With Obamacare, Americans get the controversy they deserve

Foreign coverage of U.S. Supreme Court decision veers towards disgust

John Dyer By John Dyer

Here again Latitude News examines what American stories mattered overseas.

A protester wearing a Barack Obama mask stands on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Reuters/ Jason Reed)

The foreign press devoted significant attention to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling in support of the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, or Obamacare. Most of the coverage simply presented the decision as a major ruling that was a victory for President Barack Obama. As usual, South Africa’s The Daily Maverick provided excellent context on the vote and the problems it creates for both Obama and Romney.

Writing before the court announced its verdict, Canada’s CBC News columnist, Neil Macdonald derided the Supreme Court’s kowtowing to political partisanship, rather than behaving with judicial independence (Anthony Kennedy excepted). In “The predictability of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Macdonald expertly predicted American politicians’ reaction to it:

If Obamacare is upheld, Republicans will denounce the court for “judicial activism,” or some other such sin. If the court overturns the law, they will praise the justices for adhering wisely to the wishes of the founding fathers.

Ditto the Democrats, just in reverse.

There was also this intriguing offhand observation in Nick O’Malley’s down-the-middle report on the verdict for The Sydney Morning Herald. Describing Chief Justice John Roberts reading the majority opinion, O’Malley provided a detail I didn’t read anywhere else:

He read the decision to silence in the packed courtroom as Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented, leaned far back in his chair, gazed at the court’s ornate ceiling and gripped his forehead.

Somehow that conveyed more about the big decision than any other report. Of course, it’s not clear if Thomas was bemoaning the verdict or happy the whole thing was over.

Calling out the beacon of democracy

The South China Morning Post waded into the ongoing international debate about the U.S.’s use of flying drones, a topic we’ve covered extensively here at Latitude News – foreign media outlets repeatedly raise concerns about this version of warfare that is, at least for now, uniquely American.

In an editorial, the Post’s writers say they understand why Obama would use the drones, given how they remove immediate danger to American troops and allow the president to look tough on national security in the run-up to the November elections.

But the newspaper articulates why overseas observers, including those in China, where balancing the power of government with the importance of civil rights is a daily struggle, would be suspicious of the Obama’s practice of personally approving drone strikes that amount to remote assassinations:

To critics, the president has the power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, without judicial oversight or the approval of lawmakers. They want to know how people end up on the list of targets and why they are not given the right to defend themselves. Legal documents that allow for Americans to be killed overseas, as happened in Yemen last year, remain secret. It is as if Obama is judge, jury and executioner.

The US holds itself up as a beacon of democracy, but the manner in which its drone attacks are carried out do not fit the American way. As other countries and groups acquire the technology, there is a risk that they will behave in the same manner. Fear and instability are already being created. It is time for Obama to be transparent and for greater international discussion so that rules on drones can be agreed upon.

The editorial reflects a growing consensus abroad that the U.S. is violating international norms with the drones. The rest of the world has very little leverage over the U.S. in the matter, of course, so don’t expect much to change anytime soon, including after November.

Remembering Michael

Amid the hubbub of the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare and the ongoing international furor over American drones, lots of people overlooked a sad anniversary on Monday, June 25. Three years ago, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, died.

The Nigeria-based Leadership newspaper didn’t forget. In a rather moving article, Pembi Stephen-David expressed nostalgia and admiration for Jackson, a singer whose odd lifestyle earned him jeers but who undoubtedly will go down in history as a giant of American music. Stephen-David hit the note well:

Arguably, there is no secular music lover or musician whose life has not been touched in a way by Michael (Wacko Jacko) Jackson; he lived and epitomised music, dance and fashion. With his unparalleled style, he made his fans gyrate, and helped them to forget their sorrows, albeit fleetingly. On the way to school, in the car or at home, everyone sang his songs.

Reading this piece, I remembered sitting in my folks’ basement and watching the video for “Thriller” on MTV. I was transfixed watching Jackson, in his cool (now dated) red leather jacket, dancing with zombies. That was in 1983. I don’t know how old Stephen-David is, but his piece made me wonder if he might have been doing something similar.