Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 11:50 AM
American media has a habit of crediting white people for social and cultural trends that had long become commonplace in the black community. For example, when Bo Derek donned her cornrows for the movie “10”, one might have thought that was the first time any woman had worn her hair in that style; when, in fact, black women had been sporting cornrows since the beginning of time.
And so, just as it did with cornrows, the media has credited white Demi Moore with popularizing the boy toy trend because of the robbing-the-cradle affair she began with Ashton Kutcher 2 years ago. Never mind that Tina Turner and Dianna Ross pioneered this trend decades ago. (And, for the record, that even amongst white women, Cher is more deserving of this dubious honour for snagging her a bagel-making boy toy in the early 1980s). But it was black bestselling author Terry McMillan who really popularized this trend when she had middle-aged women’s libidos pulsating and their hearts fluttering with the 1996 publication of “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”: An essentially autobiographical novel about how she found sexual fulfillment and emotional bliss with a barely legal boy she picked-up on a spiritual retreat to Jamaica.
Unfortunately, it turns out that that was Lucifer and not the Lord who appeared through the rays of Caribbean sun and answered McMillan’s prayers by telling her “don’t worry, be happy sista, cause them island boys – with the bodies that would shame Adonis – are all yours for the pickin”. Alas, the boy she chose (20-year-old Jonathan Plummer) was not only a would-be boy toy but also the devil’s little helper who was planted along McMillan’s spiritual path just to test the extent of her carnal vanity. She failed abysmally. Because, as it turned out, McMillan was desperately seeking sexual, more than spiritual, healing. And that’s why she not only plucked that sucker but actually took him home…and married him!
But it seems her novel was just a fairytale version of her boy toy love affair because it was revealed this week that McMillan has filed for divorce from her Jamaican groove thing. And, the reason she cites is not the usual irreconcilable differences between disaffected lovers; instead, it’s that (shock, shock) her boy toy never loved her at all…because He’s GAY!
Terry McMillan greeting her fans with a smile but thinking: Girlfriend, if you only knew….I know what I wrote but my man’s a fag with a noodle for a dick…hell, we can’t even cuddle and talk because I still don’t understand his Jamaican patois gibberish!
After her marriage was exposed as a fraud, the media savvy McMillan issued the following as an epilogue (caveat emptor) to her bestselling novel – about her spiritual journey:
“It was devastating to discover that a relationship I had publicized to the world as life-affirming and built on mutual love was actually based on deceit….I was humiliated.” (Poor Terry….Not!)
This might be an overly cynical observation, but if there is any truth to anything McMillan wrote in her trendsetting novel, then her claims of deceit and fraudulent pretense by Plummer (all for a Green Card) are fatuous. After all, by her own admission, the boy performed his part – and not only in bed, if she’s to be believed, but also as the inspirational mascot for her multimillion How Stella…production.
On the other hand, if the groove she got was more literary than literal (and it turns out she faked her physical ecstasy and emotional bliss all the way to the bank), then not only should SHE be dismissed as a psycho-sexual fraud but she should also be required to return the ill-gotten gains she banked by exploiting the sexual and emotional longings of so many middle-aged women.
Incidentally, stories abound about macho black men fronting with women whilst going through the back door for some low down “down low” action with other men. But even if McMillan was so deceived, surely a typical celebrity divorce citing innocuous irreconcilable differences would have sufficed. But it’s a testament not to her broken heart but to her punctured ego that she felt compelled to “out” her man in typical woman scorned fashion. Then again, perhaps her reaction to being dumped by her boy toy (for a man no less) is, perversely, a case of life imitating art with McMillan acting out the role she crafted for Bernadine in Waiting to Exhale. But please Terry, No More Drama!
Reality Check: Ladies, if you’re closer to menopause than you are removed from your teenage years, chances are a meaningful relationship with a boy less than half your age means that he wants to get into your piggy bank and not your pants.
Men as old fools, though pathetic, seem natural. Women as old fools, though entitled, seem unnatural…and just plain sad.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 at 11:59 AM
Last night President Bush demanded TV airtime – in the national interest – to tell the American people to stop believing their lying eyes about Iraq. Instead, he wanted them to believe that America is defeating enemy insurgents, Iraqis are enjoying their new freedoms and every American soldier blown-up in Baghdad is one life spared on the streets of America (…if al-Zarqawi can’t come to the fight, take the fight to al-Zarqawi?)
Unfortunately, Bush’s prime time address was about as newsworthy and reassuring as yesterday’s news conference by Aruban authorities on the fate of still missing Natalee Holloway.
For the real state of affairs in Iraq, please read my 26 May article to see how Bush fiddles as Iraq burns and Americans die!
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 at 11:57 AM
The perennial conflict between church and state has its roots in the founding principles and governing documents of America. On one side of this conflict are Christian fundamentalists who argue that the tradition of America is that of Pilgrims who fled religious persecution in Europe to establish a country where the practices and symbols of their Judeo-Christian faith were not only tolerated by also enshrined in law. And on the other side are secular humanists who argue that its tradition is that of enlightened men (freemasons and atheists) who fled political oppression (under men ruling by “divine right”) to establish a nation where all men were deemed equal not only in the eyes of God but also under the rule of law.
As it happens, both arguments are rooted in historical fact; and, there’s the rub of this irreconcilable conflict.
Nevertheless, on Monday, fundamentalists and humanists waited anxiously for the Supreme Court of the United States to issue a pair of decisions that both sides hoped would resolve at least one aspect of this conflict in their favor. The issue in both cases was whether it is legal under any circumstances to display the Ten Commandments in court houses and on government properties.
Stone tablets depicting the Ten Commandments outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC – placed there by Christian fundamentalists, presumably, to channel their religious convictions to the Justices of the supreme court.
Alas, when the decisions were finally handed down, neither side had much to rejoice about – notwithstanding the sermonizing and rationalizing spin that followed. Because, in deference to the precedent set by King Solomon who the Bible describes as the wisest judge who ever lived, the nine Justices on the court split both their decisions and rulings right down the middle ground of this ongoing debate.
Specifically, in one case they issued a split 5 to 4 decision in ruling that per se displays of the Ten Commandments in court houses (as in a Kentucky court room where it stood alone) violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state; whilst in the other they issued another split 5 to 4 decision in ruling that displays of the Ten Commandments and other religious monuments are permissible in court houses and on government properties, if they are part of a mosaic honoring religious or legal history (as on the frieze adorning their own court room which depicts Moses and the tablets as well as 17 other figures including Hammurabi, Confucius, Napoleon and Chief Justice John Marshall).
Given the inscrutable nature of this conflict, however, it is not surprising that the court’s rulings offer more Delphic uncertainty than biblical clarity. But, given the prescience of America’s founding fathers, perhaps this unending debate is precisely what they intended….
From the sublime to the ridiculous:
It was an interesting coincidence, if not divine providence, that – on the eve of these court decisions – today’s embodiment of the forces of Christian fundamentalism, Reverend Billy Graham, and secular humanism, former president Bill Clinton (and his partner Sen. Hillary Clinton), made a joint appearance at a Christian crusade in the most secular city in America, New York City. But, where fundamentalists may have regarded the court’s deference to the secularists as just another test of their faith, they must have seen Reverend Graham’s religious praise (and political endorsement) of the Clintons as a sign of the end of times as prophesied in the book of Revelations.
Moreover, considering that even some of the Clinton’s secular friends see in them the machinations of the anti-Christ, fundamentalists must have felt religious (and political) apprehension upon hearing the following gospel from one of their most revered pastors:
The Clintons are wonderful friends and a great couple….President Clinton should become an evangelist…and allow his wife to run the country.
On the other hand, secularists were probably not surprised at all by Graham’s comments. After all, he was the gift from their god who granted Clinton absolution and redemption after his sinful involvement with Monica Lewinsky subjected him and the country to a Congressional impeachment trial. Back then, Graham blessed Clinton as follows:
I forgive him because I know the frailty of human nature and I know how hard it is….Clinton has such a tremendous personality, that I think the ladies just go wild over him.
It’s worth noting, however, that Graham’s own daughter, Anne Graham Lotz – herself an ordained minister, not only did not go wild over Clinton but publicly rebuked him as a man who “has no moral character”.
And so ends this episode of the conflict between church and state in America. Amen!
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 at 11:03 AM
For a while yesterday, the cold-blooded but riveting confession of serial killer Dennis Rader competed with the regurgitation of idle speculation and overwrought comments about (missing in Aruba) Natalee Holloway for air time on TV.
But here at last was TV coverage worthy of morbid fascination: A supremely self-possessed man – with the delusional habit of referring to himself in the third person – stood in open court and confessed to terrorizing the state of Kansas for almost 20 years (1974-1991) the way snipers terrorized Washington D.C. for a just over 20 days in the fall of 2002.
Rader gave himself the eponym “BTK” to match his predilection to “bind, torture and kill” his victims. He informed the court that this ritual was dictated by his perverted sexual fantasies. Indeed, anyone remotely interested in sadistic fetishes must have found Rader’s allocution of his crimes positively orgasmic. Because, even though he spoke in the dispassionate manner of a clinical psychologist, Rader described each of his “10 kills” in such pornographic detail that even the Marquis de Sade might have gotten a rise. And, one has to suspect that this moment for Radar was the equivalent of having a cigarette after a really good romp.
But Rader seems possessed of another perverse – though not lethal – vice: intellectual arrogance. After all, he not only satisfied his sexual fantasies in BTK fashion but also sought prolonged gratification by taunting the police with letters and other paraphernalia from his exploits. These he offered as clues to give the intellectually inferior minds on the police force at least a fighting chance of catching him. Apparently, this was his sociopathetic version of hide and seek and Rader had no doubt that the genius of his criminal mind would always keep him a few steps ahead of the law.
That he was evidently a lot dumber than he realized is immaterial at this point. His factual account of his crimes, however, makes the giddy speculation about what may have happened to Natalee Holloway seem like schoolyard banter.
Monday, June 27, 2005 at 11:10 AM
First Bananas, Now Sugar: Europe cutting away its umbilical chord of obligation to former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific…
About 2 months ago, I wrote a fairly comprehensive commentary on the EU plan to cut its banana trade regime. The regime was implemented in the early 1990s to guarantee a market for all the bananas former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) could export whilst placing quotas on the amount allowed into the EU from all other countries. And, even though the EU measured its cut to wean the affected countries off their dependency on banana trade preferences, the devastation upon these one-crop economies was immediate, pervasive and, evidently, without recourse.
Yet, the EU announced another unkind cut last week – this time – in its sugar trade regime which was implemented to guarantee similar paternalistic trade protections to ACP countries to those that were provided under the banana regime.
But, despite the EU’s “commitment to assist them in the adaptation process”, the affected ACP countries regard the cut in their sugar subsidies as a death sentence for their economies. Indeed, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Trade Clement Rohee expressed their common fears as follows:
Sugar is Guyana’s life-blood and some 35,000 sugar workers would be affected along with their families. We see sugar as a way of life in our country….Go to any of the villages where sugar is cultivated… and ask a child to draw a painting. The first piece that will come to mind is something to do with sugar – either someone cutting cane or someone working in the fields.
Unfortunately, it is a testament of their marginalization in today’s global economy that ACP countries seem to think that reprieve from or remedy for their desperate economic outlook lies in appealing to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), when even their fellow pleaders from the banana trade regime could tell them that it’s the World Trade Organization (WTO) that rules in these matters. And, alas, it’s the WTO that declared their EU trade preferences illegal under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Such are the collateral casualties of the inexorable march towards economic globalization. But ACP countries must accept responsibility for contributing to their economic woes by relying on fool’s promises of trade preferences instead of diversifying national revenue streams (as The Bahamas did by cultivating its financial services, insurance and fishing industries) and integrating their economies (to increase bargaining power with trade blocs like the EU) – as they were universally challenged and warned to do decades ago.
Moreover, the regional impact of the cut in EU sugar subsidies will only be compounded by the fact that the countries affected (including Mauritius, Tanzania, Jamaica and Barbados) and will now join those already reeling from the impact of the cut in banana subsidies. And the dynamics and nature of the impact are and will be the same in every material respect (essentially as characterized by the Guyanese minister of trade above).
Therefore, I invite anyone interested in reading more about these developments to see my previous article “Peeling the skin off the Banana Wars”.
Sunday, June 26, 2005 at 2:45 PM
Saturday, June 25, 2005 at 11:54 AM
Friday, June 24, 2005 at 11:23 AM
Poor Oprah: Last week Luxury retailer Hermes refused to allow her into its Paris boutique to do a little last-minute shopping – something Oprah knows well that white celebrities do routinely all over the world.
Of course, most blacks are familiar with this patented racial snub: “Sorry we receive shoppers by appointment only” or “We are temporarily closed…Oh, never mind the people browsing about inside, they’re just friends.”
But in America it’s usually blacks who look like ghetto thugs who get this kind of in your face snub. “Respectable” looking blacks are generally allowed in fashionable stores and are even treated to special security details to enhance their shopping experience….
Therefore, it seems Hermes dissed Oprah not only for being black but also for looking like a ghetto thug. Ouch! And, just to confirm her abject humiliation, even after Oprah dropped the “O” bomb (I don’t have on my TV make-up but it’s me…OPRAH!), the store manager still insisted that she was temporarily unwelcome (alas, it did not detonate or resonate, as it were).
(Don’t we all wonder how Oprah’s ubiquitous and very zealous partner Gayle reacted to this insult; assuming – this being the romantic and discreet city of Paris – that they saw no need to have that strapping Eunuch Stedman tag along….)
The latest on “Oprah’s Crash” episode is that when the more savvy executives at Hermes found out about the incident they apologized – explaining that “recent problems with North Africans” made the staff at that location overly anxious about denying them entry to the store.
Well, that explains everything then:
No black person who looks North African can shop at Hermes!
(So, a Zulu from South Africa is A-OK then…)
Whatever – they’re French! On the other hand, it’s really a little too precious to see so many white Americans feigning indignation as sympathy for Oprah over this embarrassment. After all, what Hermes did to Oprah in Paris is done to blacks all over America everyday. And, I hope Oprah reminds her lily white audience of this fact when she exposes Hermes for its blatant and now very costly practice of racial profiling on her syndicated talk show.
Friday, June 24, 2005 at 11:20 AM
Clueless middle school teacher Debra Lafave at her arraignment on child rape and related charges apparently thinking: “I still don’t know what all the fuss is about. I was just teaching the boy a few things. Besides, it’s not like his grades suffered any; I gave him straight A’s.”
About a year ago, Middle School teacher Debra Lafave was arrested and charged with four felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition, each of which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence, all for providing intimate after school lessons to one of her barely legal students. But it seems cooler heads have prevailed because just last week prosecutors in her case invited her attorneys in for plea negotiations that will likely result in nothing more than probation and counseling for Lafave.
After the notorious Mary Kay Latourneau case, America seemed besieged by an epidemic of nymphomaniac teachers preying on adolescent school boys. And, of course, political correctness demanded outright condemnation of these teacher babes; even though they had the uncanny ability to make unruly boys stand at attention like no other teachers could.
Clueless physical education teacher Pamela Joan Turner after her arrest (R) probably exclaiming to one of her equally gullible girlfriends: “Of course I had physical contact with my students. I’m a Phys. Ed. teacher…duh!”
Yet, somehow, neither criminalizing nor condoning their private tutorials with these lucky boys seems warranted under any of the alleged circumstances. But before condemning me as chauvinistic (which I reject) or wistful (guilty!) check-out the details and see what you (guys) think….
Though legally speaking, these cases moan for the exercise of creative judicial discretion: Perhaps a tongue lashing, followed by a couple years probation with mandatory therapy sessions to teach these misguided teachers to appreciate the psychological and emotional (in addition to physical) pleasures that can be derived from having sex with more age appropriate men. And, hey fellas – have wood, can teach!
Note: If Holden Caulfield (“Catcher in the Rye”) had teachers like these at Pencey Prep (instead of that crotchety old Mr. Spencer), they undoubtedly would’ve done wonders for his attention deficit syndrome (ADS) and naturally stimulate his interest in education.
Thursday, June 23, 2005 at 10:25 AM
During her meetings last Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured him that his plan to bulldoze the homes of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip was a necessary “historic” step towards the establishment of a Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe could never even dream of such a meeting but he probably welcomed Dr. Rice’s endorsement of Sharon’s draconian means to these honorable ends. After all, Mugabe’s own plan of bulldozing homes in Shanty Towns all over his country has been in full graze for weeks. And, he claims the honorable ends of his plan are to cleanup Zimbabwe, establish law and order and impose respect for property rights amongst its teeming masses of extremely impoverished citizens.
Whereas no one has any reason to doubt Sharon’s honorable intentions or that the people affected by his plan will receive just compensation and resettlement costs (the US government will see to it); the same, unfortunately, cannot be said about Mugabe’s intentions or the fate of the poor Zimbabweans affected by his plan. Because, notwithstanding the similarities in their methods, Mugabe betrayed any honorable intent by the very name he chose for this ostensible national public works campaign: Operation Murambatsvina or “Drive out the rubbish”.
Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the homes targeted for bulldozing under Mugabe’s plan are those of about 1.5 million poor people who Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party enforcers suspect of daring to participate in anti-government rallies last April before he was due to declare himself president for yet another term.
Ironically, the more he bulldozes them away, the greater a threat the poor and dispossessed become to Mugabe’s 25-year dictatorship. Because rendering so many Zimbabweans homeless and forcing them to flee for their lives (to the countryside and areas beyond) may finally compel his neighbor, Africa’s most powerful leader Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, to intervene: alas, not so much to fend for these wretched souls but rather to prevent them from spilling over the boarder and becoming his problem.
Therefore, the questions – concerning these politically cleansed Zimbabweans – that world leaders and the celebrity humanitarians who want to make poverty history must ask themselves are:
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 12:24 PM
What took them so long…the jury that is?
Michael Schwerner, 24, of New York, James Chaney, 21, from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman, 20, of New York are profiles in courage and remain the haunting images of murderous racism in recent American history that claimed the lives of so many innocent and courageous people involved in the struggle for black civil rights.
Ku Klux Klansman (and appropriately named) Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty yesterday on three counts of manslaughter in connection with the killing of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney in 1964. The facts clearly indicate that this was a case of justice delayed but not denied….
It is curious, however, that only 24 hours before reaching their verdict, the 12-member jury informed the presiding judge that they were deadlocked 6-6 on Killen’s guilt:
One has to wonder what gave the doubting 6 their reasonable doubts? And, what evidence persuaded them to overcome those doubts, literally, overnight?
The 1988 movie Mississippi Burning dramatized these murders. But the end of the story was never (and may never be) told. The facts as they are known, however, are simple enough:
Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney joined a corps of hundreds of young people who volunteered for the SNCC Mississippi Summer Project in the fall of 1964 to register blacks to vote in the die-hard segregationist state of Mississippi. But the God-fearing white folks there were not at all pleased by the “meddlesome interference by outsiders with Mississippi’s state-enforced policy of segregation”.
In fact, Schwerner earned the special enmity of whites in Mississippi by organizing a black boycott of their business to break their segregation practices – following the precedent set by the Montgomery Bus Boycott that virtually crippled white businesses in Montgomery, Alabama a decade earlier. For this reason, he was specifically targeted. Unfortunately, when the KKK mob that Killen – as Klan Kleagle (official recruiter) – summoned finally caught up with him, Goodman and Chaney were present and were simply murdered along with Schwerner in a 3 for 1 racial coup (Ku…).
Of course, since Klansmen were notorious for bragging about their dastardly deeds, it took the FBI little time to round-up the men involved. (It also helped that the bureau had informants planted throughout the KKK for years prior to these murders.) Nevertheless, for reasons that are no longer relevant today, of the nineteen men who were originally charged and tried in 1967, only seven were convicted. But, coincidentally, back then the jury proved hopelessly deadlocked on the charges against Killen. And thus his cold case remained – until yesterday.
Edgar Ray Killen: Now really, can anyone imagine this genial old man being responsible for murdering three civil rights workers. Of course, the fact is that the face of the KKK in 1964 looked as ordinary as this inveterate and unrepentant old KKK recruiter looks today. Indeed, it was the ordinariness of Southern racists that made their visceral hatred of and crimes against blacks seem so surreal…
Rest assured, that instead of sympathy, Killen deserves nothing but revulsion and condemnation for having escaped justice for so many years.
Long may he rot in his cell and then in hell!
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 12:00 PM
Grieving Moms Anita Van Der Sloot and Beth Holloway Twitty bid each other a pained good-bye after Holloway went unannounced to Van Der Sloot’s home in Aruba demanding to know what her son Juron (the prime suspect) did to Natalee. No doubt most American Moms in Van Der Sloot’s predicament would’ve called the police to evict Holloway from their premises. Instead, Van Der Sloot invited her in for tea and commiseration…
Natalee Holloway is still missing in Aruba. And, her story continues to dominate news coverage in the United States. But, it’s time for a reality check!
Her mother and, it seems, her entire family have given up their lives in America to seek answers about what may have happened to Natalee’s in Aruba. God bless them. Our sympathies go out to them.
But, notwithstanding their understandable grief, Natalee’s supporters are beginning to behave like stereotypical ugly Americans by placing unreasonable demands on local law enforcement authorities for information and issuing asinine threats to sue the Aruban government. And, unfortunately, they are only being encouraged in their bereaved impudence by media pin-heads in America who are screaming for the FBI and, if necessary, the US Marines to go down there and sort things out for those “out of their element” local yokels. Moreover, some “sympathetic” Americans have even begun calling for a boycott of the island to punish the Arubans for not acting according to their wishes.
Natalee’s avenging angels are frustrated because they can’t be bothered to appreciate the differences between the Dutch-Aruban and American legal systems. (Differences that some Americans seem to think are, in and of themselves, a crime.) And, they have become indignant because they don’t understand why local police and prosecutors are not keeping them abreast of all developments in the investigation into her disappearance. But, incredulously, they seem to think that the more they accuse Aruban authorities of incompetence the harder these officials will work to find Natalee and prosecute those suspected of causing her disappearance or death.
Well, here’s a news flash for crusading Americans in Aruba (and those back home):
Americans are frustrated daily by the refusal of US law enforcement and prosecuting authorities to disclose information about their criminal investigations.
Talk of Aruba being a crime-ridden island – “if this sort of thing can happen” – is about as fatuous as declaring South Central Los Angeles a crime-free zone if only an hour goes by without someone being mugged, assaulted or shot.
If Aruba is so unsafe, why is Natalee’s mother running all over the island – at all hours in a despairing search for her daughter – as if she’s playing a macabre game of hide and seek in her own backyard?
Finally, as you continue to impugn the competence of the Aruban police and prosecuting authorities, please consider that you are basing your indignation on presumptions about their counterparts in America who tried and failed, notoriously, in their prosecution of OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson and many Juron Van Der Sloots not infamous enough to garner crazed media attention.
(Incidentally, how do you think the parents of those missing children whose faces adorn milk cartons all over America feel about the competency of the great FBI and other US law enforcement authorities?)
So, with all due respect, please get over yourselves and let the Aruban authorities do their jobs!
Tuesday, June 21, 2005 at 11:58 AM
Reflecting the sentiments of a critical mass amongst their citizens, it seems that European Heads of State have also become disaffected (if not disillusioned) with the prospect of ceding more national authority to the EU central government (Brussels). After all, their dramatic failure last weekend to agree on a budget to fund EU operations and subsidies beyond 2006 follows the equally dramatic (and prophetic) rejection of the EU Constitution just weeks ago by French and Dutch citizens.
Therefore, recriminations abound today over whether the Eurosceptic British or the Eurocentric French are most to blame for plunging Europe further into the throes of disunion. And, this diagnosis is no exaggeration given that of the two primary organs of EU viability – one is now dead (the Constitution) and the other is on life support (the budget).
After last weekend’s abysmal but sobering failure to agree on an EU budget, Luxembourg Prime Minister and European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (R) rushed to Washington to assure President Bush that, despite France’s best efforts, America remains at the centre of European politics.
So, why are these enlightened European nations behaving and groveling like a bunch of banana republics?
Well, as it happens, a big row over agricultural subsidies to European farmers precipitated the budget fiasco. But this row constitutes only a small battle in the burgeoning civil war within the EU over more fundamental issues (not unlike those that confronted the framers of the US constitution over 200 years ago) – including separation of powers between Brussels and member nations; the power of Brussels to impose taxes (contributions to the EU budget) and the relative power of member nations to affect EU legislation.
Nevertheless, it (the row) not only compelled debate on these fundamental issues but also forced EU members to forge alliances along ideological lines which exposed irreconcilable differences between the warring factions. And, after positions became clear, Britain led one group that included the Italians, Danes, The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Finland; and France the other which included Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg (whilst the 10 newly admitted nations of Eastern Europe remained relatively neutral – no doubt in shock and wondering what the hell they’d gotten themselves into).
The first salvo in this latest battle was launched on the eve of last week’s EU budget summit by the French group. And, it took the form of a proposal by EU President Juncker (although it was generally known to have been submitted by France) for Britain to forego more than €18 billion (£11bn) that it is entitled to in rebates from its annual contributions to the EU budget over the next seven-year term.
But Britain counterattacked by insisting that it would consider a slight reduction in its earned rebate only if member states committed to reforming current EU budget expenditures – which now allocates 40% in set-asides for agricultural subsidies with the bulk of that going to “entitled” French farmers. In addition, and even more galling to the French, Britain proposed that France should also forgo some of the €10 billion in rebates it receives annually from the EU.
Absolument pas! President Chirac reacting to the Blair’s proposal that France gives up some of its farm subsidies so that the EU could fund more research and development to compete in the today’s highly technological global economy.
French President Jacque Chirac was apoplectic and even denounced Britain as “pathetic”. After all, he regards farm subsidies as not only an indispensable economic safety net for French farmers but also as a vital provision in the social (welfare) contract between Brussels and EU citizens. Therefore, he angrily dismissed any debate about his farm subsidies and insisted that the proposal to modify Britain’s rebate should “under no circumstances be linked to a reform of farm expenditure”. (Conspicuously, he skirted the challenge to make concessions on France’s EU rebates.)
But British Prime Minister Tony Blair remained adamant that not only should France reduce its own rebates but that it was unconscionable for France to insist on such high levels of subsidies for its farmers when farmers in much poorer EU countries – especially those in Eastern Europe – were getting pittance by comparison.
Ironically, Blair was supported in his capitalist and free-market stance, albeit in the form of backhanded concessions, by leaders of the 10 new (former socialist) members of the EU. Indeed, Prime Minister Marek Belka of Poland lamented that Chirac and Blair were afflicted by “egoism” and motivated by craven national interests – adding that “[no]body will be able to say that for Poland, the European Union is just a pile of money.” And, in that spirit of quixotic independence, each of these poorer EU member nations offered – much to France’s eternal shame – to forego as much of its own subsidies as it would take to break the EU budget impasse.
Unfortunately, by this point in the debate, the personal animus and philosophical differences between Chirac and Blair had become so pronounced that recourse to compromise was completely lost. Because, for Blair, this was a defining moment to set the EU on a proper course to meet the economic challenges of the 21st century. Whereas, for Chirac, it was an opportunity to make amends to his citizens for attempting to impose upon them an EU Constitution that would’ve breached their social contract for (cradle to grave) welfare guarantees.
Alas, Socialism is socialism – capitalism is capitalism and never the twain shall meet!
Incidentally, as an ironic footnote to this budget summit debacle, EU president Juncker raised the incomprehensible prospect of continuing the EU Constitution ratifying process – purportedly not so much towards implementing the document as furthering his “Plan D – for dialogue and debate.” Unfortunately, the almost universally cynical response was that his Plan D could also stand for “denial, defeat and even death.”
So goes the Europe’s Constitution, Budget and Union….
Note: This EU budget debate should disabuse anyone of the assumption that France’s special brand of political vitriol and obstructionism were reserved for President Bush and the United States. The schadenfreude in Washington is palpable. But Bush must be credited for disguising his glee so diplomatically during his meetings yesterday with chastened EU leaders at the White House.
Monday, June 20, 2005 at 12:48 PM
President Bush has actually done more for Africa than any other American President – including Clinton!
Ever since President Bush launched his Millennium Challenge Account for African development (March 2002) and his $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (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. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to find any politician in America (who is not a Republican), Europe or Africa who has publicly acknowledged this revolutionary and salutary fact.
Well, since rock stars and actors have become the more credible statesmen of our time, perhaps their endorsement of my argument will inspire Bush’s die-hard critics to suspend their pathological hatred of him and show due regard for his leadership on aid to Africa.
In this respect, Live 8 organizer Sir Bob Geldof – perhaps the most recognized, informed and passionate campaigner for African relief and sustainable development – has been most adamant and complimentary of Bush’s efforts.
And, in an interview to be published in the 27 June 2005 issue of TIME magazine, Geldof echoes my frustrating attempts to disabuse critics of their ignorance and political biases concerning Bush’s support for Africa with the following remarks:
America doesn’t have a lack of empathy; they just don’t know the issues as well. Actually, today I had to defend the Bush Administration in France again. They refuse to accept, because of their political ideology, that he has actually done more than any American President for Africa. But it’s empirically so.
But this is not Geldof’s first public declaration of support for or defense of Bush’s policies on Africa. In fact, more than two years ago he joined a small chorus of AIDS activists who were beginning to comment on the stark differences in the amount of funds allocated by liberal President Clinton and Bush to fight AIDS. The lead vocalist in this regard was Melvin Foote, executive director of the nonpartisan constituency for Africa, who observed that “[Bush’s] $15 billion commitment is unparalleled….Clinton offered $300 million, parking-meter money, even though he knew it was a tremendous challenge.” And, in this context, Geldof harmonized his views as follows:
Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn’t talk but does deliver….You’ll think I’m off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy.
Rock star Bono, perhaps the most visible member of this chorus, has been diplomatic though no less adamant in his acknowledgement of Bush’s leadership:
I believe the president is sincere in his convictions to put America up front in a way that hasn’t been done before on these issues….If the Millennium Challenge Account and the AIDS initiative go through, we have to be prepared to really stand up and applaud this president’s leadership because it is potentially life changing and life saving for millions of people.
But not to be drowned out by rock stars, actor and AIDS activist Richard Gere became an apostate within the ranks of Clinton’s Hollywood worshippers in 2003 when he stunned the audience at an AIDS benefit – at which Senator Hillary Clinton was guest of honor – by delivering this daring and now notorious line:
Senator Clinton, I’m sorry, your husband did nothing for AIDS for eight years.
Impolite, but relatively true!
Now, I can’t imagine anyone will ever accuse Geldof, Bono or Gere of being right-wing nuts or converts to Bush’s Forest Gump crusade to transform the world according to his notions of democracy. Therefore, where my assertions on this point have been summarily dismissed, perhaps their praise of Bush will help his detractors appreciate the importance of being earnest when it comes to recognizing those who are truly helping the poor.
After all, oppressed and starving Africans couldn’t care any less how anyone feels about Bush’s war in Iraq or his apparent lack of concern about global warming. Moreover, the only thing that should matter to anyone concerned about their plight is that Bush is providing the most aid whilst insisting that African rulers treat their people humanely and stop hording national resources for their personal use.
Finally, it is understandable that the imperious French would be averse to the utterance of anything positive about Bush’s leadership – especially on matters involving the African continent where they retain delusions of colonial noblesse oblige. But it is incomprehensible that so many African leaders and their political enablers in America (from carping liberal politicians to conscientious academics like Jeffery Sachs) seem as impervious as the French are to Bush’s unprecedented generosity (and compassion).
But perhaps Geldof’s endorsement will help them see that their visceral political prejudices are blinding them to (and making them resentful of) the moral and political authority Bush has earned when it comes to global strategies to cure Africa’s ills and make poverty history. And, this recognition is especially critical when one considers the improbability of European leaders following through on their grand G8 Plan for Africa (a $55 billion package) when they can’t even agree on a budget to fund the operations of the EU.
Therefore, even though liberals clearly begrudge the fact that Bush is not only Africa’s most generous patron but also its most reliable supporter, it behooves them to put up or shut up and just give the man his due!
Sunday, June 19, 2005 at 12:07 PM
Saturday, June 18, 2005 at 11:26 AM
Master Card disclosed yesterday that it fell prey to computer hackers who pilfered data that makes over 40 million people vulnerable to financial fraud and, worse still, identity theft. And, this follows disclosures by other credit card companies in recent weeks that make it seem as though all credit card holders are just as vulnerable.
Clearly, even smart kids can be street (internet highway) thugs!
Unfortunately, no police force seems smart enough to halt this sinister revenge of the nerds….
Friday, June 17, 2005 at 11:01 AM
The leadership of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was severely compromised earlier this year, when reports revealed that he did little to prevent U.N. foot soldiers from inflicting widespread abuses upon those they were deployed to protect. That many of these abuses occurred in refugee camps in Africa, where rape and molestation rivaled the horrors of war and starvation these refugees were trying to escape, made his failure all the more shameful.
Then came the scandal of the UN’s oil-for-food programme which prompted US officials – led by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) – to accuse Annan not only of dereliction of duty but also of turning a blind eye to his son Kojo’s abuse of their relationship for illicit gain. The programme was designed to allow Iraq to sell controlled amounts of its oil to pay for food and medicine for its people who were suffering under UN imposed sanctions. Senator Coleman charges, however, that Kojo used Annan’s good offices in 1998 to procure a multimillion dollar contract ($10m per year) with the UN for his company Cotecna to monitor goods coming into Iraq during the term of these sanctions. But Annan denied any knowledge of his son’s activities and said that he was “exasperated by Kojo’s behaviour”. Indeed.
But now comes evidence that Annan not only had knowledge of his son’s flagrantly nepotistic dealings but that he himself facilitated this abuse of his office by insisting that he personally approve the Cotecna contract. This evidence was discovered only 3 weeks ago and is especially damaging because it comes in the form of inter-office memos written by Cotecna’s vice president Michael Wilson – a fellow Ghanaian and Kojo’s longtime friend who calls Annan uncle.
In these memos to his Cotecna associates, Wilson refers to meetings with Annan during which they discussed the company’s efforts to procure the UN contract and he expresses confidence that their bid would be successful because of “effective but quiet lobbying within diplomatic circles in New York”. Clearly, as smoking guns go, this one is smoldering!
To his credit, however, as soon as the story broke, Wilson volunteered to fall on his sword for his uncle. His gallantry was undermined, however, by the fact that it appears Annan provided the sword: namely, a statement issued yesterday, suspiciously, by the same law firm – Shillings of London – that is representing Annan’s son in this matter.
It reads in part:
Mr Wilson never met or had any discussion with the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on the issue of the bid for the UN contract by Cotecna at the Francophone Summit, during the bidding process, or at any time prior to the award of the contract.
Now that’s shilling for a fee. Unfortunately, it’s about as credible as Michael Jackson’s lawyer declaring that Michael has never had an inappropriate relationship with little boys.
But the context of these insider dealings should not be overlooked. After all, they occurred under UN sanctions against Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq before George W. Bush was even a household name in America. Indeed, it seems Annan, his son and Cotecna were enjoying a very lucrative enterprise before Bush cut their easy money pipeline by invading Iraq; which begs this very unsettling question:
Given what we already know about the involvement of close associates of French president Jacque Chirac (including his Interior Minister) in this oil-for-food scandal, can it be that the motives of Chirac and Annan for opposing the Iraq war (with Annan declaring it illegal despite a UN Resolution (1441) granting authority to prosecute the war) were as mercurial as the motives ascribed to Bush and Blair for waging it?
Alas, no matter how his lawyers and PR flacks spin this tangled web of relationships, contacts and contracts, or how much he cloaks himself with the moral authority of the United Nations, it seems only a matter of time before Annan becomes irretrievably ensnared in this infernal scandal. Therefore, he should do the honorable thing and resign now before the final Volker report on this matter makes his continued leadership of the UN untenable even for the politically compromised Chirac.
Friday, June 17, 2005 at 10:58 AM
Doctors who performed an autopsy on the body of Terri Schiavo (erstwhile political mascot for the religious right) vindicated what her husband Michael Schiavo and medical experts have been saying for over a decade, and, what ipinions expressed as the only dignified resolution to her plight: that the wretched taxidermic corpse that her parents and cravenly opportunistic politicians were defending as a living being was, in fact, deaf, dumb, blind, hopelessly paralyzed and terminally brain dead. And, that her parents should respect Mr Schiavo’s duty to honour his wife’s wish to die with dignity.
Moreover, the doctors absolved Mr Schiavo of the spurious charges that he hastened her death by denying adequate care and that he inflicted physical abuse upon his wife during her persistent vegetative state of existence.
For any sane person, of course, these definitive findings would provide the necessary closure to allow Terri rest in peace, finally. Not so for her terminally deluded parents. Because they and their fanatical right to life enablers now insist that these pathologists have joined the conspiracy concocted by their former son-in-law many years ago to rid himself of responsibility for Terri’s death and legitimize his relationship with another (living) woman.
And we thought it was Terri who was brain dead…
Thursday, June 16, 2005 at 10:17 AM
Celebrated in Washington…
African leaders receive commendations and pledges of lots of cash for implementing democratic reforms in their respective countries during their visit to the White House in Washington, DC. From L-R: President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, President Festus Mogae of Botswana, President Bush, President Mamadou Tandja of Niger and President John Agyekum Kufour of Ghana.
Last Monday, whilst most of America was obsessing over the Michael Jackson verdict and the mysterious fate of Natalee Holloway, President Bush paid tribute to five African leaders who are pioneering the spread of democracy on the continent of Africa. And, it is a testament to their extraordinary success that they’ve earned this seal of approval under Bush’s exacting (double) standards for receiving US aid (i.e., standards that allow the dictatorships of Egypt and Pakistan to receive billions annually without a hint of hypocrisy).
He who pays the piper…
Bush marked the occasion by reinforcing his philosophical differences with good friend PM Tony Blair of England over the most salutary prescription to cure Africa’s political and economic pathologies. He maintained that establishing indigenous institutions and infrastructure to harness long-term trade with developed nations is the only way for African countries to ensure sustainable growth. And, that giving more aid to countries that have not implemented necessary political and economic reforms is tantamount to throwing good money after bad.
Moreover, to show that he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is, Bush cited his executive agreement that grants duty-free access for many African products to the American market and offers other trade benefits to 37 of the 48 nations in sub-Saharan Africa: Provided, however, that participating countries “show they are making progress toward a market-based economy, the rule of law, free trade, the protection of workers’ rights and policies that will reduce poverty.”
This is the uncompromising approach Bush intends to present during the annual summit of the world’s richest nations (G8) at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland (from 6-8 July) where debt relief for the world’s poorest nations – including 14 in Africa – will top the agenda. It is also the approach that enlightened leaders in Africa have embraced as, ultimately, more helpful and less paternalistic than traditional European assistance.
Finally, it is worth noting that America provides more funds to Africa than any other country, by far. Therefore, regardless of Bush’s arbitrary use of democratic reforms as a precondition for US aid, when he talks, not only G8 but also African leaders are very inclined to listen.
Reality Check: These five, plus the democratic vanguard South Africa, make only 6 out of 48 countries in Africa that are clearly on the right track. So please, hold the applause…
Confirmed in South Africa!
Regarding South Africa, in a truly dramatic demonstration of democratic leadership, its president Thabo Mbeki sacked his deputy president Jacob Zuma on Tuesday for being guilty of corruption – merely by association.
Zuma was implicated during a trial that ended 2 weeks ago with the conviction of his financial adviser Schabir Shaik on corruptions charges that involved his dealings with the deputy president.
A broken, though hardly contrite, Jacob Zuma accepts his fate whilst maintaining his innocence. But sleepless nights lie ahead for him now that SA’s emboldened National Prosecuting Authority has vowed to take another look at his personal financial dealings
Nevertheless, Zuma’s fate should not be allowed to diminish the political and, indeed, personal courage Mbeki displayed by firing him. After all, Zuma was not only widely known to be the man he hoped would succeed him as president but he also happens to be Mbeki’s longtime friend. Yet Mbeki did not dither under the obvious dilemma this situation presented and pronounced his swift and principled decision as follows:
“In the interest of the honourable deputy president, the government, our young democratic system and our country, it would be best to release the honourable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as deputy president of the republic and member of the cabinet.”
George would be proud…Washington that is. Because in a striking and patently hypocritical contrast, his namesake George W. Bush continues to harbor his Vice President Dick Cheney despite Cheney’s association with the corrupt business practices of Halliburton – the company he once headed. In fact, the Bush Administration’s own Defense Contract Audit Agency implicated Cheney when it found that billions of no-bid contracts were improperly granted to Halliburton in the run up to the war in Iraq.
Note: I trust this commentary finally explains why Mbeki assumed such a superior tone during his recent meetings with Bush in Washington, DC.
Here’s to comrade Mbeki – for filling the shoes left by Nelson Mandela with such dignity and quiet self-confidence…Amandla!
Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 11:35 AM
Last week’s announcement by the US State Department of the release of $10 million in conditional aid to Serbia-Montenegro was contrived even by Washington standards. After all, it was touted as a reward for Belgrade’s fulfillment of the principled conditions Washington placed on that aid even though those conditions have clearly not been met.
In 2002, the US government established a $100 million foreign aid fund for the economically strapped and politically conflicted federation of Serbia-Montenegro (Belgrade) to be disbursed with Pavlovian control. And, the trick Belgrade was required to perform was to demonstrate to Washington that it was fully cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the apprehension and prosecution of Serbs indicted on war crimes.
Image from the public screening last week of a video apparently showing the rounding up and execution of Muslim civilians in Srebrenica at the hands of Serb paramilitaries in 1995. The video shocked some Serbs but many believe it’s a fake and that Serb soldiers never committed any atrocities whatsoever!
The indictments stem from crimes that were allegedly committed during Balkan hostilities that broke out in 1998 over control of Kosovo between Serb nationalists and ethnic Albanians who comprised the overwhelming majority of the population in that province of Serbia. They stem also from the ruthless campaigns of ethnic cleansing that were perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats – all against each other – for control of the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s. In both cases, however, the US condemned Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic for fomenting war to squash ethnic Albanian and Bosnian Muslim hopes for independence under the pretext of protecting minority Serbs.
At any rate, the ICTY indicted many political and military officials from all three factions embroiled in these conflicts including Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (now awaiting trial in The Hague). The ICTY made it clear, however, that its principal targets were the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic (1995), former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic (1995) and Milosevic (1999) all of whom were indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity including “murder, forcible transfer, deportation and persecution on political, racial or religious grounds”.
But where a popular uprising against Milosevic sealed his arrest and transfer to The Hague for trial in 2001, the notorious Mladic and Karadzic remain at-large. And, it is in this context that Washington imposed conditions on the disbursement of aid to Belgrade. In fact, military intelligence indicated that Belgrade was actively abetting Karadzic and Mladic in their flight from justice and Washington assumed that the promise of aid might induce it to facilitate their arrest and transfer.
Yet from the moment the fund was established, the dynamics between Belgrade and Washington took on the spectacle of, well, the tail wagging the dog. After all, under the leadership of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Belgrade refused to honour the agreed conditions. Instead, it argued that negotiating the voluntary surrender of these suspects was the more prudent way for it to assist the ICTY. And, to appease Washington, Belgrade pointed to a succession of surrenders by former aides to Mladic (including Zdravko Tolimir, Milan Gvero and Radivoje Miletic) as sufficient evidence of its performance to be rewarded with financial disbursements.
But Washington was clearly being wagged. For example, despite declaring in January of this year that Belgrade was not cooperating fully with the ICTY, Washington made quite a fuss last week about that $10 million disbursement without any evidence to the contrary. Moreover, this comes after a similar declaration last year that Belgrade was failing to cooperate which, nonetheless, was also followed in short order by $73.6 million in disbursements (albeit, ostensibly, “in assistance to organisations and programmes outside of the central government” in Belgrade).
Of course, Washington’s quagmire in Iraq and its feckless hunt for Osama bin Laden provide the only explanation for Belgrade’s apparent leverage in this respect. Indeed, Washington is acutely aware how politically compromising it would be to withhold promised funds because of Belgrade’s failure to apprehend Mladic and Karadzic when Belgrade can justify its failure so poignantly by pointing to Washington’s failure to arrest Zarqawi in Iraq or Osama bin Laden, wherever he may be.
Therefore, under these circumstances, both Washington and Belgrade seem to appreciate the political expediency of serving up a few small fish to The Hague instead of risking embarrassment and, perhaps, many lives in an attempt to arrest the two big fish (Mladic and Karadzic).
Nevertheless, with media reports swirling in the US and Serbia last week about planning or negotiating for the imminent arrest or surrender of Mladic (and possibly Karadzic too), US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns conveyed the impression that the $10 million disbursement was linked to a new pledge by Belgrade to finally cooperate fully with the ICTY:
My strong impression from my discussions in Belgrade is that the government is working very seriously to find General Mladic and there will be a sincere attempt to capture him or to have him voluntarily surrender and to send him to The Hague….We are confident that his days in relative freedom are numbered.
Notwithstanding Burn’s statement, however, Belgrade continued its confounding behavior by immediately denying any such initiative to bring Mladic to justice. In fact, it turns out that reports about Belgrade’s new spirit of compliance may have more to do with appeasing the European Union than executing conditions set by Washington. Because the indefatigable Chief prosecutor of the ICTY Carla Del Ponte seems convinced that her release of the video documenting Serb atrocities and insistence by the EU that Belgrade demonstrates full cooperation with her tribunal before talks on joining the EU (scheduled for October) can commence will, at last, compel Belgrade to give up Mladic and Karadzic.
Carla Del Ponte: Like Inspector Javert’s pursuit of fugitive Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Del Ponte has vowed a principled and relentless pursuit of Mladic and Karadzic and insists that her mandate will not expire until they are brought to justice in The Hague.