President Obama's trip to Africa this week may have a rather conventional set of objectives: Improve our nation's economic relations with the countries he'll visit (Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania), encourage the development of democratic institutions and beliefs, and offer Africa's children a vision of a bright, pro-American future.
But there also are two major matters not officially on Obama's agenda. One of them is to address the issues that surround the increasing influence China is gaining, virtually unimpeded, throughout the African continent.
The other is the precarious health of South Africa's former president, 94-year-old Nelson Mandela. In that respect, the timing of Obama's trip could prove unfortunate through no fault of his.
It has been noticed (and criticized by some in Africa) that Obama, whose father was a Kenyan, had until now made just one trip to Africa, a one-day stop in Ghana four years ago. Africans have politely reminded the White House that Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, was very helpful in the fight against the scourge of AIDS.
So isn't it time Obama built on the goodwill Bush had generated and paid attention to Africa, too?
This trip presumably answers that question, and it's clear that economic matters will be at the top of the agenda. That's why Obama will be accompanied by the new U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, as well as several American CEOs.
The president also will participate in a business leaders' forum in Tanzania.
But the specter of a spreading China's economic (and, presumably, political and cultural) influence in Africa cannot be overlooked, for in important ways it comes at the expense of the United States.
China's trade with Africa approached $200 billion last year, while American trade reached only a comparatively paltry $95 billion.
"There are other countries getting in the game," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said earlier this month; and although he didn't specify China, it's clear that's one country he had in mind.
"If the United States is not leading in Africa, we're going to fall behind in a very important region in the world."
The president's trip will include a visit to the "Door of No Return" memorial to the victims of the Atlantic slave trade, near Dakar, Senegal, and to Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a prisoner of South Africa's former minority (white) government. He remains revered in his country and is surely very much on Obama's mind, for good reason.
Mandela's health is so precarious that the White House dare not make arrangements for Obama to visit him in his hospital in Pretoria unless encouraged to do so by Mandela's family. Should Mandela die during Obama's trip, that no doubt would cast a huge shadow over the president's mission, at least in terms of the public attention it draws.
But no American president can afford to overlook the importance of Africa. There are more than 50 independent countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and, together, they could form a significant alliance in the United Nations General Assembly and the World Trade Organization.
China understands this. The African people need to be reassured that the United States understands it, too, and that's one reason Obama's trip is a wise one, even if it turns out the timing is unfortunate.
Once you get past Karl Nurse's distortion and exaggerations about the effect of the sequester on local social service agencies and business in general, he does have a valid point ("Big corporations and wealthy need to pay their fair share," Other Views, June 21).
The idea of corporate tax reform to lower and broaden the burden is one even the tea party supports. He is quite correct to point out that too many large firms use tax loopholes they had their lobbyists urge Congress to create just for them. But I checked with the IRS, and his claim that those in the highest tax bracket have the ability to write off a larger percent of deductions than the middle class is false. And if he thinks the federal government should be given more money from business and the wealthy because they are more efficient at getting the economy going, then that demonstrates he has little understanding of how the private sector business model works versus the public sector one.
Howard Lockett Jr.
TampaIn awe no more
It seems that Edward Snowden (NSA whistle-blower) is wanted by the authorities for breaking the law. This administration is maneuvering to have him returned to the United States to face charges. Does this administration think that foreign powers with whom we have no extradition agreement are going to be awed and comply because the request is from the Obama administration? The administration whose leader apologized for America's success, whose president bowed to foreign leaders and whose largest problem is "climate change? The administration which can't send ships to "hot spots" because of sequestration, which announces to adversaries when we will be out of their way and which is fraught with internal scandals and has no coherent foreign policy? Why should they? We no longer "walk softly and carry a big stick," and that fact is well know by foreign powers large and small.
Do I hope that Snowden is returned to face charges? Yes! Do I think that will happen without more concessions, groveling and further loss of respect for America's global position.? No!
Sun City Center
He's no hero
Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to specifically rebut years of deliberate lies by the Johnson and Nixon administrations not only to Congress, but to the public. None of the information he released compromised the safety of informants. He did not flee the country, even though he knew he would face criminal charges.
Edward Snowden released reams of information indiscriminately to protest a program that had the oversight of Congress and the federal courts. He piously demanded complete transparency from the nation that had entrusted him with these secrets, and then fled or attempted to flee to three of the most unfree nations on earth (China, Russia, Cuba). He is now in the process of bartering his remaining secrets to some of these governments in exchange for his freedom. I'm glad that Vladimir Putin is now his pal. But Snowden is a narcissist playing Joan of Arc in his own Joan of Arc saga. And he is no hero.
Turn back clock
Our "whistleblower" may have inadvertently given a boost to the United States Postal Service by letting us know how public our computer emails and financial transactions really are. There is, however, still the promise of privacy when one puts pen to paper, licks a stamp and sends "a letter to Garcia." Perhaps now that the secret (no surprise to me) is out there that Big Brother is watching almost everything we do, people may turn back the clock and correspond in the good, old-fashioned way of handwriting an actual letter. Were that to happen, our post offices would flourish, and our mailboxes would be filled with mail we might truly enjoy reading, rather than the rubbish we all get now. With pen in hand, I am ...
Adele Ida Walter
Every day, the newspaper is full of stories about politicians breaking their promises and breaking the public's trust. Here in Florida, too many of our elected representatives simply have the wrong priorities, but I wanted to point out that sometimes it goes the other way, too.
Recently, 18 members of the Florida Legislature were recognized as "Champions of Florida's Middle Class" (see www.middleclasschamps.com) for their unwavering support of Florida's working families. During the 2013 legislative session, these lawmakers voted to protect and expand the middle class in Florida 100 percent of the time, and championed a range of issues that included protecting jobs, expanding health care access, ethics reform and more.
In the Tampa Bay area, we should be proud that state Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa was included on the champions' list. All 18 of these lawmakers deserve Floridians' thanks for their unwavering support and leadership on the issues that matter most to middle class families.
Not a figure of speech
I have read a plethora of letters to the editor in my time but never one as absurd as that of Lloyd Roberts' in Wednesday's Tribune ("Banished," Your Views.
How could anyone in his right mind think, much less believe, that using the N-word is less offensive than "black"?
I grew up in the same Savannah, Ga. that Paula Deen lives in, and I can assure you that anyone using the N-word didn't do so as Roberts' points out as "just a figure of speech." There is nothing right and proper about doing so, - prejudice is prejudice.
Then, letter of absurdity No. 2 from Bob Guenthner ("A beautiful person," Your Views, June 26). Saying the wrong thing doesn't make it right.