Originally published in Dawn
The tall and short of world leaders….
President and Michelle Obama with Madhav Kumar Nepal, prime minister of Nepal and his wife, Gayatri
President and Michelle Obama with Anifah bin Haji Aman, minister of foreign affairs for Malaysia and his wife, Siti Rubiah Abdulsamad
President and Michelle Obama with Paul Biya, president of Cameroon and his wife, Chantal. With a name and hairdo like that, Chantal, I believe would be more at home as a Las Vegas showgirl…
Last but not the least is our very own Asif Ali Zardari, the caption at the Guardian said “President of Pakistan and widower of Benazir Bhutto.” I am actually surprised that he was not holding a picture of BB in his hands.
You can see rest of the pictures here
Separately, Silvio Berlusconi and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are about as coo coo crazy as it gets, but when you put them together, its gets beyond wacky and enters into realm of subliminally nutty.
Colonel Muammer Gaddafi, who is responsible for keeping a company or two of jet black hair dyes in business, is now touring Italy, the land of Pizzas, Pasta and Silvio Berlusconi. Apart from being the dictator par excellence – he has been ruling Libya for a good forty years now – his claim to fame is that he employ young women as his bodyguard (he has male guards too but leaves them home when he travels abroad to look cool) and erects a tent to sleep in wherever he go.
During his recent trip to Italy, the crackpot dictator personally requested to meet 700 women from the world of ‘politics, industry and culture’. Now how he came about that particular number is something I will never know, but Zoe Williams at Guardian speculates about the selection procedure of those who get to meet the Libyan leader. She believes that “Berlusconi must have gotten down his Bumper Catalog of Hot Stuff, got rid of any that were over 25, discarded those with a loud voice or body hair, and whittled down the rest by ballot until he got to 1,000.” I don’t know how the final 700 were selected.
Among those who get to shake it with the tent pitching nomadic leader, Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunities Mara Carfagna is at the forefront. Minister Carfagna claim to fame is that she is a former topless model and has been the subject of public flirting by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Before we debate the peculiarity and creep quotient of the request and Berlusconi government’s proclivity to entertain weird demands of the foreign dignitaries, let me remind you that it is not the first time such a request was made and entertained. Apparently, a similar request was made during his trip to Paris a couple of years back where he met with 1000 Parisian women, who were told he wanted to “save European women.” He was not very clear on what he wanted to save them from, though.
If anyone thinks I have seen some crazy ass political satire and soft porn last night and mixing the two here, let me remind you that truth is stranger than fiction almost all the time.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M – Th 11p / 10c|
I ♥ Jon Stewart.
At times, one yearns for the good old days when battle lines were clear and one knew who is rooting for whom. Nowadays, if you happen to be a PPP jiyla who bitched about Sharifs a couple of weeks back or a noon-league supporter who thought calling President Zardari a lying cheating whore will grant you a palace in heaven and 72 virgins, you find yourself in a bit of bind. First they were sworn enemies, and then came democracy charter. Then they became friends, then they were not, then they thought they were friends and now even they don’t know where they stand. Shifting loyalties and friendships requires one to keep a lid on emotions and not call your temporary opponent any names; even if it means that you die of political name calling constipation.
The problem is; this is not a just a local affliction. First there were clear lines drawn between Capitalism and Communism, now the bastion of capitalism is home to socialism of sorts and US government is buying banks, insurance companies, equity firms and what not to keep the economy afloat. The former strong house of socialism, Russia, is home to maximum number of new millionaires and billionaires who love to buy football teams and shag as many Wags (that is wives and girlfriends of those footballers who play in those teams) as they can with the help of those little blue pills. Formerly, we just had a G7 (group of rich powerful Western Countries plus Japan) and a G77 (group of middle and lower income countries who were envious of Group 7 countries). Nowadays, one can’t keep a tab on these groups as they are fluid and can transform themselves very quickly from G7 to G6 to G8, from G22 to G33 to its latest variant G20 (mind you, its different from the poor countries’ G20 formed in Cancun 2003).
The question is: why am I blogging about G20? Well, why not. For one, I cannot just blog about the doomsday scenarios from Pakistan about Taliban and their not so civil ways of implementing their code. Secondly, my friend Andrew has taken over my inbox sending me minute by minute updates from London – from how choppers are flying all over London carrying the powerful heads of states to the stories of protestors who are squatting over London’s Square Mile and how he wishes that he had taken a couple of days off to show solidarity with protesters (I personally think he wanted to score with the women protesters). Since G20 is all I have been reading about for past 24 hours, it is but natural that I write about it.
G20 usually comprise of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the US and the country holding EU presidency, in this case, Czech Republic, but Gordon Brown seems to be in a generous mood and also invited Spain, the Netherlands, chairs of New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the African Union Commission, and the president of the EU Commission. Heads of the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund takes the tally of attendees to 29.
Amidst all the stimulus plans and saving the world promises, Guardian focuses on more important issues surrounding the G20 such as why US all secret service agents wear shades, what will Jamie Oliver be cooking for the G20 delegates, who will sit next to whom at the dinner table (I am assuming that everyone would want a piece of world’s biggest super star President Obama), where picketing protesters throng, what clothes will the partners of heads of states be wearing and why is Obama given the codename Renegade?
How much money is it costing the British Exchequer? A cool £20 million – a bargain if compared with 2008 G8 summit in Japan (cost $285 million). Will it make a difference to the lives of people battling job loss, rising food prices and poverty? Not really, similar meet ups have not changed the world in the past, why should this one be any different?
Why is it convened? It is convened to find a scapegoat for the financial toilet the world is today. Chances are that most of it will be blamed on good ol’ W who is probably enjoying a juicy steak in Crawford and couldn’t care less. It is also rumored that Gordon Brown wanted to have a big party at tax payers’ account and decided to hold the summit as a cover for the party. A less likely rumor is that it is yet another chance to give some more press coverage and air time to Jamie Oliver.
What would have been the most looked for moment of G20 but will not happen any time soon? The meeting of Barack Obama and French First Lady Carla Bruni. It is heard that Sarkozy got a little unnerved by Obama’s message of “Change” and made sure that Carla would not attend the summit. It would have been interesting to see The Saint and the Seductress together.
Who will not bring their partners? Apart from spoilsport Sarkozy who feared the Messiah’s undeniable charms a little too much, Angela Merkel’s Professor hubby will not be there (he is a quantum Physicist and probably has better things to do). Cristina Kirchner’s husband, Néstor Kirchner will also give it a miss, probably because he used to be the President of Argentina before his wife and knows that he would stand out like a sore thumb exchanging floral arrangements and recipes with the wives of Indonesian and Dutch presidents. The infighting between the numerous wives of Saudi King Abdullah to accompany him resulted in him taking his favourite camel for company. They are putting up a special heated tent in London Ritz for the aforementioned camel.
Anyone who is familiar with Tariq Ali knows his passionate and unwavering support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Back in 2006, he was in Karachi and during one session he suggested that Pakistan needs it’s own Chavez. I disagreed and said that Pakistan has had its own version of Chavez in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto back in 1970s. He not only gave into Islamists while drafting 1973 constitution, but he also nationalized private assets like Chavez and hindered the private sector growth is the country. Right now, we need a leader like Brazilian president Lula da Silva who has his head firmly screwed on his shoulder and who is a problem solver and not narcissist like Chavez. Tariq Ali obviously disagreed with my analysis.
Fast forward 2009, Chavez has amended the constitution to end limit on the number of terms a person can serve as the president and get elected because he thinks he is necessary for the country. On the other hand, we have Lula, who despite enjoying an overwhelming 84 percent popularity, refused to amend the constitution and will step down after his term ends because he “believes that changing the president is important for the strengthening of democracy itself.”
Here is the latest interview of perhaps the most popular president in office (Yes, his rating as the president is better than the bigO, President Obama) with Fareed Zakaria.
Once a leftist firebrand, Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva turned to free-market liberalism and helped make his country Latin America’s biggest economic success. Earlier this month he became the first Latin leader to visit President Barack Obama at the White House, and in April he’ll head to London for the G20 summit on the global financial crisis. He met with NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria in New York. Excerpts:
Zakaria: Your meeting with President Obama went longer than expected. What did you talk about?
Da Silva: We talked a lot about the economic crisis. We also decided to create a working group between the U.S. and Brazil to participate in the G20 summit meeting. I told Obama that I’m praying more for him than I pray for myself, because he has much more delicate problems than I. He left a huge impression on me, and he has everything it takes to build a new image for the U.S. with relation to the rest of the world.
You got on pretty well with President Bush. How are they different?
Look, I did have a good relationship with President Bush, it’s true. But there are political problems, cultural problems, energy-grid problems, and I hope that President Obama will be the next step forward. I believe that Obama doesn’t have to be so concerned with the Iraq War. This will permit him to explore the possibility of building peace policies where there is no war, which is Latin America and Africa.
You are probably the most popular leader in the world, with an 80 percent approval rating. Why?
Brazil is a country that has rich people, as you have in New York City. But we also have poor people, like in Bangladesh. So we tried to prove it was possible to develop economic growth while simultaneously improving income distribution. In six years we have lifted 20 million people out of poverty and into the middle class, brought electricity into 10 million households and increased the minimum wage every year. All without hurting anyone, without insulting anyone, without picking fights. The poor person in Brazil is now less poor. And this is everything we want.
There are people who credit high oil, gas and agriculture prices. Can you manage with prices going down rather than up?
The recent discovery of oil is very important, because part of the oil we find will help resolve the problem of poverty and the problem of education. Brazil does not want to become an exporter of crude oil. We want to be a country that exports oil byproducts—more gasoline, high-quality oil. The investments were calculated at the price of $35 per barrel. Now, at $40, we still have enough margin.
Critics say that during this period of high commodity prices, you did not position Brazil to move economically up to the next level.
This doesn’t make sense. When I became president of Brazil, the public debt was 55 percent of GDP. Today it is 35 percent. Inflation was 12 percent, and today it’s 4.5 percent. We have economic stability. Our exports have quadrupled. The fact is that the growth of the Brazilian economy is the highest it has been in 30 years.
Will Brazil’s economy grow this year?
I’m convinced we’ll reach the end of the year with a positive growth rate. But we did not foresee that the crisis would have either the size or the depth that it has today in the U.S. Now we need new political decisions that depend on the rich countries’ governments. How are we going to reestablish credit, reestablish the American consumer and the European consumer? Now we have to prove we are worthy.
I was even getting a little bit disappointed in political life. I’ve already had my sixth year of my term, and you start getting tired. But this crisis is almost like something—a provocative thing for us, to wake us up. It’s giving me enthusiasm. I want to fight. The more crises, the more investment you have to make. So we’re investing today in what we never invested in for the last 30 years, in railroads, highways, waterways, dams, bridges, airports, ports, housing projects, basic sanitation. We have to be bold, because in Brazil we have many things to do that in other countries were already done many years ago.
Last December you had a meeting of the 33 countries of the Americas except the United States. Why? It seemed that the United States was pointedly excluded.
We have never had such a meeting among only the Latin American and Caribbean countries. So it was necessary to have this meeting without super economic powers, a meeting of countries that face the same problems.
You’ve said you hope this crisis will change the politics of the world, to give countries like Brazil and India and China a greater say. What specifically—what power do you want that you don’t have now for Brazil?
We want to have much more influence in world politics. For example, we want that the multilateral financial institutions not be open only to the Americans and Europeans—institutions like the IMF and World Bank. We want more continents to participate in the Security Council. Brazil should have a seat, and the African continent should have one or two.
You are regarded as a great symbol of democracy in the Americas. And yet some people say you have been quiet as Hugo Chávez has destroyed democracy in Venezuela. Why not speak out? If Brazil wants a greater role in the world, wouldn’t that be one part, to stand for certain values?
Well, maybe we cannot agree with Venezuelan democracy, but no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. He has been through five, six elections. I’ve only had two.
He has gangs out on the street. This is not real democracy.
Look, we have to respect the local cultures, the political traditions of each country. Given that I have 84 percent support in the public-opinion polls, I could propose an amendment to the Constitution for a third term. I don’t believe in that. But Chávez wanted to stay … I believe that changing the president is important for the strengthening of democracy itself.
Credit crunch, recession, economic bail outs, stock market crash; who hasn’t heard these words or have not been affected by them (you may have escaped them if you are living in Mars, but chances are, that the news of economic gloom reached outer space as well). The price of food items has gone up, fuel prices go roller coaster from one extreme to the other in the span of a couple of months, the car you leased last year is not so affordable any more with increased interest and monthly payments – in short; life is getting tougher by the day. The question is; how do one battle out this recession. You cannot forgo food; you gotta live. You cannot get away with not paying your electricity and gas bills as you gotta cook that food and run that refrigerator. Where is that you can cut corners and save those Benjamins (or Quaid-e-Azams or Gandhis or Queen Elizabeths depending upon whose face adorn your local currency)? Most of us are in a quandary about our saving options, but the Brits are quite clear on how will they save that extra bit of money – they turned to sex as a cheap recreational way to pass time.
According to BBC, A YouGov survey of 2,000 adults found sex was the most popular free activity, ahead of window shopping and gossiping. The Scots were most amorous with 43% choosing sex over other pastimes, compared with 35% in South England. Around one in 10 respondents to the survey said their favourite free activity was window shopping and 6% chose going to a museum as the cheapest way to pass the time. But the sexes differed on their priorities, with women preferring to gossip with friends while men had sex firmly at the top of their list.
Reading this bit of (dated) news reminded me of my 9th grade Pakistan studies class. Those who are not Pakistanis or have not lived in Pakistan during the school years should count themselves lucky that they never had to endure a subject called Pakistan studies and memorize Quaid-e-Azam’s 14 points, but I digress. Among other unmatchable gems, 9th grade Pakistan Studies book states lack of recreation facilities as one of the reasons of Pakistan’s population explosion. A gallacticaly stupid thirteen year old me could not work out the connection between ‘lack of recreation’ and ‘rising population’ and I asked my teacher, “How can the number of parks and cinemas we have be responsible for the population explosion?” My teacher got flustered and told me to ask my mother. As I never took much interest in Pakistan studies, I never bothered to ask my mom. It is only now that I understand the connection between poverty, lack of recreation and population explosion. Looks like Pakistanis have always been onto what Brits are just discovering. When there is nothing else to do, hit the sack, preferably with a member of opposite sex. Unlike Brits, we are quite lax about family planning and we do not have NHS which provides free contraception and morning after pills.
Ah the perils of third world living.
Some links that I thought should be shared with friends and foes
A preacher in Nigeria was given reprieve by the superior court, who was earlier arrested for marrying 86 women and fathering 170 children. Actually, he was only arrested for marrying 86 women, but should have been arrested for bringing in 170 children into this world.
He was arrested because custodians of Sharia wanted him to divorce all his wives but four, as allowed by the Sharia, the preacher on the other hand wanted the cake and eat it too, so he declined and now, it looks that he will happily ever after with all his 86 wives, 170 (and counting) children and numerous grandchildren.
The Onion has this hilarious take on this international conman named Barrack Obama who ran away with left over campaign money.
In another news, an Italian man was granted divorce by a court in Salerno on the grounds of …well, a nagging all intrusive mother-in-law. He hopes to get married again but he is strictly looking for a girl who has no parents.
University of Oxford came up with a list of ten most annoying terms/words used in English language and the most annoying one was ‘at the end of the day’ !!!! I think Brits have not heard the really annoying phrases of late. If they want, they can come and chat with Dr Shahid Masood and only then they will know what can be constituted highly annoying and superfluous as hell.
Austrailians are fighting the slump in the economy in an innovative way. In Canberra, Australia, a holiday resort will hold a month-long, nude “anything goes” party to combat an expected economic downturn. According to the management of the resort, it will be a ‘hedonism resort’, where anything goes for a month. If you are into kinky stuff, book your reservations now, but get in shape before you actually there. You won’t have any designer duffs on you to hide the cellulite and extra tire that you carry around your mid section.