Lebanese-American Alex Azar Nominated By Donald Trump To Become Next U.S. Secretary of Healthy and Human Services

The Lebanese diaspora’s affinity to the Trump regime strikes again with Alex Azar, of Lebanese origins, being nominated by American president Donald Trump to head the U.S. Health and Human Services department, which is essentially the equivalent of health ministries elsewhere around the world.

The healthcare sector in the United States corresponds to one of the top expenditures of the American economy, and of citizens. When I first came here, having the way insurance works here be explained to me was more complicated than some of the things I studied during medical school. And, after practicing medicine here for the last several months, I’ve come to realize how much their healthcare system, Obamacare or not, needs fixing in order to further better the health of their people. For being the world’s top superpower, their indices as well as the overall health of their people is nowhere near where it could be because of how the system has been built for years, to put Americans at a disadvantage when it comes to access and affordability.

Up until recently, the U.S. HHS secretary was Tom Price. He resigned after a scandal of him using taxpayer money to fund private travels. At more than $1 million, and multiple Politico articles exposing him, Price had the shortest tenure as HHS secretary. The department, with everything that the Republicans are doing to change healthcare to what suits them, is still dealing with his resignation.

Enter Alex Azar.

A descendant of Lebanese immigrants, Alex Azar was born in 1967 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. His father, also named Alex Azar, was an ophthalmologist and teacher at John Hopkins. He holds a law degree from  Yale Law School, and was a clerk for  Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court in the early 1990s. He also worked for Kenneth W. Starr, the counsel who investigated Bill Clinton leading up to his impeachment in the 1990s as well.

Apart from his law background, Azar is also a health care expert being a former president of the American division of Eli Lilly and a health official in the George W. Bush administration, as per the New York Times. His allies, as does Trump, believe that Azar will be using his legal and health expertise to advance the Republican agenda of reforming Obamacare, which Azar believes to be a broken system, as well as to lead to lower price of drugs.

As a comparison to Lebanese readers, medications in the U.S. – even though they are mostly created and often produced here – are exorbitantly expensive. An antibiotic that you can get for $7 at a pharmacy in Lebanon would cost you north of $200 here, unless you have a good insurance plan. I’ve had patients come to the hospital nearing death because they can’t afford the medications they were prescribed.

The irony of asking someone who was the head of a pharmaceutical company to contribute to cheaper prices of drugs should not escape you. Democrats will probably grill Azar about his background in the pharmaceutical business, as well as his record in his role at the HHS previously, as they should. For a president, like Donald Trump, who wants to “drain the swamp,” he sure keeps finding a way to bring lobbyists and people of that swamp right into the heart of power. He’s also extremely conservative – as are the majority of Lebanese Americans by the looks of it.

Nonetheless, Azar’s expertise should come in handy for a Trump administration scrambling for legislative victories in the American political scene. What those victories mean to Americans and those living here (raises hand) remain to be seen.

On the Lebanese side of things, I hope that this appointment adds to Lebanon’s lobbying powers with the Americans, further tilting the Trump administration from negative actions towards my home country, and – maybe – guiding the quagmire of the Middle East, and the Saudi Arabian debacle – to a healthy conclusion.

Good luck to Mr. Azar in his confirmation hearing. He will need it. I just hope he’s more reasonable than Waleed Phares (I still don’t know why he spells his last name that way).

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Cancer Of Arabism, Breeder of Terrorism, And Radical Islam Harborer Saudi Arabia Is Walking All Over Lebanon’s Reputation & Sovereignty Because We Allow It

It’s the epitome of irony when the country that gave the world the masterminds and executioners of 9/11, whose soil gave birth to Bin Laden and other infamous terrorists that have killed innocents the world over, whose money has funded terrorism in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Europe and America, whose entire existence is about destabilizing as much as possible accuses Lebanon of terrorism – and detains its own prime minister as a result.

Saudi Arabia, the country that made a robot a citizen before its own women can have equal rights, summoned our prime minister to their country one week ago to this day, forced him to resign, and is now holding him at an unknown location in their country, not permitting him to return to his country that he is still technically in charge in. You see, Lebanese Prime Ministers cannot resign from abroad and consider that resignation valid, it has to be presented to the Lebanese president. Saudi Arabia is holding our head of state for ransom – as one of Marcel Ghanem’s Saudi guests put it: “you’ll get him back once you’ve gotten rid of Hezbollah.”

I wonder, how would the Saudis feel had some foreign power decided to hold their crown prince hostage, say, in their territorial waters one day, on his fancy ass boat just because they can? Nay, Saudi Arabia doesn’t reason. It’s a country synonymous with oppression, cutting off hands as forms of punishment and spreading hate whenever they can.

A country that’s made Arabism more cancerous than actual cancer, who has bred terrorism and harbored all the facets of Radical Islam is currently tramping all over our reputation as sovereign state. They hold our economy in their hands – 22% of remittances come from there. They hold our politics in their fingers. They are literally holding our prime minister in their midst. They send their henchmen on TV shows run by Lebanese journalists and reporters, and have them insult the country to those reporters’ faces, only to be stared at blankly.

You see, for a country that’s 50 shades of demented like Saudi Arabia to have so much power over our own home, the answer is simple: we’ve allowed it to foster over the years, putting our own dignity as a country second to the well-being and pride of the Saudis, and their friends.

When they send their tourists in, we treat them like royalty. They’re not just another tourist visiting the country for the summer – they’re the Saudis who are back for this season. We offer them specials in our restaurants, we kiss their asses like no other touristic ass has ever been kissed in the country. We inflame the sense in them that we need them more than they need us.

When they tell us we have to be thankful they ended our civil war, we shrug and nod. We don’t rise up to say that they had as much a hand in the civil war in the first place. We don’t tell them that one cannot claim credit for ending a disaster that one was part of. Instead, we take the hit and change the topic. It’s Saudi Arabia, the mighty heart of Mecca. One does not simply oppose their rhetoric easily.

When they call on their citizens to leave the country, we fall on our knees and beg them to change their minds. They pull that card faster than Gebran Bassil spews racism, and yet, we fall to their tricks every time. No, please don’t have your people go. No, please let them stay. Sam Smith was not that desperate in any of his songs. Do we need their money? Sure. But some things are more important than money in this country, and sometimes telling someone who’s bluffing to your face to fuck off is what’s needed.

When they threaten the well-being of Lebanon’s families in their country, and consequently our economy, we crumble in fear of what could happen if they execute their threats, not knowing that their economy is as much reliant as Lebanese workers who are there. It’s beyond egotistical for them to remotely believe they can even replace our diaspora that is there, but they threaten it anyway, and we fall for it every time.

Their hands – as are Iran’s – play with our country like legos. Our borders, whether closed or not, are always open for their interference to come in and do whatever it wants, no questions asked. Our relationship with them has been parasitic for a very long time, but today it is becoming cancerous. Today, Saudi Arabia is trying to, as it has been doing for years now, squash the little country it thinks it can take on, except it’s no longer in the woodworks and out in the open.

And we let it. We’ve let our politicians, be it Saad or his dad or other figures, convince us that we must be eternally grateful to the Kingdom for our well-being as a country, no questions asked, no criticism raised. They can kill our political cycle by not letting us have the president we want, the prime minister we want, the elections we wanted, the security we deserve, the stability we seek. And we are supposed to sit in a corner, bow our heads and be eternally silent.

Our country has lived without a president, prime minister, functioning governments, functioning infrastructure, a garbage disposal system, terrorist attacks (funded by Saudi Arabia and friends, sometimes), democracy and elections, and we’ve survived. What have the Saudis been through exactly in their lifetime? Oil prices dropping? Cry me a river.

They have a way of making even the staunchest anti-Hezbollah Lebanese rise up against the disgusting rhetoric they’re throwing at us, the insults they’re hurling our way, and the utter disregard to the sanctity of Lebanon as a country in everything they do. It is high time we stand up as a country to being bullied and say that will happen no more. Give us back our prime minister, fight your proxy wars elsewhere, and leave us the fuck alone. We’re a country of 4 million strong who have been through hell and back, whose skin is thicker than yours will ever be, and who are sick of your bullshit in their daily lives for the past 30 years.

From Lebanon To Saudi Arabia: Thanks For Declaring War On Us, But Can You Chill The Fuck Down?

In today’s episode of “The Bullshit Roaming The Kingdom of Saud,” Saudi Arabia has – through one of its ministers – declared war on the tiny country of Lebanon as it accuses of Hezbollah of launching a missile from Yemen on its capital, Riyadh, on Saturday, naturally without providing any proof of any sort to reinforce such an accusation.

While the premise of Saudi military action against Lebanon is far-fetched; after all, they are barely holding it together in Yemen against some rebels anyway, the mere notion of such a huge and capable country declaring war against Lebanon is horrifying.

What this means is that Saudi Arabia can turn Lebanon into another Qatar (minus the money) effectively barricading it both economically and strategically. As it stands, Saudi Arabia does not want Hezbollah to have anything to do with any form of governance in the country, effectively considering the mere presence of the party in any government a declaration of war. Dramatic much? Perhaps. But then again, a country that arrested 11 princes only 48 hours ago is not exactly one known to go out with grace.

Such a declaration of war can mean chaos to many Lebanese families and our entire economy, especially with politicians that have made sure over the years to interconnect our entire country’s fabrics to us being in the Kingdom’s good graces. Yes, Saad and family, we are looking at you.

I imagine that KSA’s demands will be very Hezbollah centric. As we all know, requests to halt any military activity by that specific party are near impossible for us as Lebanese to fulfill. Whether we want to or not, Hezbollah is stronger than the Lebanese state, is backed by a regime that is as strong as Saudi Arabia, and is influential enough to even terrify the mighty House of Saud.

What Saudi Arabia can do, however, is cause so much economical damage that Lebanon can take years to recover. Thousands of Lebanese families are dependent on work in KSA for their livelihood. Thousands of projects in the country are dependent on Saudi funding. Even more projects and economic dependency is illustrated once you factor in other GCC countries (minus Qatar) that also fall in line whenever Saudi Arabia orders them to.

Unlike Qatar, however, Lebanon does not have the financial or economic backbone to withstand an effective blockade against it from mighty countries that were, up until a few hours ago, “very concerned” about its well-being as a country. What could this mean for Hezbollah? The party has received such threats from Israel before, but where Israeli threats remain predominantly as such, Saudi Arabia could tangibly put a blockade into effect.

So dear Saudi Arabia,

We know it’s been hard for you. Trying to enable a new bratty prince is difficult, especially when his view of the world is so different from anything you’re used to that it’s sort of threatening everything you’ve known. Your clerics are angry, some of your ruling class are angry, a lot of your men are angry now that you’ve let your women drive (welcome to 2017). And then add in those low prices of oil. Have you tried a Prozac, perhaps? Xanax does wonders too.

We know you’ve been stretched too thin. A war in Yemen, a blockade that’s not working against Qatar, a feud with Iran that is not going your way, an American president who’s only concerned with wanting you to sell stocks in the New York Stock Exchange, but could you maybe have developed some hearing deficiency? I’m pretty sure you saying we declared war on you is way too similar to that kid in recess back during school days who’d beat up other kids and then go run to his mother saying it’s the other way around.

Look at the bright side though, you’re slowly becoming BFFs with Israel. Yes for new friends, isn’t that nice?

In the grand scheme of things, I wonder: are you okay? You seem to be more demanding than that ex we all have and despise. Do you want to talk about all those issues you keep piling up? Is letting women drive really causing your societies to unravel so much you can’t even get your shit together anymore and feel the need to declare war on small countries just so you can feel mighty?

You already have our prime minister in knots around your fingers. His allegiance is literally with you, and not his country. He escaped to you in the moment you declared war on the country he was governing. What more do you want from us? Is Saad not enough? I mean look at him! He looks so happy to be there, with his fancy smartwatch.

To put it blunty, can you chill the fuck down and mind your own business for once? Of course not, what a silly question.

P.S.: I hope you’re happy, Saad! ❤

Sincerely,

Lebanese citizens concerned for their families back home. 

Misogynistic Lebanese Minister Mouin Merhebi Sexually Insults Reporter Linda Meshleb

The state of the Future Movement seems to be in full blown meltdown as even their ministers cannot keep face while being interviewed about the resignation of Saad Hariri on Thursday.

Minister of Displaced Affairs Mouin Merhebi was being interviewed by NBN reporter Linda Meshleb earlier today when, after asking him about a meeting the heads of the Future Movement had in light of the resignation of Saad Hariri, more specifically concerning the former Prime Minister being located at a specific hotel in Saudi Arabia, he replied that he would be ready to coordinate transfer for the reporter in question to that hotel since she seems she wants to be there.

Behold the appalling video from a state official:

It’s harrowing that such disgusting level of rhetoric can emanate from a public official, live on TV, unashamedly saying to a female reporter who did not even remotely offend him in any way, other than asking him basic questions that he could and should answer, in his function as an official States person and member of a government that is being dissolved because his boss resigned.

Instead of getting a succinct answer about where the country and his part is heading, we got a tirade full of misogyny, full of offense to the reporter – especially that she is a woman. We go on and on as Lebanese about foreign politicians doing such things in their own countries, bringing out pitchforks and ridicule, wondering how such countries can elect officials like that in the first place.

And now here we are. Apart from the Facebook outrage, and the bunch of blog posts coming up regarding this issue, will anything happen to Mouin Merhebi? The answer is no. He will not be held accountable by his party for such blatant misogyny. He will not be banned from his party. He will not be sacked. He will not face ANY repercussions. On the contrary, he will probably be saluted for “putting that reporter in her place.” 

In fact, Merhebi has been known for years now to be a disgusting human being when it comes to his speeches. In 2013, requests were filed with the Justice Minister to strip him of his immunity in order to prosecute him for defamation against the Army. 

Regardless of what I think of Linda Meshleb or NBN (admittedly, I’m personally not a fan of the Berri apparatus), I salute her for keeping her calm on live TV in such an instance where she could have been entirely warranted to tell off such a disgusting human being. 

Until then, Mouin Merhebi you are a disgrace. I’m ashamed to have anyone like you be in any official capacity in any form of governance in my own country. What disgusting filth. 

Israeli Christians Are Coming To Lebanon For Pilgrimage; Patriach Rai Wants Lebanese Christians To Be Allowed To Go To Holy Land

The most amazing story coming out of the Middle East this week is a report by Haaretz around two days ago about a massive undertaking by the Israeli Maronite and Christian populace to be able to come to Lebanon for pilgrimage, a country that is at war, and has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

The way these Israelis go at it is the following: they leave Israel and enter Jordan with their Israeli passports. In Jordan, they are issued Palestinian travel documents which they use to travel to Beirut. Those travel documents are then confiscated at our airport, and are only valid for a one week entry.

During that one week, the itinerary that the Israelis have includes: Mar Charbel in Annaya, Batroun’s convents, Harissa, Maghdouche, Baalbek, etc… as well as some Beirut mall, of course, which they are allowed to visit for a few hours only. They stay at facilities provided by the Maronite Church, are not permitted to leave their groups unattended, and the entire trip is planned from points A to Z in the utmost details in order to prevent any fallback from such measures in both countries.

In fact, they are not even allowed to talk to Lebanese people at the sites they are visiting for fear of someone recognizing where they’re from and tipping off authorities. They keep to themselves, spend a week here, and go back to their country reportedly very “appreciative” of the experience they got.

The Haaretz report (link) says that hundreds of Israeli Christians have been using that method to come to Lebanon for pilgrimage. I was intrigued as to why Israelis would want to come to Lebanon for Christian pilgrimage when they are literally living in the Holy Land. As it turns out, the majority of those coming into Lebanon are Maronites, who have bonds to the region being where the seat of Maronitisim and its main holy sites are.

The origin of such a pilgrimage trip reportedly goes back to 2014, which also happens to be the last time a high profile Maronite figure visited the Holy Land was when Patriach Bechara El Rai went there in 2014 when the Pope was also visiting. During that visit, the patriarch reportedly met with Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian authorities, in Ramallah and discussed with him issuing Palestinian travel documents to Israeli Arab Christians who wish to visit Lebanon for pilgrimage. As it turns out, Mahmoud Abbas obliged.

Since then, those trips have become increasingly less hidden, with authorities in Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine deciding to turn a blind eye to these people going about their religious escapades in a country they’d normally not be able to visit. For $1800, the people wishing to visit Lebanon register their names with a yet unidentified priest in Galilee who then transmits that list to the Palestinian authorities for travel documents issuance.

Given that many Israeli Muslims are allowed to go to Saudi Arabia using Jordanian passports for Hajj, I don’t believe that such trips into Lebanon purely for religious purposes should cause any uproar. Even Al-Akhbar, known for their anti-Israeli crusades against anything that is touched by the Zionist state (as long as it’s not something they’re dependent on of course), was not entirely critical of the visits, labeling them under the guise of religion, rather than politics.

As it is though in the Middle East, everything is political.

Soon after the Haaretz report surfaced, Patriarch Rai announced that he believes Lebanese Christians should also be permitted to be able to visit the Holy Land and Jerusalem as part of religious pilgrimage. Rai believes that such visits would not fall under the much-dreaded normalization, but rather under religious auspices.

To that effect, during his much talked about visit to Saudi Arabia later in the month, he will discuss the logistics of how KSA, a country also with no diplomatic relations to Israel (yet), facilitates its own pilgrimage process of Israeli Muslims. As per the Haaretz article, Raï said “when I visited the Holy Land, I met with my community and had no political activity. And I don’t see anything wrong with this.”

Except while Patriarch Raï sees nothing wrong with such a move, a Lebanese population that rose up in arms about a movie with an Israeli actress will sure run towards the guillotines and shout treason and normalization at anyone who agrees with such a prospect.

Currently, a Lebanese citizen who wishes to visit the Holy Land cannot do so unless they are in the possession of a second nationality which permits visits to Israel, and even then that person would technically be breaking Lebanese law, although I wonder: how much emphasis can we put on laws whose application is as arbitrary as the Lebanese raison d’etre, only put into action when there’s enough political backbone for them to be applied, only enforced on those who don’t have IMDB pages to their names or enough clout to escape the judicial system?

I find the premise of religious causes outweighing political ones to be appealing, but this is the Middle East and not La La Land (that movie deserved the Oscar fyi). In a region as volatile and as precipitous, and between two countries that are constantly in conflict, whether actual or an undercurrent, should religious pilgrimage be allowed?

I’d like to say that if the Israelis are doing it, then we should do it as well. But while those Israeli Arabs have technical means with which they can access Lebanon (Palestinian documents, as they also happen to be Palestinian), Lebanese Christians only have their passport as their means for visitation. Such visits are, therefore, not technically feasible in the first place.

Add to the technical aspect of things all the treason threats that those who undertake such visits would get. It wasn’t a long time ago that people accused me of treason and sympathy with Israel because my name indicated I was Christian, solely due to me not wanting Wonder Woman to be banned. Even Al-Akhbar which was okay with the visits from Israel’s Arabs (apparently it considers them to be forcibly naturalized), the mere mention of such reciprocity had them be up in flames.

Such visits from Lebanon cannot be done in hiding – as their Israeli counterpart is happening. The Lebanese state has to sign off on them to begin with, and such a thing will never happen.

Until then, let those Israeli Arabs enjoy the many convents and spectacular views that Lebanon has to offer. By the looks of it, such visits will not be lasting long now.

 

Hariri Resigns As Lebanese Prime Minister All The Way From Saudi Arabia, Because Patriotism

Nothing says patriotism and Lebanese sovereignty as much as your own prime minister announcing his resignation, and subsequently a nail in the coffin of Lebanese governance, all the way from a foreign country, on one of their megaphone TVs nonetheless.

Saad Hariri, who has been back as prime minister for nearly 11 months now, in a government that was billed as one of “national unity” suddenly remembered that – gasp – he is sharing his rule with Hezbollah, a party whom Hariri’s funders in Saudi Arabia do not approve of and whose entire existence is, as we’ve come to know, is mutually exclusive with Hariri’s raison d’etre.

Entre nous, I had totally forgotten up until this very moment that Hariri was prime minister and that Lebanon actually had a government. It’s not that difficult to forget such details when things have been pretty much the same, whether Hariri is there or not, and whether we have a government or not. Corruption is still omnipresent. Dysfunction still reigns supreme. And countries that are not Lebanese still dictate what goes on in our own home country. Their accomplishment? Burdening us with extra taxes and then leaving.

Case in point? Hariri resigned from Saudi Arabia, not even from our Serail, in protest of Iranian influence into Lebanon’s governance.

Hariri’s reasoning for his resignation – clearly dictated on him by his bosses abroad – are that the current situation in Lebanon is similar to the ambiance before the assassination of his father around 12 years ago, along with the threat that Hezbollah’s arms pose on an internal level after their escapades with the dictator in Damascus over the past few years.

Reasonable, perhaps, but it’s mostly a little too late, and exceedingly cowardly for a politician to leave the entire country in the dust as he rushes away to save his own ass, all other Lebanese be damned. Yet again, what can we expect from a ruling class whose priority was and will always be its own skin, and whose MO for ruling is to benefit as much as possible from being in power, with servicing us as Lebanese citizens being the last thing on their minds?

I wonder though, did Saad Hariri know he wanted to resign last week – or even two days ago – when he was all over the place announcing plans and grand schemes to increase Beirut’s airport capacity, boost Lebanon’s tourism, work on further bringing Gulf investors back, and the like? Or when he filmed his Hala Bel Khamis video with a bunch of youth? Or did he simply wake up on November 4th, hop on his private jet to Saudi Arabia, probably without paying that extra tax his government imposed on us, and decided that he did not want to be prime minister anymore?

Whether we are going to actually have elections in 2018 becomes up in the air as well. What Hariri resigning also does is entice Lebanon’s Sunnism, further fueling their sense of being at the short end of the Lebanese stick, threatened merely for existing. Sectarianism is in full blown play, months before we head to the polls – if we do in the first place.

With threats of war, conflict, instability, the Lebanese population deserves more than politicians who are willing to throw it under the bus on whimsical dictated moves. We deserve more than to wake up one day and realize we don’t have a government anymore, and that our security and well-being is even more up in the air just because a politician’s foreign bosses told him so.

The Mankousheh Culture: Lebanon’s Zaatar W Zeit Launches World Mankousheh Day

 

If there’s anything I miss about Lebanon, apart from my friends and family, it’s the food. Say what you want about the country – and after living in the U.S. for around half a year, I can definitely tell you I still have a lot to berate where I come from about – but the food is just something else. Not only is our diet healthy, but it’s also extremely tasty. I’ve come to appreciate that after my many months in America.

As far as I can remember, a hallmark of a Lebanese breakfast has been the mankousheh. My school had a small store in our common area that sold them whenever we had recess. My dad’s aunt was a baker and for as long as she lived, I remember her tiny black dresses with Zaatar stains on them from the mankoushes she used to bake and sell. Then, when we grew up and moved to cities, we moved to more “sophisticated” iterations, with whole wheat, and the like.

The fact remains, however, that Lebanon is a country of the mankoushe culture. And frankly, would you have it any other way?

On November 2nd, Zaatar w Zeit, whose rise to prominence among Lebanon’s diners was because of its take on the mankousheh (I mean, just look at their name), is announcing World Mankousheh Day to celebrate our heritage when it comes to this item that’s quite literally synonymous with every Lebanese growing up, to further potentiate the Lebanese identity of such a traditional meal.

In recent years, the mankousheh has gone through many changes, be it with ZWZ or other chains that produce it: different types of doughs, different toppings, etc… On World Mankoushe Day, however, the celebration is about going back to the basics of it all, the mankousheh that we all know, and that I believe was the first for all of us: zaatar, zeit and fresh out of the oven.

Cheers to our heritage, whether it’s men l forn or 3al saj or any other variety.

I commend ZWZ on such a great move. Here’s to further celebrations in Lebanese cuisine to further cement their identities in an ever changing world.

PS: If you’re in Lebanon, ZWZ is offering free mana’eesh all day today!