Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:33 AM
If he’s a bad guy, if he’s running the (car bomb) factory, I’ll put the gun in his mouth and kill him myself … but first let’s get a fucking security check….There’s killing bad guys and there’s murdering civilians. Let’s do the first and not the second. Murderers we’re not, OK? [Marine Maj. Nicholas Visconti remarking last summer on combating insurgents in Haditha, Iraq]Bodies of Iraqi civilians lay strewn over the floor of a local morgue after being murdered by U.S. Marines…
Over six months ago – on 19 November 2005 – American soldiers are alleged to have killed at least twenty-four unarmed men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha in retaliation for a roadside bomb that killed one of their Battalion commanders. But, even though the U.S. military launched an immediate investigation into the killings, talk of recriminations is just now spreading through Washington like Florida wildfires. And it does not bode well for already beleaguered and discredited U.S. forces in Iraq when leaks indicate that the alleged war crimes being investigated make the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib seem like innocent mistakes.
But the reason the Haditha massacre (looming as the worst in American military history since the My Lai massacre in Vietnam) is being talked about at all stems from the sensational accusations Congressman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) – a disaffected supporter of the war in Iraq and one of America’s most decorated war veterans – made this past (Memorial Day) weekend. Because Murtha accused military investigators of planning to not only cover-up material facts of the war crimes but also offer offer-up foot soldiers as sacrificial lambs to deflect blame from their commanding officers.
Yet all of this hand-wringing focuses too much on whether the U.S. military or the U.S. Congress should be investigating the Haditha massacre. After all, reports confirming that these war crimes were, in fact, committed should have invoked the following categorical imperative:
Given the U.S. government’s insistence that Serbian soldiers and their commanding officers – who were accused of committing similar massacres during the Balkan war – be tried before the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague (pictured right), world governments (especially those in Western Europe) should insist that these American soldiers and their commanding officers be tried there as well.
Moreover, it behooves the Bush Administration to appreciate that failure to recognize The Hague’s jurisdiction under these facts and circumstances would set American justice back 100 years – to a time when the fatuous “separate but equal” legal doctrine was deployed to dispense decidedly unequal justice to systematically oppressed blacks.
Therefore, international jurists in The Hague should investigate and prosecute these war crimes. Because talk of either the U.S. military or Congress prosecuting American soldiers on behalf of Iraqis in Haditha and pursuant to international justice is sheer folly….
NOTE: Their defenders are claiming that the soldiers who perpetrated these crimes simply snapped under stress. But stress is a natural feature of military warfare. And, if this were an acceptable excuse, universal rules of military engagement would be rendered useless, Serbs and others convicted of similar crimes would have to be exonerated and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would be made an even bigger goat – given his constant refrain about U.S. soldiers being the best trained and most disciplined in the history of mankind.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 10:38 AM
Celebrities are fascinating because they live in a parallel universe…one that makes our lives seem woefully dull by comparison. The teary chat with Diane [Sawyer of ABC] quickly turns to the subject of a recent $10 million film fee and honorary United Nations ambassadorship. The magazines…feature Cameron Diaz wrapped in a $15,000 couture gown and glowing with youth, money and star power. We’re left hanging—and we want more. [Carlin Flora, Psychology Today Magazine]Ever since they were scapegoated for causing the death of Princess Diana, the paparazzi have been criticized for chasing celebrities to feed the public’s obsession with their parallel lives. But this criticism is almost as misguided as blaming drug traffickers for feeding people’s addiction to drugs. After all, celebrities (and even Royals) depend on the public’s obsession with them to sustain their fame and fortune. And the paparazzi are merely feeding this obsession by making tabloid fodder of every mundane thing they do.Celebrity Kate Moss – famously accustomed to having her addiction to drugs fed – seen here doing her best to combat the public’s obsession with her…
On the other hand, I have no sympathy for celebrities who covet attention and then whine when it becomes too inconvenient (like when they’re caught snorting cocaine, having an affair or not looking their retouched best). And no one personifies this Janus-faced feature of celebrity more than model Kate Moss – who makes her most notable predecessor in this role, Gia, seem like an unruly schoolgirl.
Even more irritating in this respect, however, are the celebrities who frequent the most public of places and events, and then act as though the paparazzi are invading their privacy (or space) by taking “money shots” of them. And no one demonstrates this contrived feature of celebrity more than actor Russell Crowe – who makes his most notorious predecessor in this role, Sean Penn, seem like a temperamental choirboy.
Yet, the recent move Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt orchestrated pursuant to this oxymoronic tension between celebrities and the paparazzi is unprecedented. Because the Associated Press (AP) reports that – in order to prevent (unapproved) paparazzi from capturing any of their activities in the exotic but impoverished African nation of Namibia:
Jolie and Pitt pressured Namibian authorities…to hand over control of their international land borders and airspace and grant them the right to decide which members of the paparazzi would be allowed to enter the country during their [high-profile] stay.
And anyone who buys the PR spin that Jolie and Pitt’s affinity for Africa inspired them to extract these extraordinary concessions from the Namibian government probably also believes that their new-born child “Shiloh” is a baby messiah who will turn Namibia into a tourism Mecca – much as Elvis did for Memphis. After all, Jolie and Pitt’s motives seem far more selfish (and self-righteous). Because the AP also reports that:
…the pair have already sold the rights for the photo for $5.4 million [and] told ministers they would quit the country unless allegedly intrusive journalists and paparazzi were brought to heel.
But, with all of the privileges and prerogatives accorded celebrities, does anyone think that the government of any developed country would genuflect to Jolie and Pitt as the Namibian government appears to have done? Or, to put it more precisely, does anyone think that Jolie and Pitt would even attempt to exploit their celebrity this way in any developed country? (It’s instructive to note that Tom Cruise and Kate Holmes – who are in the same celebrity firmament as Jolie and Pitt – recently had their baby without undue intrusion in a city with the highest density of paparazzi on planet earth, Los Angeles.)
Meanwhile, anyone who thinks my allusion to the messiah is farfetched should consider that there’s serious talk in Namibia about creating a national holiday in honor baby Shiloh; which appears egregiously unwarranted considering that scarcely a thought seems to have been given to creating a holiday in honor of the native son who put Namibia on the map many years ago – Olympian and World Champion Frank Fredericks.
Nonetheless, where I couldn’t care any less about the way people worship celebrities or the way celebrities orchestrate their symbiotic relationship with the paparazzi, I am profoundly dismayed by the way Namibian authorities have allowed themselves to be played by Jolie and Pitt. Because selling-out their national sovereignty for charitable gifts totaling $315,000 from this Hollywood couple – to say nothing of compromising their national heritage by acting as if the birth of the Jolie-Pitt child is the best thing that has ever happened in Namibia – seems naïve, misguided and celebrity-obsessed to an almost unconscionable degree.
NOTE: I feel constrained to add that no one is more acutely aware that a few celebrities put the public’s obsession with their lives to good use. (Eg. click here and here) And where rock star Bono looms larger than life in this respect, Jolie is worthy of commendation in her own right (as goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees). But none of her acts of charity – including, some might suggest, not only adopting an African child but now giving birth to one as well – entitles her to prey on the ingenuousness of Namibians who seem starved of everything from national revenues to international celebrities.
(Incidentally, apropos Namibian expectations that the birth of Shiloh will boost national revenues, perhaps they ought to consult the Cambodians and Ethiopians who are still waiting for such benefits after Jolie adopted a boy, Maddox, and a girl, Zahara, from their countries, respectively….)
Monday, May 29, 2006 at 11:06 AMIt has become a cherished tradition for most Americans to honor the memory of dead presidents by going to shopping malls and the memory of fallen soldiers by going to the beach….
But, for the few who care, Happy Memorial Day!
Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 1:44 PM
What Nigerians demand from Mr President is the courage and humility to apologise for making us go through this harrowing experience by embarking on the risky project called tenure elongation that led the country to the brink of disintegration. [Nigerian Opposition Party]
Though virtually unreported in America, Nigerians took a bold step for democracy on 16 May when their Senate voted unanimously to reject a constitutional amendment that would have allowed (relatively popular) President Olusegun Obasanjo to remain in office for a third term. After all, despite pleadings from western leaders – including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan – Obasanjo did all he could to elongate his rule; just as African despots from Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire to still reigning Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe have done since the end of colonial rule. But, much to his shock and awe, enlightened and courageous Nigerians, acutely mindful of this African pathology, forced Obansanjo to retreat – to his now firmly-established, term-limited presidential palace – to lick his wounds….
So, here’s to what we hope is respect for constitutional provisions becoming the rule rather than the exception throughout Africa.
Saturday, May 27, 2006 at 12:17 PM
…And then there were two – left barely standing – in the Coalition of the Willing to invade Iraq.
President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held talks on Thursday at the White House. Here are the main points of their joint news conference courtesy of Forbes.
MISTAKES IN IRAQ
‘I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement, is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.’
‘The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was right. But not everything since liberation has turned out the way we had expected or hoped. We’ve learned from our mistakes, adjusted our methods and built on our successes. From changing the way we train the Iraqi security forces to rethinking the way we do reconstruction.’
‘I think that probably in retrospect, though at the time it was very difficult to argue this, we could have done de-Baathification in a more differentiated way than we did. ‘
…I think it’s easy to go back over mistakes that we may have made. But the biggest reason why Iraq has been difficult is the determination by our opponents to defeat us. And I don’t think we should be surprised at that.’
PUBLIC ATTITUDE TO WAR IN IRAQ
‘No question it’s created consternation here in America. When you see innocent people die day in and day out, it affects the mentality of our country.’
‘I know the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was deeply divisive for the international community. And there’s no point in rehearsing those arguments over and over again.
‘But whatever people’s views about the wisdom of that decision, now that there is a democratic government in Iraq, elected by its people, and now they are confronted with those whose mission it is to destroy the hope of democracy, then our sense of mission should be equal to that.’
WITHDRAWAL OF TROOPS FROM IRAQ
‘It’s important for the American people to know that politics isn’t going to make the decision as to the size of our force level.
‘…I set the objective, a country that can sustain itself and govern itself, and we’re making progress on all fronts, but to how many troops we have there will depend upon the generals and their commanders saying, ‘This is what we need to do to do the job, Mr. President,’ and that’s the way it will be so long as I’m standing here as commander in chief, which is two and a half more years.
‘I think it’s possible for the Iraqi security forces to take control, progressively, in the country…But when the (Iraqi) prime minister talked about an objective timetable, what he meant was a timetable governed by conditions on the ground.’
‘The Iranians walked away from the table. They made the decision, and the choice is theirs. ‘
…We’ve got to continue to work to convince them that we’re serious, that if they want to be isolated from the world, we will work to achieve that.’
‘They must understand that the word of the international community is sure and is clear, and that is that the obligations that are upon them have got to be adhered to.’
‘I know a man of resolve and vision and courage…My attitude is I want him to be here so long as I’m the president.’
‘The amazing thing about dealing with Prime Minister Blair is, never once has he said to me on the phone, ‘We better change our tactics because of the political opinion polls,’ You know?’
[Alas, Blair could not bring himself to say any kind words about Bush....]
BUSH REGRETS TOUGH TALK ON IRAQ
‘Saying, ‘Bring it on,’ kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe a little in a more sophisticated manner…I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted and so I learned from that.’
DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ
‘They have gone out and voted despite terrorism, despite bloodshed, despite literally the prospect of death for exercising their democratic right.
So they have kept faith with the very democratic values that we say we believe in. And the people trying to wrest that democracy from them are opposed to absolutely everything we stand for and everything the Iraqi people stand for.’
NOTE: Bush and Blair must have resented the fact that their effort to put the best spin on the state of affairs in Iraq (and make final pleas in support of their legacies) was overshadowed by international media reports quoting their most pugnacious critic, British MP George Galloway, singing the praises of Fidel Castro and condemning them as follows:
…Tony Blair should be in jail right next to George Bush….Those two are drowning in an ocean of lies, in a wave of bloodshed [and] it would be morally justified for an assassin to target Blair for supporting the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Friday, May 26, 2006 at 11:13 AM
The jury’s verdicts help to close a notorious chapter in the history of America’s publicly traded companies…Appeals aside, the end of the trial will mark the end of a dark era.
[Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), co-author of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, which was enacted in the wake of Enron’s collapse to make company executives more accountable.]
Given the litany of corporate scandals that have unfolded in recent years (WorldCom Inc., Tyco, Adelphia Communications, etc), chances are that, until yesterday, Enron remained a four-letter word only to those who suffered historic reversals of fortune when it collapsed almost five years ago. But the jury’s guilty verdicts against its former leaders Ken Lay (L) and Jeff Skilling (R) – on a battery of fraud and conspiracy charges – reminded the entire world of the unprecedented and pervasive scope of corruption and greed that led to Enron’s demise.
Indeed, notwithstanding subsequent scandals, none of them has had a more devastating impact of the U.S. market, which included $60 billion in shareholder losses. Unfortunately, the impact Enron’s collapse had on the market was surpassed only by the impact it had on the lives of its employees, which included eradicating almost $2.1 billion in pension plans overnight and rendering 5,600 people unemployed.
Finally, though hardly just compensation, the good news is that all of those who felt defrauded by Enron executives can take consolation in the fact that the 64-year-old Lay (who is facing 165 years) and the 52-year-old Skilling (who is facing 185 years) will spend the rest of their lives in prison. And, ironically enough, the Judge set the day of reckoning for these two crooks who perpetrated the worst corporate crime in U.S. history for 9/11.
NOTE: After yesterday’s verdict, Lay said he was “shocked”. And during his trial, he said – with no ironic appreciation – that he was being prosecuted for “doing business as usual.” But let us hope that his and Skilling’s sublime fate disabuses all white-collar criminals of their patently fatuous presumption that – because they swindle billions from stock portfolios and pension plans – they are somehow smarter and more honorable than street thugs who steal nickles and dimes (by comparison) from banks and purses. Indeed, as the federal prosecutors who laid out the case against them warned after the verdicts were handed down:
You can’t lie to shareholders, you can’t put yourselves in front of your employees’ interests. No matter how rich and powerful you are, you have to play by the rules….This verdict encourages us…to continue to combat corruption wherever we find it.
ENDNOTE: Britain’s Law Lords defied their stodgy reputation this week by issuing landmark rulings in two divorce cases that advance the cause of women’s rights to such degree they make the way Divorce Courts in America treat women seem positively atavistic. Click here to read my good-news article on these rulings at CNN….
Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 11:18 AMAmerican Idol’s presiding arbiters of mediocre talent: Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul
To date, my interest in American Idol has been limited to the entertaining antics of Judge Paula Abdul, which have included her Svengali-like use and abuse of a contestant as her Boytoy and her seemingly drug-induced ramblings that have been constant fodder for late-night comics.
But I am now prepared to concede that my dismissive attitude towards the undeniable phenomenon this show has become borders on cultural snobbery. And since it follows from my multicultural affinities that even prevailing bad taste has merit, I hereby acknowledge American Idol as the pink elephant that captivates the minds and attention of more Americans on a weekly basis than any other cultural event….
So, even though I couldn’t bring myself to vote, I watched enough of Wednesday night’s final performances to conclude that Katherine McPhee of Los Angeles should win. Alas, she did not; which only confirms that most viewers of this show lack not only cultural taste but also good judgment….
Therefore, I join all of America in congratulating the preternaturally jovial but mediocre-talented Taylor Hicks of Birmingham, Alabama as the new American Idol:
NOTE: For anyone still riveted under the illusion that American Idol is a talent competition, please consider this:
Katherine is from Los Angeles. And almost everyone in America, especially Los Angelinos, thinks that there are already too many stars living in that city. Therefore, she had to overcome a conscious bias against the stage-managed, glossy image she exhibited – having cultivated it over the years as an indispensable trait amongst her Hollywood peers.
By contrast, Taylor is from Alabama. And he exhibited a refreshing, country-bumpkin image that gave him a perennial underdog appeal. Moreover, chances are that the entire state of Alabama was involved in rigging votes for Taylor; whereas, except for her family and friends, no one in laid-back California probably bothered to work phone banks to boost votes for Katherine.
(Incidentally, Idol’s voting system gives most Southerners – who clearly have too much time on their hands – their one and only shot at sticking it to Hollywood. Therefore, it’s not surprising that country-bumpkins like Taylor do so well….)
ENDNOTE: For a more comprehensive and relatively serious take on this show, click here to read the commentaries of my friend Professor Rachel Sullivan.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 at 12:06 PM
There are two sides to every story….This is how the hopelessly compromised Congressman William Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, pleaded on Monday in a vain and vanquished attempt to keep the probing media at bay and reassure his constituents that he’s not a crook. But what makes this plea especially feeble is the fact that cognitive dissonance in America has evolved to the point where the term “corrupt politician” is now inherently redundant.
After all, today when a politician is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, instead of inciting moral outrage, it merely provides comic relief. And Mr. Jefferson is only the latest to become a laughing stock amongst a presumed (Congressional) den of theives. Because on Sunday, the F.B.I. revealed that it has a series of tapes of Jefferson taking bribes amounting to over $400,000 – including videotape of a meeting last July at which he took a briefcase containing $100,000 in $100 (marked) bills – $90,000 of which the FBI later found “concealed in various food containers” in a freezer at his home.
But to get the full measure of this public servant, all one needs to know is that – as he was negotiating the quid-pro-quo for this fateful $100,000 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel just outside Washington, DC – Jefferson was caught on tape referring to this tainted cash as “African art” and laughing triumphantly as he dismissed:
…all these damn notes we’re writing to each other as if … the FBI is watching.
Of course, now that his career in Congress has been reduced to taking bribes and pleading fecklessly, Jefferson is taking the familiar perp-walk along that well-trodden congressional plank to prison whilst insisting that he will not resign - because he’s been an “extraordinarily effective” congressman. Which only begs the question: Extraordinarily effective for whom Congressman?
NOTE: It is axiomatic in the legal profession that when the facts would condemn one’s client, one should argue the law. But, in rare instances, this legal tactic has redeeming merit. And so it is with the bi-partisan argument that the F.B.I. raid on Jefferson’s congressional offices on Sunday constituted “an outrageous intrusion in the separation of powers”. Because, not only is this argument legally sound, but – given all of the incriminating evidence the F.B.I had already collected on Jefferson – this raid appears to have been utterly gratuitous.
ENDNOTE: Alas, where arguing the law might give the F.B.I. another black eye, it will do nothing to reduce Jefferson’s criminal liability. Therefore, perhaps he should do what most black scoundrels do when caught in a legal vice-grip: play the race card. And in his defense, Jefferson can argue that – since most blacks have good reasons to distrust banks – the other side of this story is that, in fact, there’s absolutely nothing suspicious about hiding their cash beneath their mattresses or stashing it in their freezer….
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at 11:19 AMDear Readers
Many of you will have gathered from my articles that I am an ardent advocate for the integrated economic development of the Caribbean. However, notwithstanding my passionate advocacy, earnest pleadings and unsolicited advice, I’m acutely aware that I have relatively little influence on regional leaders who have been entrusted with the stewardship of our manifest destiny.
Therefore, I am honoured to publish the following article by my colleague and friend Sir Ronald Sanders. It is, in fact, a lecture Sir Ron delivered at the prestigious University of the West Indies last week on the evolution of our regional media and the role they (including little gadfly bloggers like me) must play in helping to develop a sustainable Caribbean Single Market. However, to coin a phrase, (unlike me) when Sir Ron speaks, people listen.
Nevertheless, I feel obliged to disabuse any of you of the impression that this might be too academic or parochial an article to read. Because not only is Sir Ron a brilliant and engaging lecturer but integration of Caribbean economies is almost as topical and relevant an issue to everyone in the Americas as illegal immigration to the United States.
Therefore, I urge you to take a little time to read, ponder and debate Sir Ron’s insights and admonitions in this regard. And please feel free to email the link to colleagues and friends….
A Public Lecture to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Caribbean News Agency
Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG
The title of this lecture is long: “The Evolution of CANA and the Role of the Regional Media in the Caribbean Single Market”.
Therefore, in a paraphrase of the words used by radio broadcasters to encourage their audiences not to tune out, let me ask you to sit back, relax and endure: I will not be short!
It is right that the occasion marking the 30th Anniversary of the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) should be linked to the creation of the Caribbean Single Market.
For, CANA’s formation was a direct result of the recognition by regional leaders in the late 1960s that regional institutions and regional integration would not succeed without more “regional thinking and awareness” and their declared belief that the mass media “provided inadequate coverage for regional events and policies”.[i]
And, here, I should explain that by “the Caribbean”, I mean those countries that came to be members first of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) and then the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
By the end of June this year, twelve of the member states of CARICOM hope to have established a Single Market with a Single Economy to follow by 2008.
The decision to join a Single Market is a far-reaching one.
It has consequences for all the people of the region who will be ceding local autonomy over some of their economic affairs to a process of regional decision-making that will be binding in law and enforceable by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
For the most part, the decision to establish the Single Market, like others to form CARIFTA and then CARICOM, has been taken by governments almost on the assumption that because they have concluded that these developments are in the region’s interest, the people should conclude so too.
There was no referendum in CARICOM States when CARIFTA was formed and none when CARIFTA was deepened into CARICOM. Similarly, there has been no referendum asking the people of the Caribbean whether or not they favour the CSME.
Despite this absence of direct consultation with the people, CARICOM leaders have not mounted information and education programmes designed to explain these developments to the population of the Caribbean Community.
As the Guyanese diplomat and scholar, Lloyd Searwar, observed in a commentary written days before he died last month and published posthumously:
“Deliberate use of the communications media is of vital importance because CARICOM is a unique experiment in integration among non-contiguous territories, in which member States are divided from each other by the sea and is some instances by great distances” (as is the case with Belize and the Bahamas).[ii]
Later in this presentation, I will return to this point more fully, but let me now declare my own position.
Years of work as a broadcast journalist, a writer on Caribbean affairs, as a diplomat who negotiated for the Caribbean in the international community, and as a business executive in several Caribbean countries, have convinced me that a deeply integrated region is in the best interest of the Caribbean’s people.
Click here to read Sir Ron’s lecture in full….
NOTE: In addition to all of his other bona fides, Sir Ron is also a feature columnist at the Caribbean’s premier online news publication Caribbean Net News.
Monday, May 22, 2006 at 12:23 PMBecause he finally slammed his 714th home run on Saturday, Barry Bonds deserved to be greeted with cheers;
Because everyone now believes that steroids gave him the power to slam most of those home runs, he deserved to be greeted with jeers; and
Because his 714th home run was only good enough to tie the second-rate achievement of the over-celebrated Babe Ruth, it deserved to be greeted with yawns.
No feature in modern sports elicits (and warrants) such mixed emotions as Bonds’s quest to become the home-run king of Baseball. And, alas, no Baseball player exhibits more unappealing traits, which make fans loath to celebrate him as king, than Barry Bonds.
Nonetheless, as I wrote in this previous article, despite his (probable) use of steroids, Bonds deserves to be recognized as Baseball’s most valuable player and appreciated as the one most likely to dethrone the reigning home-run king, Hank Aaron. After all, if all players suspected of steroid use were similarly pilloried and summarily discredited, there would be few notable players left in the game deserving of cheers.
Of course, I hasten to clarify that this objective regard for Bonds’s professional talents and accomplishments as a player must be distinguished from one’s subjective regard for his personal traits and shortcomings as a role model. Because, as I readily conceded in this previous article, Bonds – off the field – is a major-league jerk. But that has nothing to do with the respect he has earned and deserves on the field.
NOTE: A friend asked why, if I’m not bothered by his suspected use of steroids, I was so blasé about Bonds hitting his 714th home run on Saturday. And I think it’s worth sharing with you what I told him:
The most hallowed record in Baseball is Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs. Therefore, I see no reason to get worked up about Bonds matching or surpassing Babe’s 714, when it’s Hank who is king. Just as I imagine no real fan saw any reason to get worked up when Pete Rose matched and surpassed Wee Willie Keeler’s 44-game hitting streak, since Joe DiMaggio held (and still holds) the record at 56 games.
ENDNOTE: Because he has become so notoriously unlikable, even if Bonds eventually breaks Hank’s home run record, I doubt anyone will ever be willing to pay the equivalent of $195,000.00 for his jersey – the amount someone paid for DiMaggio’s, ironically, also on Saturday at an auction of his memorabilia.
Sunday, May 21, 2006 at 12:34 PMWhen Sir Paul McCartney announced the end of his “May-December” marriage to Heather Mills on Wednesday, it was greeted more with glee than sadness. Because, quite frankly, his fashion-designer daughter Stella pleaded with him to live by his own words that “[money] Can’t Buy Me love”. And, moreover, everyone felt that “[He] Should Have Known Better” than to marry the self-important and self-righteous Mills in the first place.
Saturday, May 20, 2006 at 12:49 PM
Now, who in America thinks Jose (or his tank-buddy Leroy) will actually shoot or even try to detain Juan (Valdez)?
President George W. Bush ordering the National Guard to prevent Mexicans from crossing the border is almost as misguided – but will prove equally ineffective – as sending the U.S. military to democratize Iraq.
Friday, May 19, 2006 at 11:42 AM
Hirsi Ali is clearly a very provocative and controversial woman. Nonetheless, her advocacy for women’s rights and pleadings for the dignity of her religion are unassailable. And I agree with Jennifer that her contrived deportation is a loss for the Dutch and a gain for the Americans. [ALH ipinions]
Two days ago, my commentary on Dutch Aliens Affairs Minister Rita Verdonk’s capricious decision to revoke the citizenship of Ayaan Hirsi Ali – the Somali-born women’s right campaigner, acclaimed critic of radical Islam and Dutch MP – provoked many readers to append comments and send emails upbraiding me for condemning that decision. Invariably, my critics castigated me for allegedly not fully appreciating the gravity and elaborate nature of the lies Hirsi Ali told on her asylum application, which, they claimed, constituted just cause for Verdonk to revoke her citizenship.
The opening quote is my response to their criticisms. But, for the record, here’s how Hirsi Ali explained her lies and put this unfurling (political) scandal into perspective:
I am not proud that I lied when I sought asylum in the Netherlands. It was wrong to do so. I did it because I felt I had no choice.
I was frightened that if I simply said I was fleeing a forced marriage, I would be sent back to my family. And I was frightened that if I gave my real name, my clan would hunt me down and find me….
I am going away, but the questions remain. The questions about the future of Islam in our country, the suppression of women in Islamic culture and the integration of the many Muslims in the West.
The good news is that it seems a majority of the members in the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament share my condemnation of (and consternation over) Verdonk’s decision. And, their reaction was reported as follows:
In an emergency debate running on deep into the night [Wednesday], Verdonk was accused by all parties of two mistakes. First, she reached the conclusion far too quickly – after an investigation of scarcely one day….Secondly, the minister based this conclusion on a careless interpretation of a Supreme Court ruling in 2005….
Since 2002, Hirsi Ali had already repeatedly shared the fact with international media that she lied about her date of birth. Leftwing Green (GroenLinks) leader Femke Halsema said that everyone in The Hague had known the facts for a long time. Nonetheless, Verdonk only took action when TV programme Zembla presented the lies as new facts last Thursday….
The Lower House [then] forced Aliens Affairs Minister Rita Verdonk to reconsider her decision to withdraw Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Dutch nationality. A new decision will be made within six weeks.
Beleaguered Rita Verdonk in the hot seat over her revocation of Hirsi Ali’s citizenship
However, it appears this parliamentary censure may have been as motivated by domestic politics as Verdonk’s initial decision. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that:
The decision to revoke Hirsi Ali’s citizenship appeared driven by domestic Dutch politics – and drew criticism from Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who said he was “surprised by the speed” with which Verdonk acted and asked her for an explanation.
And according to the BBC:
If the hard-line immigration minister decides not to bend to parliament’s demands, many fear the centre-right coalition could face serious problems.
But EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes expressed the view of many of Hirsi Ali’s political supporters and women’s rights advocates around the world when she said that she was:
…ashamed of the Netherlands because a valuable person like Hirsi Ali is being shoved out of the country.
Given this growing backlash, it seems very likely that Verdonk will find some politically expedient way to rescind her decision. But I hereby absolve all of my (well-intentioned) critics of any need to retract or apologize for their caustic criticism of my commentary on Verdonk’s decision.
Nevertheless, as I wrote on another site, when Verdonk offers to reinstate her citizenship, Hirsi Ali should simply say “Thanks, but no thanks!” Then she should head to America, where U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick proclaimed yesterday that she would be welcome!
NOTE: This week the U.S. continued its bullying of the tiny Caribbean country of Antigua by unsealing indictments against two Americans for operating an Internet gambling business based there and sanctioned by the Antiguan government. I wrote a syndicated column on this extraordinary and extraterritorial exercise of U.S. jurisdictional power in March and invite you to click here to read my follow-up column pursuant to this indictment that was published at CNN today.
Thursday, May 18, 2006 at 11:11 AMFor over a year, I’ve been writing about President Vladimir Putin’s apparent nostalgia for 1950s Cold-War values that has him doing everything in his power to return Russia (and the former satellite states of the vanquished Soviet Union) back to the geopolitical realities of that era. And I’ve described his neo-Stalinist policies and tactics as the “Putinization of Russia”.Neo-uncle Putin: master of Russia’s (doomed) fate; captain of its (backsliding) soul….
However, political economists far more expert that I have been stupefied by Putin’s back-to-the-future leadership. After all, turning Russia back into a police state – by, inter alia, incarcerating new political prisoners and wresting state control of private enterprises – makes its failed (communist) past its prologue.
But I may have stumbled upon the explanation for Putin’s retarded behavior on the pages of Pravda just yesterday. Because there on the front page was Putin’s wife, Lyudmila, spilling the beans on the keys not only to his heart (“porridges and vegetables”) but also to his philosophy on domestic affairs:
…woman must do all the work at home [and] one shouldn’t praise a woman not to spoil her.
So, never mind President George W. Bush’s goofy (and now thoroughly discredited) diagnosis that he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw the soul of a good man with democratic values. Because Lyudmila has now provided real insight into the mind, body and soul of her husband who is clearly stuck in a 1950s time warp….
Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 10:27 AM
Today I resign as a member of parliament….I will leave the Netherlands, saddened but also relieved. I will pack my bags. I will go on. [former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Tuesday]
Anyone who thinks that Europeans have not cowered in the face of intimidation by Islamic extremists needs only consider the unfortunate fate that has now befallen Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Islam’s most progressive voice in Europe.
Last year, I wrote two articles (see here and here) about Hirsi Ali’s daring campaign to expose and reform the misogynistic and provincial tenets of Islam. And the most controversial and provocative part of her campaign was a film she wrote and co-produced with iconoclastic Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. That film, Submission, portrayed how conservative (literal) interpretations of Koranic verses compelled Muslim women to submit to the most demeaning and abusive treatment to show appropriate obedience and devotion to the men in their lives, and absolute faith to Islam.
Alas, it did not matter that Hirsi Ali’s film presented a wholly accurate depiction of the scars (to bodies and minds) that conservative Islamic practices inflict on Muslim women, which are always hidden from public view by the chadors many of them are forced to wear. Because, immediately upon its release, Muslim clerics in the putatively liberal and progressive Netherlands issued a fatwa (decree of death) against her and van Gogh. And, within short order, van Gogh was found dead in the streets of Amsterdam with a note stabbed in his chest warning Hirsi Ali that she was next….
Ayaan Hirsi Ali…Dutch MP
Initially, many people thought that Dutch authorities reacted commendably – by providing 24/7 security for Hirsi Ali and defending her inalienable right to freedom of expression. However, only now are they learning what some of us knew back then: That, from the outset, Hirsi Ali’s security detail was as much a quarantine (to keep her away from fellow MPs who were fearful of being caught in the line of Islamic fire) as it was a shield (to protect her from that fire).
Therefore, it is not entirely surprising that she has now become a casualty of Dutch fears of retribution and reprisals by Islamic fanatics who are still fomenting violence throughout Europe over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by Danish cartoonists. Moreover, last November’s Muslim riots in France – that have made the French government now exceedingly solicitous of appeasing Islamic firebrands by any means necessary – have only heightened Dutch anxieties.
And, it’s in this climate of fear (and loathing) that Dutch authorities seem to have finally determined that Hirsi Ali’s campaign – to reconcile Islamic practices with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – posed a threat to national security, and, consequently, that she must be deported. (Especially since – instead of seeking to appease Islamic extremists – Hirsi Ali has vowed to continue writing and producing her series of Submission films. And Dutch courts had already ruled that she had to vacate her apartment in The Hague because “neighbours feared she was a security risk.”)
Therefore, they seized on a little white lie Hirsi Ali told about her 1992 asylum application in a documentary that was broadcast in the Netherlands last week. Her deportable offense was saying that she arrived there directly from her war-ravaged home in Somalia, whereas, in fact, she had lived in three different countries prior to arriving in the Netherlands. How ironic, though, that she presumably sought asylum in the Netherlands because of its reputation for being a progressive and tolerant society.
But, just as her truth about Islam did not matter to Islamic fanatics who vowed to kill her, her admission about her lies to attain asylum (having confessed them in 2002 when she was being vetted to stand for Parliament) did not matter to cowering Dutch authorities who feared she was a walking time-bomb that could set-off French-style Muslim riots in their country at any moment.
With that, her Dutch citizenship was summarily revoked on Monday and she was declared persona non grata. And, to add insult to this injury, the Dutch Immigration Minister, Rita Verdonk, who delivered this political fatwa, was a member of Hirsi Ali’s own political party. It was instructive, however, that Verdonk rationalized her government’s decision to deport Hirsi Ali as follows:
…in the light of the programme and other facts [like her campaign against conservative Islam], the MP’s citizenship was unlikely to be valid.
NOTE: Dutch authorities never disputed the fact that – at the time Hirsi Ali sought asylum – she was a citizen of and legally resident in only one place on earth: Somalia (where tribal warfare and warlords proved even too much for the US military to cope with….) Therefore, their patently fatuous and dastardly reason for deporting this world-renowed campaigner for women’s rights and religious tolerance is an injustice that offends the conscience of freedom-loving people everywhere!
ENDNOTE: According to the BBC, Hirsi Ali has accepted an invitation from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington DC, to become a resident fellow and continue her campaign to reform her religion in a more hospitable and politically liberating environment.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006 at 11:30 AMLast night, in perhaps the most anti-climactic speech of his presidency, George W. Bush announced his comprehensive plan to seal the U.S./Mexico border and make honest residents of the millions of illegal (Mexican) immigrants now scattered all over the United States.
But even the austere setting of the Oval office, which is normally reserved for addressing the nation on matters of grave consequence – did little to inspire confidence in or regard for his message. (Click here for the full text of Bush’s address.) Besides, the gravity of the occasion was undermined by the preemptive address Al Gore – the man most Americans once hoped would be sitting in that office – gave 2 nights ago (on Saturday Night Live), during which he mocked everything everyone knew Bush had to say.
For the record, Bush used this solemn and attention-grabbing occasion merely to reiterate the immigration reform measures he has been trying – for years – to get his Republican-controlled Congress to enact. Only this time he framed them in a 5-point plan as follows:
1. Secure the (U.S./Mexico) border
In fact, the only thing newsworthy about Bush’s address is the extent to which he now seems politically inclined to appease the rabid-right wing of his Party on “Border control.” As a strategic matter, however, deploying 6000 National Guard troops to seal the border – even under the temporary conditions Bush proposes – is like applying a band aid to stop the bleeding from a hemorrhaging wound.
And as a political matter, this deployment will alienate Democratic supporters of his guest-worker and path to citizenship points (see below) – who will dismiss it as a cynical and pathetic attempt to militarize a political problem (since, they scoff, even 20,000 National Guard troops won’t stop the bleeding). Unfortunately, it will also aggravate his Republican base – whose support for these (political) points is predicated on Bush not only militarizing the border (with tens of thousands of troops actively engaged in “defending” the border, not merely 6,000 deployed as a feint deterrent), but also building the most impenetrable border fence American technology can design.
2. Create a “temporary worker program” (formerly a guest-worker plan)
Clearly, to honor his Party’s “professed” compassionate conservatism and feed its unspoken but insatiable greed for cheap labor. But, notwithstanding this mercenary motive, a guest-worker plan offers the most humane and economically-sound way to assimilate illegal immigrants into mainstream American society.
3. Prosecute employers who hire illegal immigrants
This is the most effective deterrent to illegal immigration. However, no one takes this point seriously because zealous prosecution of those who hire illegal immigrants would incarcerate the donor base of both political Parties. Therefore, at best, one should expect such prosecutions to amount to nothing more than token fines on employers – as the price for exploiting cheap labor.
Meanwhile, heavy emphasis will be placed on creating “tamper-proof documents” to ensure that only those participating in Bush’s temporary worker program are hired (i.e., interior enforcement of immigration laws)
4. Offer a path to citizenship
At the insistence of xenophobic Republicans, this path would be more like an obstacle course for illegal immigrants – requiring them to jump through hoops like paying a fine, learning English and not getting arrested for the 10 to 15 years they must wait to attain citizenship. Nonetheless, Bush and some of his more visionary Republican supporters are committed to this point because they hope it will provide the Republican Party a bloc of Hispanic voters more reliable than the black vote has been for the Democratic Party for almost a half century.
5. Honor America’s heritage as a melting pot of immigrants
…The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans….Our new immigrants are just what they’ve always been: people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom….And America remains what she has always been: the great hope on the horizon, an open door to the future, a blessed and promised land.
There you have it: Bush’s 5-point plan to solve America’s immigration problem. However, not even Pythagoras could square the circle presented by some of the politically conflicted and contentious points in Bush’s plan (e.g. deploying troops yet insisting that he’s not militarizing the border; and guaranteeing a path to citizenship yet insisting that he’s not rewarding those who have broken U.S. laws – by coming to America illegally in the first place). But this is the challenge facing the mathematically (and politically) challenged George W.
Ironically, the American people would have been prepared to grade Bush’s efforts in this regard on a very generous curve, if ‘Iraq” were not hanging like an albatross around his neck. Indeed, anyone familiar with Bush’s political woes would have seen the quagmire in Iraq standing like a big pink elephant on three legs behind him as he delivered his presidential address last night (making a mockery in real time – as Gore did by preemption – of everything he was saying).
The reality is that Bush’s post 9/11 leadership (particularly his ordering that kick-ass retaliation against the Osama-harboring Taliban) imbued him with such gravitas, credibility and popularity that he could have signed an executive order to do whatever he deemed prudent to secure the border. In addition, he could have gotten the gun-shy and cowered Congress to enact any comprehensive immigration reform he proposed. But, by the time he spoke last night, his march of folly into Iraq had bereft him of so much political influence that he appeared to be delivering a penitent supplication instead of a presidential address on immigration.
Therefore, with all due respect to Bush, comprehensive immigration reform will be enacted only if legislators like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) usher their bipartisan bill (which includes all of Bush’s 5 points except with regular border patrol police, not National Guard troops, enforcing the border) through the Senate this week, and can reconcile it with the bill proferred by Republicans in the House (which includes making felons of illegal immigrants and seems designed, incomprehensibly, to deport them all back to Mexico).
NOTE: There can be no clearer indication that Bush’s Olympian political muscle
has atrophied into that of a 90-pound political weakling than having the muscle-bound Republican Governor of “Mexifornia” Arnold Schwarzenegger not only kick sand in his eye on his immigration reform but do so by invoking the albatross of Iraq – as if tightening the noose around Bush’s neck – as follows:
…Going the direction of the National Guard, I think is maybe not the right way to go…soldiers that are coming back from Iraq, for instance, and that have spent a year and a half over there and now they are coming back. I think that we should let them go to work, back to work again.
ENDNOTE: Bush is probably the wrong messenger delivering the right message. But, given the strangebedfellows immigration reform is making of Republicans and Democrats, I’m convinced that a majority of them will resolve that Bush’s 5-point plan offers the best prospect for comprehensive (and sustainable) immigration reform. And, as I predicted in this previous article, since Republican members of Congress are far more anxious about suffering dire political consequences if immigration reform is not enacted, I fully expect them to help reconcile a bill consisting of Bush’s 5-points for him to sign by Memorial Day.
However, I agree with Schwarzenegger that deploying the National Guard only offers comfort to fools – as I argued in this previous article. Instead, the most effective way to stem the flow of illegal immigration across America’s southern border is to help Mexico and other Latin American countries develop their economies so that it becomes unthinkable that any of their respective citizens would risk their lives – by crossing the border – just to seek gainful employment. But this is clearly a challenge for one of Bush’s more enlightened successors to undertake….
Monday, May 15, 2006 at 9:50 AMLast July, I wrote this commentary on the sensational revelation that big-time payola, not Tommy Mottola (head mogul at Sony), was behind the music success of lip-syncing performers from J.Lo to Jessica Simpson. And, even though pittance compared to how much it profited from this scheme, I thought the $10m fine NY Attorney General Spitzer levied against Sony was very much in the public interest. (Incidentally, if you have no idea what payola is, I invite you to read that commentary.)
Consumers have a right not to be misled about the way in which the music they hear on the radio is broadcast…Pay for play makes a mockery of claims that only the ‘best’ or ‘most popular’ music is broadcast. [New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (below)]
Therefore, I was extremely encouraged by Friday’s New York Times report that Spitzer has now fined Universal, the world’s largest record company, $12m for spending almost as much money to get radio programmers and DJs to play records from its label as it spent to get its artists (including Jessica’s cuckolded ex, Nick Lachey) to record them in the first place. Indeed, as part of its plea agreement, Universal was compelled to admit it had used:
…a broad array of illegal “pay for play” tactics to secure airplay for its
music, including bribing programmers with laptop computers, tickets to sporting events and luxury hotel stays.
NOTE: Not exactly combating insurgents in Iraq or illegal immigrants in the U.S. (about which I shall comment tomorrow), but I’m all for truth in advertising – whether we’re being sold on a war or on some bimbo’s musical talent….
Sunday, May 14, 2006 at 11:27 AM…And please tell her everyday, several times-a-day, how much you love, appreciate and cherish her!
But take it from those of us who have lost our mothers, you’ll be glad you did.
NOTE: Remember a few kind words for the mother-in-law too….
Saturday, May 13, 2006 at 11:32 AM
Friday, May 12, 2006 at 11:09 AMLast month, I marched in solidarity with my Hispanic brothers and sisters to urge the U.S. Congress to enact immigration legislation, which includes:
“…a guest-worker plan, path to citizenship and border security (amongst other measures) that would guarantee proper assimilation of these and future immigrants.”
But the rabid and politically-motivated rhetoric this issue inspired in members of both Parties led me to predict that:
“…it’s unlikely that any legislation will be enacted before the November 2006 elections.”
Thankfully, it seems I was wrong. Because the Washington Post reported late last night that:
“[After months of partisan maneuvering], Senate leaders reached a deal [this evening] on reviving a broad immigration bill that could provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens and said they will try to pass it before Memorial Day. ”
Good news indeed!
NOTE: I shall reserve my rejoicing until the bill is signed by President George W. Bush, especially since a band of Davy-Crockett House Republicans have vowed to torpedo it. Although, they’re becoming so worried about being reelected – with poll ratings falling faster than Bush’s (their Party’s beleaguered poster boy), I suspect these Republicans might be prepared to adopt illegal immigrants by Memorial Day….
ENDNOTE: If you assume the privileges and immunities of white (mischief-making) former colonists in Kenya were abolished with the advent of black rule, click here to read my CNN column, which will surely disabuse you of that assumption….