Olympic Torch Toasts US Candidates

Looking for the Olympic torch in San Francisco last Wednesday was every bit as uncertain as a snark hunt and by the end of a bleak day for Chinese dignity the likelihood of a US boycott of the opening ceremony in Beijing in August had markedly increased.

San Francisco was selected for transit by the torch on its tumultuous journey from democracy’s cradle to the people’s republic because the city has many Chinese. No doubt the majority of these turned out to cheer the torch’s passage, and many Chinese students at university campuses across California rushed north to cheer for the motherland. But the Bay Area also holds many passionate supporters of Tibet’s rights.

The trans-Pacific China trade is a very significant factor in California’s economy and Gavin Newsom, the city’s mayor, supervised an intricate plan to avoid any politically embarrassing confrontation with over the torch, as happened most recently in Europe, where Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel have all been dissing Beijing.

After landing at San Francisco airport the torch appeared briefly at an opening ceremony, then scuttled into a warehouse and was rushed off in a car, away from a scheduled event on the Embarcadero, next to the east bay, where large crowds of protesters and counter-protesters had gathered. It popped up the other side of the city, near the Golden Gate bridge where relay runners carried it south, back towards the airport. One such bearer, 41-year old Majora Carter, whipped a small Tibetan flag from her sleeve, but was swiftly pounced upon by San Francisco cops and ejected from the relay.

Soon the torch was back at the airport and airborne. Mayor Newsom wiped the sweat from his brow and Jiang Xiayou, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic torch relay committee, thanked San Francisco, saying “we all have felt the passion of the Olympic movement.”

The Chinese press said the torch’s San Francisco touch-down was “a harmonious journey”. This was an overly rosy assessment since likely Democatic presidential nominee Barack Obama chose that same day to inch closer to his rival Hillary Clinton’s call upon President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies.

Obama said a boycott “should be firmly on the table,” but that a decision should be made closer to the Games. “If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the president should boycott the opening ceremonies.”

The Republican nominee, John McCain, had thus far been playing for time, caught between popular dislike for China and the fact that a Republican president, George Bush Jr., has declared that sports and politics are differing realms. Before San Francisco McCain’s spokesman said his boss condemns “the brutal oppression” of Tibet by the Chinese , and advises the president to “keep his options open.” But now he’s shifted, to a position almost akin to his souklmate, HRC’s. “If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies,” McCain now says.

Bush, a big sports fan, clearly yearns to go off to Beijing. Such outings are among the few pleasures left for a deeply unpopular president who will at that point be four months shy of retirement.

Pious talk from the White House about keeping sports and politics apart will certainly raise a snigger in the Kremlin, whose denizens well certainly remember that in 1980 President Jimmy Carter led an international campaign which in the end prompted 62 nations — including the United States, Canada, West Germany, Japan, and Israel ­- to boycott the Olympics in Moscow because the previous year the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan.

In 1984, a year after the US had invaded Grenada, with President Reagan denouncing the island (population 80,000) an unendurable affront to American security , the Olympics were held in Los Angeles. No western nation felt the need to boycott, though Russia and 13 of its allies did stay away, citing only “security concerns”.

The official position of the U.S. government has long been that Tibet is part of China. Cheap goods from China sold through Wal-mart and other chains are a vital prop for lower-income Americans reeling at the inflation in basic prices for fuel, milk and other essentials. It wouldn’t take more than a slight uptick in the exchange value of China’s currency to have a huge political impact here. A boycott of the opening ceremonies by Bush could lead to reprisals by a furious Chinese leadership. Which can make life difficult for the US in any number of ways. Life is not as simple as it was in 1980.

Bill Clinton Just Can’t Keep his Mouth Shut

These past few months have been agreeably bad for Bill Clinton, disclosing him as a a corrupt lobbyist for top-tier scum, including Uribe’s blood-sodden camarilla of butchers in Colombia. His capacity for serial lying continues at full stretch. Furthermore, he cannot stop opening his mouth, each time dropping his wife another couple of feet through the trapdoor of public disesteem.

Now he’s managing to reignite Hillary’s Bosnian disaster, where she converted a pleasant outing into an anecdote of courage under fire unexampled since Audie Murphy took on a battlion of German soldiers single-handed. Bill says that Hillary came up with this fictional packet because it was late in a long day and she was kind of tired and not thinking straight. So, as my coeditor Jeffrey St Clair, asks, what happens four hours later when that 3am phone call comes?

The item on San Francisco ran last week in The First Post





Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.