Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 4:58 AM
Truth be told, I had no idea who Richard Attenborough was until Gandhi became an international blockbuster in 1982. This, I’m embarrassed to admit, despite Attenborough having an established career as an acclaimed character actor long before then. Hell, I only realized after he became the Oscar-winning director of Gandhi that he also directed one of my favorite war movies, A Bridge Too Far (1977).
All the same, I read enough over the years to appreciate that Attenborough’s dedication to the motion picture arts and sciences was surpassed only by his dedication to charitable causes and social issues like childhood education:
He passionately believes in education, primarily education that does not judge upon color, race, creed or religion. His attachment to Waterford is his passion for non-racial education, which were the grounds on which Waterford Kamhlaba was founded. Waterford was one of his inspirations for directing Cry Freedom (1987), based on the life of Steve Biko.
But I felt moved to write this modest tribute based solely on my solidarity with the liberal politics of this “champagne socialist,” which compelled him to direct Gandhi and Cry Freedom.
It speaks volumes that Gandhi’s haul of eight Oscars set a record for British films. But even more telling is its juxtaposition with the biopic of the only man who could be fairly considered Mahatma Gandhi’s twentieth-century peer, Nelson Mandela.
After all, far from winning a comparable number of Oscars, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) received only one back-handed nomination (for Best Original Song), and it did not even win that, losing out to the cartoonish song from Frozen.
This is not the place to delve too much into the reasons why Hollywood – after embracing Gandhi so abundantly – snubbed Mandela so niggardly. No doubt movie critics and political commentators alike would find just cause to cry racism.
But it’s probably fair to assert that the primary reason had more to do with differences in cinematic skill and vision between the respective directors than with any difference in the heroic life story and liberation struggle each had to dramatize. Frankly, there’s probably no greater testament to Attenborough’s greatness as a director than the relative success of these two films.
Even so, it’s arguable that his film Cry Freedom actually upstaged Mandela – weaving as it did the inspiring story of friendship between White journalist Donald Woods and Black anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko into a searing indictment of South Africa’s apartheid regime.
I should not venture any further, lest I become one of those creepy, opportunistic eulogizers who have far too much to say about people they knew so little about. Indeed, the irony in this case is that I know far more about Attenborough’s brother David, whose engaging whisper as presenter of natural history programs has educated and thrilled me for years.
Attenborough died on Sunday. He was 90.
Farewell, Lord Attenborough.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 8:12 AM
When George Orwell warned of “newspeak,” he envisioned a dystopian state in which a “Big Brother,” like Russian President Vladimir Putin, would use it as a tool to limit and control freedom of thought … and speech.
Therefore, I suspect even Orwell would be shocked and disappointed to see newspeak being used instead by members his latterday “Brotherhood” (in the relatively utopian United States, NSA spying notwithstanding) – not only to enforce politically correct speech, but also to chastise putative purveyors of political correctness for failing to tow the party line.
This, alas, is the surreal dynamic that explains why the New York Times is catching hell for daring to describe Michael Brown, quite accurately, as “no angel:”
An outrage plume is now settling over the New York Times over two words in a retrospective on the life of Michael Brown Jr., the victim of the Ferguson, Mo., police shooting whose funeral takes place today. Here’s the objection-producing [sentence], written by John Eligon:
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life.
(Washington Post, August 25, 2014)
Mind you, the Times goes on to duly report on some of the well-documented reasons why Michael was, in fact, no angel. Most notably, it cites that he was caught on tape committing a strong-arm robbery just minutes before getting shot; that he “dabbled in drugs and alcohol;” and that he had a well-earned reputation as a neighborhood bully.
This is why the politically correct police are resorting to Orwellian doublespeak, charging speciously that the Times would not have described Michael as “no angel” if he were White.
It’s noteworthy, though, that if they’re playing the race card against this “old grey lady” of liberalism, well, they might even play it against a proud (but principled) Black man like me. Indeed, nothing betrays the inherent absurdity of their charge quite like their attempts to substantiate it by contrasting the way the Times described Michael with the way it described Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh and Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – as if it would’ve been better to describe Michael as a terrorist than as no angel.
More to the point, listening to his avengers and eulogizers yesterday, you would’ve gotten the impression that they wanted the Times to describe him as an angel, which of course is the textbook manifestation of newspeak.
But, if/when the Times caves under this “Room 101” backlash, I recommend it corrects those offending words with the two words I dared to use in one of my related commentaries to describe Michael, namely, “menacing thief:”
The more distressing absurdity for me is political activists like Rev. Al Sharpton making Michael, an alleged menacing thief, the face of the fight against police brutality – just as political activists like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made Rosa Parks, a woman above reproach, the face of the fight against segregation.
(“Why Are They Still Protesting in Ferguson? And Who Are They? The iPINIONS Journal, August 19, 2014)
Frankly, anyone tuning in to his nationally televised memorial service could have been forgiven for thinking that Michael actually belongs in the pantheon of young civil rights martyrs, alongside Emmett Till and James Earl Chaney.
That lesson, of course, is that distrust of the police, no matter how warranted, does not give anyone the right to resist arrest or engage in visceral confrontations with the police. Sadly, Michael learned this lesson the most tragic way. But nobody can deny that he would still be alive if he had not resisted arrest – complete with blows that reportedly landed the arresting officer in hospital.
(Incidentally, what do you suppose Rev. Sharpton and others would be saying if he had wrested away Officer Darren Wilson’s gun, as he was allegedly trying to do, and shot him dead…?)
In any event, I fear that the lesson most young Black men are learning from this tragedy is that they can resist arrest – so long as they shout the newfangled slogan, “hands up, don’t shoot” while doing so, or after failing to get the upper-hand. Clearly, this will only lead to more of them ending up like Michael.
Which is why it cannot be overstated that, instead of doublespeak that would make him a saint, those eulogizing Michael would’ve honored his death far more by admonishing young Black men against the deadly hazards of resisting arrest and defying authority … merely as a misguided badge of honor or rite of passage.
That said, let me end by clarifying, again, that, notwithstanding his robbery or other bad acts, the killing of Michael Brown, as alleged, was unjustified; and Officer Wilson should be prosecuted for use of excessive force. Because, no matter what a person does to resist arrest, a policeman cannot shoot to kill if that person relents and no longer poses any threat of bodily harm. Period.
Why are they still protesting…
Monday, August 25, 2014 at 6:15 AM
Nothing betrays what cynical and exploitative regard the producers of Fifty Shades of Grey have for loving relationships quite like their scheduling the release of this movie for “Valentine’s Day 2015.”
But they could not have anticipated the “premature” release of a scientific study on the deleterious psychosocial impact the Fifty Shades phenomenon is having on middle-aged women:
Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely to have abusive partners and eating disorders, according to academics concerned about the blockbuster novel’s impact.
A study at Michigan State University found it was linked to ‘unhealthy behaviours’, including binge drinking, unsafe sex and other risks associated with being in an ‘abusive relationship’.
Lead researcher Dr Amy Bonomi … argued the bestseller was ‘perpetuating dangerous abuse standards’, romanticising a plot where the lead female character becomes ‘disempowered and entrapped’.
(The Independent, August 23, 2014)
Now bear in mind that this study is based on scientific observations of women behaving like teenagers on a wild ecstasy trip after reading the novels. So just imagine what rabid (i.e., overdosing) effect watching the movie might have on their senses….
Of course, I’m no movie critic; nor am I a women’s health scientist. Yet here’s an excerpt from “Fifty Shades of Grey: Mainstreaming Kinky, Abusive Sex?” which I wrote over two years ago (on April 20, 2012), when erstwhile sensible women were swooning about this novel providing all kinds of titillating ideas to spice up their sex lives:
I have to begin with a disclaimer: I did not read this book. I just listened in utter stupefaction a few days ago to female friend who did as she shared why Fifty Shades of Grey, by author E. L. James, is all the rage.
No doubt my friend would declare herself an unabashed feminist. And she has never struck me as the submissive type when it comes to sex.
This is why I was so taken aback when she expressed how captivated and stimulated she became as she read about the sadomasochistic relationship that plays out in graphic fashion between the main characters in this novel: the virginal, eager to please Anastasia Steele and her emotionally scarred and domineering Sugar Daddy, Christian Grey…
I was confused by the almost self-righteous way my friend rationalized the emotional and physical abuse Christian repeatedly inflicts upon Anastasia by saying it was all consensual (i.e., that that’s what she wanted). Really? I’m all for a little rough sex, but jeez…
Given the way she so blithely related to the submissive, if not degrading, way Anastasia behaves, I asked my friend to explain why she not only condemned Chris Brown for beating up Rihanna but, more to the point, then condemned Rihanna for going back to him … for more.
I also asked if she’s not at all concerned that the popularity of this novel might undermine the signature feminist argument that men who get off on the psycho-sexual abuse so often depicted in porn are being conditioned to act out that abuse in their personal relationships. For surely it must follow that women (especially impressionable teenage girls) who get off on the psycho-sexual abuse depicted in this book are being conditioned to accept this abuse in their personal relationships.
Trust me, she’s a brilliant woman. But I am still waiting for a comprehensible, credible reply….
Now, given the scientific findings of this study at Michigan State University, I hope I’ll finally be forgiven my indignant dismay at so many women waxing orgasmic in public over this trashy, irresponsible novel. Never mind the truly dismaying fact that so many women would need a scientific study to teach them a life lesson as simple as: if you play with fire, you will get burned.
More important, though, to the women who made Fifty Shades such a phenomenal bestseller, please do not compound this prurient spectacle by making it a blockbuster movie too. Instead, get a sex toy! And, please, act your age by keeping reviews about what it does for you to yourself.
Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 7:50 AM
Ferguson has become a theatre of the absurd – complete with the-sky-is-falling reporters doing more to fuel the protests than to cover them, while using selfie-camera angels to ensure that they are featured as much as the protesters. There’s no denying that these protests would burnout overnight if the media lights, which have been inflaming them like adding fuel to fire, were suddenly turned off.
(“Why Are They Still Protesting in Ferguson? And Who Are They,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 19, 2014)
Why are they still protesting…
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 6:36 AM
Here, in part, is how I pooh-poohed – in “I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy,” July 2, 2013 - the moral indignation Germans (and other Europeans) hurled at the Americans after Snowden’s leaks revealed that the NSA routinely spied on them, including Chancellor Angela Merkel:
The Europeans are ‘shocked, shocked,’ and are expressing feelings of profound betrayal:
‘The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, François Hollande, demanded quick explanations from Washington about disclosures by the Guardian and Der Spiegel that U.S. agencies bugged European embassies and parliament buildings. Berlin stressed there had to be mutual trust if trade talks were to go ahead in Washington on Monday.’
The Americans are wiping egg off their faces, but do not seem too worried. Indeed, no less a person than President Obama dismissed European outrage as little more than the pot calling the kettle black…
Truth be told, except for stoking idle anti-Americanism in some European countries, I am convinced that these disclosures will have no material impact on U.S.-EU relations. Not least because Europeans threatening to abandon bilateral trade agreements with the United States over spying is even less credible than the United States threatening to do the same with China over human rights.
The German government faced an angry reaction from Turkey and accusations of hypocrisy from its own opposition on Monday after media reports that its intelligence agency [the BND] spied on its NATO ally.
The reports also said the agency had listened to the phone calls of two U.S. secretaries of state – the kind of activity for which Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Washington.
Turkey summoned the German ambassador and called for a full explanation following a Spiegel magazine report that the BND foreign intelligence agency had been spying on Turkey for years and identified Ankara as a top surveillance target in an internal government document from 2009.
(Reuters, August 18, 2014)
Enough said? Except that this comeuppance will not be complete until revelations show that the BND also spies on Germans every bit as much as the NSA spies on Americans.
Like I said: “I spy, you spy, we all spy.” And don’t get me started on all of the even more intrusive and pervasive spying companies like Google and Facebook do … just to sell you stuff.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 8:44 AM
Unsurprisingly, calls for the arrest of Officer Darren Wilson only became more restive yesterday, after lawyers for Michael’s parents released results of an autopsy they commissioned, which show that Wilson shot him at least six times.
More importantly, here’s the truly poignant way these lawyers used CNN’s coverage of their release to reinforce his mother’s (understandable) anger and frustration:
What else do we need to give them to arrest the killer of my child?
But those demanding justice for Michael seem to be doing so in a parallel universe. After all, despite dealing with cases of far more national importance (like prosecuting terrorists), everyone at the Justice Department seems focused on justice for Michael. Nothing betrays this focus quite like no less a person than Attorney General Eric Holder ordering a third, federal autopsy and promising to visit Ferguson this week to pay his respects and meet with Michael’s avengers in person.
Not to mention President Obama using his bully pulpit – on more than one occasion – to give voice to their concerns; albeit in a fair-and-balanced manner that most of them are too insolent and ignorant to appreciate. Indeed, these protesters seem oblivious to the fact that Obama is not their granddaddy’s president; Holder is not their granddaddy’s attorney general; and Capt. Johnson is not their granddaddy’s Bull Connor.
For what it’s worth, I’m on record predicting that Wilson will be charged with use of excessive force in some degree … and rightly so.
Therefore, with the wheels of justice already grinding at an unprecedented rate for Michael, you have to wonder why people are still protesting in Ferguson. Because, frankly, their shouts of “no justice, no peace” ring hollow - given that they seem so intent on perverting the course of justice and disturbing the peace. Only this intent explains why they defied a 12-to-5 a.m. curfew just to provoke confrontations with the police.
Never mind reasonable suspicions that the only people engaging in confrontational protests are unemployed thugs – who can afford to march up and down the streets all day, and wreak havoc at night … as a smokescreen to loot. I suspect they’ve never felt so important and influential, and I shudder to think what untenable precedent they’re establishing….
After all, these protesters are having such anarchic sway that they’re aping the spectacle of inmates running the asylum:
In a news conference about 1:20 a.m. Monday, Johnson said Sunday’s unrest began at 8:25 p.m. when police responded to reports of gunshots near Canfield, the street where Brown was killed. At 8:56 p.m., hundreds of protesters marched toward a police staging command post in a parking lot near a Target…
‘There were multiple additional reports of molotov cocktails being thrown, police were shot at, makeshift barricades were set up to block police, bottles and rockets were thrown at police,’ Johnson said. ‘Based on these conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response.’
(Washington Post, August 18, 2014)
Now bear in mind that the Johnson being quoted here is none other than Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol. He, you recall, is the law-enforcement officer who the governor sent into Ferguson to lead efforts to quell these confrontations between protesters and police – not only because Johnson grew up there, but because he’s Black.
Sure enough, protesters initially greeted Johnson with hosannas, which he seemed to revel in as he marched the streets with them, looking like a proverbial Black Moses leading his people to the Promised Land. Johnson even stood up in a packed church on Sunday and apologized for Wilson. But he uttered nary a reproachful word about all the rioting, or about the brazenly provocative practice of protesting in the streets throughout the night. He may have even unwittingly encouraged these mindless protests when he ended his homily by saying that he looks forward to seeing folks back out there.
No doubt this explains the look of personal disappointment, if not humiliation, on Johnson’s face as he gave his news conference, emulating the White police chief he replaced by bemoaning the ongoing wanton lawlessness and defending the ongoing police crackdown. Even worse, the protesters who greeted him like Moses are now – just 72 hours later – treating him like Judas….
But perhaps nothing indicates how much the inmates are running this asylum quite like the governor responding to protesters defying the curfew by hastily lifting it. Never mind the contradiction, or potential for even greater turmoil, inherent in the governor simultaneously deploying the National Guard to do what Johnson and his state police have clearly failed to do: restore, and maintain, law and order.
The irony, of course, is that, when protests erupted in Ferguson 10 days ago, most Americans were more shocked by images of local policemen looking like U.S. soldiers than by images of protesters looting and vandalizing local businesses. Now real soldiers (looking more White than Ferguson’s practically all-White police force) are riding in to the rescue? But, far from shocking, this blurring of the line between law enforcement and the military did not even surprise me:
As I channel surfed the wall-to-wall coverage of the manhunt for the one who got away, the only things I saw moving were thousands of policemen looking like an invading army of Robocops as they went about the seemingly impossible task of searching house-to-house to find their man.
(“Manhunt for Marathon Bombers Turning Boston into Theatre of the Absurd,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 19, 2013)
Apropos of which, Ferguson has become a theatre of the absurd – complete with the-sky-is-falling reporters doing more to fuel the protests than to cover them, while using selfie-camera angels to ensure that they are featured as much as the protesters. There’s no denying that these protests would burnout overnight if the media lights, which have been inflaming them like adding fuel to fire, were suddenly turned off.
And don’t get me started on the smattering of (White) professional protesters doing all they can to get arrested just to have another notch on their resume of civil disobedience.
But the more distressing absurdity for me is political activists like Rev. Al Sharpton making Michael, an alleged menacing thief, the face of the fight against police brutality – just as political activists like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made Rosa Parks, a woman above reproach, the face of the fight against segregation.
Moreover, not enough people are stressing the instructive fact that marches during the Civil Rights Movement evoked so much sympathy and respect because they were marked by the police attacking the marchers, not by the marchers attacking the police … and looting, which in this case is evoking nothing but racial animus and contempt. What’s more, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single day of protest back then that had people taking to the streets at night … for obvious reasons.
With that, I shall end this commentary on the manufactured outrage the killing of Michael Brown has wrought by reiterating my plea for young Black men to stop making confrontations with the police and resisting arrest rites of racial passage in America today. But, if they insist on doing so, I have no problem with the police (even White ones draped in military garb) using any means necessary to restore, and maintain, law and order.
There would be fewer of these fatal encounters between Black men and White cops if more (unemployed) Black men became cops to police their own communities. I mean, am I the only one who was struck by the contrast between the Black men looting and vandalizing and the predominantly White cops trying to restore, and maintain, law and order in this predominantly Black community…?
In fact, this suburb of St. Louis, Ferguson, is almost 70 percent Black, yet it’s being served by a police force that’s over 95 percent White. Perhaps, instead of leading St. Louis Blacks in hackneyed chants of “No justice, no peace,” Reverend Al Sharpton should turn and shout at them “Stop looting! Police!”
(“Killing of Michael Brown: as much about Resisting Arrest as Police Brutality,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 12, 2014)
Monday, August 18, 2014 at 6:54 AM
In an uncanny bit of political symmetry, every Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has had a brother who seemed hell-bent on embarrassing him or exploiting his presidency for all it’s worth … or both.
Jimmy Carter had to cope not only with his brother Billy’s hillbilly bon mots, which made Jimmy’s political sound bites seem like religious platitudes, but also with Billy’s shady business ventures, which included leading a delegation to do business in Libya because, as he famously said, “there is a hell of a lot more Arabians than there is Jews [sic].”
Bill Clinton had to cope not only with his half-brother Roger’s conviction on drugs charges, which stood in mocking contrast to Bill’s famous line about trying marijuana “but I didn’t inhale,” but also with Roger thanking him for using a presidential pardon to erase his criminal record by making a public spectacle of lobbying him to do the same for his drug-dealing buddies.
Incidentally, all indications are that Hillary will have to cope twofold if she succeeds Obama in 2016. Because she has two brothers, Hugh and Tony, who tried to exploit their brother-in-law’s presidency as much as Roger tried to embarrass him.
Most notably, they tried to leverage Bill’s presidency to establish a $100 million business importing hazelnuts from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Unfortunately, the Georgian partner they chose was a major political rival of the Georgian president – who the United States happened to be aggressively wooing away from having any affinity for, or association with, Russia.
Now Barack Obama is having to cope not only with his half-brother Mark’s version of the Obama family story, but also with Mark dissing much of Barack’s own version of that story, which he told in his 1995 bestseller, Dreams From My Father.
Never mind that the overriding theme of Obama’s version is that what little he knew about his absentee father came from family folklore and mythology, which, like any kid, he took at face value. He hardly knew the man, after all. More to the point, he recounts in poignant fashion having most, if not all, of his “dreams” dashed upon learning the sober realities of his father’s alcohol-fueled abuses and professional shortcomings.
But nothing betrays Mark’s intent to exploit his brother’s fame quite like the fact that he only began using the Obama name after Barack became a global phenomenon and the presumptive president of the United States. Such was his (understandable) contempt for his and Barack’s Kenyan father that, for all of his adult life, he used only his Tanzanian stepfather’s name, Ndesandjo.
In fact, Mark had so utterly disowned everyone associated with the Obama name that, in remarking on his decision to sever ties, Barack quotes him in Dreams saying the following:
I don’t feel much of an attachment [to Kenya]. Just another poor African country… You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots … Well, you’re right.
This is why Mark’s counter-narrative is as specious as it is spiteful. Yet he’s now peddling his third volume since Obama’s election in 2009. Significantly, his latest, An Obama’s Journey: My Odyssey of Self-Discovery Across Three Cultures, is far more noteworthy for what he writes about the “factual errors” in Obama’s Dreams than for what he writes about his self-discovery. Whether this one will finally be a bestseller is probably immaterial to him. Because his motive for writing seems as old as that which motivated Cain to smite Able: jealousy and resentment.
After all, his (now-famous) brother shows little interest in having any kind of relationship with him – perhaps even giving the impression that he sees in Mark all the sins of their father that he’d just as soon forget he ever learned about. Mind you, if Barack were just a law professor, Mark would probably be showing even less interest in having any kind of relationship with him. But, given their circumstances, Barack’s disinterest must be all the more galling for Mark considering that, by all accounts, their Kenyan father’s two marriages to White, liberal American women produced two boys who now bear a striking resemblance, right down to their mannerisms.
To be fair, though, Obama probably knew even less, first hand, about his half-brother growing up than he knew about his father. Meanwhile, Mark concedes, or boasts, that he didn’t even know Barack’s name before they first met in 1988. And he can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times they’ve had “very awkward, cold meeting[s]” since then.
Yet there’s enough fodder about their relationship, even in the public domain, for a sibling rivalry of, well, Biblical proportions. That Barack is the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, seems reason enough to incite visceral jealousy and resentment in Mark. Not least because the ambitious Mark is just an English teacher in China, having relocated there, of all places, after losing his job as an IT technician in the United States. Therefore, what else could he do to seem as good as, if not better than, his brother than to bring Barack down a few pegs by “exposing” him as a fantasist and a fabricator?
Interestingly enough, Mark may have unwittingly given some insight into his self-righteous and self-serving motivation when he said the following during an interview for the March 23, 2014 edition of the South China Morning Post:
It’s funny… In Dreams, Barack says sons often spend their lives trying to achieve their father’s dreams or correct their errors. That polarity defines my relationship with Barack. I’ve been trying to correct the issues I experienced with my father my whole life. Barack, on the other hand, has been achieving my father’s goals and dreams.
NOTE: Barack has a number of other alleged half-brothers and half-sisters. However, none of them seem as determined as Mark is to embarrass him or exploit his presidency.
Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 7:10 AM
I took a lot of intra-racial flak for not eulogizing Michael in my original commentary as an innocent victim of yet another racist police shooting. The (my-race-right-or-wrong) guardians of Black pride took exception to my pointing out that this kid would not have been shot if he had cooperated with the arresting officer; that is, instead of not only resisting arrest, but getting into a friggin’ scuffle … allegedly.
Well, now comes the breaking news about Michael being caught on video robbing a store just minutes before he was shot:
In a shocking twist to the killing which sparked riots in St Louis, Missouri over the last few days, the officer investigating the convenience store robbery also attended the scene of the shooting and said the suspect and Brown were the same person…
In the grainy images, a large black man wearing a light-colored shirt, distinctive shoes, a red baseball hat and khaki shorts is seen assaulting a clerk and then stealing cigars.
A photograph of Michael Brown’s lifeless body, taken minutes later in the street, shows that he was wearing a light grey shirt, the same shoes and khaki cargo shorts.
(Daily Mail, August 15, 2014)
Let me hasten to clarify that, even if Michael were a murder suspect, this policeman, who has now been outed as Officer Darren Wilson, had a duty to hold fire as soon as Michael threw his hands up (in the “universal sign of surrender”) … allegedly. And this duty would have applied even if Michael resisted initially and landed a few blows during their scuffle. This is why, especially now that the FBI is on the case, Wilson will surely be charged for using excessive force in some degree.
But the release of this video must have come like a punch in the gut to anyone who eulogized Michael as a “gentle giant.” Not least because it not only shows him stealing cigarettes, but also strong-arming a middle-aged store clerk – who looks half his size – to make his getaway.
The Trayvon Martin lawyers are probably chief among those nursing gut-wrenching concerns today. After all, they offered to represent Michael’s parents because they clearly felt his death would incite similar notoriety and evoke similar sympathy. But, deep down inside, these lawyers must surely know that, if the video in Trayvon’s case showed him stealing instead of buying skittles and iced tea, his killing by (cop wannabe) George Zimmerman would not have incited nearly as much notoriety, and even less sympathy. I’m sure Trayvon’s parents are wary about his legacy being diminished by association with Michael’s….
No doubt this is why these crusading lawyers are now leading a chorus of those chanting that, by releasing this video, the police are attempting to assassinate Michael’s character. (What little character any menacing teenage thief could have, I suppose.)
Finally, with all due respect to my critics, this video vindicates my decision not to join the procession of those making a martyr of Michael. In fact, I saw this as more of a teachable moment; specifically, to impress upon young Black men what tragic consequence could unfold if they choose (viscerally as they often do) to confront, instead of cooperate with, the police. Because there’s no denying that, if Brown had cooperated, he would still be alive – even if stewing in jail.
Meanwhile, nothing indicates how infected with marauding fools this Black community is quite like looting returning as a feature of “peaceful” protests in Ferguson last night. This effectively dashed naive hopes that appointing a (token) Black as interim chief of this Black community’s White police force would induce young Black men to stop looting and vandalizing their own community. It’s too shameful and disheartening for words … on all sides.
Killing of Michael more about resisting arrest…
Friday, August 15, 2014 at 1:49 AM
In 2002 voters in The Bahamas rejected a national referendum “to change the Constitution to eradicate language that made men superior to women” – as the February 12, 2012, edition of the Nassau Guardian framed the issue. I was so shocked and dismayed that I wondered aloud if we were vying to become the new Taliban paradise, given that the United States had just bombed to smithereens the one that thrived in Afghanistan.
But I then had cause to put my shock and dismay on the record in 2009, when the government proposed legislation to ban marital rape:
This proposed legislation has incited such widespread moral outrage that one might think Bahamians were living in a Taliban paradise. Indeed, this condemnation exposes the fact that Christian fundamentalists, in many respects, are every bit as fanatical as Islamic fundamentalists.
Of course, much violence has been visited upon women in the name of Christianity. And none has been more insidious than marital rape sanctioned by the misogynistic edict that a woman must always obey her husband’s sexual commands … unconditionally.
(“Banning Marital Rape in The Bahamas,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 14, 2009)
This is why I am not at all surprised that a toxic mix of political ignorance and moral outrage is bedeviling the Bahamian government’s attempt to hold a second referendum to grant women equal rights.
Specifically, for almost two years now, the government has been trying to move a series of bills through Parliament before putting them to a referendum. As the Guardian reported (on October 3, 2013), these amending bills are primarily intended to:
- Amend the citizenship provisions of the Constitution to achieve full equality between men and women with respect to the acquisition and transmission of Bahamian nationality; and
- Expand the definition of discrimination in Article 26 to include discrimination based on “sex” as a prohibited ground so that women would be able to enjoy the same level of protection from discrimination that men already enjoy.
Never mind the reasonable interpretation that Article 15 already grants women the fundamental rights and protections this referendum purports to grant, with its express provision that:
[E]very person in The Bahamas is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex [to] life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law [etc.].
In any event, the government appointed a Constitutional Reform Commission that waged a yearlong “public education campaign” to impress upon voters the existential importance of codifying these amendments.
Unfortunately, political mischief and religious dogma have so undermined this campaign that the government seems poised, yet again, to postpone the enabling referendum, which is scheduled for this November. If it does, extraneous objections, of one form or another, will have postponed it for the fourth time, given previous postponements: from June 2013 to November 2013 to June 2014.
To appreciate a little of the pettiness involved, consider that members of the ruling party championing this latest effort are from the same party (the Progressive Liberal Party) whose members betrayed the effort in 2002 referenced above. And, presumably as payback, members of the opposition party maneuvering to betray this year’s effort are from the same party (the Free National Movement) whose members championed the effort in 2002.
Given this tortured background, I submit that, if the ruling PLP were serious about ushering in gender equality, it would have done so by an act of parliament, instead of pursing this fraught process of amending the Constitution.
Not to mention that it offends all notions of fundamental rights for the government to be putting to a national vote whether or not Bahamian women should enjoy the same constitutional rights and protections that Bahamian men already enjoy.
Mind you, the Constitution of The Bahamas does not expressly discriminate against women (e.g., the way the Constitution of the United States discriminated against Blacks) such that constitutional amendments would be necessary to correct an “original sin.” It just does not include “sex” in the Article 26 at issue, along with “race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, or creed” (as it does in Article 15) as a personal attribute that should not give rise to any form of discrimination.
This is hardly the forum to delve any further into constitutional provisions, especially given that minds far more brilliant than mine can interpret them differently – as members of the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrate with distressing regularity these days. Therefore, I shall suffice to proffer that, because the Constitution does not expressly prohibit equal rights for women, no act of Parliament granting women those rights can be deemed to alter or violate it.
In fact, it is instructive that the Equality Act of 2010 did not violate the Constitution of the United Kingdom, and the Fair Pay Act of 2009 did not violate the Constitution of the United States. No referendum was needed in either case.
Perhaps even more instructive is that the United States has been trying since 1923, to no avail, to amend its constitution (with an Equal Rights Amendment) to guarantee equal rights for women. Yet acts of Congress over that time have slowly but surely redressed every case where the laws of the United States discriminated against women, such that nobody can gainsay that American women enjoy more equal rights than women anywhere else in the world today. (More famously, acts of Congress did the same with respect to civil rights for Blacks. They would still be living in Jim Crow America if their equal rights were dependent on a national referendum.)
Meanwhile, apropos of the spectre of postponement or outright cancellation, here’s the ominous, and arguably predictable, note the government sounded just days ago:
Whether we have a referendum or not, the prime minister has always said that we would not go to a referendum without general agreement between the parties…
If it becomes clear for us that there is not unanimity, then we will not proceed with the referendum.
(Nassau Guardian, August 9, 2014)
Ominous, and arguably predictable, because this is akin to the Obama Administration declaring that it will not proceed with a bill granting women unqualified rights to abortions … if there is not unanimity between Democrats and Republicans. Duh.
What’s more, there’s a very high probability that voters will reject this latest referendum too, if it were ever held. Nothing telegraphs this quite like the national debate on its ballot questions being hijacked by religious leaders hurling ignorant fulminations about equal rights for women being dependent on what the meaning of “sex” is.
I doubt, for example, that those voicing the loudest objections are even aware of the differences between “sex” (biological/sex organs) and “gender” (cultural norms/masculine, feminine). Gender is the more debatable term. But the irony is that this referendum would have been less controversial if the proposed expansion of the definition of discrimination included discrimination based on “gender” instead of “sex” as a prohibited ground.
As it stands, people are clearly reading into the term “sex” an expansion of the constitutional definition of discrimination based on “sexual orientation,” which would provide LBGTs the same level of protection from discrimination heterosexuals already enjoy. Not that there would be anything wrong with that of course.
But the prevailing absurdity of this whole exercise is brought into eye-rolling relief when one considers that even the U.S. Constitution (as amended) does not prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. This is why legislatures have been enacting laws to redress these omissions on a state-by-state basis – based on local religious and cultural norms.
Alas, such norms in The Bahamas militate against our pandering parliament following suit by enacting LBGT laws, let alone our homophobic people doing so by passing a referendum.
More to the point, in a country where church leaders proselytize homophobia as an article of faith, this (mis)reading of the language in the tabled bills is spreading faster than the gospel at Pentecost. And whenever religion enters the house, reason hightails it out the back door.
In any case, whether by using the word sex or gender, whether by an act of Parliament or referendum, it is a categorical imperative that the laws of The Bahamas provide women the same rights, privileges, and protections men enjoy. Period.
Accordingly, I urge all Bahamians to support this referendum, bearing in mind that, if only every female voter realized and acted upon her enlightened interest, it would pass in a landslide.
Banning marital rape…
Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 1:31 AM
Here’s what I wrote the day after TMZ aired audiotapes of Donald Sterling sabotaging his ownership, the way Richard Nixon sabotaged his presidency:
The commissioner should forfeit his ownership with fair compensation in the interest of the NBA. (The commissioner of Major League Baseball set an instructive precedent by prevailing upon Marge Schott to sell her interest in the Cincinnati Reds after she was caught making similarly offensive anti-Semitic and anti-Asian comments.)…
No matter how this Sterling mess unfolds, I’d be shocked and dismayed if he still has his NBA team or his Black-Hispanic girlfriend this time … next week.
(“NBA Owner to GF: Your Photos with Blacks, Including Magic, Embarrass Me,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 27, 2014)
Sure enough, just 48 hours later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his determined intent to forfeit Sterling’s ownership. And, perhaps to show that he meant business, Silver banned him from any further association with the LA Clippers, “effective immediately.” I duly praised his announcement in “NBA Commissioner Gives Racist Sterling the Death Penalty,” April 30, 2014. Oh, he lost his girlfriend too.
Of course, Sterling lived up to his reputation as a litigious fool by filing all kinds of legal complaints in a vain attempt to retain ownership. And legal trolls polluted social media with all kinds of specious arguments supporting this fool’s errand. Ignorant of the basics of franchise law, they proffered the notion that the sanctity of Sterling’s property rights precluded Silver’s declared intent.
But I never doubted for a moment that this NBA saga would play out just as I scripted. Accordingly, here now, the final scene:
Donald Sterling is officially out as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, ending a nearly four-month effort to oust him after racially insensitive comments were made public.
The sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion closed Tuesday, the NBA announced in a news release. The purchase agreement closed after a California court issued a written order affirming that Sterling’s wife, Shelly, has the legal authority to sell the team on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust.
(CBS Sports, August 12, 2014)
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 1:13 AM
One of my pet peeves is the person who insists on using the honorific title “Dr” after receiving an honorary PhD. But even more galling is the person who insists on using this title after buying one from a diploma mill. Most galling of all, however, is the person who insists on using this title after doing nothing more than including a PhD as an academic achievement on his embellished resume.
I know of far too many putatively distinguished people who dared to do the latter. And, ironically, having spent so much time perfecting the art of intellectual deceit, these academic fraudsters often give the impression of being far more intelligent than anyone with an earned PhD.
Perhaps this is why, even after one is exposed, people are more inclined to continue hailing him as “brilliant,” instead of acknowledging that they were taken for fools. This appears to the be case among South Africa’s elites, who once took national pride in the academic achievements of acclaimed parliamentarian “Dr” Pallo Jordan.
A ‘humiliated’ Pallo Jordan has resigned from Parliament and the ANC’s national executive committee to avoid further ‘deceit’, following revelations that he misrepresented his academic qualifications…
No evidence could be found that Jordan, who goes by the title ‘Dr,’ had received an honorary doctorate…
On Monday, the ANC in Parliament was first to break the silence on Jordan’s mysterious PhD and other qualifications, which he claimed were bestowed on him by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, among others, saying it fully supported the ‘intellectual giant’.
‘Jordan was one of the ANC’s greatest products, a public intellectual par excellence and a consummate historian…,’ said [ANC caucus spokesman Moloto Mothapo].
(IOL News South Africa, August 12, 2014)
“A public intellectual par excellence” is probably an unwitting way of acknowledging that Jordan wanted the instantaneous acclaim that comes with having a PhD, without having to endure the laborious study required to actually earn one. Which is why, as skilled as he and other intellectual fraudsters become at appearing highly educated, there’s usually no there there (with apologies to Gertrude Stein).
For example, most of them thrive on holding forth on any subject – even presuming to lecture holders of real PhDs on their areas of expertise. But if you had the presence of mind, as well as the knowledge, to examine any of them on their assertions, you’d see an “intellectual giant” morph into a two-year-old trying to explain why that wasn’t his hand you caught in the cookie jar.
I see no point in commenting on what motivates academic fraudsters; except to note that it takes a ballsy form of psychopathology to claim unearned PhDs these days, when technology puts verifying such claims at anyone’s fingertips.
But, when they’re exposed the way Jordan has been, the very least they can do is have the decency to “go to ground” … to be heard from nevermore. That, however, should only be the beginning of their comeuppance. Their misrepresentations constitute a fraud upon their employers and the public, after all. Therefore, they should face criminal charges as well.
This is why, instead of allowing Jordan to slink away in shame, South African authorities should punish him, the way Norwegian authorities punished politician Liv Løberg two years ago for embellishing her resume with claims about being a registered nurse and having two advanced degrees. They sentenced her to 14 months in prison and fined her 1 million NOK.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 6:53 AM
For example, according to the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project, from April 2009 to June 2010, there were 5,986 reports of police misconduct; 382 fatalities linked to police misconduct; and $347.5 million spent in settlements and judgments related to police misconduct.
Ironically, increase in police-brutality cases occasioned implementation of one of America’s most famous policing strategies, namely, New York City’s “zero tolerance” policy. For the more this policy led to dramatic reductions in everything from felony murder to the menace of squeegee men, the more aggressive NYC cops became in stopping and frisking people – based not on probable cause but racial profiling.
But only God knows why some incidents of police brutality, even among cases that result in fatalities, incite street protests (and the media attention they attract like moths to a flame), while others don’t.
A candlelight vigil for an unarmed man who was fatally shot by police turned ugly, with crowds looting and burning stores, vandalizing vehicles and taunting officers who tried to block access to parts of a predominantly black suburb of St. Louis…
The tensions erupted after a candlelight vigil Sunday night for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday in a scuffle with an officer.
(The Associated Press, August 11, 2014)
I hasten to clarify, though, that not every fatal shooting by the police of an unarmed man is a case of police brutality. We’ve all seen far too many incidents of people resisting arrest – even wresting away a policeman’s gun and killing him – just because they fear being questioned or arrested … even for something as simple as petty theft.
Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to cite a case that resulted in fatality, where the victim followed the few general rules we should all follow when dealing with the police. Those rules are:
- Do not run;
- Follow instructions calmly (i.e., no sudden moves that might spook a nervous or trigger-happy policeman);
- Wait for the police to explain why you’re being stopped before politely posing any objections, concerns, or questions you may have;
- If instructed to turn around to be frisked or handcuffed, comply without uttering a word; and
- Save any disagreements or arguments you may have for the courtroom or your civilian complaints review board.
This is why, even though the policemen who beat the crap out of Rodney King deserved to be prosecuted, (most of) that beating would have been avoided if King were not drugged out of his mind and, therefore, unable to follow simple police instructions.
This is also why, contrary to popular opinion, 43-year-old Eric Garner bore some blame for his own death. Garner, of course, was the unarmed Black “gentle giant” who died, openly and notoriously, from a chokehold by a White cop on Staten Island last month. But, had he not resisted arrest, there would have been no chokehold, or the sub-standard EMT care that followed. And the kicker is that he reportedly resisted simply because he did not want to be arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes … again.
But the cop involved deserved to lose his badge, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, for using a tactic (i.e., that chokehold) to subdue Garner, which this cop knew or should have known was banned by NYPD regulations.
In contrast to these gray-area cases of police brutality, the beating of 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock was black and white. Pinnock, of course, was the unarmed Black woman who a White cop pummeled on the side of a Los Angeles freeway last month, reportedly, because he wanted to protect her from wandering into oncoming traffic.
Of course, the facts are still out in this suburban St. Louis case. But it’s worth noting that video evidence was critical in establishing the facts in all cases referenced above. Therefore, any video of this encounter, whether shot by the police or civilian bystanders, will be critical.
But if the facts establish that a policeman shot Michael point blank while – far from resisting arrest – he had his “hands up,” then this policeman should be prosecuted for murder, and Michael’s parents awarded due compensation.
On the other hand, if they establish that Michael got shot while resisting arrest, which allegedly included trying to wrest away the policeman’s gun, then this policeman should have our understanding and Michael’s parents … nothing more than our sympathy.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting the direct correlation between police officers either wearing video cameras or videotaping every stop on dash cam and the dramatic decline not only in complaints by civilians, but also in use of force by the police. Frankly, it seems a no-brainer that every police department should make wearing video cameras as standard as wearing bulletproof vests.
Meanwhile, the usual Black lawyers and activists are already doing all they can to turn this into another race-based spectacle, like the Trayvon Martin case. (They are probably cursing comedian Robin Williams for sucking up so much media coverage with yesterday’s breaking news of his death, ironically, by suicide borne of depression….)
But I urge the media to help counter the prevailing narrative of cops as the mortal enemy of Black men by featuring Black leaders, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who have been entreating Black men to behave as follow:
‘When you’re faced with an officer who is trying to do his job and get to the bottom of something this is not the time to get in an argument with him.’
(“Colin Powell Weighs In on Arrest of Prof. Skip Gates,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 29, 2009)
- No case of police brutality justifies looting and vandalism. Period. Not least because the anger and frustration among Blacks today pale in comparison to that which simmered among Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. Yet the only barbarism on display during their protests came – not from Black marchers looting and vandalizing stores, but from White cops willfully attacking them as they marched peacefully and non-violently.
- It’s instructive that Michael’s mother condemned those involved for rubbing “salt in the wound” of her grief. Because, like most sensible Black people, she has nothing but contempt for the idiots who pillage community stores (for items like clothing, hair products, and malt liquor) and then burn the buildings to the ground … in a plainly self-immolating attempt to get back at the police. Not to mention how these opportunistic riots only reinforce the stereotype of Black young men as wilding savages who can only be tamed by force, including police dogs, batons, chokeholds and, ultimately, bullets.
- There would be fewer of these fatal encounters between Black men and White cops if more (unemployed) Black men became cops to police their own communities. I mean, am I the only one who was struck by the contrast between the Black men looting and vandalizing and the predominantly White cops trying to restore, and maintain, law and order in this predominantly Black community…? In fact, this suburb of St. Louis, Ferguson, is almost 70 percent Black, yet it’s being served by a police force that’s over 95 percent White. Perhaps, instead of leading St. Louis Blacks in hackneyed chants of “No justice, no peace,” Reverend Al Sharpton should turn and shout at them “Stop looting! Police!”
Monday, August 11, 2014 at 8:27 AM
It’s easy to forget how promising Haiti’s future seemed when Jean Bertrand Aristide was elected in 1990. But, after 14 years of providing more political drama than national development, Aristide was escorted into exile on the paternal wings of the U.S. Marines…
Aristide’s national ambition seems to be for his people to live in chronic poverty … with dignity…
Perhaps Haiti is fated to loom amidst the islands of the Caribbean just as Africa is amidst the continents of the world – as a dark, destitute, diseased, desperate, disenfranchised, dishonest, disorganized, disassociated, dangerous and, ultimately, dysfunctional mess.
(“Haiti’s Living Nightmare Continues…Unabated,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 7, 2005)
As this quote indicates, I never understood why Aristide was ever hailed as a political messiah – not just by Haitian followers too poor and uneducated to know any better, but also by American patrons too self-interested to care about the consequences of stroking his messianic ego.
But even I never thought the devil Haitians knew in Jean Claude Duvalier would prove better than the devil they got in Jean Bertrand Aristide. Yet, according to Haitian authorities, this seems to have been the case:
Former president Jean Bertrand Aristide is being prohibited from leaving Haiti as law enforcement authorities probe allegations of corruption, misappropriation of public funds and drug trafficking during his 2001-4 presidency, immigration officials have confirmed.
Aristide and several of his former colleagues have been accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from the State through his organisation, Aristide for Democracy Foundation and other organisations.
(Jamaica Observer, August 8, 2014)
Incidentally, better the devil in Duvalier because he never posed as anything but the heir to his daddy’s brutal, money-grubbing dictatorship. Whereas Aristide professed to be a saint, which makes his alleged abuses all the more devilish. No?
But nobody who knows anything about the messianic Aristide believes that he’s going to subjugate himself to the Haitian judicial process … without attempting to incite a holy war. In fact, reports are that his Lavalas disciples fired the first salvos a few nights ago, when gunfire erupted outside the home of the judge who had the effrontery to sign off on this probe against him.
Meanwhile, as my opening quote also indicates, I never held much hope that Haiti would ever govern itself in a manner worthy of its pioneering status as the world’s first Black independent nation. But at least these days it can cite the example being set by no less a country than the United States, the world’s oldest democracy, for the dysfunction it’s now suffering.
After all, just as opposition congressmen have been doing everything possible to undermine Obama’s presidency (the welfare of the country be damned), opposition senators have been doing everything possible to undermine Martelly’s:
A group of Haitian senators, opposed to the administration of President Michel Martelly, continue to block an electoral process that is crucial for Haiti’s democratic future, as any failure to hold the elections will cause Parliament to become totally dysfunctional by the beginning of next year, and may plunge the Caribbean country in a deep political crisis likely to jeopardize its social and economic development goals.
(Caribbean News Now, August 2, 2014)
Apropos of déjà vu, it’s easy to forget how promising Haiti’s future seemed when Martelly was elected in 2011. But frankly, I’m not only weary of commenting any further, I see no point in doing so.
Except that I feel obliged to admit that, despite my chronic cynicism, even I am disillusioned by these latest developments with respect to Aristide. Here’s why:
In a deft and enlightened move, Martelly declared from the outset of his presidency that he wanted to make peace – not just with Aristide but with every other former Haitian leader as well. To this end he made quite a public show today of meeting with both Aristide and Baby Doc.
Implicit in this of course is that he will discourage any attempt to prosecute Baby Doc, and that Aristide will now be loath to challenge the legitimacy of his presidency. Beyond this, Martelly’s move is deft and enlightened because it lays the foundation for the kind of political certainty that is sine qua non for the foreign direct investments Haiti will need to rebuild.
(“Haiti Reconciles with Baby Doc Duvalier…?” The iPINIONS Journal, February 9, 2012)
Well, so much for all that, eh.
Saturday, August 9, 2014 at 7:24 AM
Friday, August 8, 2014 at 6:52 AM
Partisan critics routinely cite Obama’s decision to announce a date certain for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as evidence of his military incompetence and political naiveté. More to the point, they invariably juxtapose this disregard for Obama with reverential regard for Russian President Vladimir Putin – as if the former is to the latter as Darius III was to Alexander the Great.
Therefore, I wonder what these critics make of Putin’s decision to announce a date certain for ending the sanctions he just imposed against the West:
Russia retaliated on Thursday for Western sanctions against Moscow, announcing that it was banning imports of a wide range of food and agricultural products from Europe and the United States, among others. The move raised the level of confrontation over Ukraine with measures that seemed likely to affect Russian consumers at least as much as European farming.
Dmitri A. Medvedev, the prime minister, announced that Russia would ban all beef, pork, fruit, vegetables and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia and Norway for one year.
(Washington Post, August 7, 2014)
After all, if Obama undermined his military warfare against the Taliban by announcing a date certain to withdraw troops, hasn’t Putin undermined his economic warfare against the West by announcing a date certain to end sanctions…?
Mind you, given that Russians have become as dependent on Western food as Americans used to be on Mid-eastern oil, Putin probably had to announce a date certain to make his sanctions more palatable to Russians than they are punitive to Westerners.
Apropos of oil, I’m on record (in “Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” March 6, 2014) ridiculing Europeans for dithering over levying punitive sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea. They feared Putin would retaliate by cutting off Russian oil and gas supplies to Europe. I scoffed, however, that Putin would be cutting off Russia’s nose to spite its face if he did.
In a similar vein, the only thing Putin is doing by banning these food imports is returning Russians to the old Soviet days, when fruits and vegetables were considered bourgeois Western indulgences. If that isn’t cutting off nose to spite face, nothing is.
But Putin is clearly sensible enough to appreciate that imposing these sanctions indefinitely would constitute a blunder ten times worse than Prohibition. Nothing betrayed this quite like him dispatching Medvedev, his heretofore unseen and unheard prime minister, to announce them.
Poor Medvedev: he looked more like a POW reading Western propaganda than a Russian second in command announcing plans for a retaliatory strike. More to the point, though, his face, not Putin’s, will now be associated with this self-denying folly. And his will be the face Russians target when their longing for these banned foods triggers their political wrath….
Alas, on a far more ominous note, reports are that Putin is redeploying troops on the Western front.
Mind you, I suspect he’s only doing this as a military feint – knowing full well that an actual invasion of Ukraine, no matter his pretext, would be even more self-defeating than his ban on Western food.
Unfortunately, Putin has proved himself such a spiteful, bullying, rabble-rousing strategist that I fear he may have blustered and boxed himself into a corner, leaving him no choice but to invade Ukraine in a genocidal attempt to save face. In other words, in checkmating the West on Crimea, Putin may have checked himself:
Putin’s propaganda has done such a terrific job of convincing Russians that Westerners are undermining their culture at home and threatening the safety of fellow Russians in former republics of the Soviet Union, the credibility of his presidency now depends on backing up his neo-Stalinist rhetoric with avenging military action.
(“Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 6, 2014)
NOTE: Here’s all you need to know about the major powers vying to be respected as the world’s most influential nation today:
- The United States has deployed troops to Iraq to provide humanitarian relief and protection for hundreds of thousands of non-Sunnis Iraqis (mostly Yazidis and Christians) who have fled their homes to escape religious cleansing by crusading ISIS forces;
- Russia has deployed troops to threaten full-scale invasion of Ukraine because it believes it has a geopolitical right to determine that country’s leadership; China has deployed troops to every continent, disguised as foreign laborers, as part of its 100-year plan to dominate the world economically … then militarily; and Europe is engaged in an untenable balancing act, trying to appease all three … at once.
Who gets your respect?
Does it matter to you, as much as it does to me, that the Russians would be hard-pressed to cite a single instance in modern history where they provided humanitarian aid (through government agencies or NGOs) that was not directly pursuant to their own political, economic and/or military interests? At least the Chinese can cite their “health diplomacy,” which has seen as many Chinese doctors go to Africa over the years on medical missions as American priests have gone on religious ones. But why, for example, didn’t it occur to the Russians to redeploy some of the troops now menacing Ukraine to provide the humanitarian aid and protection for those displaced Iraqis the Americans felt it was their (“exceptional”) burden to bear … yet again?
Friday, August 8, 2014 at 6:34 AM
I have become a veritable Cassandra with my warnings about the folly of America’s involvement in Afghanistan. Instead of wondering why I keep beating this dead horse, however, my only wonder is why more people aren’t doing the same…
Hell, even the recent spate of U.S. soldiers being killed by the Afghans they’re supposedly training to kill Taliban fighters has done nothing to incite national outrage.
(“Another Sign of America’s Lost Cause in Afghanistan,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 29, 2012)
Alas, yet another trainee with the Afghan security forces decided on Tuesday that he’d rather kill his American trainers than have them train him to kill his fellow Afghans – even if they are Taliban.
The U.S. general who was shot and killed in an apparent insider attack in Kabul on Tuesday had served in the American military for more than three decades and was a key player in the current U.S. effort to stand up Afghan security forces.
Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene of Falls Church, Va., was the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military to die in the line of duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was the deputy commanding general for the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and was making a routine visit to a training facility when he was fatally shot.
(Washington Post, August 5, 2014)
As my opening quote indicates, I’m tired of not only lamenting but also presaging the tragic folly of the United States trying to build an Afghanistan that can “govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.”
This is why I felt nothing but indignation at the media handwringing that attended news of this latest “green-on-blue” shooting rampage. And I stress the word rampage because, listening to and reading news reports, you could be forgiven for thinking this U.S. general was the only victim. Whereas, in fact, the gunman opened fire on a gathering of NATO soldiers, wounding 15, including eight Americans, two British, and one German, as well as four Afghans.
It is noteworthy, however, that Rt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey provided only a whisper of serenity amidst the cacophony of media comments, when he had the courage to say the following on the August 6 edition of Morning Joe on MSNBC:
Remember, this comes on top of 22,000-plus killed or wounded in Afghanistan… We’re only talking about the ones that result in U.S. killed by the insider attacks [but] there are many more than this actually occurring. There’s a huge chasm of trust opening up between the Afghan security forces and the NATO forces.
We have to rethink that policy [of training Afghan security forces]….
But instead of conjuring up new ways of expressing my indication, I shall suffice to reprise “U.S. Leaving Afghanistan. No Shit!” July 9, 2013, in which I warned of senseless sacrifice this U.S. general has now made with his life.
The United States is considering pulling out all its troops from Afghanistan next year, U.S. officials said, amid tension between the President Barack Obama’s Administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government.
(Reuters, July 9, 2013)
I am pleased to see President Obama finally coming to his senses. But this raises the question: what has he accomplished by surging more troops into Afghanistan three years ago, instead of doing back then what he’s considering now?
After all, some of us warned that he was just putting the blood of more American soldiers on his hands:
America’s legacy there will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent in Afghanistan), or by thousands of American soldiers being lost in Afghanistan’s ‘graveyard of empires’ as they continue fighting this unwinnable war (following America’s own precedent in Vietnam). More troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters…
Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and run ASAP; let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and rely on Special Forces and aerial drones to ‘disrupt and dismantle’ Taliban and al-Qaeda operations there.
(“‘Without (or Even With) More Forces, Failure in Afghanistan Is Likely,’” The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2009)
I do not see how Obama can possibly justify the loss of life and waste of money that will occur over this period just for him to end up doing what President Nixon did in Vietnam: i.e., declaring victory and going home….
(“Obama Escalates Afghan War; the ‘Die’ Is Cast on His Presidency,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 2, 2009)
Except that, there has been so much harping about this being the first general killed in action since the Vietnam War, you’d think his death represents a greater loss than the thousands of foot soldiers who have died in the killing fields of Afghanistan over the past 13 years. All the same, I hope his death will give his surviving colleagues pause before recommending U.S. military (mis)adventures in the future. But, just in case, reinstate the Draft!
I am merely proffering the morally imperative and self-evident truth that politicians would be more circumspect about sending Americans to war if their loved ones were obligated to serve.
Meanwhile, generals are complaining that they do not have enough troops to execute their missions; volunteers are being forced to endure extended tours of duty; and recruitment is so anemic that the military is lowering its (physical and educational) standards for enlistment to fill its ranks (promoting 42-year-old mothers as lean, mean fighting machines?).
(“Support the Draft to Prevent Stupid Wars,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 14, 2007)
Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 8:26 AM
I knew better.
For here is the diagnosis and prognosis I offered three years ago this month, in “Tiger, Tiger … Losing Fight, August 11, 2011, which explain not only why he withdrew last weekend, but also how he recovered so quickly that he’s teeing off today in the PGA Championship, the final Major of the year:
Winning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way now to eradicate images of his bacchanalian private life from public consciousness… In any event, I am convinced that Tiger will return … sooner rather than later.
(“Tiger Escapes to a ‘Safe Haven,’” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2009)
When I wrote the above, in the immediate aftermath of his scandalous fall from grace, I would have bet my life savings that Tiger would have won his 15th Major by now. The Majors, of course, are the four most prestigious annual tournaments in professional golf. They are comprised of the Masters in April, U.S. Open in June, British Open in July, and PGA Championship in August.
Well, just as I predicted, he did return sooner rather than later after that now infamous domestic incident in November 2009 – only four months later to be exact. The surprise however is that Tiger has not won a single, rinky-dink tournament since then, let alone his 15th Major…
But it’s plainly disingenuous for Tiger to suggest that chronic injuries have prevented him from winning. For this is belied by the fact that he not only seemed just fine throughout his winless 2010, but actually won his “last” Major, the 2008 U.S. Open, while in obvious pain caused by a knee injury. Incidentally, Tiger did withdraw from the final round of the Players Championship in May 2010, complaining about a neck injury. But that he was back on the tour within weeks gave credence to suspicions that he withdrew merely out of frustration because he had no chance of winning.
Frankly, one does not have to be a trained psychologist to diagnose that Tiger’s problems are more mental than physical. Because it is self-evident that the public humiliation he endured following that domestic incident, which exposed his Charlie-Sheen like penchant for prostitutes, sapped him of the self-esteem and confidence that not only fueled his game, but instilled self-defeating fear in other players.
Accordingly, don’t be surprised if bad play forces Tiger to withdraw … again. For his foolish and withering pride is such that he sees more glory in stories about how heroically he played before pain forced him to quit, than in stories about why a healthy Tiger can’t even buy a win these days.
But all he needs now to shatter any hope of ever regaining his professional swagger is for his rehabbing, Olympic-skiing girlfriend, Lindsay Vonn, to dump him for not providing the redemptive inspiration she expected. Then, of course, there’s the simmering resentment he must be harboring as he watches the media hail Rory McIlroy the way they used to hail him.
In short, what we are witnessing folks is the proverbial warning:
Pride goeth before the fall….
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 6:42 AM
President Obama is hosting 51 African leaders in Washington this week – in an almost jealous attempt to woo them from the courtship they’ve been cultivating with China in recent years. And he’s pulling out all the stops (and setting up all kinds of roadblocks) to give each leader the impression that the world’s most powerful city has come to a standstill just for him. Actually, Cinderella at the ball seems a fair analogy.
This Summit, the largest event any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government, will build on the President’s trip to Africa in the summer of 2013 and it will strengthen ties between the United States and one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest growing regions.
Specifically, the August 4-6 Summit will advance the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people. At the same time, it will highlight the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent, advance our shared priorities and enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership.
No doubt Obama would like not just Africa but the entire world to think that this summit is – to quote how VP Biden famously hailed passage of his healthcare initiative – “a big fucking deal.”
Unfortunately, the media – with their looping (i.e., repetitive) coverage of the ongoing war in Ukraine, of the tenuous ceasefire in Gaza, of the ambush killing of a U.S. general by a “friendly” Afghan soldier, and of the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa – are effectively ignoring this summit … as if it were nothing more than just another UN-style gabfest.
I witnessed this firsthand yesterday afternoon, when CNN cut away from Obama’s keynote address to the U.S.-Africa Business Forum to bring “breaking news” about the eighth ceasefire in Gaza still holding eight hours after taking effect. Hell, the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, the most-watched news program in America, decided that a viral video of some unknown Swedish mother trying in vain to get her two-year-old twins to stay in bed was more newsworthy than goings on at this summit. (Thank God for C-SPAN.)
Incidentally, the one female leader Obama invited, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, sent her regrets because she’s dealing with the Ebola disease that has already claimed over 700 lives, and is spreading. The president of Sierra Leone felt obliged to do the same. But every African leader would’ve been forgiven for sending his regrets, given the panic-inducing media coverage over the past 48 hours of just two infected American doctors being airlifted from Africa to Atlanta (for better, life-saving treatment).
Meanwhile, it’s arguable that the only people more disappointed than Black Americans in the failure of the Obama presidency to deliver for them are Black Africans (i.e., those in Sub-Saharan Africa).
You probably know about the disappointment among Black Americans because talk show host Tavis Smiley and Professor Cornell West have spent much of the past five years acting out this disappointment on TV – as if they were performing a latter-day version of the Amos ‘n Andy Show.
Not that what they’ve been saying is completely without merit, mind you. After all, they rightly point to everything from Obama’s failure to use his bully pulpit to help transform national consciousness on lingering matters of race, to the failure of his policies to reduce, to any appreciable degree, poverty, crime, and unemployment among Blacks. (This is not the occasion to elaborate. Suffice it to know that I’ve written many commentaries taking issue with their narrow-minded, shortsighted and often spiteful criticisms – as I did in “Professor Cornell West’s Racist Psychobabble about President Obama,” June 1, 2011.)
On the other hand, you probably don’t know much about the disappointment among Black Africans. Yet it is no less acute. In fact, their Smiley and West would tell you that Obama has done little more over the past five years than lecture African leaders about good governance and use African countries as staging grounds for America’s ongoing war against terrorism. They might even shock you by mentioning that even his predecessor, George W. Bush, did more for Africa:
Ever since President Bush launched his Millennium Challenge Account for African development (in March 2002) and his $15 billion Emergency Plan of AIDS Relief (in January 2003), I’ve been arguing – to the consternation and apparent dismay of almost all who bothered to listen – that Bush has done more (and offers the best solutions) to help Africans than any other world leader in modern history…
In an interview in the June 27, 2005 issue of TIME magazine, Rock star and acclaimed humanitarian Sir Bob Geldof echoes my frustrating attempts to disabuse critics of their ignorance and political biases concerning Bush’s support for Africa.
(“Bush Has Done More for Africa than Any Other President – Including Clinton,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 20, 2005)
By instructive contrast, Chinese leaders have not only wooed African leaders with hundreds of billions in sweetheart trade deals, but they have done so with nary a word about good governance or terrorist bogeymen.
Specifically, while Obama was busy hurling democratic platitudes at them, Chinese leaders were increasing trade with them: from $6 billion in 2009 to over $200 billion today – now double that of the United States. Not to mention that U.S. tariffs and other barriers to trade with Africa are analogous to a boy wooing a girl with words, while alienating her with deeds.
Then, of course, there’s the hypocrisy/double standard inherent in Obama refusing to invite a few leaders to this summit, most notably Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, reportedly because they are dogged by allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. After all, at least half of those he invited have been dogged by similar allegations.
For example, Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been accused of orchestrating a campaign of political assassinations so pervasive that he even dispatched assassins to South Africa to take out Rwandan dissidents who fled there for refuge; Jacob Zuma of South Africa, arguably the most powerful leader on the continent, has been accused not only of notorious corruption, but of equally notorious rape; and, perhaps most egregious, like the uninvited Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, the invited Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has not only been indicted on charges of mass murder by the International Criminal Court, he’s currently on trial in The Hague. (Interestingly enough, these charges made him so politically toxic that Obama deliberately shunned Kenya during his tour of Africa last summer.) Yet Obama has no compunctions about courting the likes of Kagame, Zuma, and Kenyatta here in Washington…?
The hypocrisy/double standard inherent in this is surpassed only by the hypocrisy/double standard inherent in the ongoing farce of the United States doing business with China (and even with the former Soviet Union), but boycotting Cuba. A boycott, incidentally, that continues to hoist the United States up by its own petard. This was brought into shameful relief on the eve of this summit, when The Associated Press reported that the United States has been sending young Latinos to Cuba, disguised as USAID workers, to foment political unrest. Yet Obama has the nerve to spew indignation at the Castros for imprisoning USAID worker Alan Gross on suspicion of espionage…? But I digress….
The point is that, in just five years, China has developed such a mutually dependent relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa that it makes the relationship the United States has spent the past fifty years developing seem estranged at best.
Frankly, the only correlation between American and Chinese engagement in Africa these days is the number of managers (many recruited from their version of the CIA) China sends to help Africans build mercantile infrastructure, with the number of generals America sends to help them fight terrorists.
Africans say ‘why do we need the United States? … When I travel around Africa, I’ve seen airports, I’ve seen roads, I’ve seen railroads, I’ve seen ports, I’ve seen all kinds of things that are really impressive built by China, that you have to say the United States refused to build.’
(London Guardian, August 3, 2014)
It is noteworthy, however, that there’s growing resentment among Black Africans towards the Chinese. It stems from the way China is trying to transform the (relatively) lazy work ethic they inherited from their former European colonizers into the slavery work ethic that pervades in labor camps all over China. And nothing is more galling in this respect than China exporting armies of Chinese laborers/soldiers all over the continent to provide living inspiration, and deprive Africans of jobs. (I wrote about similar resentment growing among West Indians in such commentaries as “China Buying Political Dominion Over the Caribbean!” February 22, 2005 and “China Putting Squeeze on The Bahamas. Your Country Could Be Next,” October 22, 2010.)
In any event, this commentary is only intended to give an overview of the fraught context in which Obama is hosting this summit. But, as the title indicates, it raises the question: why would all of these African leaders accept his invitation if he has proven to be such a self-righteous and stingy suitor (i.e., compared with China’s enabling and generous president, Xi Jinping)?
Their reasons for accepting, I submit, can be summed up in two self-explanatory points:
- Despite their disappointment, racial pride would compel most Black Americans, even Smiley and West, to vote for Obama if he were eligible for a third term. In a similar vein, despite their disappointment, racial pride compelled these African leaders to accept his invitation. None of them wants to go down in history as snubbing the first Black president of the United States in such spectacular fashion. Obama himself reinforced this point when he toasted them at a White House state dinner last night as follows:
‘I stand before you as the president of the United States, a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa,’ Obama said drawing applause. ‘The blood of Africa runs through our family, so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents are deeply personal.’
(The Associated Press, August 6, 2014)
- Despite their evident venality, these African leaders appreciate the difference between the kind of superpower one dates and the kind one marries – with all that implies, respectively. I trust this overview explains why they see China as the former, the United States as the latter.
Ultimately, think what you will of African leaders, they are sensible enough to recognize this abiding truth:
- China is not interested in good governance and human rights because it’s only looking to strike trade deals that help it extract mineral resources to keep fueling its booming economy, which — it cannot be overstated — amounts to a brazen form of neo-mercantilism. (Ironically, even its commendable “health diplomacy,” which has seen as many Chinese doctors go to Africa over the years on medical missions as American priests have gone on religious ones, is more about promoting goodwill for the Chinese government than promoting good health for the African people.)
- The United States, as its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) suggests, is interested in good governance and human rights because it’s looking to strike deals that do more for Africa’s sustainable development than for America’s economic bottom line.
Not to mention the billions Americans have given over the years in charity and aid – two concepts, it appears, that do not exist in Chinese foreign affairs.
They’re only directing that the Dalai Lama should be shunned today. But who knows what extraterritorial directive the Chinese will issue pursuant to their perceived national interest tomorrow…?
This episode should serve as a warning to all countries around the world that are not just lapping up China’s largesse, but heralding it as a more worthy superpower than the United States. Because if China can spit such imperious and vindictive fire at the U.S. over a relatively insignificant matter like meeting the Dalai Lama, just imagine what it would do to a less powerful country in a conflict over a truly significant matter.
(“China Prevailing Upon South Africa to Ban the Dalai Lama … Again?!” The iPINIONS Journal, September 30, 2011)
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 6:48 AM
I’ve always been dismayed by the fact that Caribbean natives can cite dates and facts about the emancipation of American slaves but are clueless about the emancipation of our own enslaved ancestors.
And my dismay is compounded by the fact that the predominantly White leaders of the United States have never even deemed this historic event in American history worthy of commemoration. Whereas the predominantly Black leaders of the Caribbean deemed it so significant in the annals of our history that they actually established a national holiday to commemorate Emancipation Day.
Granted, it was over 150 years after abolition before Trinidad and Tobago became the first independent nation to do so in 1985.
In fact, the British Parliament passed The Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery throughout the British colonies, on 24 August 1833. However, the Act did not come into force until 1 August 1834, which is why we purportedly observe Emancipation Day on the first Monday in August.
But our leaders have never shown any greater reverence for the occasion this holiday commemorates than they have for any of the innocuous bank holidays we inherited from our colonial masters. Therefore, it’s no wonder our people are so ignorant in this respect.
Frankly, for years I have felt rather like John the Baptist entreating government officials in all CARICOM countries to mark Emancipation Day with at least an official moment of silence (before we all rush off to the beach).
This is why I am so heartened by the fact that several countries are planning commemorative ceremonies this year.
And in this regard, I would especially like to commend David Bowen, Director of Culture in my mother country of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Because a few years ago he revived our tradition of Emancipation Day celebrations (in this British Overseas Territory) by directing our Youth Development Group in an invigorating and enlightening performance of history, dance, and song.
Our enslaved ancestors must be proud!
NOTE: I trust it’s obvious why this commentary should’ve been written yesterday. Forgive me. I had a senior moment.
Monday, August 4, 2014 at 6:52 AM
It’s clearly his artistic prerogative. But you’d think a play [Bullets Over Broadway] that has so much to do with Harlem’s famous Cotton Club would feature more than just one token Black … as an extra. After all, even though it catered to ‘Whites-only,’ this club routinely featured the most famous Black musicians of the Jazz Age in which the play is set…
I’m sure Woody would insist that casting Whites only in this play (or in his movies for that matter) does not make him a racist. Except that this is a man who insists that seducing and then marrying girlfriend Mia Farrow’s daughter (for whom he was a father figure since she was 10) does not make him a pervert; never mind suspicions that he’s also a pedophile who molested his and Mia’s seven-year-old daughter.
Even though I readily conceded that it’s Woody’s prerogative to feature Whites only in his productions, I was stupefied that he seemed utterly inured to the criticism this incited. Well, he has finally deigned to dignify this criticism with an explanation.
Not unless I write a story that requires it…
The implication is that I’m deliberately not hiring black actors, which is stupid. I cast only what’s right for the part.
That settles it then: evidently, it’s not that Woody Allen is deliberately refusing to feature Blacks; it’s that he deliberately writes parts that require Whites only to play them. Which of course makes about as much sense as a pedophile priest explaining his perversion by saying: it’s not that he’s attracted to adolescent boys; it’s that adolescent boys are attracted to him. In any event, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more egocentric, self-righteous filmmaker in Hollywood, ever….
But the issue for me was/is not Woody’s racial preference for writing stories about the lives of White folks who have no social, let alone personal, interaction with Black folks.
In fact, I’m on record explaining how another White comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, won fame and fortune doing much the same (i.e., portraying life in NYC as if the city were just a lily-White hamlet somewhere on the Hudson):
Many [Blacks] criticized popular TV sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends for neglecting to feature people of color (not even as extras), despite being ostensibly situated in the very diverse New York City.
I did not buy into this quota-based criticism… Because I appreciated that both of those sitcoms revolved around the private lives of a group of ‘White’ friends. And, as shocking as it might have appeared to people who have never lived in New York City, I was not at all surprised that neither show depicted much interracial socializing.
After all, New Yorkers generally accept that, even though Whites and Blacks interact as professionals, they rarely socialize as friends. Which, incidentally, is why the belated casting of a black love interest for one of the male characters on Friends during its final season seemed so woefully contrived.
(“Just a Little Rant about ‘Desperate Housewives’,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 22, 2005)
No, the issue for me was/is TV shows and movies that portray city life today in scenes that make it seem even more segregated than city life was, well, during the Jazz Age…. But, instead of accusing Hollywood insiders like Woody and Jerry of racism for thriving on such portrayals, I think it’s better to simply boycott their productions.