Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 6:48 AM
I have as much love and admiration for Mandela as any non-South African could – as my record of political activism and published commentaries (dating back decades) will attest.
This is why I am so seized with contempt for those who appear to have acquired more love and admiration for him in death than I could ever possibly have had for him in life.
The problem with this unqualified and unquestioning hero worship we are witnessing is that it risks whitewashing Mandela’s legacy in popular consciousness. This was brought into stark relief yesterday when I heard a putatively well-educated person express incredulous indignation at a video clip of Mandela warmly embracing Fidel Castro.
She clearly had no clue that Western leaders once condemned Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) the way they condemned Castro and his revolutionary Communist Party.
The ANC is a typical terrorist organization… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.
This, according to the July 9, 1996 edition of The Independent, was how British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ridiculed Mandela as a way of voicing her unabashed support for South Africa’s racist Apartheid regime.
More to the point, though, I suspect there are many others among the newly converted who would be just as bewildered by images of Mandela embracing Castro more warmly than he has ever embraced any American president.
But such images serve as enduring testaments to the fact that Castro and others in the communist/non-aligned world were hailing Mandela as the freedom fighter he always was long before it became fashionable for leaders in America and England to do so.
For example, based on all of the pictures former President Bill Clinton has been tweeting of himself and Mandela, you’d think Mandela actually bought into the Clintonian folklore about them having a father-son relationship.
Except that those pictures betray:
Clinton’s work to undermine the economic foundation of the nascent Mandela-led South African republic…
After Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, then-President Clinton pressured the nation to adopt trade policies that benefitted U.S. corporations while restricting South African access to drugs treating HIV and AIDS.
(Huffington Post, December 6, 2013)
I have often argued that the least Clinton could do to amend for this after leaving the White House was to use his Clinton Global Initiative to get big pharmaceutical companies to make antiretroviral drugs cheaper and more accessible throughout all of Africa. And even then I have always felt constrained to cite facts from my June 20, 2005 commentary “President George W. Bush Has Done More for Africa than Any Other President,” noting in particular that – through his President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative – the United States has funded over $46 billion in HIV/AIDS programs since 2003.
But how genuinely could we expect a humanitarian like Mandela to embrace a politician like Clinton – who willfully denied life-saving drugs to millions of Africans, when it was politically expedient to do so, even if Clinton is now helping to make those drugs available … to enhance his political legacy?
Therefore, as you see the most powerful people in the world falling all over themselves to sing Mandela’s praises in the coming days, bear in mind that the people Mandela himself loved and admired most (outside of family members) are old comrades - most of whom you will never see on TV or social media.
Indeed it spoke volumes about Mandela’s character that he always reserved greater affection and appreciation for comrades like Castro – who stood with him during his struggle to free South Africa, than for politicians like Clinton – who rushed to his side to bask in his post-Apartheid reflected glow.
That said, I honestly don’t know what to make of the most powerful (White) people on earth hailing this (Black) man as the most revered and influential figure of the 20th century. Everyone from Jomo Kenyatta to Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave.
A developing meme in this respect is that Mandela was a combination of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi, which only makes me wonder about their unwitting discrimination against the more apt inclusion of Martin Luther King Jr.
Let me hasten to clarify: Mandela deserves every praise hailed in his name and every monument erected in his honor for prevailing upon Whites in South Africa to relinquish power. It’s just that MLK deserves even greater praise and more monuments for prevailing upon Whites in America to fully recognize Black civil rights.
After all, in the early 1990s, Whites in a beleaguered South Africa, on the poorest continent in the world, faced the existential choice of either relinquishing power peacefully or facing a race war the likes of which the world had never seen. Moreover, even if they had used their superior armaments to kill millions of Blacks and overcome the rest, White South Africans still faced an existential threat from U.S.-led economic sanctions that would have rendered them even poorer and more isolated than North Koreans are today.
By contrast, in the late 1960s, Whites in a superpower America, on the richest continent in the world, never faced this existential choice. And even if Blacks had rioted in every city in America, they would have done more to harm themselves than pose any threat to White power. To be sure, the Soviet Union tried to exploit the Civil Rights Movement to advance its Cold War agenda against the United States. But nobody ever thought for a moment that the Soviet Union would (or could) do anything to threaten White authority in the United States, let alone pose an existential threat.
This is why it took MLK’s divine art of moral suasion to overcome far greater odds than Mandela faced.
Not surprisingly, MLK published more inspiring words about the universal struggle for freedom during the 11 days he spent in Birmingham jail than Mandela published during the 27 years he spent in Robben Island prison. And don’t get me started on who delivered the more inspiring speeches….
What’s more, as much as we admire Mandela for spending all of those years in prison for his cause, and then forgiving his jailers; surely we must admire MLK more for dying for his, and then forgiving his assassin:
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive… It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.
(“Loving Your Enemies,” King Center Archives, November 17, 1957)
Anyway, the point is that, given the inferiority complex Whites tried to systematically impose on Blacks throughout much of the 20th century, I hope the irony inherent in Whites deifying Mandela is not lost on you.
But if we must deify any Black political leader, I still think it should be Frederick Douglass. I delineated some of the reasons why in “Mall At Last! Mall At Last! Thank God Almighty, a Black Is on the Mall At Last!” (November 14, 2006):
- Douglass was born in slavery; MLK was born in freedom.
- Douglass spent his formative years on a plantation scrapping with his master’s dogs for food to eat; MLK spent his in relative luxury dining with America’s Black elite.
- Douglass effectively taught himself to read and write; MLK was educated at America’s best schools, including Morehouse College and Boston University.
- Douglass escaped from slavery, settled in the North, and began his political activism by personally challenging Jim Crow segregation laws that were as strictly enforced in the Antebellum North as they were in the Deep South; MLK graduated from university, settled in the South, and began his political activism by accepting the call to lead Blacks who had already begun the now-seminal Montgomery Bus Boycott.
- Douglass was the undisputed Black leader agitating for the abolition of slavery; MLK was challenged by Malcolm X and Stokeley Carmichael – whose message of self-defense and Black nationalism resonated more with Black youths (for whom ‘by any means necessary’ was more liberating and empowering than ‘I have a dream’).
- Douglass, who died aged 77, lived long enough not only to see his dream of the abolition of slavery fulfilled, but also to become a professional man (as a U.S. Marshall and recorder of deeds), an international statesman (as U.S. Ambassador to Santo Domingo and Haiti), and a political champion for yet another cause (Women’s Rights); MLK, who died aged 39, saw his dream of racial equality deferred so long that he did not live long enough to see it fulfilled to any significant degree.
- Douglass’s published essential writings and speeches on the fight for freedom from slavery are far more voluminous than MLK’s on the struggle for Black civil rights (see articles from one of Douglass’s many newspapers North Star, as well as his autobiographies Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Life and Times of Frederic Douglass. And eyewitness accounts by the likes of notorious abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison suggest that Douglass was every bit the orator MLK was. Having read the text, I suspect that his ‘What to the slave is the 4th of July?’ speech, which he delivered on July 5, 1852, was even more provocative and inspiring than MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
But I digress….
To his credit, Mandela himself will probably be rolling over in his grave if the deification of him now underway continues. Not least because I heard him say in his own words, in a BBC documentary narrated by David Dimbleby yesterday, that from the time his comrades first elected him head of the ANC, while they were all still in prison, he worried about people treating him like a “demigod.”
So mind your hosannas people, and know that Mandela was not God.
NOTE: I am sensible enough to appreciate that this global zeitgeist of Mandela worship is such that virtually nobody will be interested in reading anything not related to him. And, as indicated above, I prefer to limit my public grieving to my published commentaries supporting the causes he lived (and, admittedly, was willing to die) for.
Therefore, as I am loath to contribute to this funereal frenzy (oxymoron intended), this will stand as my last commentary until it all comes to an end with Mandela’s burial on December 15.
Friday, December 6, 2013 at 6:50 AM
His family finally let him go….
Condolences to my friends and comrades in South Africa; although, it speaks volumes about what a beloved and influential man Nelson Mandela was that people all around the world are grieving his loss just as much.
In fact, so inspiring was Mandela that, in his tribute just moments ago, President Obama cited participation in anti-apartheid protests as his first foray into political activism and public service.
I am proud of the fact that I participated in the US-led international protests during the 1980s that precipitated the end of White rule (Apartheid) in South Africa. I remember thinking back then that a South Africa ruled by liberated Blacks could become the beacon of hope and the land of opportunity for Africans that America has been for people all over the world.
(“In South Africa, Xenophobic Blacks Prove Almost as Deadly as Apartheid Whites,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 23, 2008)
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of my commentaries on his dying days that I was more relieved than sad when I heard the news of his passing. I opened one of those commentaries as follows:
I have no doubt that when the time finally comes, South Africans will put on a state funeral for Nelson Mandela that will make those Catholics put on for dead popes seem modest and irreverent…
But this will stand in glaring contrast to the way these same South Africans have disrespected him during these last years and days of his life. And it is particularly disheartening that his family members are responsible for most of this disrespect.
(“Who the Hell Does Winnie Mandela Think She Is,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 3, 2013)
Sure enough, reports are that we’re in for 10 days of mourning and tributes until his burial. The highlight will surely be the unprecedented assemblage of heads of state, from every corner of the earth, at the state funeral I referenced above.
But a constant, if not irritating, feature will surely be public figures, of every stripe, rushing to eulogize him (in every medium from TV to Twitter) in ways that flatter them more than honor him.
Ironically enough, this began when South Africa’s hopelessly compromised president, Jacob Zuma, announced the news of Mandela’s death this afternoon. For it is no exaggeration to say that Zuma was never more presidential than when he proceeded to deliver a truly stirring tribute on behalf of his people.
But, honestly, I can think of no better way for those of us outside South Africa to pay our respects than to go to cinema to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom when it is released. (That will be on Christmas Day in the U.S. and on January 3 in the UK).
In the meantime, you can spare yourself all kinds of self-serving reflections on Mandela by being very discriminating while watching TV and trolling social media.
That said, I shall end this appropriately modest tribute by sharing why I am feeling more relieved than sad.
There’s a reason why some of us execute living wills: we expect them to spare us the indignities of spending our last days in a sterile ICU hooked up to all kinds of death-defying tubes that do nothing more than prolong our suffering.
This is why I was so dismayed by a CNN report today that Madiba spent the last six months of his life on ventilators to defy his failed lungs and dialysis machines to defy his failed kidneys.
Frankly, knowing this, I don’t see how anyone cannot feel more relief than sadness that these indignities and his prolonged suffering are finally over.
But, apropos of my plaintive commentary “It’s Time to Let Mandela Go,” how perversely coincidental … revealing that, while his daughter was on one TV channel – in London at the red-carpet premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - assuring the world that Mandela was doing fine, Zuma was on another one – back home in South Africa – informing the world that he was dead. He was 95.
May he, at long last, rest in peace.
* This commentary is originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 8:02 pm
Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 5:16 AM
I count myself among the dying breed of unabashed liberals who are convinced that the growing gap between rich and poor in America is tantamount to a metastasizing cancer. Moreover, our diagnosis is that almost all of the economic, political and social maladies ailing this country – from crime and unemployment to political dysfunction, sub-standard education, and illegal immigration – are mere symptoms of this cancer.
This is why we have been so frustrated watching President Obama expend his political capital on treating these symptoms instead of on finding a cure for this cancer.
As it happens, I shared my abiding concerns in this respect in two recent commentaries: “CEO Pay Just Reflection of America’s Economic Apartheid” (November 18, 2013), in which I sounded a clarion call for an angry populism to redress this growing gap; and “Pope Francis Condemns the ‘Cult [and] Idolatry of Money’” (November 27, 2013), in which I hailed the pope for condemning the covetous focus on the rich at the expense of the poor as an abomination against God.
I would like to think it was my November 18 commentary, but it’s far more likely that it was the pope’s condemnation that inspired Obama to finally address the growing gap between rich and poor, which he himself described yesterday (in a speech outlining the agenda for the last three years of his presidency) as “the defining challenge of our time.”
Here, courtesy of whitehouse.gov, is how he echoed my lamentations as he presented his own diagnosis of this cancer:
The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income; it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more.
And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.
Incidentally, it makes a mockery of the patriotism conservatives are always professing that, while CEOs are taking home an average annual pay of $12 million, service workers (representing 30 million hardworking Americans) are on a nation-wide strike today to force their respective CEOs to increase their pay from $7.25 to $10.10-an-hour. This would earn them a barely livable average annual pay of $20,200, which is still less than half of the $50,000 those CEOs make in one day. Forget patriotism! This smacks of apartheid!
No doubt this is why, like me, Obama cited the pope for the proposition that it is a national disgrace, if not an unpardonable sin, for any country to show more concern about its stock market losing a few points than about its people going hungry and homeless.
More to the point, I felt unqualified solidarity when he admonished that:
The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life and what we stand for around the globe.
I was even encouraged by his prescription for curing this cancer, which included (in my own words):
- Enacting the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 ($10.10) to ensure that every full-time worker earns enough to live on without the indignity of having to rely on all kinds of social welfare programs … like food stamps and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Not to mention that a livable wage would spare the rest of us the tax burden of having to fund these programs. For example:
A staggering number of bank tellers in New York City use public assistance to get by… Thirty-nine percent of NYC-based bank tellers and their families rely on at least one government assistance program, like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit or food stamps.
(The Huffington Post, December 4, 2013)
Meanwhile, the rich investment bankers our tax dollars bailed out are now making 100 times more in bonuses than these poor bank tellers make in wages….
- Lifting the racist scales from the eyes of poor White folks so that they can see that they have far more in common with poor Black and Brown folks than they do with rich White folks … like former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. For example, if poor Whites voted more according to their economic interests than their racial prejudices, Congress would be comprised of politicians who regard voting for things like healthcare and immigration reform as an article of faith.
- Reordering national priorities to invest more in education and infrastructure than in corporate welfare and military arms.
Conspicuously absent from Obama’s prescription, however, was a treatment I believe is indispensable to curing the growing gap between rich and poor: reforming the tax code.
Apropos of which, it might be helpful to know that, during a December 2, 2013 interview on Charlie Rose, no less a person than conservative hedge fund manager Stan Druckenmiller literally shocked the eponymous host when he conceded that he would have been perfectly happy to pay more in taxes to extend Medicaid coverage to the 40-50 million uninsured Americans.
I agree; not least because this would have spared the country the bureaucratic and technical nightmare implementing Obamacare is turning out to be. And more targeted legislation could have been enacted to redress unfair insurance practices related to issues like pre-existing conditions and annual/lifetime caps on essential benefits.
Of course, comprehensive tax reform would include other measures, like eliminating deductions that favor the rich. But there’s no gainsaying that the most efficient way to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor in America is to reform the tax code to make it more progressive and, consequently, make the nation’s wealth more redistributive.
My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody… I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody.
(Barak Obama, ABC News, October 14, 2008)
That was the Obama who impressed so many of us in 2008. Let’s hope he finds himself again, before it’s too late.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 5:50 AM
When Lindsey Vonn crashed during a Colorado training run two weeks ago, most commentators said that she had dashed all hopes of defending her Olympic downhill title at the Sochi Winter Olympics in two months.
To be sure, re-injuring the same right knee she blew out at the World Championships last February does not bode well for it holding up at the Olympics next February. After all, despite having nine months to rehab it after that first injury, her knee was still unable to withstand the stress of competitive downhill skiing. Now she has only nine weeks to rehab it again before the Games begin….
And, lest you think this second injury was not as bad and may not require the kind of surgery that kept her off skis for so many months after the first one, consider this:
Lindsey Vonn is delaying further surgery on her right knee for as long as possible in hopes of skiing at the Sochi Olympics… She is seeing if she can ski without another operation because that would all but end any chance of defending her Olympic downhill title in February.
(ESPN, December 1, 2013)
I submit, however, that Vonn dashed all hopes of defending her title years ago, when she began courting celebrity fame (of the type Kim Kardashian personifies) instead of pursuing more Olympic glory (of the type Michael Phelps personifies).
And let’s face it, as acclaimed as Phelps is, like most Olympians, his fame seems limited to quadrennial fleets of fancy. Yet, even this kind of fame is so addictive that Phelps is already hinting at coming out of retirement to bask in more of it at the 2016 Brazil Summer Games.
Vonn seemed fated to similar fleets of fancy … until she pulled a Kimye – not just by dating Tiger Woods, but by branding herself more as a sex symbol than as an Olympic athlete.
The star skier stripped down to a bikini and skimpy work-out gear for a sexy shoot with Red Bulletin magazine shortly before injuring her knee in a second skiing mishap.
(Daily Mail, December 2, 2013)
Except that she has clearly failed to learn from the instructive lesson Track & Field star Lolo Jones provided. For during last year’s Summer Olympics in London, Jones found to her eternal humiliation and regret that this kind of Kardashian branding not only alienated her esprit de corps with female teammates, but also detracted too much from the mental focus necessary to become an Olympic champion.
No American athlete has enjoyed more pre-Olympic publicity than hurdler Lolo Jones. One can be forgiven for thinking that this has everything to do with [her promotion of] her relatively stunning beauty.
(“London Olympics: Day 11,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 7, 2012)
But far from redeeming herself in London last year, Jones finished fourth. More to the point, this gave her own USA teammates just cause to publicly scoff at the disconnect between her performance on the track and the media hailing her as the sport’s pin-up girl.
Here is how this played out for the world to see when an NBC post-race interview with Dawn Harper (who won silver) and Kellie Wells (bronze) turned, inevitably, to Lolo Jones:
INTERVIEWER [to Harper and Kellie Wells]: You guys kinda hang out together … Is there fighting amongst the team – we’re talking about Lolo Jones if you can’t figure this out – is there an awkward situation or now that it’s over we’ve all just moved on?
WELLS: Well, I think that, on the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed. And that’s all that really needs to be said.
(NBC Sports, August 8, 2012)
To her credit, though, Jones appears so determined to vindicate her celebrity fame with Olympic glory that she has placed herself in contention to join Vonn as a member of the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, competing in bobsled….
Meanwhile, given all of the media focus on Vonn these days, you’d never know that Julia Mancuso is America’s most decorated Olympic skier: gold in giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games, silver (behind Vonn) in downhill, and silver in combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
What’s more, she was likely to win more medals than any other American skier in Sochi even before Vonn re-injured her knee. Not least because Mancuso spent her off season engaging in more career-enhancing activities, like surfing and free diving, than celebrity-enhancing ones, like following Tiger Woods around golf courses and escorting him to red-carpet events.
Being upstaged by Vonn was nothing new to Mancuso, despite her distinction of having the most Olympic hardware in the Alpine events of any American woman.
‘It’s always hard when you’re in a sport where there’s a superstar: It’s always going to be about the superstar,’ Mancuso said. ‘But I never got into the sport for that. I got into it because I loved it.’
(New York Times, November 28, 2013)
Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Mancuso strikes me as far more attractive and personable. Therefore, I never got the media focus on Vonn – especially when Mancuso was winning more medals.
To her credit, though, I gather that she does not harbor nearly as much resentment towards Vonn as Jones’s teammates clearly harbored towards her.
That said, if Vonn makes it to Sochi and Tiger condescends to follow her up and down the slopes the way she’s been following him around the golf course at Major championships lately, the media focus on her will intensify a thousand times….
I think it was a mistake for him to approve this ['winning takes care of everything'] ad. Foremost because it suggests that he is possessed of the same arrogance, self-indulgence, and insensitivity that wrecked his marriage … and precipitated professional downfall…
Now we know why his wife refused to take him back. Which makes his new girlfriend, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, seem like an even bigger fool for love, or an even bigger bitch for (Tiger-orbit) fame, than widely suspected….
(“Tiger No.1 Again! But…,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 27, 2013)
But if Vonn really wants to emulate Kim Kardashian, all she needs to do now is secretly tape herself and Tiger having sex (because he’s far too sensible to consent), and then leak it the way Kim leaked her infamous sex tape. This would guarantee her not only more millions than Kim made, but also more celebrity fame than Kim has achieved.
At which point Tiger, with his less than stellar media persona, would have served his purpose and she could move on to a more suitable, telegenic celebrity partner … like actor Gerard Butler or NFL player Cam Newton or, ironically enough, Kim Kardashian’s ex, NBA player Kris Humphries – who was reportedly in hot pursuit of Vonn before she decided Tiger was a better catch … for now.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 8:16 AM
I’m on record hailing Ukrainians as my favorite ex-communists. Alas, I’m also on record lamenting that, ever since their triumphal Orange Revolution in 2005, they have done nothing but trample all over my hopes for the political development of their country.
Just two years after that revolution, which was supposed to set them on an inexorable path towards a thriving democracy, it became agonizingly clear that Ukrainians are more divided among themselves than they ever were with the Russians who once lorded over them.
No American politician could have anticipated the obsession fractious Ukrainians evidently developed for elections after their split from the former Soviet Union. After all, Sunday’s national poll was the third in three years, which puts the Ukrainians on track to make the Italians’ promiscuous penchant for changing governments seem positively chaste.
(“My Favorite Ex-Communists: the Ukrainians,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2007)
Specifically, Ukrainians have been beset by irreconcilable differences between Ukrainian-speaking citizens in the West – who long for their country to be fully integrated into Europe, and Russian-speaking citizens in the East – who long for it to rekindle Cold War ties with Russia.
Ukrainian protesters blockaded the main government building on Monday, trying to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon an EU integration pact.
Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people, the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the ‘orange revolution’ overturned a stolen election nine years ago.
Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a trade pact with the European Union and instead seek closer economic ties with Russia has stirred deep passions in a country where many people yearn to join the European mainstream and escape Moscow’s orbit.
(Reuters, December 2, 2013)
Only God knows how this will turn out. But I would bet my life savings on Ukraine ending up in Europe. For it will end up there even if Russian President Vladimir Putin tries, again, to freeze it out and extort its loyalty by cutting off the gas Russia supplies – not just to Ukraine but many countries in Europe, including France and Germany.
All the same, it would not surprise me in the least if Putin does to Ukraine what he did to Georgia; namely, deploy troops to cut off the pro-Russian parts of the country….
In the meantime, I shall suffice to share excerpts from just a few of my previous commentaries, in chronological order, that should explain why Ukrainians seem caught in a vicious cycle of political unrest.
Yesterday, the newly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, received a triumphal welcome before addressing a Joint Session of the United States Congress. Yushchenko thanked President George W. Bush for standing firm in his support for Ukraine’s peaceful Orange Revolution and vowed to build a resolutely American-style democracy in heart of the old Soviet Union.
From “Putin Fires First Salvo in New Cold War in Europe,” (January 3, 2006):
Putin made Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko an offer he could not refuse: Like a true dictator, Putin told Yushchenko that if Ukraine’s 47 million ‘orange revolutionaries’ wanted to continue receiving gas from Russia to cook their food, heat their homes, and drive their cars, they would have to pay four times as much for it. When Yushchenko refused, Putin made good on his threat and cut off the gas supply!
[Incidentally, it should have come as no surprise when Bloomberg published a September 17, 2013 report headlined, "Vladimir Putin, the Richest Man on Earth" - with an estimated fortune of $40-60 billion. And bear in mind that he comes from peasant stock and has never held a non-government job in his life.
But the reason Putin is now the richest, and arguably the most powerful, man on earth is that, in addition to using Russia's vast oil and gas resources as political weapons, he has been using them as personal commodities to enrich himself ever since his first term as president in 2000. Most notoriously, this included confiscating the oil company of Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and throwing him in the gulag in 2003, where he's still rotting away to this day.]
From “Update on My Favorite Ex-Communists,” (October 2, 2007):
Only months after his election, Yushchenko’s myriad failures as a leader became so untenable that many erstwhile ‘orange revolutionaries’ (i.e., Ukrainians who risked their lives to support his call for democracy) were already pining for a return to communist rule.
In fact, Yushchenko spent so much time trying to manage the grandiose ambitions of his government ministers that he was utterly incapable of delivering on any of his election promises: most notably, to eradicate corruption, establish fiscal transparency, and set Ukraine on a path towards sustainable economic development.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Yushchenko’s most decisive act as president was sacking Yulia Tymoshenko – the charismatic woman he appointed prime minister and who, to his understandable chagrin, many Ukrainians thought personified the spirit of the Orange Revolution.
Unfortunately, this only deepened disaffection with his leadership and exacerbated the democratic growing pains of all Ukrainians. And to make matters worse, instead of going quietly, Tymoshenko led a mutiny against him, which caused their governing coalition to crumble in abject failure.
This in turn led to new elections held in March 2006, which resulted in the improbable return to power of unreformed communists led by Viktor Yanukovych – the man Yushchenko claims headed the Russian-inspired attempt to assassinate him.
There were great expectations last year that the gunshot re-marriage between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the two leaders of Ukraine’s democratic forces, would last. But I was more cynical. In fact, despite writing that ‘perhaps this third time will prove a charm,’ I ended last year’s update as follows:
‘Chances are even better, however, that I’ll be writing a similar update a year from now after another round of elections are called to end yet another period of political deadlock….’
And, sure enough, here I am.
It is noteworthy, however, that this third divorce was caused by far more than persistent irreconcilable differences between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Because it was triggered by Tymoshenko’s refusal to stand by Yushchenko when he went out on a limb in June to support another ex-communist, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in his failed attempt to oust Russian forces from his country.
Yushchenko claims that Tymoshenko not only betrayed him (and Ukraine’s democratic forces) but was actually plotting ‘a political and constitutional coup d’etat’ by joining Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Ukraine’s pro-Russian party, in accusing Georgia’s democratic forces of provoking the Russian invasion.
Well, it’s little more than a year, but this latest update brings more of the same. Because, after joining forces to utterly frustrate Yushchenko’s presidency, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych began plotting against each other immediately to replace him.
This led to new presidential elections last month, which resulted in Yanukovych defeating Tymoshenko. Yet, true to form, this latest change has only ushered in a new term of political chaos and dysfunction.
In this case, just as she defied Yushchenko, Tymoshenko defied Yanukovych’s demands for her to resign as prime minister so that he could appoint someone whose sole ambition was not to take his job…
This means that Ukraine is probably in for another round of snap parliamentary elections before summer. And so it goes….
A judge sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for abusing her powers, by signing a sweetheart oil deal with Russia, while in office. And to compound her woes, the state security service filed additional corruption charges against her only yesterday, claiming that she misappropriated over $400 million from the government’s budget to pay off a debt owed to Russia by an energy company she once ran…
Tymoshenko denies everything of course, claiming that she’s being persecuted for her political beliefs by Ukraine’s unrepentant communist president, Viktor Yanukovych. Whatever the case, these new charges mean that she could end up spending the rest of her life in prison.
Mind you, such a fate would be entirely in keeping with the Joan-of-Arc persona she has cultivated over the years. And she will doubtless spin her imprisonment as martyrdom for the noble cause of Ukrainian democracy, which she and her fellow Orange Revolutionaries were mandated to usher in six years ago.
Never mind that all of her former political partners would probably describe her as more of a cross between Mata Hari and the Black Widow; and that her imprisonment is her just deserts…
Clearly, when all is said and done, Tymoshenko is learning the hard way that the difference between a Democratic president like Yushchenko and a Communist one like Yanukovych is that the former just fires public servants who refuse to carry out his political agenda; the latter throws them in prison.
This brings us full circle – with former Orange Revolutionaries fighting to overthrow the pro-Russian Yanukovych once again.
‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration; it’s not a reaction; it’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader.
(The Associated Press, December 1, 2013)
Never one to be sidelined during a national fight, Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike in solidarity with these anti-government protesters. She’s in her eighth day and is probably wondering why the international media are spending more time covering their protests than her strike.
For his part, Yushchenko led negotiations with European leaders to formulate terms for Ukraine’s Association Agreement with Europe, which Yanukovych balked at signing at the eleventh hour (showing himself more fearful of Russia’s cold shoulder than solicitous of Europe’s warm embrace).
Thus continues the political triangle between these three, which has only reinforced Ukraine’s reputation of being either a Russian lapdog or an ungovernable mess ever since its disassociation from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Rise and fall of Tymoshenko…
Monday, December 2, 2013 at 5:57 AM
About 30,000 protesters launched a ‘people’s coup’ on Thailand’s government on Sunday, swarming state agencies in violent clashes, taking control of a state broadcaster, and forcing the prime minister to flee a police compound…
It is the latest dramatic turn in a conflict pitting Bangkok’s urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly poor, rural supporters of [Prime Minister] Yingluck and her billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup.
(Reuters, December 1, 2013)
Frankly, Thais seem caught in a vicious cycle of people’s coups. I began commenting on them in 2006, when I admonished against their practice of resorting to street protests primarily to overturn the results of national elections.
Even a benign (i.e., popular and bloodless) military coup is not only inherently inconsistent but also politically untenable in a democracy. After all, no matter the extent of Thaksin’s corruption (highlighted by an insider’s deal where he allegedly sold his family’s stake in a state telecommunications company to Singaporeans for $1.9 billion), constitutional provisions were in place to either impeach him or vote him out of office at elections that were due within months.
Of course, given that, throughout their 74-year democracy, Thais have changed their government by coups as often as by elections, I suppose it’s no surprise that even former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai seems resigned to military coups as an oxymoronic staple of Thai democracy…
Even though martial law has been declared, it’s reasonable to expect that democracy will soon be restored and all will be well in Thailand … until the next military coup….
(“Thailand’s Benign Military Coup…,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 20, 2006)
After months of protests – growing so formidable in size and nihilistic determination that not even the country’s vaunted military could squash them – the court ruled yesterday, again somewhat expediently (not to mention belatedly), that PM Somchai’s governing coalition committed electoral fraud. Then, affirming mob rule, the court banned him from politics.
So here’s to hoping that Thailand’s third prime minister this year can prove beyond all doubt that he not only thoroughly hates Thaksin but is also completely loyal to the king. Otherwise the protesters are bound to return to the streets and to the airports [where protesters barricaded themselves on this occasion]….
(“Thailand Suffers Another Coup – This Time by an Angry Mob,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2008)
It seemed almost schizophrenic when Thailand descended into years of political instability after [the 2006] coup, pitting Thaksin loyalists (aka Red Shirts) against opposition forces (aka Yellow Shirts).
Most commentators are hailing the outcome because Thailand elected its first female prime minister. But I fear her election will only set the stage for more civil unrest; not least because she happens to be Thaksin’s wholly inexperienced younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra (44), who everyone believes is just his political puppet…
I doubt the Yellow Shirts will stand by and allow Thaksin to rule over them again – by proxy from exile in Dubai. Especially because Thaksin seems to believe that his little sister’s top priority should be forcing the government to grant him amnesty and return the $1.2 billion in assets it confiscated after he fled…
(“Alas, Thailand’s First Female PM Is Just a Puppet,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 12, 2011)
Therefore, even though the Groundhog-Day events unfolding there today are eminently newsworthy, I hope I can be forgiven for having nothing more to say. Instead I shall end with this ominous bit of reporting yesterday by the BBC:
Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban says he has met PM Yingluck Shinawatra and given her two days to ‘return power to the people’…
The protesters had declared Sunday the decisive ‘V-Day’ of what they termed a ‘people’s coup’.
They say Ms. Yingluck’s administration is controlled by her brother, exiled ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, and they want to replace it with a ‘People’s Council’.
NOTE: Ukraine seems caught in a similar vicious cycle – as the hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters rampaging the streets of Kiev today will attest. I began commenting on its oxymoronic march towards democracy in 2005 and will publish a similar update tomorrow.
Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 7:57 AM
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 6:42 AM
Last week I published the commentary “CEO Pay Just a Reflection of America’s Economic Apartheid” (November 18), in which I sounded a clarion call for an angry populism to redress the growing gap between rich and poor.
More to the point, last month I published “Bob Woodward: Republicans Are Trying to Blackmail Obama” (October 1), in which I condemned Christian politicians for backsliding so far from the basic tenets of their faith that they would rather see people go without basic healthcare than see President Obama hailed and vindicated for championing the plight of the poor:
By forcing this government shutdown, these ‘wacko-bird’ Republicans are undermining what little credibility and influence their Party has at the federal level for a plainly unattainable goal (a classic case of rebels without a cause). Why? Because, all of their partisan talking points and political posturing aside, these are people who hate Obama(care) more than they love their country.
Not to mention what a mockery their obsessive, delusional opposition to Obamacare (yes, Obama cares) makes of the most fundamental calling of their Christian faith, which, of course, is to help the poor. (In this case, it’s clearly too inconvenient for these Bible-thumping charlatans to ask: what would Jesus do?)
But never in my wildest dream could I have imagined the pope being hailed as a revolutionary for echoing this angry populism. Not least because, as the above indicates, I have always thought championing the plight of the poor was the cardinal mission of all Christians.
Yet, reading reports on yesterday’s publication of “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the mission statement for his papacy, you’d think the pope were Christ himself preaching this basic tenet of his new religion 2000 years ago in a money-worshiping Roman marketplace.
Here is just a sample of what has everyone from political commentators to Catholic priests hailing the pope as a bold religious disrupter, all seemingly oblivious to the irony inherent in their awestruck reaction:
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?…
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.
I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!
(Reuters, November 26, 2013)
Again, nothing indicates how far mainstream Christians have backslidden quite like the pope’s good old-fashioned religion being hailed as revolutionary. Hell, given the way some televangelists have christened their “idolatry of money” as “prosperity gospel,” the pope and his fellow Jesuits clearly need to spend as much time spreading the word among Christian brethren as they spend spreading it among non-Christians.
To be fair, though, here is how the more objective London Guardian reported yesterday on the pope’s apostolic exhortation:
Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the ‘idolatry of money’ and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens ‘dignified work, education and healthcare.’
He also called on rich people to share their wealth. ‘Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,’ Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.
All that’s left for me to say is, Amen!
Except that I feel obliged to note that, for all the praise being heaped on him as a revolutionary, the pope is actually reinforcing his church’s traditional edicts on such issues as women priests, homosexuality, and abortion. He’s just sensible enough to appreciate that there would be many more people in the pews if priests humbled themselves by preaching social justice/liberation theology, which addresses the suffering of the poor, instead of playing God by passing moral judgment on the personal choices (good) people make.
I suppose this is why the pope had no compunction about banishing Germany’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (aka “Bishop Bling”) to an ascetic monastery for spending $43 million to renovate his pastoral digs, but seems ambivalent about disciplining the gay cabal that has turned Vatican City into a latter-day Sodom….
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 8:52 AM
Do you remember the national furor a Black stripper incited in 2006 when she accused a bunch of White lacrosse players from Duke University of rape?
White feminists and Black activists alike insisted that she was every bit as sympathetic as the White Central Park jogger who, arguably, remains America’s most famous rape victim. Indeed, there was racial symmetry in near-universal demands that those White players get the same treatment the criminal justice system meted out against the Black kids who were accused of that 1989 rape in Central Park.
Except that, ironically, the only symmetry turned out to be the innocence of the accused rapists in both cases. For where the jogger was a true rape victim (and her real rapist was eventually prosecuted), the stripper just cried rape to extort cash.
I wrote many commentaries in the midst of that national furor. But here is an excerpt from “Duke Rape Case Closed! If You Don’t Believe Me, Perhaps You’ll Believe ‘60 Minutes’,” (October 17, 2006), which effectively summarizes the case:
Last March, the now infamous Duke University rape scandal was a cause celebre for liberal bloggers who were demanding that all 34 (White) players on the lacrosse team be hanged by their gonads after a (Black) stripper accused some of them of raping her.
To my eternal shame, I had no compunctions about joining this Blogosphere lynch mob by publishing an article titled, ‘The Under-Reported Rape Involving Blue (Eyed?) Devils from Duke University,’ (March 29, 2006). Because when I juxtaposed what she said with what they said in this racially charged ‘political’ atmosphere, I had no difficulty believing the accuser’s claim that she was:
‘… pulled into a bathroom by three men and raped anally, vaginally, and orally while they hit, kicked, and strangled [me] over a 30-minute period.’
Then, just weeks after the accuser gave this sensational account of her assault, investigative journalists (and defense lawyers) began publishing reports, which showed that she had given many ‘inconsistent facts’ about this alleged crime. And, after DNA evidence raised further doubts about her story, I had no compunctions about admitting that I was wrong for rushing to judgment in an article titled, ‘DNA Results Exculpate Duke Lacrosse Players in Rape Case…Now what?’ (April 11, 2006).
Because even my proud advocacy for the racial politics of Blacks and the gender politics of women could not inoculate me from the reasonable suspicion that this Black woman’s claim that these White men gang-raped her was, in fact, a lie!
Nonetheless, by broadcasting the terminal defects in her claim on Sunday, 60 Minutes did more to further justice in this case than either Mike Nifong – the zealous District Attorney prosecuting it, or Black activists – who have made it a badge of racial pride to insist that there shall be ‘no justice, no peace’ unless these presumed (and evidently) innocent White men are found guilty.
Therefore, I hereby reiterate my plea for DA Nifong to drop these charges, post-haste! Proceeding would only exacerbate the irreparable harm these men have already suffered (financially and by the infliction of undue emotional distress); not least because a trial would surely result in a ‘not guilty’ verdict given all of the well-documented flaws in the case for the prosecution.
First that seminal 60 Minutes report forced the state attorney general to launch a special investigation. When all was said and done, he dropped all charges against the lacrosse players.
Then a special disciplinary committee disbarred prosecutor Nifong. I duly commented:
This is a man who willfully withheld exculpatory DNA evidence and was prepared to throw three young men in prison on a rape charge that the world now knows that he knew was bogus from day one…
Even worse, after wasting state resources to persecute these students (and forcing them to waste millions of dollars defending themselves), Nifong still could not bring himself to admit that he was dead wrong. Because when Chairman Williamson asked him, with manifest indignation, exasperation and contempt, if he still believes the accuser he followed so merrily down a primrose path to career suicide, Nifong responded with reflective conviction:
(“Nifong, Rogue Prosecutor in Duke Rape Case, Disbarred,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 18, 2007)
The woman who falsely accused three Duke University lacrosse players of rape has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of her boyfriend.
The jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching their verdict in the trial of 34-year-old Crystal Mangum, who was sentenced to between 14 years and 18 years in prison…
(Associated Press, November 22, 2013)
Case closed … for good.
All the same, it might interest you to know that, while the White lacrosse players — who never spent a day in prison — have settled a number of cases compensating them quite handsomely for being wrongly accused, the Black Central Park kids—who served six to 13 years before their convictions were overturned — are still waiting to settle a single one.
But thanks to a forthcoming documentary by Ken Burns on the tragic miscarriage of justice in this Central Park case, and to the recent election of Bill de Blasio as the first Democratic mayor in 20 years, there is renewed hope that New York City will settle in the very near future.
‘All of us want this over, but it’s about someone taking responsibility for what they did to us,’ said one of the five, Yusef Salaam, now 38. ‘The money can’t buy back our lives.’
(USA Today, April 6, 2013)
Monday, November 25, 2013 at 6:53 AM
Iran struck an historic agreement today with the United States and five other major nuclear powers: namely, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK – all represented by their respective foreign ministers. It calls for Iran to temporarily suspend developing its nuclear program in exchange for these powers (specifically the United States) temporarily suspending (only some of) the sanctions that have been crippling Iran’s economy for decades.
This six-month agreement is intended to provide both sides the good-faith basis to negotiate a permanent agreement to dismantle and destroy Iran’s capacity to ever develop nuclear weapons. If the parties fail to reach such an agreement, the United States vows not only to impose more onerous sanctions than ever before, but also to hold the Damoclean sword of military strikes over Iran to prevent it from taking steps towards undeniable “breakout nuclear capacity.”
Significantly, Iran has agreed for the first time to allow intrusive and comprehensive inspections - as much to prove its good faith as to enable U.S.-led negotiators to assert that, far more than trusting, they are verifying Iran’s compliance.
While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal: for the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back…
As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict.
(Whitehouse.org, November 23, 2013)
By contrast, here is the hysterical way Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried it on behalf of the few leaders (most notably the king of Saudi Arabia) who seem hell-bent on trying to get Obama to lead a march of folly into Iran they way they got Bush to do in Iraq:
What was reached last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake. Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world.
(Associated Press, November 24, 2013)
The irony, of course, is that Netanyahu now seems every bit as unhinged and isolated as former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad always did. What’s more, it seems completely lost on him that he is striking an untenable alliance with Arab leaders who hate Israel as much as they fear Iran (pursuant to the Muslim world’s Sunni-Shia schism that dates back to the year 632).
More to the point, though, it speaks volumes that France is hailing this as a “solid” agreement. After all, just weeks ago, Netanyahu was publicly thanking France for refusing to participate in what its foreign minister dismissed a “con game.” Not to mention how foolish France signing on today makes Israel-can-do-no-wrong U.S. politicians, like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, look for joining Netanyahu back then by shouting all over TV, “Vive la France [and] Thank God for France.”
Meanwhile, I have repeatedly praised Obama for pursuing any means necessary to de-nuke Iran peacefully, despite Netanyahu’s open and notorious attempts to goad him into war. By the same token, I have repeatedly criticized Netanyahu for presuming to dictate how Obama should pursue America’s national interest with respect to Iran. Not least because Obama has never hesitated to call his bluff by stating publicly that nobody is stopping Netanyahu from going to war with Iran if he thinks that would be in Israel’s national interest.
But bear in mind that, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s reckless protestations about American appeasement, no American president has done more to halt Iran’s march towards acquiring nuclear weapons than Obama has done with this (temporary) agreement.
Not to mention that George W. Bush had more credibility when he was warmongering about Iraq’s WMDs than Netanyahu’s has with his warmongering about Iran’s nuclear weapons. After all, not only has Netanyahu been beating this drum for decades; he has been trying every step of the way to get the United States to do his dirty work to boot.
Here, for example, is how the Jerusalem Post reported on his dire warning about Iran’s nuclear program on January 12, 1995:
A SERIOUS (sic) threat of nuclear war hangs over Israel, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset plenum yesterday…
‘Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb, without having to import either the technology or the material,’ Netanyahu said. ‘[The nuclear threat] must be uprooted by an international front headed by the US.’
This is why I am constrained to reiterate that Netanyahu has given Obama just cause to be far more wary of him than he quite properly is of the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.
Apropos of which, I refer you to my related commentary, “Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago; Iran, His Desdemona,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2013, for proper context and perspective on this issue. On the other hand, Iran might just fall for what is turning out to be their pretty convincing good cop/bad cop ploy….
For now, though, I urge my Israeli friends to consider this: How would you feel if Israel were surrounded by 40 or more Iranian military bases, the way Iran is by U.S. bases? Wouldn’t you want your country to develop nuclear weapons to serve as the ultimate deterrent against a military invasion? Oh, right, it’s probably hard to relate to such existential insecurity because Israel already possesses nuclear weapons….
Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago…
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 1:59 pm
Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 8:32 AM
Given the ostentatious way the nation is marking this 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, one can be forgiven for thinking that he was the only president assassinated in office. In fact, there were three others, most notable among them Abraham Lincoln, who seems far more worthy of this kind of national tribute than JFK.
Yet I can’t remember there being even a mention in the media to mark the anniversary of the assassination of any other president. More to the point, I would bet my life savings that the nation did not mark the 50th anniversary of Lincoln’s in 1915, James A. Garfield’s in 1931, or William McKinley’s in 1951 in this fashion….
Of course, I fully appreciate why a “selfie” nation would indulge in this ostentatious show of remembrance for a president who was effectively the father of the “image-is-everything” social media that has come to define our lives. But, given this showing, it will be very telling indeed to see how the nation marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination in 2015.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday, at 5:12 pm
Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 5:13 AM
I am too young to have any memory of President John F. Kennedy. Therefore, I shall leave it to others to provide the kind of sentimental commentary this week of national remembrance evidently warrants.
I will say, however, that I see no redeeming political or historical value in propagating counterfactuals about what would have happened if JFK were not assassinated.
- both were presidential pioneers – with JKF being the first Catholic elected president, Obama the first Black;
- both championed civil rights legislation – with JFK ordering federal agencies to end discrimination against women and calling for Black civil rights legislation, Obama ending discrimination against gays in the military and calling for legalizing same-sex marriages; and
- both were beset by foreign entanglements that had many heralding the decline of American power – with JFK trying to recover from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in the face of brazen efforts by Nikita Khrushchev, the pugnacious president of the Soviet Union, to test his nerve by deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba, Obama from the ongoing tumult of the Arab Spring in the face of brazen efforts by Vladimir Putin, the He-Man president of Russia, to emasculate him by seizing credit for forcing Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons.
There were of course some notable differences. But this occasion obliges me to comment on just one. It pertains to the unrelenting attempts by right-wing nuts not just to delegitimize Obama’s presidency, but to demonize him as well. Yet, where JFK did not make it into the third year of his presidency, Obama is in the fifth year of his….
Accordingly, I shall suffice to reiterate:
Let us pray that … his Secret Service bodyguards will redouble their efforts to protect him. Because the last thing America needs right now is another assassination that triggers all of the lost hope and incendiary rage of the killing of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr … combined!
(“Barack Obama Clinches Historic Democratic Presidential Nomination,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 4, 2008)
Meanwhile, for the record, I fully appreciate the conspiracy theories that haunt the assassination of JFK. And it is indeed noteworthy that those who swear by them include the likes of filmmaker Oliver Stone and no less a person than U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry (yes, he’s JFK too).
But, here again, I have read and seen enough to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted as a lone wolf when he assassinated JFK in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963; this, notwithstanding investigative oversights in the Warren Commission’s report. What’s more, I believe the forensics, which prove beyond any reasonable doubt the fact of the single-bullet theory Stone famously mocked in his film, JFK.
Using 3D laser scanners to document the crime scene and assess if a single bullet could have killed JFK and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally, [ballistics experts] Luke and Michael Haag feel they have not only debunked the decades old conspiracy theory of the Grassy Knoll shooter, but proven it is indeed possible for a single bullet to have caused two fatalities…
Luke Haag said, ‘We want to think there’s more to it than a loner loser deranged Marxist who hated his country and took an opportunity. There’s got be more to it than that … (Vincent) Bugliosi has a wonderful statement, ‘A peasant cannot strike down a king:’ Think about it — a nobody did.’
(NOVA, ‘Cold Case JFK,’ PBS, November 13, 2013)
No doubt these are acutely polarizing times in American politics. But George W. Bush’s absence stood in stark contrast to his appearance the night before – yucking it up – on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
This seems inconsistent with the non-partisan tradition of all former U.S. presidents showing up for the funeral when a member of their very exclusive club passes on. Even worse, it gives credence to the sectarian view among far too many Republicans that a Democratic president is not their president because they did not vote for him….
Alas, unless we hear directly from Bush or Obama, we will never know if Bush turned down Obama’s invitation, or if Obama never extended one. I’m inclined to believe the latter is the case; not least because, like his father, George W has always shown irreproachable and unfailing deference to “the office.”
Which leaves me with the ironic and disappointing suspicion that Obama used this solemn occasion not only to score cheap political points, but also to play, unwittingly, into the rabid sectarianism that is undermining his own presidency.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:44 AM
Here is the cynical note I sounded in 2006, when African businessman Mo Ibrahim announced his Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership (MIPAAL):
Mo seems to think that African leaders are so congenitally corrupt, the only way ‘to remove corruption and improve governance’ in Africa is, ironically, to bribe them…
And to prove his intent to vest this igNoble prize with (at least financial) value that surpasses that of the Nobel prize (at $1.4 million), Mo is offering a cash gift of $5 million over 10 years, when the winner leaves office, plus $200,000 a year for life. Moreover, to adorn his prize with a patina of integrity, he has decreed that only a leader who ‘democratically transfers power to his successor’ will be eligible to receive this golden parachute.
Unfortunately, given that it’s a long-established fringe benefit for African leaders to steal at least $5 million each year of their rule, this prize would seem at best an honorable perk….
(“Businessman Launches the Africa No “Mo” Corruption Prize,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 27, 2006)
Even I did not fully appreciate what a joke this prize would turn out to be. After all, despite being as qualified as any African leader could possibly be, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who was democratically elected and democratically transferred power to his successor, was not deemed worthy.
This vindicates my suspicion that the MIPAAL was always more about Mo’s ego than about promoting good governance in Africa. Now I suspect that the committee’s failure to present an award this year has more to do with his dwindling bank account than with the failure of anyone to qualify for his prize. (Forbes estimates that Mo lost $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune last year.)
Accordingly, I hope all of the international dignitaries, including former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan, who Mo lured onto his committee to select the annual recipient of his MIPAAL, now have the good sense to resign en masse instead of continuing to be associated with this farce.
(“Mo Ibrahim: No Winner of Africa’s Version of Noble Prize,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 20, 2009)
Now comes this:
For a second consecutive year, no leader has been deemed worthy of the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership…
There have also been accusations that failing to find a prize winner can encourage negative stereotypes about Africa and its leaders.
Hadeel Ibrahim, Mo’s daughter and founding executive director of the foundation, told CNN: ‘We’re holding a mirror up to Africa and if there’s a winner, congratulations to the winner and to that country, and if there’s no winner we hope that African people get more of the leadership they deserve.
(CNN, October 14, 2013)
But like I said, and with all due respect to Mo’s daughter, this failure is as much a reflection of Mo’s ulterior (self-aggrandizing) motive for establishing this prize as it is an indictment of African leadership.
Evidently, despite being more sustainable, it would have been too modest to associate his name with a prize of only $1-2 million with no lifetime annuity (i.e., more in line with the Nobel prize). Not to mention the folly and conceit inherent in Mo thinking that any African leader is going to govern in the vain hope that when he retires Mo will select him for this ignoble prize. No doubt Mo’s snub of Mbeki will prove very instructive in this respect.
At any rate, it is hardly surprising to me that, for four of its seven years, the MIPAAL committee has failed to find anyone worthy of its prize. More to the point, though, it is noteworthy that Forbes estimates that his wealth has fallen to $1.1 billion this year, again, down from $2.5 billion in 2008.
Still, to be fair, it might be helpful to know that, for 19 of its 112 years, the Nobel committee failed to find anyone worthy of its peace prize, and this is a committee that deemed PLO Chairman Yassar Arafat worthy. But I’m sure nobody ever had any cause to suspect that its failure had anything to do with concerns about being able to fund the prize in perpetuity.
Businessman launches the Africa No “Mo” Corruption Prize
Ibrahim Forbes 2008…
Ibrahim Forbes 2013…
Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 5:27 AM
If one buys Chávez’s sales pitch, PetroCaribe promises to ‘…contribute to the energy security, socioeconomic development and integration of the Caribbean countries, through the sovereign use of the energy resources.’
However, although I am loath to suggest that Chávez is selling snake, not crude, oil, I have grave misgivings about the viability of his initiative as an alternative to the FTAA and about its potential as a reliable source of “discounted” energy for Caribbean countries.
Anyone who bothers to read the fine print in this Chávez initiative will see that it’s less about regional energy and more about regional politics. And, I fear, Caribbean citizens who were led to believe that PetroCaribe will deliver cheap fuel for local consumption are bound to be sorely disappointed. After all, there’s nothing in this agreement that provides such a guarantee….
(“PetroCaribe: Let’s Look this Gift Horse in the Mouth,” Caribbean Net News, June 30, 2006)
This in part is how I advised governments throughout the Caribbean against joining the PetroCaribe alliance Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched in 2005. Alas, not only did 12 of the 15-targeted governments refuse to heed my advice; representatives of a number of those governments dismissed it as nothing but ignorant and impudent blather.
Well, I am now constrained not just to say, “I told you so,” but also to report that the PetroCaribe chickens I warned about are coming home to roost:
Following Guatemala’s announcement in early November that it was pulling out of Venezuela’s PetroCaribe alliance, the Hugo Chávez-era oil-for-regional-influence program could be on its last legs, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reports.
Although the Venezuelan government has promised to keep PetroCaribe intact, it has nevertheless quietly cut oil shipments, and may push up interest rates and modify repayment terms. Any such changes could have deep and lasting impacts on small countries accustomed to propping up their economies with the shipments, CSM said…
A significant portion of Venezuela’s oil is promised to countries such as India and China, where it’s sending 640,000 barrels per day, half of which is sent to repay $40 billion in loans.
Sending oil to those countries is more financially beneficial to Venezuela than shipments closer to home, where countries are repaying their debts in-kind with products like black beans and chicken parts.
(Caribbean News Now, November 18, 2013)
Monday, November 18, 2013 at 5:25 AM
I wrote a college paper almost 32 years ago on the growing gap between rich and poor in America. It was replete with all kinds of warnings about the social, political and economic consequences of this gap, almost all of which have come to pass.
Conspicuously missing, however, was any reference to CEO-to-worker pay. I hasten to clarify that this was not due to my failure, or to my thesis advisor’s oversight. It’s just that this ratio did not figure as prominently back then (as other factors like technology, regressive taxation, and offshoring did) in driving the growing gap between rich and poor.
My how things have changed.
The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950, according to data from Bloomberg. Today Fortune 500 CEOs make 204 times regular workers on average … up from 120-to-1 in 2000, 42-to-1 in 1980 and 20-to-1 in 1950.
‘When CEOs switched from asking the question of ‘how much is enough’ to ‘how much can I get,’ investor capital and executive talent started scrapping like hyenas for every morsel,’ Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, told Bloomberg.
(Bloomberg April 30, 2013)
For a little perspective, it might be helpful to know that CEO-to-work pay in Germany, the country with the largest economy in Europe and third largest in the world behind the United States and China, is 12-to-1….
But nothing betrayed the mindset behind America’s growing economic apartheid quite like Republican candidate Mitt Romney notoriously lambasting 47 percent of Americans during last year’s presidential campaign as lazy, entitled people just looking for government handouts. He did this simply because they earn so little that even this country’s regressive tax system deemed it unconscionable to require them to pay income tax (on top of payroll, state, local and other taxes they’re still required to pay). And bear in mind that his audience of “one percenters” nodded amen to his expression of utter contempt for America’s poor, notwithstanding that:
Most of the growth is going to an extraordinarily small share of the population: 95% of the gains from the recovery [since 2008] have gone to the richest 1% of people, whose share of overall income is once again close to its highest level in a century. The most unequal country in the rich world is thus becoming even more so.
(Economist, September 21, 2013)
But I digress.
The point is that this ratio of CEO-to-worker pay merely compounds a profound normative shift in America. For we have gone from the 1950s when CEOs had vested interests not only in the welfare of their workers but that of the communities in which they lived as well, to today when they have vested interests only in the bottom line and share value … because these provide the economic pretext for their exorbitant pay.
This let-them-eat-cake mindset has misled Walmart to pay its CEO, Michael Duke, over 1,000 times more than the average worker and still insist, with nary a pang of guilt or hypocrisy, that it makes no business sense to pay its workers a fair minimum wage.
Hell, J. C. Penny thought nothing of paying Ron Johnson a CEO-to-worker ratio of 1,755-to-1. And Johnson, in turn, thought nothing of firing 19,000 workers (according to March 1, 2013 edition of Business Insider) in a mercenary bid to increase share value … and justify his pay. As it happened, despite using his workers as sacrificial lambs to Wall-Street speculators, J.C. Penny lost half its share value, which is why Johnson lasted only 17 months as CEO.
Incidentally, this focus on share value at the expense of all else explains why investment bankers became little more than snake-oil salesmen who saw customers as nothing more than marks to generate profits. And this in a nutshell explains how bankers precipitated the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Significantly, the phenomenon of CEOs cutting out the middlemen (i.e., firing managers) is exacerbating not only this CEO-to-worker pay but also the gap between rich and poor in America at large:
J.C. Penney cut a bunch of middle managers across the country on Monday… One source says that the number may now be in the thousands.
J.C. Penney didn’t immediately answer requests for comment, but a spokesperson did mention yesterday that the retailer will be ‘operating with fewer layers of management.’
(Business Insider, May 3, 2013)
But, again, just as the inequities that buttressed South Africa’s political apartheid so offended that country’s collective conscience that they had to be redressed, the inequities that buttress America’s economic apartheid so offend this country’s collective conscience that they too have to be redressed.
I can think of no better way to frame the cause for radical change in this respect than to proffer the following rhetorical question a Chicago alderman posed to Walmart’s CEO:
How can you go to bed at night and sleep knowing you make this kind of money and the people working for you can hardly buy a package of beans and rice?
(ABC News, July 2, 2010)
For, as obscenely paid CEOs continue to grasp for even higher pay, questions like this might serve as a clarion call for workers to organize (as they did in the early 20th century) to demand better wages and other benefits.
But just think for a moment how self-serving and myopic, if not unpatriotic, American CEOs have become: for they have gone from the Henry-Ford model of increasing wages and benefits to retain worker loyalty and reduce turnover with its associated costs, to the Ron-Johnson model of squeezing as much production out of as few workers for as little in wages and benefits as possible to maximize shareholder profits and guarantee even fatter paychecks for themselves.
Mind you, I’m under no illusion that the poor are going to revolt against the rich in America today for the same reasons the poor revolted against the rich in France in the late 1780s – most notably, taxes that favored the rich who looked down on the poor with unbridled contempt.
Not least because the cultural pathology of aspiring to be rich in America today is such that many of the 47 percenters Romney damned as parasites actually voted for him. Not to mention the self-abnegating folly inherent in so many poor and uninsured folks siding with Republicans in damning President Obama’s efforts to provide the guaranteed health insurance they clearly need. In other words, for some twisted reason far too many workers these days seem to think they have more common interest with the CEO than with fellow workers….
I just think that, in due course, even these poor fools will see gestures like billionaires signing pledges to give away at least half of their fortunes to charity, which 60 Minutes championed last night as “the golden age of philanthropy,” as no consolation for an economic system that enables the few to continue making billions off manufactured rises in stock prices, while the many – who actually manufacture things – continue to get laid off.
So here’s to the “descent into angry populism” the Economist warned would come if America does not take aggressive, systemic steps to cut the growing gap between rich and poor. And, with all due respect to opposition by the Chamber of Commerce, these steps should begin with Congress passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would provide at least 30 million Americans with fairer pay for their hard work.
Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 6:46 AM
Friday, November 15, 2013 at 5:22 AM
These are very discouraging times for anti-monarchists like me. For watching tens of millions around the world reveling in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations last year was dispiriting enough.
But watching just as many, if not more, heralding the birth of William and Kate’s son (as the third living heir in waiting to the throne) this year felt like an out-of-body experience. Indeed, it was rather like living in a 19th-century time warp – when the British monarch had even more power and influence than the U.S. president has today.
I have written many commentaries delineating my moral, political and social disdain for royalty and all of its fairy-tale appurtenances. Moreover, I’ve never been shy about expressing unqualified schadenfreude every time scandal exposed its inherent fallacies and reminded monarchists of the institutionalized affront royal families constitute to the universal truth that all people are created equal.
And, more than any other royals, the British royal family has provided enough fodder in this regard to incite unrelenting snicker and sustained contempt…
I encourage citizens throughout the Caribbean Commonwealth to prevail upon our national leaders to cease and desist recommending our citizens for these farcical investitures, if not to perfect our sovereignty (as independent republics), then as a matter of national pride.
(“Pardon Me Sir, But How Much Did You Pay for Your Knighthood,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 14, 2006)
Alas, polls indicate that support for this anachronistic institution is rising, not falling – pursuant to the first principle of democracy and basic common sense:
Even among 18 to 24-year-olds, the age group most likely to hold republican views, today’s poll shows a solid 69 per cent believe that Prince George will one day become king.
The poll suggests that the majority of the country sees no benefit in republicanism, with some two thirds of those polled (66 per cent) thinking that Britain is better off as a monarchy.
Only 17 per cent wanted a republic instead.
(The Telegraph, July 27, 2013)
This was brought into embarrassing relief last year when, despite vowing to rectify this constitutional anathema, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller was obliged to lay out the red carpet for the Queen’s notoriously mischievous grandson Harry – who was substituting for Her Majesty on a state visit as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
And, lest you think I’m just making a fuss over inconsequential ceremonial stuff, bear in mind that almost all of these purportedly independent former colonies retain the British Privy Council as their court of last resort as well. I have duly bemoaned this constitutional anathema in such commentaries as “Idle-minded debate on Privy Council continues,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 30, 2011.
For their part, the British are so desperate to maintain this fairytale of the monarch reigning over her realm that Prince Charles is substituting for her at today’s opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. This, despite the fact that Sri Lanka’s record of human rights abuses is so odious that the leaders of Canada and India are boycotting this meeting for fear of becoming contaminated just by breathing its air.
In any event, given these causes for discouragement, I hope I can be forgiven for grasping for republican solidarity in a column the London Daily Mail published on Monday under the provocative but unassailable title, “Sir Becks and Lady Posh? I admire them both, but this would be final proof the honours system has lost all reason.”
Sir David and Lady Beckham: If ever there were five words to seal Britain’s descent into celebrity-obsessed madness, there they are.
So why is the idea of Sir Becks and Lady Posh so offensive?
Largely, because it would confirm what many of us already know — that the honours system is fast becoming absurd.
Of course, members of the British royal family personify this celebrity-obsessed madness that is afflicting not just Britain, but all of Western civilization. Exhibit A in this respect is the way even proud citizens of former British colonies still covet royal honours every bit as much as British commoners like the Beckhams do.
Is there any wonder we despair for our republics…?
Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 5:19 AM
There has been a great deal of speculation in the media lately about the relationship between Oprah and President Obama. In fact, to listen to some political commentators you’d think Oprah has become a woman scorned because Obama refused to give her the White House access she coveted (to exploit for commercial purposes) “after helping him get elected in 2008.’’
Of course, if Oprah ever felt thusly scorned, she would’ve had to get over herself when Obama won re-election in 2012, reportedly without her help.
This is why the little insight Oprah herself provided yesterday into the true nature of their relationship is so telling. She offered it during a BBC interview as part of her promotional gig for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the critically acclaimed movie in which she plays feisty, sultry Gloria Gaines, wife of the butler Cecil Gaines. (The movie is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen who served at the White House for 34 years, 1952-86.)
In fact, far from betraying any resentment towards Obama, Oprah defended him:
Asked if some of the challenges and criticisms faced by President Barack Obama were down to the colour of his skin, Winfrey said:
‘There’s no question. I think there’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs, and that occurs in some cases, and maybe even many cases, because he’s African American. There’s no question about that; it’s the kind of thing no one ever says, but everybody’s thinking it.’
Obviously Oprah would not have shared this if she were harboring any resentment. Not to mention that nobody appreciates more than she does how such a politically incorrect observation might alienate many of the genteel White folks she needs to sustain the commercial success of her cable network, OWN.
‘When she backed Obama for president her audience, which is middle-aged white women, supported Hillary Clinton and so she found a lot of push-back by people who thought she was choosing her race ahead of her gender,’ says Eric Deggans, TV critic of the Petersburg Times in Florida.
(BBC, May 25, 2011)
This is why she should be applauded for being so daring and forthright.
I am constrained to note, however, that she is wrong to say that this is “the kind of thing no one ever says.” After all:
It’s demonstrably clear that Republicans are creating an economic crisis merely to further the only agenda they’ve had since Obama was elected: to destroy his presidency…
What troubles many Republicans is not the national debt, but the fact that Obama is the first Black president of the United States. None of them would admit this of course.
(“Washington Political Food Fight Over Debt Ceiling,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 25, 2011)
I took a lot of flak for asserting in my October 5 commentary, Super-rich Irony, that only racism explains why so many rich White folks – who benefited most from Obama’s presidency (with policies that rescued the U.S. economy from the brink of depression, created record corporate profits, and doubled the stock market) – are nevertheless insisting that he has been an abject failure.
(“Romney vs. Obama: Race (still) Matters,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 1, 2012)
But given her clout, influence, and trailblazing bona fides, Oprah can be forgiven for presuming that no observation in this respect is noteworthy until she makes it. Others, like me, can then be recognized as duly echoing her trendsetting opinion.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 5:17 AM
My disdain for what passes for journalism these days is well documented. And 60 Minutes, the reputed standard bearer of broadcast journalism, only reinforced my disdain on Sunday when it was forced to issue a pathetic apology for reporting one man’s delusions of grandeur as facts.
Specifically, its highly touted October 27 report (on the 9/11/12 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi) turned out to be rife with fabrications – all seemingly intended to further undermine the credibility of the Obama Administration.
Frankly, one could be forgiven for thinking that 60 Minutes was reporting on events from a parallel universe where only the minds of rabid Tea Partiers meld. Not least because, like most allegations Tea Partiers make about Obama, it only took a simple Google search to debunk all of the material allegations in its report.
Most notable in this respect was the account its star interviewee (who I shan’t dignify by naming) gave about his heroic efforts to fend off the Benghazi terrorists. He claimed that he had no choice but to act because the Obama administration “refused” repeated SOSs to send in the Marines. But again, to quote America’s preeminent media critic Jon Stewart, his account “was total bullshit.”
We realized we had been misled and it was a mistake to include him in our report. For that, we are very sorry.
(60 Minutes, November 10, 2013)
Let’s ignore the fact that (investigative) reporters apologizing for being “misled” by an interviewee is rather like criminal investigators apologizing for being lied to by a thief….
Because the real story here is that journalism has become the pursuit of TV ratings for corporate profits at the expense of journalistic truth. Nothing demonstrates this quite like 60 Minutes failing to mention in its original report or follow-up apology that this entire segment was little more than an infomercial for a book on Benghazi by its star interviewee, which its corporate parent CBS had just published through another of its media properties, Simon and Schuster. Talk about weaving a tangled web….
Apropos of which, here is just a taste of my disdain:
Don’t get me started on the way journalists now troll social media for news and report on every tragedy as if it were the friggin’ Super Bowl. For journalism has become such a pathetic enterprise — so utterly bereft of principles like journalistic truth, professional independence, and duty to inform — that journalists think nothing of reporting what they think the public wants to consume as news instead of informing the public about what is newsworthy.
In this sense, they are just like investment bankers who think nothing of packaging a junk bond as a triple-A stock and selling it for a quick buck.
(“‘Nixonian’ Obama Right to Spy on Associated Press,” The iPINIONS Journal, May, 14, 2013)
After all, at an innate level, expecting bankers not to cheat is rather like expecting bees not to sting. By contrast, journalists breaking the law to find easy fodder for new stories shocks the conscience almost as much as priests sexually molesting boys as part of their pastoral prerogatives.
But my pet peeve these days is the malpractice inherent in TV journalists wasting hours every day with idle-minded speculation about the 2016 presidential election – a full three years before any such speculation could possibly have any news value or relevance. This malpractice is made brazenly hypocritical by the fact that these are the very same journalists who, just months ago, were presenting snarky, indignant reports about retailers promoting Christmas wares in August – a full three months before any such promotion would seem appropriate.
Tina Brown, outgoing editor of the Daily Beast and former editor of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Newsweek, doesn’t even read magazines anymore — nor does she think too highly of journalism at all.
Brown told the audience of a THiNK conference in Goa, India on Friday that she is basically done with journalism, which she said is currently having a ‘very, very pathetic moment’ and has turned into advertising in order to try to make a profit.
‘Editorial outfits are now advertising agencies,’ she said.
(Huffington Post, November 8, 2013)
Welcome to the real world, Tina. After all, far from having a very, very pathetic moment, journalism has been in this pathetic state for years. What’s more, I see no end in sight.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 5:38 AM
A cache of “lost” paintings looted by the Nazis before the Second World War containing some 1,500 works by world-renowned artists including Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Klee and valued at an estimated €1bn has been found, according to German media reports.
Bavarian customs police discovered the sensational haul in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the 80-year-old son of well-known pre-war art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. The younger Gurlitt had hoarded the paintings in his Munich apartment for over half a century, according to Germany’s Focus magazine.
(The Independent, November 9, 2013)
Because this raises the question: why is this art find of the century just coming to light?
Color me cynical, but I think it has everything to do with U.S. and UK spy agencies doing all they can to deflect attention from the public shaming they’re experiencing as a result of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.
After all, if these agencies are as all-knowing as Snowden would have us believe, surely they not only knew about this Nazi art find, but were also monitoring what German authorities were doing with it.
More to the point, what better way to knock the Germans off their high horse about Americans and Britons spying on them than to plant a media story that forces these Germans to atone, yet again, for Nazi war crimes?
And just as critical acclaim and cash-generating scoops motivated the Washington Post and (London) Guardian to publish Snowden’s leaks — their respective country’s national security and reputation be damned), Focus magazine would have been similarly motivated to publish tips about this Nazi art find. This would have been particularly so, ironically enough, if the NSA or its UK equivalent, the GCHQ, provided those tips….
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates the Nazis seized about 16,000 works of art in all.
(BBC, November 3, 2013)
Frankly, if they were not forced to come clean about these looted paintings, one wonders how long German authorities would have kept this find a national secret: another 10, 20, 50 years…?
Stuart Eizenstat, a former US ambassador to the EU, told the BBC that time was running out, and the details of the artworks should be published.
‘Victims of the Holocaust are aging, even the families of those who did not survive are of an age,’ he said. ‘[T]he longer one goes … the more difficult it is for people to prepare potential claims… Justice delayed is justice denied.’
(BBC, November 5, 2013)
Now the Germans find themselves in the untenable position of having to explain why they were compounding the horrors of the Holocaust by appearing so lackadaisical about returning these Nazi-looted paintings to their rightful (and likely all-Jewish) owners in a timely manner.
In any event, where the English word “indignation” could fairly describe the prevailing mood among Germans about U.S. and UK spying before this report, the German word “schadenfreude” can fairly describe the prevailing mood among Americans and Britons about this Nazi art find today.
I said Putin would hand over Snowden…