The real "Girl from Ipanema"

March 19-21

You know the song: "Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking...."

Well, these days, that girl has come to represent the nation of Brazil in one way: everyone is courting her.  Brazil is now the seventh largest economy.  It has gone from a global debtor to a global donor nation, now strong enough to have played a critical role in stabilizing the world economy during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.  

The Real is now pegged at about R$1.6 to the $1 US, and its strength is visible.  On my commercial flight here, at least three quarters of the flight was full of Brazilians returning from the US on shopping trips and visiting families.  It had the feeling of a flight to Delhi, full of babies and teenagers and shopping bags stuffed with "Made in America" or at least "Sold in America" name brand clothing.

So, who are Brazil's suitors?  China and the US.  And so far, China is much closer to taking her to the dance, than the US.  China has eclipsed the US as Brazil's main trading partner, importing so much iron ore and soybeans from this South American giant, that Brazil's wealthiest businessman has decided to build a super port to accommodate larger cargo ships which can more speedily transport the iron ore from his mines to Chinese steele mills.

Enter, US President Barack Obama.  Two years into his presidency, his charm is not lost here; a nation of 200 million people just as diverse ethnically and racially as the US.  Brazil has the largest number of Japanese outside Japan, and it, like the US, has millions who descend from parts of Africa.  Obama sought to point out all the common areas of interest between the US and Brazil in his public statements with President Dilma Roussef, a former guerilla, economist, presidential chief of staff, and now first Brazilian female leader.  He also spoke directly to about 2200 Brazilians packed into the Teatro Municipal in downtown Rio.

And of course, against the backdrop of escalating military actions in Libya, he also used Brazil's fight for democracy, to underscore US support and kinship with such movements, calling Brazil "a model for freedom."  He underscored the common commitment to education, innovation, infrastructure development and energy security.  (Half the vehicles in Brazil can run on biofuels.)  He made clear the US "supports Brazil's success" and called the two nations "equals."

If the US wants to regain the level of traction that China has in this region, it has a lot of catching up to do.  Roussef, though, represents a chance to start over.  She has voiced concerns over the value of the Chinese currency, the yuan, and the impact of Chinese manufacturing in competition with Brazilian made goods.  Even the Brazilian flag is being made in China, much to the disgust of some Brazilians.  

But Brazilians are skeptical of the US as well.  While soaking up some rays on the beach in Barra, I saw a plane flying a message over the tanning Brazilians, warning that Obama should stay away from the pre-salt oil reserves that were discovered off the coast of Brazil in 2006, estimated to provide some 8 billion barrels of crude oil.  Roussef is also critical of US inflation rates, making the Real an attractive shelter for foreign investors.

So, the dance continues...

With this visit, the US hopes to re-establish a relationship for economic and strategic cooperation between the hemisphere's two largest democracies.  The US knows it can't afford to have these song lyrics ring true:

"The girl from Ipanema goes walking.  And when she passes, I smile - but she doesn't see (doesn't see.)"



AK Photos


View from my hotel room in Anchorage, AK


 Another view from my hotel in Anchorage, AK


Mountains in Wasilla, AK, home of Sarah Palin

Sign in Wasilla, AK attempting to link candidate Lisa Murkowski to President Obama's policies 



My interview with Governor Schwarzenegger for CCTV

So - I'm working on a series of stories for CCTV on California's Economy, its ties to China, its high speed rail project that China is interested in bidding on, and a few others.  It just so happens that the governor is going to be taking a trade mission to China in the coming weeks, and decided to give CCTV an interview about what he'll be doing.  You'll have to stay tuned for that, but here are some photos of the interview with the hollywood mega star-turned governor.



Dispatch from GTMO #3


Military prosecutors say 50-year-old Ibrahim Al-Qosi was in it.  Yet to look at him is to see a man with an appearance like nearly every other man his age from that part of the world: white shalwar chemise, crocheted white skull cap, long beard – grey but for a black patch near his mouth.  He has the complexion of a Sudanese gentleman but the air of an educated elite. 

And yet, Al-Qosi periodically peered over his large tortoise-shell glasses at the female military judge as he admitted to following Bin Laden from their native Sudan to Afghanistan and providing logistical and meaningful support to the larger operation that ultimately led to the deaths of nearly three-thousand Americans on September eleventh, not to mention the attacks on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in the years prior.

This man was a true believer – at least in Osama Bin Laden.  He took his wife and children to Kandahar and supported them through the work he did for five years up to and through the 9/11 attacks.

Al-Qosi admitted that when he heard that Bin Laden had been expelled from the Sudan in 1996, he went to Pakistan to join him, stayed in a neighborhood in Peshawar for two months in a safe house.  After the Taliban took over Kabul, he was smuggled across the border.  In October of 1996, Al-Qosi admits he went to visit Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan where the two talked about Chechnya and why Bin Laden had been forced out of the Sudan.  He lived on the compound there and became the chief cook, buying food for the dozens who lived there through 1997.

He then followed Bin Laden again.  This time to Kandahar, driving in a caravan of taxi vans, according to his statements, containing up to 15 people each.  He sometimes drove Bin Laden himself but also became a cook again – this time for the unmarried section of the compound. (It was split into married and unmarried housing.)  Any communications here would be made outside the compound.

Al-Qosi recalls periodic visits from Taliban leader, Mullah Omar to the Kandahar airport on holidays where he would stop only 10 minutes at a time, to offer holiday greetings.

He further admitted that after the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, he himself went to the front lines in Kabul for a year or so as part of a mortar team.  But even though he was in the group, the judge allowed Al-Qosi to make one thing clear.  He never planned or participated in any terror attacks himself.

But in the military courts, it doesn’t matter.

He was picked up in December 2001, after spending Ramadan in a compound in Tora Bora.  He and nearly 100 others tried to escape to Pakistan, but the tribes they hired to help them, instead turned them over to Pakistani officials who turned Al-Qosi over to the U.S.

And after 8 years in which he alleges he was sexually abused and taunted -- though never water boarded -- at the camps in Guantanamo Bay, nor anywhere else, he now lives in the camp with the most freedoms for movement, learning and living.  But at Obama’s Gitmo, there is no indication that whatever sentence he receives from a military panel next month, will change his daily life.  The camps will still be here, and because he’s not permitted to get credit for time served under new military justice rules, Al-Qosi may be as well.


Dispatch from GTMO #2


July 8, 2010

Today is the day, we expect 50-year-old Ibrahim Al-Qosi to plead guilty – and, like every other journalist here, I plan to be in the courtroom when he does it.  Al-Qosi has been here for 8 years. He was picked up in 2001 on the Afghan border and held for three years under President George W. Bush’s executive order to create the camps here, finally charged in 2004 and then, after the Supreme Court decision, granting another inmate – Osama Bin Laden’s driver – habeas corpus, Al-Qosi was charged in 2008 under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

But now there’s a new sheriff in town.

President Barack Obama’s new Military Commissions Act of 2009 makes five changes to the law, regarding hearsay, the use of information that’s been coerced and sentencing.

Al-Qosi is an accountant by trade, who allegedly followed Osama Bin Laden from the Sudan to Afghanistan.  A guilty plea would allow us to find out so much more, and it would be the first such development since President Obama took office, promising to close the camps and the courts.

“What will it be like to be in the same room as a man accused of terrorism against my country who admits to these crimes?” I thought.  “Will he seem like any other man? Or the monster he’s accused of being?”

I didn’t find out.

In GTMO, there are rules galore.  They are always changing, so much so that in the press briefing on the first day, the PAO joked, “We got some more rule changes…but I think you’ll be happy with some of these.”

Just because they are here doesn’t mean they want us here.  And even though their soul purpose is to prevent us from doing what we ‘cannot’ do and facilitate what we can, that doesn’t mean mission accomplished either.  There are always good apples and bad, but on this day, you had to wonder who was in charge.

Even though there’s closed circuit television to view the courtroom in a media center, which would have allowed us to watch and type, most of us planned to be in the courtroom. We lined up when they asked us to at 9:15 for a 9:30 am gavel down: 12 journalists from all over the world and every form of media.

They took us in groups down and around signs and tents, through a magnetometer screening tent, and then we had to take golf carts up a hill to the court room, a total of 12 minutes to go into a building that we could have walked to in 3 from where we started. 

We missed court.

Infuriated and stunned, we packed ourselves back into those golf carts, rushed through the magnetometers we’d just come through and sprinted back to the media operations center so we could at least watch the proceedings on closed circuit television.

Whether through incompetence or malice, it sure seems like the bad apples won the day.

Why is it important to be in court?  Because the demeanor of a defendant, the flavor of the experience, the severity of the charges and the details that were discussed about Osama Bin Laden and his operation are so much more impactful, better described and reported when a journalist is close to the subject.  Access allows us to give you more than words; we can give you the experience.

I would add one addendum here, lest you think it’s just sour grapes.  The PAO staff did make a good-faith effort to bring us to court in the afternoon.  Once again, we almost missed court.  If the judge hadn’t taken longer than a 15-minute recess, it would have been like ground hog day.