Friday, June 30, 2006 at 10:53 AMYesterday, after reading newspaper headlines and hearing TV sound bites about the notorious Gitmo case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, one might have thought the U.S. Supreme Court had decided that President George W. Bush was himself a war criminal. But after reading the decision (and all the news deemed fit to print about it), I realized that the court merely handed the detainees in purgatory at Guantanamo a procedural victory, which offered no substantive reprieve.
In fact, the Court ruled that the ad hoc military tribunals Bush and Rumsfeld concocted to prosecute (or persecute) these prisoners violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners. And, that the Bush administration is now obligated to defer to Congressional codification of the rules of criminal procedures that shall obtain with respect to all Gitmo detainees.
Significantly, however, the Court did not rule that their capture and (prolonged) detention were illegal or that their treatment constituted torture or that the U.S. has no authority to try them for war crimes or that the Guantanamo Bay prison had to be closed as a matter of law – as most Bush detractors (domestic and foreign) have pleaded, indignantly.
But here’s the good news:
No matter how cleverly his telegenic press secretary spins it, this ruling is tantamount to a long overdue slap in the war-on-terror face of President Bush. And that might be just enough chastisement to snap him and Rumsfeld out of their deluded mindset that anything they do in this post 9/11 world “to protect the American people” is beyond reproach.
In addition to teaching Bush a much-needed lesson, however, this ruling reinforces America’s vanguard respect for human rights and the rule of law. And that alone is worthy of praise; notwithstanding patently-absurd carping (mostly from conservative Republicans) that it has compromised America’s ability to fight Islamic terrorists.
NOTE: The instructive irony should not be lost on anyone that, yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court reprimanded the president of the United States in order to vindicate the due-process rights of Osama bin-Laden’s former chauffer (he’s the Hamdan in Hamdan v Rumsfeld).
Moreover, despite Abu Ghraib, I am constrained to point out that al-Qaeda detainees were and are invariably accorded more dignity, respect and rights than they would have received in the custody of Islamic wardens in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, let’s keep this ruling in proper perspective…shall we?
ENDNOTE: Two more Caribbean countries signed on to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s PetroCaribe oil initiative that he’s touting as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas being touted by the President Bush. I fear, however, that they may be buying snake, not crude, oil. Click here to read my CNN column which explains why….
Thursday, June 29, 2006 at 11:48 AMJust months ago, I published this article heralding the peace agreement brokered by the United States between the Israelis and Palestinians as “one giant leap for peace in the Middle East.” But anyone reading news reports coming out of that region today can be forgiven for asserting now that that agreement merely promised comfort to fools.
Perhaps….But that was then. Here’s the latest:
This picture shows Israeli tanks gathering in familiar formation early this morning – preparing for an assault on the Palestinian territory of Gaza that is now in full onslaught….
I support Israel’s right to exist, unreservedly. However, I am not one of its more-Jewish-than-Jews supporters who believes that Israel can do no wrong in its dealings with Palestinians and other adversaries (passive or aggressive) in the Middle East.
Therefore, I have no qualms about criticizing Israel for dispatching warplanes to bomb bridges and power plants in the Gaza Strip, or about condemning it for dispatching warplanes to invade Syria’s airspace to buzz the home of its president, Bashar al-Assad – just “to send a message.” (Incidentally, if you’ve ever heard the sonic boom jet-fighters deliver, you’d know that Assad received that message – to reign in Palestinian terrorists in Gaza – loud and clear.)
The face of Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit (19) that launched warplanes and tanks into the Gaza Strip…
After all, no matter how justified the Israelis think they are to invade Palestinian territories because Palestinian terrorists kidnapped one of their soldiers on Sunday, or how much they suspect Assad of supporting the kidnappers, these aerial assaults and ground offensive constitute a misguided and unnecessarily provocative reaction. Especially since the Israeli government’s spokeswoman declared, emphatically, that the only reason for this “extreme (military) action” was “to bring Gilad home”. But clearly this is analogous, at least apropos Assad, to the Americans sending F-16s to buzz the home of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because they suspect Iran of supporting the Iraqi insurgents who have kidnapped and killed so many American soldiers….
Of course, it’s critical to appreciate the context here. Since there can be no doubt that if the politically-pragmatic Fatah faction had won last January’s elections to govern the Palestinian territories, Israel would not have reacted so aggressively to this kidnapping. As it happened, the politically-untenable Hamas faction won. And because it refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist (side by side with a newly independent Palestinian state), the U.S. and EU withdrew the financial support that has sustained the livelihood of most Palestinians for decades.
But here’s where this latest conflagration gets complicated, which is rather like saying here’s where things get a little heated in the Negev desert: It’s undeniably foolhardy, if not suicidal, for the Hamas government to refuse to recognize Israel. And, though harsh, it’s entirely reasonable for the U.S. and EU to withdraw their support as the only way to leverage their political outrage.
Moreover, this U.S.-led financial boycott unwittingly “exposed” the hypocrisy amongst Arab and Islamic nations that have consistently criticized the U.S. for supporting the Israelis at the expense of the Palestinians. After all, if there were any substance and moral conviction behind their criticism, they would have stepped into the breach and rendered financial aid to the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, this boycott coupled with the failure of Hamas sympathizers to support its impoverished government is arguably the proximate cause of the (still) percolating civil war between Fatah and Hamas and resurgent terrorist activities that led to the recent spate of suicide bombings in Israel and the kidnapping of Gilad.
Nevertheless, instead of launching this assault, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should have enlisted the help of the Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas – who happens to be the current president of the Palestinian Territories – to secure Gilad’s release. And, given international consensus that a Fatah government is preferable to one headed by Hamas, this kidnapping could have served as an auspicious pretext for Israel to provide covert support to Fatah to help it prevail in its internecine struggle with Hamas. Because only then will the Palestinians have a government that enjoys the full faith and credit of the U.S., EU and Israel, and one that can begin to build the democratic institutions and economic infrastructure for their sustainable development.
As it stands, however, I see no end to this cycle of violence (between Palestinian factions for control of the territories and from Palestinian terrorism precipitating extreme Israeli reaction). And, even though their ancestors were able to penetrate the walls of Jericho to make it to the promised land, the Israelis seem to think that there’s no way Palestinians or other foreign enemies can penetrate their walls to “wipe them off the map”.
NOTE: Palestinian militants seem utterly inured to all out assault from Israeli armed forces. And the Hamas government seems utterly powerless to harness their militant rage, which makes Israeli seizure of Hamas leaders, as reported today in the Washington Post, seem at best a strategic and incendiary blunder.
In fact, the militants’s response to PM Olmert’s threat to take extreme action against them was to taunt the Israelis by proudly announcing their kidnapping of an Israeli settler from the West Bank who, according to breaking news from AFP, they have now executed.
Alas, if the American quagmire in Iraq has taught us anything, it is that all the military might in the world is incapable of defeating a determined insurgency…where it lives.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at 11:51 AMWhen Warren Buffet, the world’s second richest man, announced his charitable gift on Monday, even more shocking than the amount involved ($31 billion) was the fact that the recipient was Bill Gates, the world’s richest man. And, I suspect I was not alone in wondering:Why not his children? He has 3: Susan, Howard, and Peter. Why didn’t he leave those billions in a charitable trust for them to manage? By all accounts they inherited his brain; though, alas, not his wealth.
Why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? After all, he could have spread this money amongst several worthy foundations. Now, just imagine the philanthropic envy the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations must be suffering – since, even adjusted for inflation, Buffet’s gift makes their philanthropic legacies look miserly. Or, he could have become a patron of the arts – emulating King Charles I of England, Lorenzo de’ Medici of Italy or Catherine the Great of Russia. And, he could have begun by fulfilling the pledges Alberto Vilar made to cultural institutions around the world that have since been dishonored by revelations that he was nothing more than an egomaniacal cultural poseur.
And, why now? He’s only 75 and looks quite healthy. Has he been diagnosed with terminal illness?
Well, as it happened, I did not have to wonder long. Because on Monday evening, Buffet answered all of these questions during a joint appearance with Bill and Melinda Gates on my favorite TV talk show, Charlie Rose. And here’s how he addressed my penny-wise thoughts:
Why not his children?
Evidently, Buffet’s children are living fulfilled and zealously-private lives. And, like him, they claim to have no interest in or talent for the high-profile philanthropy that managing and giving away so many billions would necessarily entail. More to the point, however, Buffet said that he’s not leaving them the bulk of his fortune because:
I just wanted to leave them enough so that they could do whatever they wanted to do but not enough to do nothing.
He then added that his children share his cynical attitude towards inherited wealth; explaining that:
…dynastic wealth – the idea that many generations of children should be able to go without doing a thing if they wish – simply because they came from the right womb [members of the lucky sperm club] strikes me as flying in the face of what this country is about. We believe in a meritocracy and equality of opportunity….
…I would argue that when your kids have all the advantages anyway, in terms of how they grow up and the opportunities they have for education, including what they learn at home – I would say it’s neither right nor rational to be flooding them with money.
Egalitarian and altruistic thoughts that are, nevertheless, difficult to reconcile with the fact that Buffet has actually funded billion-dollar foundations for each of his children. And, even though he seems convinced that they are “giving money back to society – just where Susie and I thought it should go”, I do wonder whether they’re only giving pennies on the dollar and living the life of overpaid corporate CEO’s like so many directors of charitable foundations do. (Ah cynicism….)
Why the Bill & Melinda Foundation?
I wanted the money to be used effectively….I looked at a lot of foundations and there is a number that I admire but there’s none that bring the class in my view as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation….They really have looked at the world without regard to gender, color, religion, geography and they said “how can we do the most good for the most people….
It seems to have everything to do with the death of his wife and soul-mate Susie two years ago:
Well it’s something I’ve always planned, my wife Susie and I had planned that whatever I made would go back to society and originally I thought she would outlive me and that she’d make the big decision on it, the manner, but since her death I had to rethink the best way to get the money into society and have it used in the most effective way and I had a solution staring me in the face…..I’d seen Bill & Melinda do what they do with their foundation, they’ve done it with their own money, they’ve poured themselves into it, their decisions are great, their goals are similar to mine, so the time is now.
All things considered, I think this is probably the smartest investment decision ever made by this savviest investor in the world. Because, with twice as much money to invest in childhood education and public health around the world (giving 3 instead of 1.5 billion dollars annually), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be able to improve the lives of many more children who are bound to make contributions to mankind that will provide immeasurable returns in perpetuity.
Indeed, to get a sense of how well the Gates appreciate this historic gift and its potential, here’s how Bill – who announced just days ago that he plans to retire in 2008 from Microsoft to Co-Chair his foundation full-time – described his thoughts on Buffet’s confidence in them to Charlie Rose:
It’s a huge responsibility…if you make a mistake with your own money you don’t feel as bad as if it were someone else’s. But we are now even more intent on doing it right….With advances in medicine and other things we can do to relieve poverty we’ve been making good progress and with doubling of resources we think our impact can more than double.
NOTE: When asked by Carol J Loomis, FORTUNE editor-at-large, “Are you ill?” Buffet replied:
No, absolutely not. I feel terrific, and when I had my last physical, in October, my doctor gave me a clean bill of health.
Click here to read more about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundati
However, I feel obliged to note that whatever one thinks about America (read the article below on President Bush’s Austrian summit to see how resentful and distorted those thoughts can be), it is easily the most charitable nation in the world. And, though the American government is often criticized for not giving enough to international organizations (and rightly so), invariably overlooked is the fact that private American foundations more than compensate for any shortcomings in this respect.
For example, of the 3 billion the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will give next year, 60% will be dedicated to helping people in poor countries around the world.
Readers of this weblog know well that I have been unsparing in chronicling America’s faults. But when it comes to domestic and international charity, I challenge anyone to cite a more generous nation…..
But if you doubt my word, consider the following excerpt from an analysis of Giving generously, the American way published just yesterday in the London Times:
The Gates/Buffett annual outlays should, when both men’s contributions have been fully disbursed into the fund, rise to well over $3 billion in today’s money, of which about three quarters is currently directed towards international assistance to the very poorest in the world.
For comparison, Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, distributes about $700 million. In Britain, the Department for International Development channelled about £4.2 billion in aid to less developed countries.
Two American philanthropists alone, in other words, will have contributed more to alleviate poverty and disease than the UN’s principal development arm. Between them they will have given a sum amounting to about a third of the entire official UK contribution.
No other nation on earth has the capacity to produce individuals with the wherewithal and the motivation to extend such generosity.
Thank you Mr Buffet. Thank you Bill and Melinda Gates….
Tuesday, June 27, 2006 at 10:49 AMA few weeks ago, when the whole world was singing the praises of Angelina Jolie – for condescending to give birth to her child in Namibia, I published this article entitled To Jolie and Pitt – a child is born…to save Namibia? As the title suggests, mine was a discordant voice of unmitigated apostasy (towards this blessed event) – as the following stanza clearly attests:
…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 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.
But my hope for Namibia’s sovereignty and national heritage has been somewhat restored. Because last weekend, I read that Namibia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has condemned Jolie and her movie-star consort for behaving like “colonial overlords” during their Mary and Joseph pilgrimage to Africa.
Specifically, the NSHR criticized them for using “heavy-handed and brutal tactics” to ensure their privacy and summed up its official complaint as follows:
To shut down a national border so she can give birth in peace is a massive abuse of power. [The Namibian government should be spending more money on its own pregnant mothers] who go without medical care, food and shelter! But government can afford to spend thousands of taxpayers’ money on the so-called protection of the privacy for a filthy rich Hollywood family! Who is fooling whom?
Clearly, for the UN’s most celebrated Ambassador of Goodwill, this is a damning and well-founded complaint; which is only exacerbated by the disrespect Jolie showed Namibian doctors by flying in her private obstetrics team from Los Angeles to deliver her baby….
NOTE: When I read this NSHR complaint, I was reminded of Ray Donavan – Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Labor – who, for months, was portrayed on the front pages of major newspapers around the world as a liar and a crook. But when the allegations against him were proved false, report of his exoneration was buried so deep – in the few of those major newspapers that even bothered to run it – that it went virtually unnoticed. This in turn led Donovan to coin the now famous lament:
Where do I go to get my reputation back?
Alas, given that report of its principled complaint will also go virtually unnoticed, this seems a fitting lament for the NSHR on behalf of the people of Namibia. Nonetheless, I wonder what this portends for their Shiloh national holiday….
Monday, June 26, 2006 at 11:11 AM
Bush rekindles European friendships and builds new coalition of the willing against North Korea and Iran…Given international media obsession with the World Cup and American media preoccupation with Ann Coulter and Angelina Jolie, chances are that many of you heard little – and read even less – about President George W. Bush’s pivotal performance at a European summit last week. Yet he traveled to Austria and assembled a bona fide coalition of the willing amongst European leaders to support his “cowboy diplomacy” on the two most hot-button issues in world affairs that would have seemed impossible just months ago:
Regarding North Korea, they agreed with Bush that President Kim Jong-il should abandon any thought of launching his long-range missile test. And, regarding Iran, they agreed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should respond forthwith to the Western plan calling for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program and forfeit all ambitions of developing nuclear weapons.
Indeed, even regarding Iraq, where Bush’s “unilateral action” threatened to cause relations between his administration and European leaders to become irretrievably broken down, they agreed that its time to “let bygones be bygones” and support U.S.-led efforts to defeat the insurgency and help the new Iraqi government “stand up” its armed forces so that coalition forces can “stand down.”
President Bush with reconciled friends: Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, center, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the all for one and one for all news conference at Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, last Wednesday
Notwithstanding forging transatlantic consensus on a number of other issues – including on support for the beleaguered democracy in Afghanistan, “ending the Guantanamo” prison camp and advancing world (fair) trade negotiations (Doha round) – the highlight of Bush’s trip was easily the impassioned endorsement of America’s leadership in world affairs by Bush’s host – Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. In fact, Schuessel must have shocked and dismayed student protesters – being (mis)led by the irrepressible pied piper of anti-Bush (and anti-American) protesters, Cindy Sheehan – who were rallying outside the summit with posters reading, inter alia, “World No.1 Terrorist” and “Bush Go Home”.
However, I have lobbied zealously for credible international statesmen to voice disagreement with American foreign policies (whether on Iraq, trade or the environment) without ad hominem and unsustainable attacks on Bush and America. Therefore, I found Schuessel’s endorsement refreshing, even if long over due.
Though, more importantly, I hope his words are instructive to people (especially Europeans) whose visceral hatred of George W. Bush has so distorted their perspective on world affairs that they really believe he’s a greater terrorist than Osama bin Laden or President Ahmadinejad (who seems determined to emulate Hitler with his declared intent to “wipe Israel off the map”), and that “the United States is the biggest threat to global stability”, despite clear and present dangers posed by North Korea, Iran and Syria.
Here’s what Schuessel said:
Europe would not enjoy peace and prosperity if not for U.S. help after World War II, And I think we should be fair from the other side of the Atlantic. We should understand what Sept. 11 meant to the American people.
Let me add — let me add something. I think Austria is really a good example to show that America has something to do with freedom, democracy, prosperity, development. Don’t forget I was born in ’45. At that time, Vienna and half of Austria laid in
ruins. And without the participation of America, what fate would have Europe? Where would be Europe today? Not the peaceful, prosperous Europe like we love it and where we live.
Nothing — I will never forget that America fed us with food, with economic support. The Marshall Plan was an immense aid and incentive to develop industry, agriculture, tourism. And by the way, I said it to the President, the Marshall Fund is still working in Austria. It’s now transformed into a kind — in a fund for research and development — still working.
The American people, at that time, the American government invested billions of dollars in Europe to develop the former enemy. And now we are a partner. So I think it’s grotesque to say that America is a threat to the peace in the world compared with North Korea, Iran, other countries.
NOTE: For the record, I disagreed with Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 because I thought then that it would amount to nothing more than a march of folly. (And, I expressed my concerns here, here and elsewhere.) In fact, I disagree with his administration’s policy on a myriad of issues. But I do not think that any of Bush’s policy decisions warranted the hate Bush and/or anti-American hysteria that has become so pervasive.
After all, I also disagreed with French President Jacques Chirac’s decision to destroy the entire air force of the Ivory Coast in retaliation for its soldiers killing a few French peacekeepers who were caught in the crosshairs of their fight with rebel forces. In fact, I disagree with many of Chirac’s foreign policies – especially his predilection for extraterritorial (neo-colonial) control over West Africa. But none of these disagreements has incited in me a visceral hatred of Chirac or any anti-French sentiment. (I love France, and some of my best friends are French….)
ENDNOTE: Ultimately, I hope we can all agree that Bush is not worthy of the hatred that has become a national pathology in some countries. But here’s a challenge to those of you who also hate or resent America’s power and influence in the world today: Name another country you’d rather see possess this power and influence. (e.g. China? France? Venezuela?).
Sunday, June 25, 2006 at 12:47 PM
Last Thursday, with its humiliating loss to Third-World Ghana in Nuremberg, Germany, great expectations that the U.S. would accomplish its mission of winning this year’s Word Cup were summarily dashed.
Alas, its mission in Iraq is not the only victory America’s superpower is unable to guarantee….
NOTE: Although I harbored no great expectations, they were dashed when my team – Trinidad and Tobago – was also eliminated in the first round . Unlike the U.S., however, T and T players could leave the field with their heads held high (led by team captain Dwight Yorke) – having acquitted themselves well against perennial soccer powerhouse England and playing Sweden to an improbable draw.
Indeed, such was the promise T and T displayed that I shall have great expectations when they take the field for the next World Cup in South Africa in 2010….
UPDATE (11:32 am): A surprising number of you have emailed challenging me to choose a team to win the World Cup, now that T and T have been eliminated. I accept. And, even though I appreciate that Germany and Argentina are heavily favored, my regional loyalty and due regard for the superior talents of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho compel me to choose: Brazil, Brazil, Brazil!
Saturday, June 24, 2006 at 12:54 PMAlas, last week when all of America was expressing shock, shock at Ann Coulter’s ice-cold diss of some 9/11 widows, I was confined to bed and under doctor’s orders to keep my poison pen dry. Although, it might shock many of you to know that I would not have wasted any ink hurling vitriol at Coulter because of what she wrote. But since it’s bad form to come late to a good fight, I shall suffice only to make the following observations:
Coulter has been pilloried for referring in her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism to four 9/11 widows from New Jersey as, inter alia:
…witches who are enjoying their husbands’ deaths….How do we know their husbands weren’t planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling they’d better hurry up and appear in Playboy.
Harsh indeed! But here’s what you should know about this cat-fight:
If TV personalities like Matt Lauer of the NBC TODAY Show were so morally outraged by what Coulter wrote, they would not have dignified her by giving her a forum to repeat it, ad nauseam, on their (family-friendly) programs. Of course, the fact is that they all know it makes for good TV ratings to invite Coulter on to perform her predictable, satirical schtick. And the mercurial, sado-masochistic, self-promoting Coulter is all too happy to oblige because she knows these performances clear the path for her to go laughing all the way to the bank and to the top of the NY Times bestseller’s list.
Even worse is the fact that, not so long ago, these indignant TV personalities were themselves criticizing 9/11 widows for using the millions they got in government compensation for their husbands’ deaths to go on promiscuous shopping sprees. Never mind the scandal many of them caused by seducing their dead husbands’ firefighting buddies – who were asked to console these grieving widows – away from their wives and children.
Finally, if truth be told, even I expressed consternation at the posturing of 9/11 widows who seemed to think that their husbands’ deaths conferred upon them the right of final approval on every phase of post 9/11 redevelopment in New York City as well as the right to veto every measure contemplated for enhanced national security.
So, don’t let the fact that Ann Coulter is a cold-hearted bitch blind you to the truth hidden in what she writes. Moreover, be wary of TV talking heads who feign moral outrage for the same reason Coulter writes such outrageous stuff: it makes for good TV and it sells, sells, sells!
Friday, June 23, 2006 at 10:19 AMLast weekend, I hobbled out of my sick bed to join my siblings at the graduation ceremony of our sister Maureen at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. And, such was our pride and jubilation that – when her name was called to receive her medical degree – our uproarious standing ovation sent a crescendo throughout that celebrated music hall that would have made even the most boisterous New Yorker blush.
We are also exceedingly pleased that the St Joseph’s Regional Medical Centre in Patterson New Jersey has offered Maureen a Postgraduate Residency Appointment in Family Practice. And, given the size of our family – complete with more than a few hypochondriacs – this is an extremely auspicious appointment.
After the graduation ceremony, we gathered for a private dinner party at which I gave a toast to Maureen that I shall repeat here as a lasting tribute:
I offer this toast to our sister Maureen in a spirit of profound admiration and unvarnished humility. Admiration because her graduation into the ranks of medical doctors marks a triumph of perseverance over daunting obstacles that only a person with the faith of Job could have predicted. And humility, because faced with similar obstacles, I doubt that I would have been able to overcome with such remarkable equanimity.
Therefore I rise Maureen – to sing your praises and to tell you what an inspiration you are to me. And it is my fervent hope that in the years to come, all of us – especially your children Bill and Billyca – will have not only words to say but also deeds to show just how truly proud we are of you.
To Dr Lil Reene…
NOTE: Apropos the Caribbean, click here to read my CNN column on the whaling controversy that has environmentalists threatening to boycott some of our regional economies.
Thursday, June 22, 2006 at 11:21 AMOn Tuesday night, the Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks and became only the third team in NBA Finals history to come back from a 0-2 deficit to win a 7-game series 4-2. But, given the competitive nature of each game and the attendant controversies this incited, this Heat comeback was arguably the most exciting and suspenseful in NBA Finals history. Despite the spectacular play on the court, however, the real drama of this championship featured individuals sitting in the stands and watching on TV thousands of miles away.
And, for the frat-boy cheerleading and puerile temper tantrums he displayed throughout the series, the consensus star in this off-court drama was Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. But this comes as no surprise to NBA fans. After all, in the three years since this billionaire geek bought the team, he’s been fined over a million dollars for conduct unbecoming an adult – to say nothing of an NBA owner. In fact, Cuban – who has the brains of computer whiz and the temperament of a street thug – has been fined for everything from running onto the court to brawl with players from opposing teams to whining about a conspiracy between the NBA Commissioner David Stern (who he verbally assaulted in the stands after losing game 5) and referees to prevent his team from becoming NBA champs. (Incidentally, Stern fined Cuban $250,000 for this latest outburst.)
Nonetheless, the most interesting off-court drama involved the sublime dynamics amongst Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley and team leader Shaquille O’Neal on the one hand and Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and team leader Kobe Bryant on the other. Because, after they won 3 consecutive NBA Championships (in 2000, 2001 and 2002) as teammates, the Lakers traded Shaq to Miami to indulge Kobe’s petulant and oversized ego. And from that fateful day, all NBA fans have wondered which of these franchise players would be the first to lead his team to a championship without the other. And, to be sure, each player has coveted this bragging right to seal his legacy. Therefore, this championship not only gives Shaq one more ring than Kobe has but also vindicates his stature in this rather interpersonal respect.
And, as if Shaq winning this singular acclaim did not syringe him with enough resentment, it must have only added insult to Kobe’s bruised ego when sports analysts began heralding Shaq’s boy-wonder teammate Dwayne Wade as the next Michael Jordan. After all, like a ball-playing Napoleon, this is a coronation Kobe gave himself many years ago….
As for the Coaches, both are certified winners and had already established enviable legacies before this season began: Riley for coaching the Lakers to 5 championships in the 1980s; and Jackson for coaching the Chicago Bulls to 6 championships in the 1990s (and the Lakers to the 3 championships cited above). Nevertheless, both coaches have been irked by critics who claim that, but for once-in-a-lifetime superstar teammates like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabaar (for Riley in the 1980s), Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (for Jackson in the 1990s) and Kobe and Shaq (for Jackson again 2000-2003), neither one of them would have been able to coach those teams to NBA championships.
Therefore, it must come as sweet vindication for Riley to have won this championship – with Shaq in his professional dotage and a young Wade who – although on the verge of superstardom – himself admits he’s no Michael Jordan. Indeed, even Riley’s critics must concede that his coaching was more indispensable than Wade’s MVP performance to the Miami Heat winning this series. And, in case they doubted his role this time, after their win on Tuesday Riley shouted “Fifteen Strong! Fifteen Strong” – signifying the 15 players he had just coached to an improbable NBA championship.
NOTE: If all of that isn’t intriguing enough for you, factor into these dynamics reports that Mark Cuban has offered disgraced newsman Dan Rather (see yesterday’s post) a pivotal position in his growing HDNet media empire.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006 at 11:12 AMDan Rather – as he appeared in the fall of 2004 – reporting the bogus story about President Bush’s military service that sealed his professional fate…
On 9 March 2005, I published this homage to Dan Rather’s ignominious comeuppance after his colleagues and bosses at CBS finally did to him what he had done to Walter Cronkite 24 years earlier, which was to conspire to push him off his news-anchor chair. But where there was genuine sorrow at Cronkite’s dethroning, only crocodile tears were shed when Rather fell.
However, though bloodied, Rather remained unbowed. And such was his larger-than-life ego that virtually no one remotely familiar with his Stetson pride (except me – see “NOTE” below) thought that he would ride off into the sunset as the cameras faded to black on his career. Indeed, true to form, within days Rather was announcing on Larry King Live and Late Night With David Letterman that CBS had agreed to reassign him as a feature reporter on its flagship news program 60 Minutes.
But it now seems clear that Dan was just whistling Dixie. Because his bosses never entertained any notion of retaining him in such a high-profile position; especially since they were already wooing his professional antithesis, Katie Couric of the NBC TODAY Show, to be the new face of CBS News. Nevertheless, it came as a shock to many yesterday – just weeks after Katie was hired – when news broke that there was no more room for Rather anywhere at CBS:
The Washington Post quoted CBS sources last week as saying that executives had decided there was no longer any room for Rather on “60 Minutes,” which must find time for stories by incoming anchor Katie Couric and part-time contributor Anderson Cooper of CNN.NOTE: For the record, here’s what I predicted would be his fate months ago:
….despite his gallant efforts to maintain his Texas strut, Dan will clearly now hobble into TV news oblivion.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006 at 10:47 AM
He is accused of funding Sierra Leone’s former rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) by selling diamonds on their behalf and buying weapons for them….The RUF were notorious for mutilating civilians, by hacking off their arms or legs with machetes. [BBC News Africa]
Yesterday, pursuant to an enlightened UN resolution drafted by Britain, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was flown to the Netherlands to be tried for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Thus, even though others were (and are) equally deserving of the dubious honor, Taylor becomes the first former African head of state to face justice before an international tribunal for his gross abuses of universal human rights.
However, as I wrote in this previous article on 31 March 2006, Taylor’s critically acclaimed appearance in The Hague was almost foiled by Africans who wanted him to face justice on African soil. But here’s how I addressed their argument in that article, and why I think this move amounts to a reprieve for Africa:
…Liberian nationalists and prominent pan-Africanists have argued that Liberia’s sovereignty and regional dignity would be undermined if Taylor is not tried in Liberia (or, at worst, in Sierra Leone). But this argument reflects misguided jingoism and foolish pride. After all, if the trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq has taught us anything, it’s that such a trial would probably make a national martyr of Taylor, fuel an insurgency against Johnson-Sirleaf’s government and detract national attention and resources from the important work nation building. By contrast, when the Serbs consented to have their former leader and accused war-criminal Slobodan Milosevic tried in Hague, it sealed his fate to die with a whimper in relative obscurity.
So here’s to the fate that awaits Charles Taylor (think Slobodan, not Saddam).
Nevertheless, I appreciate why so many Liberians wanted Taylor to face trial in their national courts. After all, they believe that his exploitation of their diamond mines and involvement in narcotics trafficking caused more human rights abuses in Liberia than the abuses that were caused by his support of the RUF, which constitute his 11 war crimes charges. Yet, upon sober reflection, even Liberia’s fiercely independent and visionary new leader “iron lady” Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has come to realise that shipping Taylor off to The Hague is good not only for her country but also for the continent of Africa.
Therefore, it seems fitting to restate the salute I gave him almost 3 months ago:
So, here’s to the fate that awaits Taylor in The Hague, where he shall whine, whither and die a powerless, broke and broken man….
Tuesday, June 20, 2006 at 10:54 AMCharlie Rose, my favorite TV interviewer, appeared on Larry King Live last night to share details about the health crisis that kept him confined to a hospital bed for a month (and then to his home for an additional 5 weeks). However, a week ago today, as I was confined to my own sick-bed, I watched Charlie mark his celebrated return to The Charlie Rose Show (PBS) by explaining to his viewers the impact his illness has had on not only his personal but also his professional life.
For those of you who did not see either program, the sixty-four-year-old Rose was on the road to Damascus in March when he was struck with acute shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Yet he continued on to conduct a coveted interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before being forced to get medical attention from a Syrian doctor. But he was fortunate to make it back to Paris when he did. Because his symptoms had become so critical that he was admitted to hospital immediately upon his arrival, where world-renowned pioneering heart surgeon, Alain Carpentier, operated on him for almost 15 hours to repair a diseased mitral valve.
At any rate, it was instructive for me to listen to Charlie talk about his commitment to work, which he pursued, invariably, at the expense of family and friends. And, just as I was beginning to infer that he considered this an acceptable trade-off, he conceded the following:
I’ve had to think about how do I change…everyone who knows me knows that I’m always in fifth gear and too involved in work…pushing too hard [to do too many things]….But I have to think now of what is the appropriate balance….I want to make sure I have dinner with friends….I’m asking have I lived a good life….
[And he continued on Larry King Live]…nobody on their death bed says I wish I spent more time at the office. And I never, (sic) I’ve spent too much time working, and the opportunity, or the commitment I have now is to read more and to spend more time with friends….
But enough about Charlie….It’s just that – as I was on sick leave for the first time in my 20-year career, his story led me to think about what impact my illness might have on my personal and professional life. But let me hasten to clarify that mine was hardly a “health crisis”. Indeed, compared to Charlie’s heart problems, my viral infection amounted to little more than a common cold.
Nonetheless, like Charlie’s, my A-type personality compels me to believe that I can do a million things at once and do them all well. However, unlike him, I’ve always considered nurturing my family ties and personal friendships amongst the most important things I do. And I’ve received sufficient feedback in this respect to feel assured that no change is necessary.
Instead, when I thought “about how do I change” my worker-bee personality, it occurred to me that I need to establish a more appropriate balance between my vocation (job that pays the bills) and avocations (hobbies like this weblog) to relieve the mental and physical stress that my doctor is absolutely convinced was the cause of my illness (and sustained cholesterol levels above 350). And there’s the rub: Because, when I reach Charlie’s age and begin reflecting on his question (i.e. have I lived the good life?), I doubt I’ll be able to answer “yes” if I continue to dedicate so much time and effort to my vocation at the expense of my avocations.
Therefore, as Charlie (who was himself a practicing attorney before becoming a TV interviewer) seeks to reduce his workload to have more time for the family and friends he has neglected over the years, I have resolved to reduce my workload to have more time for the public-service activities that I believe will lead to a much better life. And, in this regard, I intend to expand the pro-bono areas of my legal practice (e.g. Just last week, the Chairman of the National Cancer Foundation back home in the Turks and Caicos Islands asked me to serve as their legal counsel. And I shall.) In addition, I’ve been encouraged by many people whose opinion I hold in high regard to do more to promote my weblog as a forum not only for musings on current events but also as one for unabashed social and political activism. And this too I shall try to do, amongst other things….
Finally, I would like to thank those of you who sent me get-well eCards and emails. I was tremendously comforted by them. And, since I have no doubt that I shall derive far greater satisfaction from responding to email enquiries from the readers of this weblog than I ever have from responding to “bottom-line” questions from my clients, I look forward to establishing a more appropriate balance in this respect as well.
NOTE: When I mentioned this professional epiphany to a friend, she suggested that it seems I’m merely contemplating a change “from an overworked lawyer who at least gets paid, to one who just works for free.” Perhaps. But for me, it’s working for money (which obligates) – instead of for charity (which inspires) – that heightens the stress. And, truth be told, if I were to ever lessen the amount of work I do or, God forbid, retire, I fear I might end up like Arthur Wilson who – after missing only one day in 70 years on the job – retired earlier this year at the age of 100, only to die 2 weeks into his retirement.
Monday, June 12, 2006 at 11:53 AMDear Readers I’m in really bad shape (viral infection). My doctor has ordered me to stay in bed and away from my computer (ooops) for this entire week. However, I believe you’ll find enough leftovers in my Archives to sustain you until I am well enough to provide fresh commentaries no later than June 19.
Begging your understanding and patience,
Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 12:39 PM
Because of political rivalries amongst national governments that surpass sports rivalries amongst national teams, Germany caved to pressure from fellow EU member states and denied Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a visa to attend the World Cup. (Ahmadinejad has been declared persona non grata for, inter alia, vowing that Israel should be wiped off the map and asserting that the Holocaust is a myth.)
Therefore, when Iran makes it debut today against heavily-favored Mexico, Mohammed Aliabadi, one of seven Iranian vice presidents and the head of the state’s physical education organization, will head its cheering delegation, instead of Ahmadinejad who so coveted that honor for this most-watched sporting (and, evidently, political) event in the world.
NOTE: Since Ahmadinejad (far right) is almost as fanatical about soccer as he is about Islam, one can be absolutely certain that he – like people all around the world except in America where they just don’t get it – will be so glued to television broadcast of this match that his house, let alone his country, could be up in flames and he wouldn’t even notice….
ENDNOTE: I usually cheer for the underdog, but in this case, geographical prejudice compels my wish for a Mexico win; although, my sentimental favorite is Trinidad and Tobago, which came ever so close to pulling off the upset of the Cup yesterday with a spectacular draw against Sweden. (Be sure to tune-in for T&T’s next match – against old mother-country England – on 15 June at 12 noon EDT.)
Incidentally, for my friends in the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean, even if you do not understand a word of Spanish, I highly recommend your watching all World Cup matches on Univision instead of ABC. Trust me, you’ll find it a far more entertaining experience….
Saturday, June 10, 2006 at 11:35 AM
Friday, June 9, 2006 at 2:33 PMDear Readers
I appreciate that – according to my webmaster – 99% of you do not attempt to post comments to my articles, which I choose to regard as a tacit form of unqualified support. But for the 1% of you who do, I apologise unreservedly for the technical difficulties that have made it virtually impossible to post comments over the past few days. (Note: These difficulties pertain only to the comments interface and do not affect your being able to read and search my site as usual.)
I wish I had good news from my webmaster to share about these problems being fixed – once and for all – by a date certain. But I have no such news. In fact, they seem fated to continue because efforts to “migrate” to a more reliable publishing platform have proved unfeasible.
Therefore, I beg your patience with this feature of my weblog. Of course, if you’re really moved to give me a piece of your mind, you could do as others do by clicking on the “About Me” link (upper left) and emailing me as directed at the bottom of that page.
Thank you for your understanding and continued support. Regards,
Friday, June 9, 2006 at 11:09 AMIt’s not often that reports and commentaries on a major news event are so comprehensive that they render my thoughts (almost) redundant. But such is the case with yesterday’s news that American forces have finally killed al-Qaeda’s master-terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Clearly this is good news – if only for the psychological shot in the arm it gives all Iraqis who have been suffering under Zarqawi’s reign of terror for the past three years. But the bad news is that this inoculation offers them (and their putative American liberators) no protection from physical harm whatsoever!
Indeed, as early as six months ago, I had already become so fed-up with jingoistic cheerleading and backslapping by government officials – after news that American forces had killed yet another assistant to a top associate of Osama bin Laden – that I wrote this article deriding their (groundhog) irrational exuberance. Because I knew back then what is so self-evident today, which is that cutting one head off the one-thousand-headed monster that al-Qaeda has become will have little or no impact on the infernal insurgency and sectarian violence still raging in Iraq.
But here are some final thoughts on the celebrated capture or killing of “high-profile targets of interest” like Zarqawi, Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay:
The Americans offered a reward of $25m for “actionable” information on Zarqawi, and similar amounts in the case of the Husseins. And President Bush seemed all too eager to tell the world that Iraqis provided such information in each case.
Yet how do we know if any of that money was ever paid out? Can we take Bush’s word: a president who signs into law a bill forbidding the torture of foreign detainees, then immediately signs a secret executive order instructing the U.S. military to use “all means necessary” to extract “actionable intelligence” from them? And if you’re the Iraqi who “turned” on these guys, to whom are you going to complain if the Americans stiff you? On the other hand, if they paid you this bounty, you probably wouldn’t want any of your neighbors finding out about it (which means you’d have to rely on the Americans to scurry you and your family into a squealers-protection program…in exile).
Now, how’s that for a catch 22….
But following this reward-money trail through U.S. high command into an Iraqi hand would be a good assignment for some of the many journalists now reporting speculation about what’s going on in Iraq from their embedded hotel perch in the “Green Zone”.
NOTE: If you’re a first-time reader, you can be forgiven the impression that I’m an inveterate pessimist. But regular readers are well aware that – far from being a pessimist, I have consistently offered sober assessments of and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of rebuilding Iraq, an example of which can be read here.
ENDNOTE: Click here to read my syndicated column – published today at CNN – on the remarkable leadership the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines showed by dismissing local criticism and defying the Chinese to honor his country’s longstanding friendship with Taiwan.
Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 10:48 AM
Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 10:01 AMOn 26 January 2006, I published an article criticizing Google for leaving its (self-proclaimed) enlightened corporate conscience back in America as a precondition for entering the Chinese market. Back then I wrote, in part, that:
Just days ago, I praised Google (as others had) for standing alone amongst major technology companies in defying the Bush Administration’s demand for information about the Internet searches and surfing habits of its customers. I was heartened by Google’s insistence that Americans had a reasonable expectation that their online activities would remain private.
…Yesterday, however, Google made a mockery of that principled stand by following the compromised corporate path to China that was blazed by Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL. Because, in exchange for access to the Chinese market, Google agreed to help China’s communist government
spy on and censor its citizens’ use of the Internet.
…I am profoundly dismayed by Google’s decision. But instead of fulminating against it, I feel moved to simply proffer a few questions that demand serious consideration in this context: [I invite you to click here to read this article in full.]
But in Washington DC yesterday, Google co-founder Sergey Brin (r) admitted – perhaps after duly considering the questions I proffered – that agreeing to spy for the Chinese government was a mistake. And, paying lip-service to the principle of conscience over profits, he confessed Google’s corporate sins by rationalizing that his company had:
…compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands….We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference.
Well, so much for the decision to sell-out their conscience. Now these googleaires must decide how to extricate themselves from this Faustian compromise with what little remains of their corporate integrity. After all, this admission is rather like President George W. Bush finally admitting “mistakes were made” in Iraq. But no one cares anymore about his contrition. All anyone cares about now is when is he going to get American soldiers the hell out of Iraq!
And, so it is with Google. Because it’s one thing to be sufficiently stricken by one’s conscience to admit a mistake; however, it’s quite another to have the balls to do something about it.
NOTE: Despite their very public admission – made appropriately enough in a place where such admissions have real political, but no other, value – I’m not at all confident that Google will do the right thing. Because, in doublespeak that would make even Bill Clinton blush, Brin ended his corporate confession as follows:
…It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path….It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 10:07 AMJust weeks ago, publishing house Little, Brown and Co. was forced to recall the chick-lit novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, by Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore, after she admitted copying parts of her bestseller from Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, two novels by Megan McCafferty. In fact, Viswanathan’s plagiarism proved so egregious that Steve Ross, industry-leading publisher at Random House, described it as:
…nothing less than an act of literary identity theft.But as literary crimes go, if Viswanathan’s amounted to a misdemeanor, new plagiarism charges being alleged against celebrated author Dan Brown amounts to felony grand theft novel.
Some of you may recall my recent article, here, on the plagiarism trial in London at which Brown defended himself against claims by the authors of The Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG) that he stole the central theme of their book to write The Da Vinci Code. In that article, I suggested that if James Frey should have been fried for telling lies in his national bestseller, A Million Little Pieces, then Dan Brown should have been skewered for not only telling lies but also plagiarizing, religiously, in his international bestseller.
Nevertheless, I predicted that, because of the well-established British literary tradition of lauding skillful plagiarists (including William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde), Brown would get away with what was arguably a red-handed case of felony plagiarism. And so it followed that that copyright battle to save his reputation and millions of dollars in illicit gains was won.
But, alas, it seems Dan Brown’s war has only just begun. Because he’s in for the mother of all plagiarism battles if these new allegations – detailed by Seth Mnookin in the July issue of Vanity Fair (on stands this week) – prove half as clear and convincing as those that compelled Brown to defend himself in re: Holy Blood, Holy Grail vs. Da Vinci Code.
Moreover, it does not bode well that staff writers at Editor & Publisher – who got the scoop on Mnookin’s story – report that “Brown did not respond to requests for comment from Vanity Fair.” After all, one would have expected his high-priced PR team to at least issue a perfunctory denial of the claims laid out in Mnookin’s article.
Although, perhaps Brown’s legal team decided that such a denial would only dig his legal hole deeper. Especially since, amongst other citations, Mnookin cites the findings of John Olsson, the director of Britain’s Forensic Linguistics Institute, who concluded that Brown’s “borrowing” from the book Daughter of God by Lewis Perdue is:
…the most blatant example of in-your-face plagiarism I’ve ever seen. It just goes on and on. There are literally hundreds of parallels.He reports further that:
…Brown copied for The DaVinci Code an exact passage from the paper “Leonardo’s Lost Robot,” written by robotics expert Mark Rosheim.Finally, imputing consciousness of guilt to Brown, Mnookin:
…offers evidence that he says may link Brown’s wife, Blythe, to a spate of “mysterious” e-mails that Perdue has received, coming from one “Ahamedd Saaddodeen”.And so the plot thickens. But, even though I have no doubt what the verdict will be for Brown this time, I won’t spoil it for the rest of you.
Stay tuned folks…
NOTE: Knowing a little about Seth Mnookin’s journalistic bona fides might help you appreciate how serious these new allegations against Brown are. Therefore, I invite you to click here to check out his credentials, and see why Brown has just cause to fear that he will soon be tagged with the scarlet letter “P” in the literary world.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when….