Politics & Policy

The hands of a cartoonist, &c.

Several weeks ago, I was writing about Estonia, and its “Singing Revolution.” It has now been 20 years since that revolution, which cried against Soviet occupation and brutalization. I made some comparisons to present-day Syria. And I noted two quite similar characters.

In Estonia, there was a cartoonist named Heinz Valk, who delighted and encouraged his countrymen with his drawings and his appearances at public gatherings. He lessened their fear, increased their hope. It was he who coined the very term “Singing Revolution.”

#ad#He also had a slogan. It went, “One day, no matter what, we will win!” When he would speak somewhere and fail to include this line, the people would call out, “Say it! Say it!”

In Syria, the cartoonist Ali Farzat has played a similar role. He has poked fun at the Assad dictatorship, hailed the democratic protesters, and given people hope, along with some mirth. He has been an example of civilization, in an environment of totalitarian dictatorship. I wondered why state agents were letting him go on so long. I thought he might be too famous and beloved to touch.

That proved to be wrong. They have now beaten him to a pulp, breaking both his hands. They wanted to ensure he would not draw. They told him, in effect, that next time would be worse: They would kill him. (To read a news story, go here.)

In an interview a few weeks ago, Mart Laar, a hero of the Singing Revolution who was later Estonian prime minister, told me that international pressure means almost everything — almost everything to a fight against a dictatorship. In the Baltics, they had the gift of international pressure (on the Kremlin). In the case of Syria, there is virtually no such pressure. We just reassure ourselves that “Arabs don’t want democracy” and look the other way.


‐Farzat has been a scourge of dictators throughout the Arab world. He made a particular enemy of Saddam Hussein, who threatened to kill him. He has been banned in Iraq (of course), Libya, and even the Hashemites’ Jordan. His last cartoon, apparently, showed Bashar Assad “with a packed suitcase, frantically hitching a ride with a fleeing Gadhafi” — the Libyan dictator in his getaway car. (I have quoted the above-linked article.)

‐If you care to read my National Review piece about Estonia, “Songs and Tanks,” go here.

‐What are Qaddafi and his forces like? A full answer would require a fat book, and they have been written. But have just a snippet, from the Associated Press — it will do:

Meanwhile, more signs emerged of arbitrary killings of detainees and civilians by Libyan forces as the rebels swept into Tripoli earlier this week, including some 50 charred corpses found in a makeshift lockup near a military base that had been run by the Khamis Brigade, an elite unit commanded by Gadhafi’s son, Khamis.

Mabrouk Abdullah, who said he survived a massacre by Gadhafi’s forces, also told The Associated Press that guards opened fired at some 130 civilian detainees in a hangar near the military base, and fired again when prisoners tried to flee. 

Abdullah, who was at the site Sunday, said he and other prisoners were told by a guard they would be released Tuesday. Instead, guards threw hand grenades and opened fire at detainees huddling in a hangar. 

Abdullah said he had been crouching along a wall and was shot in his side, lifting his shirt to show his injury. As survivors of the initial attack tried to flee, they came under fire again, he said. 

For the full article, go here. Nothing but barbarism, ladies and gentlemen.

‐Hurricane Irene made me think of Hurricane Katrina, which was at least as much a political event as a weather event. I wrote a piece about the aftermath of Katrina — the political aftermath. It was called “All the Uglier: What Katrina whipped up.” I read it the other night, after Irene had passed, and thought I’d share a little of it with you now.

Exhibit A in the awfulness of Katrina reaction was the piece by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for The Huffington Post . . . The title over the piece was Biblical: “For They That Sow the Wind Shall Reap the Whirlwind.” . . .

“As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi’s Gulf Coast,” Kennedy wrote, “it’s worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush’s iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2.” Kennedy is concerned here about a memo that Barbour, as a lobbyist, wrote in 2001. It urged the administration to follow an anti-Kyoto course.

Later in his piece, Kennedy wrote, “Now we are all learning what it’s like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and — now — Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children.” 

The author concluded, “In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour’s memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.” 

Needless to say, RFK Jr. was wrong about the sparing of New Orleans. He was forced to write an update: “Alas, the reprieve for New Orleans was only temporary. But Haley Barbour still has much to answer for.”

#page#Okay, just one more — want to quote another writer for The Huffington Post, Russell Shaw: “Would New Orleans and the nearby Gulf Coast be suffering so terribly today if President Carter beat back Reagan in 1980? . . . I am wondering if those voters in Louisiana and Mississippi who helped polluter-allied Reagan win in 1980 would have found themselves fated differently under a second Carter term.”

Just one more, please, from Howell Raines, the former editor of the New York Times: “The churchgoing cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the House of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die in foreign deserts.”

#ad#No, hang on, one more — then I promise I’ll shut up. This is Randi Rhodes, on Air America: “I think somewhere deep down inside him, he [Bush] takes a lot of joy about losing people, if he thinks they vote Democrat or if he thinks they’re poor or if he thinks they’re in a blue state . . .”

A lovely country we live in, right? Lovely political culture. Just peachy.

‐Okay, got something you might enjoy — I mean this with no sarcasm (for once). I think you’ll enjoy it, as I did.

An old Reagan hand asked me whether I knew anyone who was authoritative on Khmer Rouge Cambodia. I did know someone, yes: Sophal Ear, an American academic. He spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010. (For a video of his presentation, go here.) He was born in Cambodia shortly before the genocide, I believe. And he has devoted much of his life to researching and chronicling that genocide.

I wrote to him, and he was, of course, glad to help. I asked him whether I could share with Impromptus readers the first paragraph of his letter to me, and he said sure. So, here ’tis:

It’s a particular honor to help an old Reagan hand. When I came to America in 1986, age ten, starting 7th grade at Willard Junior High School in Berkeley, and not speaking a word of English, one of the first things I did was write a letter to the Gipper to thank him for fighting Communism. It was in Ms. Morrison’s English as a Second Language class. Of course I didn’t tell her about it. We were in Berkeley, after all.

There’s a lot to love about such a kid, isn’t there?

‐Back to Libya for a moment: Did you hear about the anchorwoman, brandishing a gun on TV, vowing to fight for Qaddafi to the death? (Go here.) I was thinking: I can see many of our own anchorwomen doing something like that, round about October 2012.

‐Care for a little language? The other day, I had a note, mocking the education secretary, Arne Duncan, for saying, “I feel very, very badly for the children there” — he meant boys and girls in Rick Perry’s benighted Texas. I said, “He feels badly, does he? Something wrong with his sense of touch? He can’t tell wood from water from sand? Does he feel sadly and terribly and angrily too?”

A reader suggested the perfect modern sentence: “Between you and I, ‘I feel badly’ makes me nauseous.”

‐So, Duncan is saying that Texas is not healthy for children and other living things (to borrow language the Left is sure to recognize). What about his own Chicago? I quote a headline from two days ago: “Sex offenders paid to baby-sit.” (Article here.)

If I were Perry, I’d be tempted to use that, in retaliatory rhetoric . . .

‐I think I’ll end on a media note. The other day, I was walking on W. 67th St., where ABC News is. (Manhattan, we’re talkin’.) Saw an ad — a poster, a billboard, or whatever we should say — for Good Morning America. (Odd there’s no comma in the title, but there you have it.) I learned that the show is now hosted by Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos.

Last time I saw Roberts, she was emceeing a fundraiser for presidential candidate Bill Bradley in Madison Square Garden. Stephanopoulos, of course, was the Clinton flack, the one who said, “We’ve been over that and over that” — his way of deflecting any sensitive question about the Arkansan running for president. He was such a bully, in that campaign, well groomed, maybe, but a bully.

And now these two are news guardians? Joe and Josephine Mainstream? Oh joy.

Next time, I promise you a less sarcastic Impromptus. Shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep! Thanks, and see you.



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