my press conference pal, Sheldon Adelson, a key Republican and Likud Party benefactor. Stay tuned.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at, follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

America’s new war on poverty

February 23, 2011

From half-way around the world, it seems obvious what’s going on in America. The rich keep getting richer, in part because they’re getting their way in politics, where money talks louder than ever. With their political handmaidens, they’re declared war on the poor.

Especially in these hard times, gains for the rich come at the expense of the middle class and poor. In fiscal matters, today’s politics mean bailing out the banks and tax cuts for the rich – so the US economy can reprise the jobless growth of the George W Bush years – and then insisting that gaping budget deficits need to be addressed by cutting government services that benefit the non-rich. It’s class warfare of the worst kind, and, following the Karl Rove playbook of accusing your rivals of precisely what you do, class warfare is precisely the term the plutocrats use to decry any attempt to reverse their advantages.

Strangely, there are few voices in America presenting this case intelligently and intelligibly. Fortunately, one of them is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist and New York Times columnist.

Have a look at Krugman on the Wisconsin budget standoff and what it really means. As he so often does, Krugman speaks the plain truth here as few liberals manage these days:

The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.


Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

ObamaCare index measures newfound civility

January 18, 2011

In the wake of the Tucson shootings and President Obama’s call for dialogue, not diatribes, there’s plenty of talk about greater civility in US politics. This week’s House of Representatives debate on repeal of healthcare reform will give an early indicator of whether Republicans really mean it.

The healthcare debate is a test for Republicans because, at least on this subject, they’re responsible for lowering the tone of the discussion. They’ve spread disinformation about a government takeover of healthcare, death panels of bureaucrats (from the government, as opposed to the insurance company variety) killing Grandma, that no one in the US goes without healthcare they need, that the best route to reform is more power for insurance companies, and that US healthcare is still the best in world. They confused the issue so much that people declared, “Government hands off Medicare.”

The biggest injection of invective came from dubbing reform “ObamaCare.” It echoes use of “HillaryCare” during the Clinton administration’s failed reform effort. As with invoking the name of Hillary Clinton – Christine O’Donnell was hardly the first alleged witch in politics – attaching Barack Obama’s name to reform was designed to turn people’s attention away from the issues and recast the discussion in terms of Obama’s inherent evil.

In other words, it made the debate personal. When it’s personal, there’s no room for rational discussion or compromise. How can there be, when one side represents good and the other side is evil? If politics are going to start getting civil, then politicians will have to stop making things personal. To measure whether it’s happening, check the healthcare reform repeal debate for use of the term “ObamaCare.”

Before the Tucson shootings, here’s what Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said about healthcare repeal: “ObamaCare is a job killer for businesses small and large, and the top priority for House Republicans is going to be to cut spending and grow the economy and jobs. Further, ObamaCare failed to lower costs as the president promised that it would and does not allow people to keep the care they currently have if they like it. That is why the House will repeal it next week.”

Here’s are Dayspring’s post-Obama Tucson speech comments on healthcare reform repeal: “As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health care bill next week. Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new healthcare law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country.”

Those comments alone took two points off the ObamaCare index, indicating the House Republican leadership has changed its tune. Stay tuned to see whether Cantor’s new tone carries over to the actual debate and filters down to the rank and file.

This week also marks 50 years since John F Kennedy’s inauguration. As I wrote in November, JFK’s inaugural address would be mocked in this age of politics as blood sport.

Like Obama’s words in Tucson, Kennedy’s speech also included a formula for civility among enemies holding differences far deeper than Republicans and Democrats. Re-reading Kennedy’s stirring words after the Tucson shootings, under the shadow of JFK’s assassination and that of Martin Luther King, the other great American we celebrate this week, reminds us how much work remains to become the nation future generations deserve.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Ask not about the state of US politics

November 5, 2010

Tuesday’s midterm elections show how low US politics has sunk. Not because Republicans won, but how they won.

During the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Republicans disavowed any responsibility for the debacle rooted in Republican dogma and adopted, as a matter of party policy, opposition to every effort mitigate its impacts and address its causes. (Imagine if Democrats had reacted similarly to the outrageously undemocratic Supreme Court decision that handed George W Bush the 2000 presidential election or 9/11.) Then Republicans beat Democrats over the head with their failure to solve the crisis and, fueled by unlimited corporate and plutocrat spending, proposed as a solution the same save-the-rich policies dressed in populist clothes that sent the economy over the cliff; maybe this time Wall Street will stop when it’s just half-way down the abyss.

American politics wasn’t always like this. Fifty years ago, a young president spoke to higher ideals that would be mocked in today’s competition to call opponents the most outrageous names. As I wrote in Asia Times, that president also offered a prescription to revive the American tradition of seeking common ground instead of sowing conflict.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Speak up, moderates!

September 8, 2010

It’s a busy week, full of competing ideas and emotions. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, kicking off the high holiday season begins at sundown Wednesday. Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, ends Friday, giving way to the celebration of Id ul-Fitri. Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the US that left more than 3,000 dead. Amid the controversy over Cordoba House, an evangelical Christian pastor with a congregation of 50 in Florida has created an international furor with plans to commemorate the day by burning copies of the Qur’an.

On all sides, extremists have seized control of the debate. Moderates must raise their voices to be heard over the radicals and take back the conversation. In this last shared holy season between Muslims and Jews until the 2030s, Palestinians and Israelis have restarted peace talks; perhaps negotiators will be infected with the spirit of the season, as I suggested last year in The Guardian. It may not help to be hopeful, but as the old joke* instructs, “It couldn’t hurt.”

*For those who don’t know the joke: The legendary actor of the Yiddish theater Boris Tomashevski dies during intermission of a performance. The producer comes out from the closed curtain and tells crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, it breaks my heart to inform you that the great man, Tomashevski has passed away in his dressing room.”

From the back of the theater, a woman’s voice calls out, “Give him an enema.”

The producer ignores the cry and continues, “Of course, the performance will not continue, and we will refund your money. I’m sure you join me in sending deepest condolences to the family of the great man…”

“Give him an enema,” the woman repeats.

The producer can’t contain himself any longer. “Lady, Tomashevski is dead. An enema can’t help him.”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

America’s Muslim problem

August 28, 2010

I’ve been ignoring the controversy over Cordoba House – the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – hoping for a sudden outbreak of sanity across America. I took a similar approach to run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and, considering how well that worked out, I really should have known better.

Opposition to the community center – calling Cordoba House a mosque is like calling Columbia University a restaurant since it serves food, or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral a bar since it serves wine – makes me ashamed to be an American. Opposing Cordoba House does far more damage to America and its values than a few planes flown into buildings ever could.

The bigotry and narrow-mindedness behind much of the opposition to Cordoba House attacks the fundamental principles of our nation and does irreparable damage to America’s image overseas. Hostility toward Cordoba House proves radical Islamists’ point: Americans hate Muslims, so Muslims should hate them back. Building Cordoba House won’t help recruit terrorists to attack the US and Americans overseas; opposing Cordoba House is doing precisely that.

I was plenty ashamed about the Iraq invasion, but now American is making war on its own values. What’s particularly troubling is that, unlike the highly orchestrated Tea Party movement, the Cordoba House backlash truly is a grassroots movement. Two years ago, during another controversy involving Islam, I noted that many Americans consider “Muslim” a dirty word. Since writing that piece for The Guardian, the percentage of Americans who believe President Obama is a Muslim has doubled, and I doubt any of them laud his links with Islam.

The arguments against Cordoba House are specious at best, at worst against the very principles that make America the land of the free. Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11, al Qaeda did. Assigning collective guilt to Muslims is no more logical than blaming Christians (or God) for Nazi Germany because its soldiers carried Bibles and wore belt buckles proclaiming “Gott Mitt Uns (God is with us).” Collective guilt, a fancy term for bigotry, means we all end up hating each other. When Newt Gingrich argues that the US shouldn’t allow Cordoba House because Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches or synagogues, he paints a grim vision for America. If our country doesn’t aspire to a higher standard than a theocratic monarchy, then what’s the point of America?

I’m shocked that so many Americans are acting this foolish, this bigoted, and this misinformed. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. How many years ago would there have been poll number similar to those opposing Cordoba House against living, working or going to school with Irish, Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics? Opposing Cordoba House follows the tradition of Yankee hypocrisy that began with slaveholders who declared all men are created equal.

Americans can take no comfort that it’s just this one special case because it’s Muslims and Ground Zero, as if James Meredith and the University of Mississippi, or Rosa Parks and the Memphis bus, or Jews and the Ivy League, or women in the executive suite weren’t also special cases in their day.

America is either the land of the free, or it’s not – and right now, the Cordoba House controversy points which way the country is heading. It’s up to good people to take our country back, to stop making excuses and equivocating and stand up for liberty and justice for all.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Amid healthcare triumph, a sign of Democrats’ losing ways

April 7, 2010

Following passage of the US healthcare reform bill, I wrote about the impact of US reforms on medical travel in Asia for Asia Times. I promptly went into the hospital for three days of unscheduled research.

What could have sickened me was an article that broke just after the healthcare bill’s passage. The Associated Press reported that Republicans originated and supported the health insurance mandate in President Obama’s healthcare reforms. The mandate is now behind Republican cries of “Armageddon” and “the end of the American way of life,” to the extent there is anything behind those bleats beyond hot air.

According to the AP report, Republicans crafted the mandate during the 1990s as a private sector alternative to Clinton era healthcare reform proposals. At that time, Republicans didn’t see the mandate as socialism but instead called it taking responsibility. The individual insurance mandate is at the core the Massachusetts reform plan that Mitt Romney signed as governor and newly elected Senator Scott Brown supported as a state legislator.

What’s sickening to me isn’t that Republicans would so blatantly flip-flop strictly for political advantage and predict disaster from a policy they once championed. I’m appalled that during a 14 month fight for its political life, the Obama White House didn’t uncover and use the Republicans’ flip-flop against them. Unlike the arcane and windy arguments Obama and his team put forward to support healthcare reform, here was a sound bite sized argument that would put Republicans on the defensive about their opposition to reform they once championed.

At least one progressive political group uncovered Republican mandate support ahead of the AP, so why didn’t the White House? Heads should roll for failing to unearth such a tasty political truffle nestled right under their noses. Getting the healthcare bill passed doesn’t excuse the failure. There are plenty more tough battles to come – over financial reform and climate change, for starters – and the White House can’t afford to miss this kind of low hanging political dynamite, especially in an election year. Get some people in there who are smart enough and work hard enough to do the job right and give Obama the support he deserves.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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