Daily Archives: April 19, 2009

Obama dismisses criticism of Chavez handshake


U.S. President Barack Obama greets his Venezuela counterpart Hugo Chavez with a brotherly handshake before the opening ceremony of the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain April 17, 2009. Reuters

AFP | Apr 19, 2009

PORT OF SPAIN (AFP) — President Barack Obama defended on Sunday his amicable first encounter with Venezuelan leader and anti-US firebrand Hugo Chavez, which critics back home assailed as naiive and “irresponsible”.

“It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interest of the United States,” Obama told reporters at the close of a Summit of the Americas.

But, he stressed he still had concerns about Venezuela and Chavez’s often heated rhetoric.

“I have great differences with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters of foreign policy,” Obama said.

“There have been instances in which we’ve seen Venezuela interfere with some of the countries that surround Venezuela in ways that I think are a source of concern,” he added.

Obama and Chavez met here Friday at the opening of a 34-nation Americas summit and photos of the encounter showed the US leader smiling as he shook the Venezuelan’s hand and patted him on the shoulder.

Chavez was said to have told Obama: “I shook hands with (former US president George W.) Bush with this hand eight years ago. I want to be your friend.”

Obama responded by thanking Chavez, the official said.

US officials confirmed the encounter, but said Obama had simply presented himself to Chavez with a “How are you?” and left after shaking hands.

An opposition lawmaker on Sunday said Obama’s handling of the meeting confirmed conservatives’ concerns that the Democratic president would not be tough enough on the United States’ adversaries.

“I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez,” said Republican Senator John Ensign on CNN Sunday.

“This is a person who is one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world,” Ensign said, calling Chavez “a brutal dictator”.

“When you’re talking about the prestige of the United States and the presidency of the United States, you have to be careful who you’re seeing joking around with,” he said.

Obama said he’d heard such criticisms throughout his campaign for the US presidency and dismissed them as nonsense.

“The whole notion was that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness,” he said.

“The American people didn’t buy it. And there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it, it doesn’t make sense.”

Newspapers around the world ran the photo of the handshake with speculation that the long antagonism between Washington and Caracas might be overcome.

But Sunday Obama downplayed his interaction with Chavez as not particularly unique, noting conversations with other US critics, including Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

“I had meetings with all the leaders involved, including Ortega, who was the chair person of the Central American meeting,” he said.

“I had very cordial conversations with President Morales and I think it’s just that President Chavez is better at positioning the cameras,” he said.

Young adults ‘don’t want to be defined by gender, orientation’

USA TODAY | Apr 19, 2009

By Sharon Jayson

CHICAGO — Sexual orientation and sexual labels. Gender crossing and gender bending. These aren’t X-rated or adults-only topics but rather subjects that young people talk about as they figure out where they fit in, said a panel of experts at a weekend conference of the Council on Contemporary Families here.

“Youth are saying they don’t want to be defined by gender or orientation,” Chicago psychologist Braden Berkey told those attending a panel on “Gender in the Next Generation” on the final day of the conference Saturday.

Berkey is founding director of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Institute at the Center on Halsted, which opened in 2007 to offer support services and programming for the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He talked about the evolution of sexual and gender labels and how young people today are trying to dissolve them. He says the terms created in the early days, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, are giving way to other descriptions, such as polygender or multisex. Young people, he says, reject narrow gender definitions and say they don’t want to be defined by their sexuality.

However, a presentation by sociologist Barbara Risman of the University of Illinois at Chicago suggested that for the middle-schoolers she’s studied, attitudes about sexual orientation are less open-minded, especially for boys. She says these boys fear the label “gay.”

Among boys, “homophobia in middle school is used to police gender,” she says.

In-depth interviews with 43 students at an urban middle school in the Southeast found vast differences between the sexes.

“Today, girls are free to do sports and be competitive. No one thought they had to play dumb to get a boyfriend. The women’s movement has done great things for middle school girls,” she says.

“It’s another story with boys. I feel like we’re in a time warp. We have not dealt with men and masculinity in a serious enough way,” she says.

“Boys police each other. There’s no room not to do anything not traditionally masculine.”

Risman says it’s important not to generalize the findings to most American children, but she says the fact that boys are labeled quickly suggests that this is a developmental stage. The study, she adds, was limited by many rules requiring parental permission for contact with minors.

Risman says it’s the stigma of homosexuality that looms among young boys. Being emotional or caring too much about clothes or liking to dance are reasons that boys give for describing someone as “girlish,” she says.

Berkey suggests that we’re living in a “post-gay world” where gay celebrities can hawk products that traditionally have been marketed as attractive to the opposite sex. He suggests that society has advanced to the point that companies don’t worry about anti-gay bias when seeking spokespeople for products. As examples, he mentioned openly gay actor Neil Patrick Harris as a spokesman for the traditionally male Old Spice deodorant and lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who is a spokeswoman for Cover Girl cosmetics.

Jackie Chan: Freedom may be unnecessary, Chinese people need to be firmly ‘controlled’


Jackie Chan told an audience Chinese people needed to be ‘controlled’  Photo: AP

Jackie Chan has triggered controversy by claiming Chinese people are so chaotic they need to be firmly controlled by the government. Mr Chan is a favourite of the authorities in Beijing.

Telegraph | Apr 19, 2009

By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai

The actor told a forum on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, whose attendees included Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, he was not sure “freedom” was necessary.

Chan, 55, whose latest movie, Shinjuku incident, was banned in China, was asked about censorship and restriction on the mainland. He expanded his comments to discuss Chinese society in general.

“I’m not sure if it is good to have freedom or not,” he said. “I’m really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic.”

He added: “I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”

His comments were applauded by the Chinese audience, but triggered fury in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Leung Kwok-hung, a pro-democracy MP in Hong Kong, said: “He has insulted the Chinese people. Chinese people are not pets. Chinese society needs a democratic system to protect human rights and rule of law.”

Albert Ho, another MP, said Mr Chan was “racist” and added: “People around the world are running their own countries. Why can’t the Chinese do the same?”

Mr Chan is a favourite of the authorities in Beijing, and performed in both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics.

He is also the vice chairman of the China Film Association, a key industry group.

However, he lost some of his goodwill among the audience when he criticised the quality of Chinese-made goods.

“If I need to buy a television, I would definitely buy a Japanese television,” he said. “A Chinese television might explode.”