Monday, November 24, 2008 at 7:48 AM
I am heading over the river and through the woods to friends in the country for Thanksgiving this year. They’ve told me that I’m in for a real Pilgrim treat - complete with them catching our turkey the old-fashioned way:
I’m thinking I should pack a few protein bars….
I’ll be back in a week.
Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 8:33 AM
Even though I appreciate President-elect Barack Obama’s desire to emulate the presidency of Abraham Lincoln – by appointing a “team of rivals” to his cabinet , I think he’s taking it way too far.
After all, notwithstanding his ultimate fate, even Lincoln did not dare invite someone into his cabinet who was pathologically disposed to siphon off the power vested in him as president of the United States.
Yet that is precisely what Obama is threatening to do by selecting Hillary (and Bill) Clinton to serve as Secretary of State.
[A]ppointing Hillary as Secretary of State would be tantamount to inviting her (and her husband Bill) to set up a de facto parallel presidency predicated on the fiction that she will deal with foreign affairs and Obama will deal with domestic affairs.
[Hillary as Secretary of State?! Don't do it Barack..., The iPINIONS Journal, November 15, 2008]
It might not be a bullet to the head, but, if Obama appoints Hillary, I fear it would only be a matter of time before the Clintons put a dagger in his back – politically speaking of course.
Since Obama has yet to make a formal announcement, however, I shall keep hope alive that he will not make this fatal political mistake.
Hillary as Secretary of State?! Don’t do it Barack
Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 5:15 AM
Given the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, people all over the world can be forgiven for thinking that the pirates of Africa are emulating Disney’s fictional character, Captain Jack Sparrow.
In reality, CNN and other American news organizations are enjoying a ratings bonanza this week reporting on the daring exploits of pirates who are terrorizing the shipping lanes off the east coast of Africa.
But conspicuously absent from their reporting is the fact that the United States is primarily responsible for spawning this modern-day piracy. After all, virtually all of these real-life Jack Sparrows hail from Somalia - the country on the horn of Africa that the US military left as a failed state after its infamous Black Hawk Down fiasco.
Recall that over 28,000 US soldiers intervened in Somalia in December 1992. They did so ostensibly to drive out the fractious warlords who were keeping this chronically poor and drought-stricken country mired in civil strife and thwarting a UN humanitarian mission there.
Soon, however, even starving Somalis – who were caught in the crosshairs of warlord warfare – turned on the Americans. Specifically, US soldiers were so brutal and indiscriminate in their attempts to impose law and order that Somalis eventually regarded them not as liberators but as neo-colonialists.
(Not surprisingly, a similar war strategy incited ordinary citizens to join a militant insurgency against US forces in Iraq a decade later….)
But it had to have been an innately belligerent nationalism that compelled ordinary Somalis to engage American Special Forces in a fateful battle in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. And even though hundreds of them were killed, it was only after the Somalis shot down an American Black Hawk helicopter and dragged the captured soldiers through the streets that the US withdrew in utter humiliation reminiscent of Vietnam.
This of course explains why the Somali pirates have been able to roam the high seas all these years with relative impunity. Indeed, nothing demonstrates the sense of invincibility they developed from this notorious battle quite like their jingoistic reaction to the movie, Black Hawk Down, which depicted their David vs. Goliath feat:
As you can see, Somalis are brave fighters… If the Americans come back to fight us, we shall defeat them again. Let them try again. They’ll be making more films about us when we defeat them like we did that day.
In fact, Somali pirates have been hijacking everything from luxury liners to cargo ships off the eastern coast of Africa for over a decade. Moreover, they’ve been demanding, and getting, a king’s ransom in almost every case.
But it wasn’t until they hijacked a Saudi supertanker this week, which was hauling over $100 million worth of crude oil bound for the US, that their piracy became headline news in this country. Yet nothing demonstrates the sense of vulnerability the Americans developed after the battle of Mogadishu quite like the way they have reacted to this hijacking.
Because instead of vowing to take on the pirates, Pentagon officials have advised vessels passing through these treacherous waters to hire mercenaries (like those of the trigger-happy Blackwater group who provide security for most officials in Iraq) to defend them. No doubt the Saudis will simply pay the $25 million ransom and hope for better luck next time.
Frankly, I fear that this war on piracy will prove even less effective than the war on drugs. After all, Somalia has become such a rogue state, where a pirate’s booty seems the only measure of success, that piracy provides the only means of gainful employment for millions of young men. And, unfortunately, after the US’s spectacular failure, no country (not even NATO, the UN or the AU) is foolish enough to intervene to try to impose law and order in this God forsaken country.
On the other hand, it does smack of a Disney farce to see the British and Russians deploying their war ships to confront these seafaring pirates in their dinghies on the high seas.
At any rate, it behooves President-elect Barack Obama to appreciate that leaving Iraq as a failed state (by withdrawing too soon) will spawn thousands of wannabe Jack Sparrows who will perpetrate acts of piracy in the Persian Gulf that make those the Somalis are perpetrating in the Gulf of Aden seem like a day at the beach.
NOTE: Reports are that Somali pirates are currently demanding ransom for the release of 17 ships and over 300 hostages.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 5:13 AM
Robert Baer, a celebrated former CIA field officer, confounded politicians and socialites alike in Washington yesterday with the publication of his very provocative article at TIME.com entitled When Will Obama Give Up the Bin Laden Ghost Hunt?
Their bewilderment, of course, stems from the fact that President-Elect Barack Obama has made capturing or killing bin Laden a top foreign-policy objective, which presumes that the al-Qaeda leader really is just lying in wait – purportedly in the mountainous regions of Pakistan – to launch another spectacular attack against the United States.
But Baer contends that recent videos of bin Laden inciting fear and loathing in the American people with his litany of hackneyed apocalyptic threats are all fake. In particular, he cites the uncontroverted fact that bin Laden would never have dyed his beard – as it appeared he had done in some of those videos.
More to the point, he claims that half of his former colleagues at the CIA believe bin Laden is dead, while the other half suggest he is alive … but only to cover their asses in case he pulls a Lazarus.
Yet, with all due respect to Baer and the gullible Washingtonians who are greeting his article with wary relief, here’s what I wrote about the misguided hunt for bin Laden over a year ago:
[W]hat seemed to have been a stunning victory in Afghanistan is being undermined by a resurgent Taliban – making this war now seem almost as half-assed and lacking in purpose as the war in Iraq. And, to add insult to the mess America has made of both wars, al-Qaeda terrorists remind us almost daily that they remain as great a threat today as they were on 9/11….
Finally, earth to the CIA: Osama bin Laden is not only irrelevant; he’s dead!
Frankly, it’s now easy to see how group-think American intelligence, and herd-like American media, misled us to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. After all, how else does one explain the CIA confirming, and media outlets reporting, that the dye-bearded Osama look-a-like who’s starring this week in al Qaeda’s annual 9/11 mockumentary is, in fact, a resurrected bin Laden…?
[9/11 Remembered, The iPINIONS Journal, September 11, 2007]
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 5:27 AM
Now the question becomes: What will happen when another corporation “too big to fail” (like GM or GE) looks to the government for taxpayer dollars to pay for their corporate losses?
[Chickens come home to roost on Wall St, and Main St maybe next, The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2008]
Evidently, GM, Chrysler and Ford, like the big financial institutions, are simply too big to fail. Because Congress is now in a special, lame-duck session debating whether to enact a $25 billion bailout bill “to save the auto industry”.
We … need to make a statement of confidence in the auto industry. We’re not saving those companies, we’re saving an industry. We’re saving an industrial technological and manufacturing base … It’s about jobs in America. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi)
There’s a high degree of urgency” for federal assistance if General Motors is to avert a full-blown crisis … It’s really time to move on this. (Rick Wagoner, GM’s Chairman and CEO)
Meanwhile, pay no mind to the patently absurd notion that the automakers will be left to their own devises (i.e., bankruptcy) if the Bush Administration does not allow the funds for this bailout to be siphoned off from the $700 billion bailout already earmarked for the bankers.
The $700 billion rescue program was never intended by Congress to assist automakers or other sectors of the economy. It was solely intended to deal with what is an ongoing credit crisis in our financial sector. (President Bush’s Press Secretary Dana Perino)
After all, even if born-again “free-market” Republicans in this lame-duck Congress block its passage this week, I have no doubt that the Obama Administration will work with Democrats in the new session of Congress to enact an even more favorable bill early next year. And, presumably, the big 3 automakers can hold on until then….
For the auto industry to completely collapse would be a disaster in this kind of environment. (President-Elect Barack Obama)
Now the question becomes: Given that the federal government is bailing out all of these private companies, how can it refuse to bailout state governments, like California, that are already queuing up to be rescued from the precipice of insolvency? Especially since they are reeling from the same credit crunch that triggered a global financial crisis and forced bankers and automakers to beg for federal handouts to stave off bankruptcy.
Frankly, I say let’s dispense with the pretense and accept the self-evident fact that a little democratic socialism is good for America:
[I]f nothing else, [these bailouts] should finally destroy the myth that the US is running a capitalist, free-market economy. After all, this (and the other government bailouts cited above, which effectively privatized shareholder gains and nationalized losses), coupled with longstanding corporate subsidies, are indistinguishable from the way China runs its socialist, controlled-market economy.
[Chickens come home to roost on Wall St, and Main St maybe next, The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2008]
NOTE: Apropos socialism, it seems fitting that leaders of the G-20 nations gathered in Washington over the weekend to organize a collectivist approach to dealing with this global financial crisis. And I must say that I was exceedingly encouraged to see that the world really isn’t all that pissed off at America (because of Bush and for causing this crisis with shady subprime mortgages and other suspect banking practices). After all, not a single head of state, not even Russia’s neo-cold warrior Dmitry Medvedev, boycotted.
Never mind that their summit amounted to little more than a photo op and mere talk. Or that more than a few leaders were reportedly misled into thinking that they would have an opportunity to bond with President-Elect Obama – who begged off attending with the plainly sensible admonition that “America has only one president at a time.”
Chickens come home to roost…
Monday, November 17, 2008 at 5:08 AM
….no region has been more affected by the synergistic fallout from plummeting real estate values and subprime mortgages [than California]. But these “apocalyptic” fires will provide an expedient pretext for hundreds, if not thousands, of homeowners – who were facing imminent foreclosure on their McMansions – to simply walk away from the charred remains by blaming force majeure; i.e., an act of God!
[California's fiery Katrina, The iPINIONS Journal, October 25, 2007]
Well, it’s deja vu all over again – as apocalyptic fires have returned to California.
No doubt you’ve heard about celebrities like Oprah Winfrey watching helplessly as temperamental fires threaten to burn their homes in the wealthy California enclave of Montecito to the ground.
But it is worth noting that the vast majority of the more than 800 homes that have already been destroyed belong to ordinary people in far less affluent neighborhoods.
We have never lost in recent times anything close to this number [of homes]. (Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa)
Therefore, whatever indifference (or schadenfreude) it evokes in you to see obscenely rich folks lose some of their material possessions, please bear in mind that it’s relatively poor folks who are losing everything they own….
My prayers are with all those who have been affected as well as those who remain in harm’s way….
California’s fiery Katrina…
Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 10:11 AM
It is a testament to the herd-like mentality of political pundits in America that virtually all of them are citing the precedent Abraham Lincoln set almost 150 years ago – by appointing a “team of rivals” to serve in his cabinet – for the proposition that Barack Obama should appoint his political nemesis, Hillary Clinton, to serve as US Secretary of State.
But, with all due respect to Doris Kearns Goodwin - the eminent historian who is shepherding this proposition, the Lincoln precedent is flawed in many respects:
First of all, appointing Hillary as Secretary of State would be tantamount to inviting her (and her husband Bill) to set up a de facto parallel presidency predicated on the fiction that she will deal with foreign affairs and Obama will deal with domestic affairs. And, frankly, this would be a perfect recipe for untenable tension within his presidency, which would have Obama constantly looking over his shoulder to see what machinations Hillary is concocting to upstage him.
In fact, Obama should not appoint her to this most powerful position in his cabinet for the same political reasons he decided against having her serve as his vice president - notwithstanding prevailing consensus amongst political pundits that he should.
In addition, this proposition ignores changed circumstances which make the factors Obama must weigh in composing his cabinet wholly different from those Lincoln had to weigh.
For example, because he was elected with such a questionable mandate (with only 39.8% of the popular vote) in a country on the brink of Civil War, Lincoln was forced to appoint a team of rivals not only to preserve his presidency but also to preserve the union. By contrast, Obama’s mandate (with 53% comprised of votes that unified the country more than it has been in decades) effectively insulates him for any challenges to or questions about his presidential authority.
Moreover, no matter her abiding ambition, I rather suspect that Hillary is pragmatic enough to appreciate that, if she could not beat him when he was nothing more than an upstart senator, she does not have a prayer of dethroning Obama as the sitting president of the United States.
Therefore, it does not follow that, like Lincoln, Obama should appoint his rivals to his cabinet “to keep his friends close and his enemies even closer.” Indeed, the political threat Hillary poses has been greatly exaggerated.
That said, Obama would be wise to exploit her popularity by appointing her to serve in a less powerful but very important position – like Secretary of Health and Human Services. This would give her a chance to redeem her failed efforts to usher in universal healthcare during her husband’s administration while keeping her effectively tethered to one issue.
For the record, I think Obama should choose John Kerry to serve as Secretary of State. After all, he has more foreign policy experience than Hillary, he is fluent in several foreign languages (whereas, she’s not in any), and he would surely be more loyal.
Incidentally, besides lying about coming under sniper fire while on PR junket to Bosnia, I challenge Hillary’s advocates to cite what experience qualifies her to serve in this position: her courtesy calls on heads of state, which even Sarah Palin can boast of after meeting a whole slew of them at the UN recently…?
Meanwhile, this would be an ideal way for Obama to repay Kerry for inviting him to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention – the seminal occasion that launched his meteoric rise to the presidency just four years later.
Not to mention that Kerry endorsed his candidacy when most political opportunists were still riding Hillary’s bandwagon on her purportedly inevitable path to the presidency….
NOTE: If not Kerry, I think Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico would be a better choice than Hillary.
Friday, November 14, 2008 at 9:16 AM
[Author's note: No doubt many of you are aware of my ongoing efforts to help my compatriots in the Turks and Caicos Islands get rid of our corrupt and incompetent government.
And even though I am pleased to report that a UK Commission of Inquiry is currently investigating all allegations in this respect, I feel obliged to publish this special commentary to give the British Government a clear sense of what most informed TCIslanders believe the Commission's report must recommend. This commentary was also published today at The TCI Journal and Caribbean Net News.]
Nobody can deny that members of the ruling Progressive National Party (PNP) have given us probable cause to suspect that self-enrichment has been their governing principle for the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) over the past five years.
Therefore, nobody should be surprised in February when the Commission of Inquiry reports that governent officials have fostered such a thriving and infectious culture of “corruption and serious dishonesty” (which has infected members of the Opposition too) that it would offend all notions of good governance for the PNP to be allowed to continue to govern.
This alone makes it imperative for the British to begin planning now to install an Interim Government as soon after publication of the Commission’s pending report as practicable … if not sooner!
Meanwhile, that our government is convulsing in the last throes of incompetence only adds insult to the endemic nature of this corruption. Indeed, even die-hard PNP supporters are expressing contempt for the disorganization, dysfunction and disarray that now characterize governance in the TCI.
This is why all TCIslanders, including the Premier – ironically enough, are incredulous that the British – who have a constitutional responsibility to ensure good governance in our country – have allowed corrupt practices and mismanagement to flourish in this UK Overseas Territory for so long.
(Recall that when the British FAC questioned him about alleged corruption, Premier Hon Dr Michael Misick responded indignantly by claiming that there was no corruption in the TCI because the British governor signed off on everything.)
Nevertheless, since I am mindful that some will accuse me of having a partisan motive, I hereby offer the findings of the British Red Cross as independent evidence to support my contention that our government is not only terminally corrupt but also hopelessly incompetent.
Specifically, in a recent report on the “Relief & Recovery Needs Assessment” in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the British Red Cross highlighted our government’s inability to provide emergency relief (to say nothing its inability to rebuild the devastated areas) by making the following points:
A considerable degree of relief needs have been identified as re-emerging one month after the hurricane event.
Hastily rebuilt shacks are not watertight, prone to flooding after minor rainstorms (with people now sleeping on the ground in some cases), and in some instances, more than one family or multiple individuals are sharing one room.
There are reports of the continued inability of some families to purchase food, water, essential hygiene products (10%) and to replace clothing (particularly babies and younger children 30%).
Increasing incidence of flies, rats and crawling insects as well as the two forms of mosquito vector for regionally occurring Malaria, Japanese Encephalitis and Dengue fever are reported, though as yet, other communicable diseases have not been reported by the health authorities. This is in a situation of a regionally moderately mobile population.
Teachers have however reported increased incidence of overtiredness of pupils as well as a number arriving in a less clean condition than is advisable to prevent spread of disease.
There is an increased risk to health from inadequate access to clean water and sanitation.
As the wetter and colder weather approaches, and as the health and sanitation situation continues to deteriorate, the following continued relief needs have been identified in priority order: Tarpaulins… Beds for the elderly and pregnant women… Sanitation facilities… Food and clean drinking water… Blankets… Cooking equipment….
(Note: I am reliably informed that our government’s impudent and summary refusal of further assistance by the British Navy and the Bermuda Regiment in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ike is largely responsible for these dire and worsening conditions. Not to mention that this report ended its “Continued Relief Needs” assessment rather ominously by warning “It is anticipated that by October 20th the Red Cross will not have any further relief supplies…”.)
All the same, my case for this Interim Government is based primarily on Britain’s legal responsibility – not only to prosecute our corrupt government officials but also to reform our civil service. And, in this respect, I feel obliged to cite an article entitled “Britain has a legal (or ‘superior’) responsibility to fix the TCI” that was published on 19 June 2008 in The TCI Journal and the Caribbean Net News, in which I advised that:
The British must accept contingent liability for all of the foreseeable losses (in tourism receipts and foreign investments) that stem from their failure to ensure good governance in the TCI.
But I also offered that:
…in case anyone doubts my counsel in this respect, Hon. Ian Davidson MP, member of the British House of Commons Committee on Public Accounts, highlighted this point when he asked the following during an Oral Evidence Session on Monday, 10 December 2007:
‘Can I just ask about this question of weak regulation and the impact upon the United Kingdom’s reputation and financial liability if the regulators were not adequate in … Turks and Caicos, and we were then sued in some way?’
And, when the answer to this question only exacerbated his concern, Mr. Davidson issued the following warning:
‘The standards of supervision in [the TCI is] presently inadequate and you are allowing that to continue, leaving the United Kingdom at risk, not only of reputational damage but also of financial liabilities.’
Indeed, my consternation over this salutary neglect was such that, in an earlier article (published on 31 March 2008) entitled Commission of Inquiry on corruption looms for the Turks and Caicos Islands, I felt constrained to raise the following untenable spectacle:
[J]ust imagine the irony of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe having just cause to tell Prime Minister Gordon Brown to clean up corruption in his own territory before lecturing him about good governance.
Therefore, it clearly behooves the British to do whatever is necessary to clean up the political and financial mess they’ve allowed to fester in the TCI, if not for our sake, then for their own. After all, they are facing mounting and untenable contingent liabilities estimated now in excess of $1 billion, which includes debts arising out of payments in lieu of untaken leave, arrears to suppliers, claims by ghost workers, unsecured loans and unfunded pension liabilities – just to name a few.
Contrast this with the fact that, just five years ago, the TCI was effectively debt free. Yet today we have direct debts of between $100 – $200 million, with another $135 – $235 million of debt in the queue for two money-pit hospitals. Then of course there is the legacy of hundreds of millions of dollars of Crown Land that have been sold or contracted away under questionable terms.
(It might interest our British guarantors to know that, on a per capita basis, a debt of $250 million for twelve thousand TCI citizens is equivalent to one of $1.25 trillion for sixty million British citizens.)
Clearly, the need to act now to correct the current trajectory of the TCI is urgent and self evident; not least because the British also have a moral duty to prevent this government from engaging in activities that will only worsen the state of our public finances.
Over the last year, The iPINIONS Journal, The TCI Journal and Caribbean Net New have published hundreds of articles chronicling the corrupt and incompetent state of governance in this UK Overseas Territory. More to the point, my fellow editors and I at The TCI Journal have repeatedly called for an Interim Government as the only means of redressing the pathological corruption and mismanagement TCIslanders have been subjected to.
For example, on 4 July 2008, we published an editorial entitled “Daily Financing of Government”, which ended as follows:
Our recommendation and prayers are that the British Government will not only call a Commission of Inquiry, but will hopefully take over the operations of the Government for a period of 12 to 18 months, as they have done during periods in the past, in an effort to get the country’s finances back in order.
We feel a time period such as this would also allow our country’s political system, media and institutions a time to examine and restructure themselves, allowing for a healthier re-emergence of self rule. We feel that a return to self rule should occur only after the finances are back in order and only when one or both of the political parties can show themselves as competent, with executive abilities, and committed to democratic principles.
Unfortunately, in the five months since the publication of that editorial, the need for an Interim Government has only become more acute.
Finally, let me hasten to note that there are many intelligent and competent TCIslanders who are willing and able to assist the British in restoring good governance.
But I urge the British to ignore local politicians (no doubt those with most to fear from the truth and consequences of the Commission’s report) who are protesting that the installation of an Interim Government would smack of neo-colonialism. After all, such patently absurd and self-serving protestations should not obstruct the emergency steps that must be taken to save the TCI from utter ruin.
Accordingly, I submit that an Interim Government is long overdue. However, I shall leave details about its composition and tenure for others to decide….
Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 5:07 AM
You can be forgiven for thinking that the 2008 political season ended on 4 November with the historic election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. Alas, this is not so.
For in addition to a number of hotly contested congressional races that remain unresolved, great drama and suspense is still simmering over the question of who will fill Obama’s seat in the US Senate.
Illinois state law provides that Gov. Rod Blogojevich will appoint a successor. And the only criteria for the appointment is that he must appoint someone who is a resident of the state, is at least 30 years old and has been a United States citizen for at least nine years.
But, even though many worthy Illinoisans meet these qualifications, I am convinced that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr (D-IL) is uniquely qualified to succeed Obama.
That said, I am mindful of God’s admonition that he will visit the “iniquity of the fathers upon the sons.” But I pray that HE will decree that Jackson Jr has done enough good deeds as a public servant to be exempted from this cursed fate.
And nothing demonstrates this fact quite like the way he dared to support Barack Obama’s candidacy early on when most opportunistic black politicians, including his father, were pledging support for Hillary Clinton. But what truly sealed Jesse Jr’s bona fides in this respect was the way he publicly condemned his father for threatening to “cut off Obama’s nuts” for refusing to play his race-baiting politics.
Specifically, here’s what Jesse Jr said:
I’m deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson’s reckless statements about Senator Barack Obama….He should know how hard I’ve worked for the last year and a half as a national co-chair of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. So I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive, and any personal attacks and insults to himself.
[Jesse Sr is to Barack's campaign what Bill was to Hillary's: a saboteur, The iPINIONS Journal, July 11, 2008]
Therefore, I hereby call upon Gov. Blogojevich to appoint Jackson Jr to fill President-elect Obama’s seat in the US Senate.
After all, Jackson is easily the most celebrated and accomplished candidate (having secured over $600 million in federal appropriations for infrastructure projects, schools and healthcare facilities in his Chicago constituency during his 13 years as a congressman).
Not to mention that he’s also the only one being considered who can save the Senate from the ironic spectacle of having all-white members serving with a black president.
And, ultimately, it behooves the governor to beware that the most respected member of his Serbian-American community, moja tasta Bisenija Todorovich, has declared that appointing Jackson is the only right thing to do….
Jesse Sr is to Barack’s campaign what Bill was to Hillary’s
Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 5:10 AM
Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. (Former South African president Nelson Mandela)
I must confess that I knew so little about Miriam Makeba’s music that when I heard a CNN reporter say “legendary folk singer dies performing, stay tuned for details”, I thought he was referring to Joan Baez.
In fact, I knew Makeba mostly from her association with two famous men, namely:
- Hugh Masekela, the South African jazz trumpeter who was her first husband and with whom she collaborated on such critically acclaimed songs as “South African Freedom Song”; and
- Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture), the controversial leader of the 1960s radical group the Black Panthers whom she later married and joined in exile in Guinea in the late 1960s after Carmichael fell out with the Panthers.
But, notwithstanding my ignorance about her music, it is noteworthy that Makeba was the first African woman to win a Grammy Award for:
… her distinctive style combining jazz with folk with South African township rhythms.
Nevertheless, the Makeba I knew was invariably hailed more for her political activism than her songs. But, given what I now know about her musical legacy, I can appreciate why South African Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma eulogized her as follows:
Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song.
Indeed, she proved so effective in this respect that, after she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary “Come Back, Africa” in 1959, the government banned her from South Africa. And this ban was not lifted until the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, personally invited her to come back home 31 years later.
Makeba, “The Empress of African Song”, reportedly suffered a heart attack on Sunday night while performing one of her most famous song “Pata Pata” at a benefit concert in Southern Italy. She was 76.
But the timing of her death is symbolic in two respects, namely:
- Reports are that “Whilst this great lady was alive she would say: ‘I will sing until the last day of my life’”; and
- She died as she lived; i.e., agitating for pan African justice – as she was performing in honor of six immigrants from Ghana who were allegedly murdered in Italy last September by members of organized crime.
Farewell Mama Africa … Amandla!
Makebe sings and discusses South African Freedom Song
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 4:55 AM
Kids say the darndest things, don’t they…?
Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:03 AM
Given the reaction worldwide, one could be forgiven the impression that Barack Obama was elected president last week to save not only the United States but the entire world.
For my part, I can’t help wondering why American news organizations are reporting this admittedly unprecedented reaction as, well, “news”. After all, here’s how I telegraphed it in a commentary eight months ago:
I’ve been doing quite a lot of business travel lately… But I was surprised to find that the only thing anybody wanted to talk about was the US presidential campaign. And this, despite my best efforts to get Britons to talk about the Diana inquest or the political travails of PM Gordon Brown; and similar efforts to get Africans to talk about the tribal warfare still raging in Kenya or the criminal travails of ANC leader Jacob Zuma in South Africa.
[The Kennedys: dissing Hillary, endorsing Barack ... ignoring Bush, Caribbean Net News, February 1, 2008]
Therefore, I am not at all surprised by reports in recent days about Americans abroad “feeling proud to be Americans again” because people in so many foreign countries have suddenly fallen in love with America again. And there seems no doubt that foreigners now love America for the same reason that Americans are now proud of America: Barack Obama and the great expectations for change he not only represents but also personifies.
What is most interesting and encouraging in this regard, however, is that foreign leaders are expressing this hopeful sentiment with as much giddiness and political idealism as their star-struck citizens. Ironically, no country has shown more national love for America since Obama’s election than France – a country notorious for its visceral anti-Americanism.
In fact, the French wasted little time codifying their new-found affection for Obama’s America by publishing a manifesto entitled “Yes, we can!” – in which leaders from every facet of French society pledged “to stamp out racism and shake up a white political and social elite that smacks of colonial times.” Here, in part, is what their manifesto states:
We shouldn’t be surprised that Obama’s popularity is so high here: It testifies to the aspirations of all the children of France who are experiencing by proxy a recognition that France does not give them. It also betrays the bad faith of those who welcome the victory of modernity outside our borders, in order to tolerate the status quo here…
The election of Barack Obama highlights via a cruel contrast the shortcomings of the French Republic, and the distance that separates us from a country whose citizens knew how to go beyond the racial question and elect a man who happens to be black as president…
What a lesson! We French … should listen to it well.
(Note: France has 555 members in its “House of Representatives”; but only one is black.)
Meanwhile, the leading voice for this cause célèbre is not that of some left-wing intellectual. Instead, it belongs to the wife of the right-wing president of France, First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who said that Obama’s election brought her “an immense joy.”
More to the point, she noted that “Our prejudices are insidious” and expressed hope that “the Obama effect would reshape French society.”
Clearly, if Obama can win over the French so easily, he should have the Russians, Iranians and perhaps even al-Qaeda eating out of the palm of his hand in no time. Well, that is the “audacity of hope,” isn’t it…?
Sample of reaction worldwide
Saturday, November 8, 2008 at 5:27 AM
…. Of course, I appreciate not only the from-slavery-to-the-White House theme but also the Illinois connection this commemoration is intended to reflect. But I hope the organizers have the presence of mind to pay homage to the 80thanniversary of Martin Luther King’s birth as well.
After all, it is arguable that Lincoln and King are the joint fathers of Obama’s historic presidential birth. And that they were both assassinated for giving rise to this occasion would make commemorating them both all the more compelling.
Friday, November 7, 2008 at 5:15 AM
Chances are that the name Michael Crichton is familiar to few of you. Yet I have no doubt that thrillers based on his books, like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, are familiar to many of you.
Indeed, it seems eerily fitting that this notoriously press-shy, bestselling author died on a day when he was virtually guaranteed no publicity, namely, on Tuesday when the entire world was focused on the historic election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States.
In addition to being a prolific author, however, Crichton was an acclaimed scientist. In fact, it is my regard for his scientific work that has inspired me to pay this tribute to him.
Specifically, I found his academic challenge to the prevailing environmental orthodoxy on climate change so persuasive that I risked alienating the (political) affection of my liberal friends by publishing the following:
In his new and very timely book, State of Fear, Crichton dramatizes his doubts about the science of global warming in typically thrilling fashion. He dismisses findings by the National Academy of Science that industrial pollution is the cause of recent increases in global temperatures and presents his own interpretation of scientific data to support his doubts.
Crichton argues, amongst other things, that global warming and cooling are natural phenomena that have occurred in cycles since the beginning of time. Furthermore, he lampoons believers in global warming as uninformed, fad-obsessed herds being led by a cadre of myopic liberal media and intellectual elite.
[Global Warming or just Hot Air, The iPINIONS Journal, February 16, 2005]
But given my reliance on Crichton’s gravitas to proselytize my global warming iconoclasm, I am exceedingly glad that he lived long enough to witness our vindication. After all, mainstream media were replete in recent weeks with headlines heralding the advent of a new cycle of global cooling.
More to the point, since he was probably too ill to comment publicly, I am especially pleased that I marked the occasion in a commentary published here on October 21, 2008 entitled Global cooling? Yes!
Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand. (Family statement)
Crichton died of cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 66.
Global Warming or just Hot Air
Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 9:04 AM
I hope Obama has the courage, ambition and desire to heed this historic calling.
[It's TIME: Run Obama run, The iPINIONS Journal, December 20, 2006]
I expect the groundswell of support for Obama to increase so significantly over the final two weeks of this campaign that he will end up with more Americans voting for him than for any other candidate in US history.
[Obama wins the most coveted endorsement of US presidential campaign: Gen Colin Powell, The iPINIONS Journal, October 20, 2008]
The election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States invokes such obvious symbolism, sentimentality and hope that I see no point in waxing lyrical about it. Rather, I shall suffice to note how truly proud I am today.
(Although, I cannot help observing that the tears streaming down the face of Rev. Jesse Jackson on this historic occasion were probably as wistful as they were joyful….)
For the record, Obama won with 64,593,704 votes and counting (i.e., 53% to 46%), which represents not only the most popular votes but also the most diverse votes ever won by any presidential candidate in US history. Significantly, he won in the all-important Electoral College by a resounding margin of 364 to 162.
In addition, Obama should be emboldened by the fact that his fellow Democrats picked up enough seats in the House and Senate to ensure passage of his legislative agenda. Of course, his agenda will invariably be modified by the infighting between liberal and moderate Democrats that is bound to ensue.
I’m sure the congenitally pragmatic Obama will save Congressional Democrats from lurching too far to the left…
[Conviction of Sen Ted Stevens is a bad omen for Republican, The iPINIONS Journal, October 28, 2008]
That said, I appreciate how important it is in this post-9/11 world for lame-duck President George W. Bush and President-Elect Obama to organize as seamless a transfer of power and transition in government as possible. After all, America is never more vulnerable than when it is passing through such political crossroads.
Therefore, I urge Obama to consider the political and national-security benefit of announcing immediately that he’s appointing John McCain (or another Republican with impeccable national-security credentials – like Sen Chuck Hagel) as US Secretary of Defense.
This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight. These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.
[Sen John McCain - in his dignified, gracious and hopeful concession speech last night]
Because such an appointment will honor his promise to appoint Republicans in his administration to help unite the country and bridge the do-nothing partisan divide in Washington. More to the point, it will also give notice to foreign enemies – who might be plotting to “test Obama”- that even though Obama would never start a war, McCain would be all too happy to advise him on how to deploy America’s superpower military to end it.
At the risk of raining on Obama’s parade, however, I feel constrained to note that despite being his most-ardent supporter when he was running for the presidency, I will be his most-ardent critic if he blows this historic opportunity.
After all, I remember well all of the hope Bill Clinton inspired when he was first elected in 1992. Yet it did not take long for him to dash those hopes – and it had nothing to do with his Oval-office antics with Monica Lewinsky. Instead, it was because he not only reneged on his seminal promise to reform healthcare, but also scapegoated welfare mothers to appease Southern Democrats and bombed a medicine factory in Sudan to detract from the mess he created with “that woman, Ms Lewinsky.”
So take heed my brother:
If, by the end of your first term, you have ended the Iraq war, redeemed America’s international reputation, implemented your healthcare program, and reduced the tax burden on the middle class, you’ll not only be guaranteed reelection in 2012, but you’ll also be well on the way to sealing your legacy as one of the greatest presidents in US history.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.
Good luck President-Elect Obama!
NOTE: Before last night, I had never heard a single white person refer to anyone with black and white parents as “still half white;” not even when Halle Berry became the first “black” woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002. Therefore, I found it curious how many white commentators went out of their way last night to remind us that “Barack Obama is half white”….
Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 5:06 AM
Trust me, no matter how much you’ve heard about long lines and other problems at polling stations, this is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to help make history.
So, if you haven’t already voted, get out there and demand that your vote be counted to help elect Barack Obama the first black president of the United States.
By the way, that goes especially for you young voters: then you won’t have to lie to your grandchildren someday about waiting in line for over eight hours, in an early-winter blizzard no less, to cast your vote in this historic election.
Yes we can!
Monday, November 3, 2008 at 5:19 AM
Hamilton had two superb chances (two weeks ago in China and today in Brazil) to complete his historic season by becoming the first rookie, not to mention the first black, to win F1′s coveted world title. But he choked. In fact, despite starting in the No. 2 position in today’s final race, and needing only to finish 5th to clinch the title, Hamilton came in 7th.
[Hamilton blows FI championship, The iPINIONS Journal Vol III, p. 162, October 21, 2007]
Well, I am proud (and relieved) to report that Lewis Hamilton, a 23-year-old Briton of Caribbean (Grenadian) heritage, redeemed himself yesterday by clinching this year’s Formula One (F1) championship in the final race of the season at Interlagos in Brazil. This means that he has now fulfilled the incredible promise of becoming not only the youngest but also the first black world champion in Grand Prix history.
It is noteworthy, however, that Hamilton accomplished this remarkable feat despite facing even greater odds and increased public pressure this year.
After all, in an uncanny coincidence, he needed to finish no lower than 5th once again to clinch the title. But, unlike last year, when he started from the comfortable No. 2 position yet ended up 7th, he started yesterday’s final race in the more difficult No. 4 position but ended up 5th – albeit owing as much to God’s grace as to his considerable skill.
That last corner, I managed to get past Timo Glock and I can only thank God for that – it’s amazing. It was one of the toughest races of my life – if not the toughest. [Lewis Hamilton]
Then, unfortunately, the racist behind-the-scene taunts he had to put up with last year from fellow drivers was compounded this year by even more sinister taunts from hostile crowds. These included everything from threatening epithets being hurled at him from the stands to a website called “Burst Hamilton Tyre“, where visitors routinely referred to him as a “nigger, half-breed and son of a bitch.”
Although, to be fair, there are probably just as many racists amongst the fans of NASCAR in America as there are amongst the fans of F1 worldwide – as we’ll no doubt find out as soon as a driver threatens to become the first black NASCAR champion.
At any rate, in addition to the physical challenge, just imagine the emotional stress Hamilton had to endure - having to deal with this racial hostility on the one hand and the jingoistic expectations of his fellow Britons on the other.
… The whole country is thrilled by his exceptional talent. The whole of Britain is now congratulating him, and is proud of the inspirational achievement of Lewis…. [Gordon Brown, Prime Minister]
Lewis is not just the youngest ever winner of the championship he is now officially a British sporting legend and a role model for what you can achieve if you follow your dream. [David Cameron, Conservative Leader]
Therefore, given all the baggage he was carrying, it’s no wonder Hamilton effectively backed into his world title. After all, with victories and brilliant performances in 17 previous races, he accumulated enough points to go into yesterday’s final race with a commanding seven-point lead. Yet he finished the season only one point ahead of Felipe Massa of Brazil – who actually won this race in front of impassioned hometown fans but could not disguise his disappointment over losing the coveted F1 championship.
Incidentally, if you don’t know Formula One from Formula 409, please take note:
F1 car racing is a sport that requires the steady hands of a surgeon, the daring skill of a jet fighter, and the physical stamina of a marathon runner.
Moreover, no sport can match the sustained thrill and nail-biting suspense one gets from watching those drivers navigate the zigs, zags, and hairpin-turns of a grand prix racetrack as they jockey for position at speeds exceeding 200 mph! And that yesterday’s historic race was contested in the pouring rain only made it more daring for the racers and more exciting for the spectators.
Naturally, given the uncanny similarities in racial background and precocious talent between Hamilton and Tiger Woods, the barons of Hamilton’s sport are banking that he will do for F1 racing what Woods has done for golf.
Not to mention that Hamilton now seems destined to eclipse Woods as the highest paid sportsman in the world – with a salary and commercial endorsements that are now expected to exceed $150 million per year. And I suspect this appealing fact is not lost on his American girlfriend, Nicole Scherzinger – lead singer of the burlesque group, the Pussycat Dolls.
It will be very interesting to see the effect. Lewis is a new character in F1 and he’s going to carry the sport into new areas. There will be a lot of kids out there who will now just want to be Lewis Hamilton. [Damon Hill, British 1996 FI Champion]
Finally, I cannot resist the hopeful symmetry that, just as Jackie Robinson becoming the first black to play in the Major leagues was a harbinger for Ralph Bunch becoming the first black to win the Nobel Prize, Hamilton becoming the first black to win a Formula One championship is a harbinger for Barack Obama becoming the first black elected president of the United States….
Congratulations Lewis … ride on brother!
Hamilton poised to win F1 championship in rookie season
Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 9:37 AM
Because the American people recognize that their future will be more secure with Barack Obama governing as a ”Karl-Marx” Democrat than with John McCain governing as a George-Bush Republican!
Vote early, and vote for Obama and the Democrats!