Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 5:15 AM
I believe there’s going to be a signed peace treaty [between the Israelis and Palestinians] by the time I leave office . . . I’m on a timetable . . . I’ve got 12 months.
(President George W. Bush, January 11, 2008)
Just weeks ago, President Bush went to Iraq hoping to be serenaded with gracious farewells from the Iraqis he claims he liberated. Instead, he had shoes thrown at him in a gesture of contempt usually reserved for the likes of Saddam Hussein.
Now, just when he probably thought his whimpering exit from the presidency could not get any more humiliating, the Israelis have made a mockery of his 2008 New Year’s resolution for peace in the Middle East by launching an “all-out war” against the Palestinians.
I appreciate how tempting it is these days to revel in every indignity Bush suffers. But I hope I demonstrated my objectivity in this respect by condemning the Iraqi who hurled his shoes at Bush and complimenting Bush for the agility he showed by ducking to avoid getting hit.
Nevertheless, as tragic as this latest outbreak of hostilities is between the Israelis and Palestinians (with a reported 370 Palestinians killed so far), the main point of this commentary pertains to how it reflects on Bush. Specifically, here’s what I wrote back in January when he made his fatuous “peace in [his] time” resolution:
It is generally accepted that US presidential candidates make promises they know they cannot keep. But it smacks of unconscionable and irresponsible pandering for a US president to do so.
[President Bush's "peace in [his] time” pipe dream, The iPINIONS Journal, January 11, 2008]
Of course when I criticized Bush back then for his Chamberlainian declaration, I had no idea that Israel would expose his pandering in such explosive fashion – as it did four days ago. But the fact is that anyone remotely familiar with the geo-political tensions in the Middle East, and with the patent inability of US presidents to affect them, knew full well that the chances of Bush pulling off an eleventh-hour peace treaty were zero to none.
Frankly, I knew it was only a matter of time before the Israelis and Palestinians reignited their warfare. And it hardly matters who or what triggered this latest episode – especially since the root cause of this perennial conflict dates back to Biblical times, and each side claims divine provenance for its actions.
For the record, however, Israel’s massive air strikes were clearly provoked by the barrage of rockets Hamas has been launching from the Gaza Strip into its civilian neighborhoods over the past three weeks. Yet there’s no denying that Israel was just looking for an excuse not only to redeem its notorious failure in June 2006 to rescue an Israeli soldier who remains in Hamas’ captivity, but also to avenge the feckless performance of its vaunted military a couple months later during its war against Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.
Meanwhile, any ceasefire will merely give both sides time to regroup and rearm to fight another day. Because this cycle of violence is such that not even the Almighty God could ever reconcile Hamas’ jihad to drive the Israelis from the Middle East with Israel’s categorical (and existential) imperative to defend itself.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 3:31 PM
In a move as socio-pathetic as it was politically strategic, beleaguered IL Gov Rod Blagojevich appointed former State Attorney General Roland Burris, 71, to fill Obama’s Senate seat.
This, despite assurances from his lawyer that he would heed admonitions by everyone from President-elect Barack Obama to the entire Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate that anyone he appoints would tainted and thus unacceptable.
Under these circumstances anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus. (Statement by Senate Democratic leaders)
But by announcing his choice, Blagojevich called their bluff:
I’m here to announce my intention to appoint an individual who has unquestioned integrity and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman in Illinois… Please don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man.
Burris then deftly pleaded his own case by noting, correctly, that notwithstanding the FBI’s complaint, Blagojevich was still legally entitled to make this appointment and that, accordingly, he has every intention of serving out Obama’s term in the Senate.
And if that were not persuasive or intimidating enough, revered Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) immediately praised Blagojevich’s decision and played the race card. Specifically, he warned the all-white members of the Senate that the last thing they want to do is block the doors of the U.S. Senate to deny this black man from entering – the way George Wallace once blocked the doors of the University of Alabama to deny two black students from enrolling.
At any rate, legally speaking, Blagojevich’s move is unassailable; and politically, it is shrewd – if only for the vexing dilemma it presents to his detractors.
Therefore, I predict Burris will serve….
Moreover, even though he won this battle, Blagojevich will eventually be not only impeached but also convicted on a battery of corruption charges, which will land him in prison for the rest of his life.
NOTE: If the Illinois legislature had called a special election (as I suggested in my original commentary on this unfolding situation), instead of dithering and quibbling over funding, they, Obama and Democratic leaders in the Senate would have been spared this untenable spectacle.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 5:31 AM
After the public humiliation she suffered for buying into James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (of lies) hook, line and sinker, Oprah Winfrey must be wondering about her literary Midas touch now that she’s been ensnared in yet another sensational literary hoax.
This time, the writer who duped her with a daring love story masquerading as his life story is Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat. In a nutshell, as reported in the New York Times:
Rosenblat and his wife [told Oprah] that he was a prisoner at a sub-camp of Buchenwald in Nazi Germany and she was a young Jewish girl whose family was pretending to be Christian and lived nearby.
For months, they would meet on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence, where she would sneak him apples and bread. Rosenblat was then transferred to another camp and the two lost touch, until the 1950s, when they were reunited by accident – on a blind date – in New York. They soon married and earlier this year celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
No doubt some of you will recall that I was amongst the few who dared to criticize Oprah for initially rushing to defend Frey, and her reputation, when his purported life story was exposed as pure fiction:
Given all of her talk about embracing one’s true self and living a blissful life of open confessions, one might’ve expected Oprah to feel betrayed, perhaps even humiliated, by this abuse of her reputation and trust. Instead, she blessed Frey’s fatuous plea about taking creative license with the truth and ignored the emotional toil his lies will undoubtedly have on her fans whose lives were “impacted” by his book.
[Oprah's book club scandal, The iPINIONS Journal, January 13, 2006]
Therefore, it might come as a surprise to learn that I am now amongst the few who are defending her. Because, frankly, I can see how anyone would be loath to question the personal story of a bona fide Holocaust survivor like Rosenblat. Moreover, I can see how – based solely on what little I’ve read – Oprah felt moved to describe it as:
The single greatest love story … we’ve ever told on the air.
Except that it is a lie. Though, admittedly, just a little white lie compared to the big lie that gave rise to another Holocaust hoax, the Hitler Diaries – in terms of literary and historical importance.
Specifically, Holocaust scholars note, amongst other things, that:
… the layout of the sub-camp made such an encounter at the fence virtually unthinkable… They would have met right by an SS barracks.
But by the time their misgivings were made public last week, Oprah had already given Rosenblat’s story her golden seal of approval, which enabled him to score a book (and a movie) deal as if by royal decree.
Nevertheless, clearly worried about getting “Freyed” again, the publishing world reacted viscerally, which torpedoed Rosenblat’s chance of peddling his lies into a bestseller too:
It is with heavy heart that I share what I learned today from my client, Herman Rosenblat, about his book, ‘Angel at the Fence.’ Herman revealed to me that part of his memoir was not true. He’d invented the crux of this amazing love story….
(Rosenblat’s agent, Andrea Hurst on Sunday)
Accordingly, the publisher, Penguin Books, voided his contract, canceled the scheduled February 2009 publication of his book (entitled Angel at the Fence), and demanded the return of all advances paid to him and his agent.
Meanwhile, reports about the movie coming soon to a theater near you are almost as misleading as Rosenblat’s story. After all, have you seen the movie version of Frey’s A Million Little Pieces yet…?
As for Oprah, she’s no doubt thankful to be on hiatus, planning her week of shows from DC to mark Barack Obama’s historic inauguration. But when she returns, I urge her not to waste any time making apologies for Rosenblat the way she did, initially, for Frey when his “life story” was exposed as a book of lies. She has done nothing wrong….
Yet, given these stunning developments, it seems a gross oversight that she has not instructed one of her minions at HARPO to update the segment on her website which features Oprah extolling Rosenblat’s romantic lies as a one of life’s “love lessons“.
NOTE: Herman’s wife, Roma, seems to have been a very willing accomplice in this fraudulent enterprise. Therefore, please direct a fair share of your indignation at her….
Defending Frey, dissing Oprah…
Monday, December 29, 2008 at 5:55 AM
Harold Pinter was such an accomplished playwright that here’s how the Nobel Academy regaled him as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005:
Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles. With a minimum of plot, drama emerges from the power struggle and hide-and-seek of interlocution.
Yet there’s no denying that this British playwright, screenwriter, poet, actor, and director won far greater acclaim for his criticism of the Iraq war than for any of his 32 plays, including The Caretaker and The Homecoming, or for any of his 22 screenplays, including The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Trial. In fact, one could be forgiven the impression that he was being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 given the following excerpt from his acceptance speech:
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law…How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?
[The United States is guilty of] supporting every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after World War II… The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.
Frankly, even I – who was at least aware of the acclaim he had won for his literary works – felt that his voice was never more poignant and resonant than when he was denouncing “the overweening arrogance of American power”.
Therefore, I heartily endorsed the way my favorite interviewer, Charlie Rose, prefaced a discussion of Pinter’s criticism of the Iraq war in an interview he conducted with the playwright on March 1, 2007:
It is impossible to talk about Harold Pinter the artist without talking about Harold Pinter the political activist. For some of his political beliefs have become as noteworthy as his literature. And a few suggest that he received the Nobel Prize in part for his political beliefs. Pinter feels that the expression of his political views is not only appropriate but his duty.
Indeed, this could serve as a fitting epitaph for Pinter who died of cancer on Christmas Eve. He is survived by his wife, the equally acclaimed writer Lady Antonia Fraser. Pinter was 78.
Monday, December 29, 2008 at 5:46 AM
Eartha Kitt was one of few entertainers to win accolades in show business as a triple threat, namely, as an accomplished singer, dancer and actor. In fact, nothing affirmed her multifaceted talent in this respect quite like the fact that she was nominated for the Grammy, Tony and Emmy awards.
Yet curiously enough, Kitt will probably be remembered most for the signature feline growl she fused into many of her songs, which of course was her way of paying homage to the most celebrated role she played as Catwoman in the 1960s Batman TV series.
What few people realize, however, is that Kitt was as condemned by her peers for opposing the war in Vietnam as (Harold) Pinter was celebrated by his for opposing the war in Iraq. Granted, she may have incited her own condemnation when she impetuously damned President Lyndon Johnson for waging this war at a White House luncheon hosted by his wife Lady Bird Johnson.
Specifically, according to the New York Times, when Lady Bird Johnson invited Kitt to share her thoughts on the unavoidable topic of the Vietnam war, which at the time was threatening not only to derail her husband’s presidency but also to rip the country asunder, Kitt provoked the First Lady to tears by purring as follows:
You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.
Meanwhile, the biracial Kitt – who married a white man when interracial marriages were still illegal in as many as 16 states – incurred the wrath of blacks worldwide by touring South Africa in 1984. Frankly, she became the pinup girl for Ronald Regan’s fatuous policy of constructive engagement with the Apartheid government of South Africa by proclaiming – rather naively, if not impudently – that she was touring the country to “wean the regime by raising awareness of racism”.
Nevertheless, she has clearly won a place in the pantheon of legendary divas alongside the likes of Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge.
Kitt died on Christmas day of cancer. She was 81.
NOTE: I would like to think that God’s sense of humor is such that He would’ve had Kitt perform her huge hit “Santa Baby” as soon as she entered the Pearly Gates.
Death of famous people…
Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 6:32 AM
Gov Patterson still trying to see how appointing Caroline to replace Hillary can benefit him politically
Caroline Kennedy: heir to a seat in the US Senate…?
Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 7:08 AM
The bad news is that we’re suffering an unprecedented global recession. But the good news is that this might finally force some of us to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 5:05 AM
I defended Barack Obama when right-wing critics were trying to derail his presidential campaign by tarring him with the incendiary black-liberation rhetoric of his pastor, Rev Jeremiah Wright. And no one was prouder when he was elected as the first black president of the United States.
That is why it pains me to have to join the chorus of those now criticizing him for choosing Rev Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration next month.
Rev Warren, of course, is the author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of the purportedly progressive megachurch in Saddleback, California. More to the point, he wields so much religious influence in America today that both presidential nominees felt obliged to seek his political blessing.
Unfortunately, Rev Warren recently betrayed whatever reputation he had for social and political enlightenment by proselytizing the notion that:
The redefinition of marriage to include gay marriage would be like legitimizing incest, child abuse and polygamy.
And he hardly redeemed himself by later insisting that he loves gays, which smacks of the canard -”hate the sin, love the sinner” – that narrow-minded evangelicals like Pat Robertson spew from the pulpit to rationalize their bigotry. (Or, as Obama might more readily appreciate, this is rather like a white bigot insisting that some of his best friends are black.)
Therefore, no matter how the president-elect and his advisers spin his choice of Rev Warren for this historic honor, it still reeks of pandering to a bigot for pedestrian political purposes.
I think Rick Warren’s comments, comparing same-sex relationships to incest, is deeply offensive, wildly inaccurate and very socially disruptive…
Being singled out to give the prayer at the inauguration is a high honor. It has traditionally been given as a mark of great respect. And, yes, I think it was wrong to single him out for this mark of respect.
(Congressman Barney Frank D-MA, the first openly gay member of Congress)
For the record, Obama claims that he invited Warren to reinforce his “come-let-us-reason-together” political philosophy. But he could have chosen from amongst thousands of pastors who oppose same-sex marriages but do not espouse Warren’s contemptible and inhumane views of gays – who are still fighting for the civil rights we all take for granted.
Unfortunately, this invitation suggests that Obama is either every bit as naïve as John McCain insisted or even more impressed with his own political righteousness than Hillary Clinton protested. And, frankly, I do not know which is more troubling….
I think [President-elect Obama] overestimates his ability to take people, particularly our colleagues on the right, and, sort of, charm them into being nice… And so, to be honest, when he talks about being post-partisan, having seen these people and knowing what they would do in that situation, I suffer from post-partisan depression.
Congressman Barney Frank
Finally, for a little perspective, imagine the national outrage if then President Bill Clinton, claiming a desire to promote greater academic freedom and intellectual debate in his second term, had chosen Charles Murray, celebrated political scientist and author of the best-selling book The Bell Curve, to lead the nation in reciting the pledge of allegiance at his inauguration?
After all, in this book, Murray imputed scientific reasoning to the eugenic fiction that there is a positive correlation between the white race and intelligence and, naturally, a negative one between the black race and intelligence.
My last word on the Rev Wright media farce
Monday, December 22, 2008 at 5:25 AM
Last week, Jacob Zuma – the man generally expected to be the next president of South Africa – aped Muslim jihadists by unleashing a pack of lawyers on ”Zapiro” – the nom de plume of his country’s most celebrated political cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro.
Zuma claims that the Zapiro cartoon pictured above “injured his dignity and reputation“, and he’s demanding Shapiro’s life savings (though a pound of flesh is undoubtedly preferred) in compensation.
It is a fact however that Zuma has gotten off with raping a woman who regarded him as her father and with racketeering and other financial crimes that would humble most Russian oligarchs.
Therefore, Zapiro’s depiction of him raping the South African justice system is as fair and accurate as any cartoon can be.
At any rate, Zapiro will defend himself by invoking the universal freedom of the press to comment on the public lives of public figures. Not to mention that truth is an absolute defense to claims of defamation.
Meanwhile, the reason he depicts Zuma with that shower nozzle sticking out of his head is that, at his rape trial in 2006, Zuma said, rather indignantly, that he had showered after having sex with his accuser (even though he knew she was HIV-positive) to prevent transmission of the virus.
(Of course, when he begins manifesting symptoms of the virus, he will probably shun Anti-Retroviral drugs in favor of the garlic and beetroot concoction the South African government has been peddling in recent years as a panacea for HIV/AIDS.)
But Zuma’s efforts to silence Zapiro – aided by the rabble-rousing trade unionists (COSATU) and unreformed communists (SACP) who have turned the ruling ANC from a governing coalition into a band of rebels – should serve as a dire warning of what South Africa will become under his leadership.
This is why the founding of a new party last week – by enlightened and progressive former members of the ANC - to cope is cause for such hope.
Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 6:16 AM
Unfortunately, given the “swindler’s list” of those who were victimized by Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion scam, I suspect the Jewish communities of New York, Palm Beach and Los Angeles have far less to celebrate this Hanukkah season.
Therefore, here’s to a special prayer of good cheer for them….
Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 7:30 AM
Because shoe him once, shame on you, shoe him twice … can’t get shoe’d again !
Friday, December 19, 2008 at 2:01 AM
I suspect people all over the Caribbean, if not the entire world, are thinking that the political farce still unfolding in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) could never happen in their country.
Therefore, in defense of my mother country, I feel obliged to begin this commentary by noting the following:
The parliamentary procedures and Machiavellian machinations that TCI politicians (of both parties) deployed this week to oust Premier Hon. Dr Michael Misick are eerily similar to those that US politicians (of both parties) deployed at the very same time to oust Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Moreover, for non-TCIslanders who probably know far more about Gov Blagojevich’s character and alleged misdeeds than about Premier Misick’s, suffice it to know that evidence suggests Misick is even more venal, amoral and delusional than Blagojevich. This is why TCIslanders are far more frustrated and dismayed than Illinoisans are that all efforts to date to get rid of their respective leaders have failed.
That said, I appreciate the consternation expressed by the surprising number of people who have e-mailed asking me to explain the implications of this week’s political activities in the TCI. But, at the risk of causing further frustration and dismay, I really think all of what has transpired is much ado about nothing.
After all, even if members of the opposition People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) were successful in their attempt to pass a “Vote of No Confidence Motion” in Parliament, and even if the nine of 13 members of the ruling Progressive National Party (PNP) were successful in their attempt to replace Premier Misick with a marginally less-compromised minister, it would have resulted in no material change in the governance of our country. Indeed, the effect of all political maneuvering in the TCI these days is tantamount to rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
These politicians seem oblivious to the fact that the people of the TCI lost confidence in all of them long ago. Indeed, this is the reason why there’s so much interest amongst our people in the ongoing Commission of Inquiry “into whether there is information that corruption or other serious dishonesty in relation to past and present elected members [of both parties] of the House of Assembly may have taken place in recent in years”.
More to the point, every sensible TCIslander knows that the future of our country (at least in the short term) will be determined not by local politicians but by the British government – based on the findings and recommendations of this Commission.
Meanwhile, the British have already put our country into financial receivership: having dispatched administrators a few weeks ago to “oversee all financial operations”. And I have no doubt that the Commission’s final report will compel them to put us into political receivership: by imposing an Interim Government while they help us sort out the economic and political mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Therefore, with all due respect to fellow commentators on these matters, it only foments idle speculation to suggest that our local politicians can do anything (including conspiring to form a new power-sharing government) to frustrate or terminate the work of the Commission. Likewise, it smacks of impudent impatience to continue badgering the British to impose an Interim Government before the Commission issues its report.
Accordingly, please rest assured that the Commission will complete its mandate pursuant to the terms of reference former Governor Richard Tauwhare delineated in his decree of 10 July 2008. In this respect, it will convene public hearings next month at which government officials will be summoned to account for their sudden accumulation of wealth and to answer for all manner of alleged misdeeds.
Incidentally, let me hasten to note that the British are not engaged in this politically sensitive undertaking just because of some neo-colonial (or paternalistic) imperative. Instead, they are acting pursuant to their constitutional responsibility to ensure good governance in our country and to limit their own mounting contingent liabilities – as I have proffered in many related commentaries.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to commend the nine members of the PNP who finally dared to cross party lines this week to join the chorus of those calling on Premier Misick to resign. Alas, the Commission renders their belated heroism moot.
In fact, here’s the entreaty I made to them in this regard over a year ago – in a 5 October 2007 commentary entitled “Alas, throwing Premier Misick overboard is necessary to save the TCI”:
I suspect there are conscientious and informed PNP ministers who know that our people’s grievances are well-founded… Moreover, these ministers know that the Premier’s short-sighted strategy for economic development, which seems predicated on exploiting cheap foreign labour instead of employing local workers, is enough to make all patriotic TCIslanders disillusioned and disaffected with his leadership….
Most troubling of all, however, is the growing realisation that Premier Misick’s gamble – of building our economy on beachfront resorts – now looms like a house of cards. Therefore, I caution all members of the ruling PNP to consider carefully whether blind loyalty to this Premier is worth risking their careers, if not their freedom, for.
Accordingly, I entreat the honourable members of the PNP to follow the instructive precedent set by the members of Nixon’s inner circle – who threw him overboard to save their ship of state.
Unfortunately, it shall be recorded as only an interesting footnote in the shameful annals of PNP rule that, just two weeks after I made this entreaty, the party’s executive members sent a letter (dated 18 October 2007) to the Premier threatening to replace him as party leader if he did not change his leadership style. (A copy of this letter was published by TCI Net News on 16 August 2008.)
On the other hand, it shall stand as a historic failure of nerve that, despite this letter, these PNP executive members did absolutely nothing when their advice fell on deaf ears; in fact, the record shows that Premier Misick merely escalated the nature of his irresponsible and dictatorial leadership.
So here we are, and the only thing for any of them to do now is to cooperate fully with the Commission and await their fate.
As for the rest of us, please be patient and let our British overseers do their job!
With that, I wish all of you a MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Today at 4:48 pm: Reports are that the British Governor of the TCI has just adjourned Parliament sine die (i.e., indefinitely).
Frankly, it is an indication of how not only corrupt but also dysfunctional our local government has become that the governor felt compelled to put us into political receivership even before the Commission issues its final report.
At any rate, this should give the British plenty of time to complete their Commission of Inquiry, indict and prosecute corrupt government officials and install an Interim Government to supervise our national recovery – without any further distraction from local politicians.
My guess is that this process will take anywhere from six months to two years. So again, please be patient….
Alas, throwing Premier Misick overboard is necessary to save the TCI
The case for an Interim Government in the TCI
Premier warned by party executive about misconduct in 2007
TCI Commission of Inquiry: no further comment
Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 5:15 AM
Yesterday, Caroline Kennedy displayed about as much political gravitas in launching her campaign to become a US senator as Sarah Palin did in launching her campaign to become vice president.
Which makes the prospect of Governor Patterson of New York coronating Caroline to the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton (just because of her “royal” heritage) almost as unseemly as Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois selling the seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder.
Therefore, I hope Gov Patterson will show real profile in courage by disabusing Caroline of her fairytale dream of effectively inheriting a seat in the US Senate without much further ado.
After all, this is hardly the kind of royal (or dynastic) ambition we’d want our children to aspire to here in the 21st Century. Not to mention that there are far too many, far more qualified candidates who have been campaigning for years for the opportunity to become a US senator from New York.
That said, my reliable cynicism informs me that Caroline’s fairytale will come true….
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 5:25 AM
They should please not choose someone of whom most of us would be ashamed. Our country deserves better. We’re very worried that [Zuma] had relations with a woman who regarded him as a parent; and, although he is very likable, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What is happening in the ANC?’”
(Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
Alas, despite Archbishop Tutu’s admonition, delegates attending a seminal leadership conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) – almost a year ago today – chose accused rapist (and indicted thief) Jacob Zuma over President Thabo Mbeki to be their leader.
The reason for Tutu’s plea of course was that, if he became ANC leader, Zuma’s election in 2009 as the next president of South Africa would be a foregone conclusion - with all of the national shame that would entail.
What he could not have imagined, however, was that delegates who shared his disaffection for Zuma and his disillusionment with the ANC would split from their liberation party to form one founded on more progressive and pragmatic principles to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Yet that is precisely what a prominent group of Mbeki loyalists, led by former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, did on Tuesday by inaugurating the Congress of the People (COPE) party. In fact, Lekota sounded COPE’s clarion call by lamenting the manner in which Mbeki was ousted and declaring Zuma unfit to lead South Africa.
Specifically, Lekota said that the new party was formed because:
South Africa was suffering from a crisis of leadership and because of concerns for the moral decay in our body politic.
And in his inaugural speech as COPE’s first president, he promised that:
The history of South Africa will never be the same again… Ours shall be a truly non-racial party that will provide a true home to all South Africans irrespective of race, class or gender.
Of course, few people expect Lekota and COPE to upset Zuma and the ANC in next year’s general elections; although, an endorsement of either party from Mbeki and the ANC’s most revered and respected member, Nelson Mandela, could prove decisive.
But it is an indication of the challenge they face that Lekota decried ANC tactics that were preventing many ANC members from joining his party as follows:
[I]ntimidation and paralysing fear are now gripping sections of our society — and I mean fear identical to that of the John Vorster and PW Botha [Apartheid] era.
Still, it would not surprise me if COPE and South Africa’s main opposition party until now, the Democratic Alliance, perform well enough to form a coalition government.
For now though, it is newsworthy enough to hail this new party as a sure sign that, despite its many growing pains, South Africa is growing into a robust and resilient democracy.
South Africa hails new leader: Zuma, Zuma, Zuma
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 5:38 AM
If the banking crisis has not convinced you that Wall Street is populated by a bunch of arrogant, greedy and amoral shysters, then the Ponzi scheme now unfolding should.
After all, reports are that Bernie Madoff, the erstwhile “pillar of Wall Street”, swindled $50 billion from a motley crew of rich folks, from Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to purportedly sophisticated fund managers, by promising returns (of 15 to 22%) on their money that not even the Almighty God could guarantee.
Apropos the God reference, it does seem rather miraculous that Madoff managed to dupe so many people for so many years by doing nothing more than “stealing from Peter to Pay Paul”. (It is rather fitting that his last name is pronounced “made off”- as in: he made off with a whole lotta loot!) In fact, it is a measure of how successful he was in luring suckers into his scheme that stories abound about the number of people whose money he refused to take; i.e., you had to audition for the privilege of having Bernie steal from you.
Meanwhile, the scope of Madoff’s fraud is such that it is on track to surpass the one perpetrated by the snake-oil salesmen at Enron, which – at $60 billion – stands as the biggest in US history.
I am mindful, however, that to delve too much into this sap story would be to indulge in the most unseemly form of schadenfreude – especially since his victims include worthy charities and pension funds that have lost their entire endowments.
Yet, it would be remiss of me not to observe that Madoff would not have been so successful if a bunch of greedy rich folks were not so eager to become even richer. Not to mention that if the heads of many banks in America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East had been content to earn their money the old-fashioned way (like Smith Barney), Madoff would’ve been scheming only with millions, not tens of billions of dollars.
I also feel obliged to note that this scandal confirms my abiding suspicion that much of the US financial market is little more than a house of cards, in which croupiers with MBAs continually shuffle decks to determine winners and losers…
Let us hope that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling’s sublime fate disabuses all white-collar criminals of their patently fatuous presumption that – because they swindle billions from stock portfolios and pension plans – they are somehow smarter and more honorable than street thugs who steal nickels and dimes (by comparison) from banks and purses.
[Enron's masters of the universe found guilty as sin, The iPINIONS Journal, May 26, 2006 ]
Unfortunately, as P.T. Barnum folklore has it:
There’s a sucker born every minute.
Incidentally, last week, after investors became spooked by the ongoing global financial crisis and started demanding billions, Madoff reportedly felt compelled to confess to his sons that his reputation as an investment genius was “all just one big lie”; that his business was insolvent for years; that he was “finished and had absolutely nothing”; that “there is no innocent explanation”; and that he “expected to go to jail”.
His sons, who evidently knew nothing about his scam, turned him in to the FBI. He has been charged and is currently holed up in his swank New York City apartment on $10 million bail….
NOTE: Given the unprecedented level of this fraud, I hereby declare that we should retire Mr Ponzi and henceforth refer to the scheme that bears his name as a “Madoff scheme”. More importantly, I have no doubt that Madoff, 70, will be convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison – if he doesn’t opt instead to take the coward’s way out….
Enron’s masters of the universe found guilty as sin
Monday, December 15, 2008 at 5:44 AM
[Author's Note: The following was published at 2:30 pm yesterday as an update to my original article - on Obama insisting that the US has only one president at a time and Bush trying desperately to seem relevant - which was published earlier at 5:19 am.]
Poor George, he just can’t get no respect.
After all, during a press conference, at which he and Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki heralded a long-term security agreement between the US and Iraq, President Bush was forced to duck for cover after an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes (both of them) at the beleaguered president. And, evidently to add insult to injury, this shoe bomber reportedly shouted:
This is your farewell kiss … from the widows and orphans you killed in Iraq … you dog.
Clearly, this is not what Bush had in mind when he insisted – at the beginning of the Iraq war – that Iraqis will greet him as a liberator.
In fact, it speaks volumes that – even with the most powerful army in the world guarding him – Bush dares not venture outside Iraq’s Green Zone, which is more fortified than Fort Knox. By contrast, his nemesis, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travels without fear all over the country. And, ironically, it is he who is greeted everywhere as a liberator.
Meanwhile, in Iraqi culture, hurling a shoe at someone is worse than saying “F*** you, you son of a bitch!” And I have no doubt that this avenging Iraqi was expressing the simmering rage and contempt of millions of others in his country and throughout the Arab world.
Of course, the irony should not be lost on anyone that the only other person deemed worthy to suffer such international humiliation was former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In his case, however, it was Saddam’s statue, not he himself, that was the target of the contemptuous shoe kiss off….
At any rate, Bush deserves commendation for displaying such impressive agility by dodging those shoes that came at him like US cruise missiles.
Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 5:19 AM
For all practical purposes, Barack Obama is commanding media attention as if he were already president of the United States, which, alas, gives George W. Bush yet another dubious distinction, namely, of being the most lame-duck president in US history.
But with Congress refusing to bailout the auto industry, Bush now has one last opportunity to seem relevant and redeem his presidency. Because he can save this industry by ordering his secretary of the treasury to bailout Detroit’s big 3 with left-over funds from the $700 billion Congress appropriated recently to bailout the banking industry.
Now, if only Bush can do something dramatic to remind the media that HE is still the president - like flying off to say “adios suckers” to the disgruntled troops he sent to Iraq…?
Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 5:47 AM
In a manner eerily reminiscent of the way young people rioted all over Paris, France in 2005 to protest their political, social and economic frustrations, young people have been rioting all over Athens, Greece for seven-consecutive days now to express similar grievances.
Granted, the riots in Athens were sparked by the shooting and killing of a 15-year old student by the police. And the immediate outpouring of sympathy over this incident was overwhelming and even riotous.
Yet there’s no denying that fellow students venting emotional grief soon gave way to alienated youths venting political grievances in a “destructive mania” that has already caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and scores of injuries.
And even though this transition seems to have been lost on Conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, most Greek politicians are acutely aware of the issues that are fueling these riots:
It is clear that this wave of discontent will not die down. This rage is spreading because the underlying causes remain…. These protests are a vehicle with which people can claim their rights and shatter indifference and false promises. (Opposition politician Leonidas Kyrkos)
But I warned it would be thus. In fact, here’s what I wrote over three years ago:
[T]he riots in France should serve notice on other developed nations that have relegated [the poor] to ghettos where crime and every order of vice pervade…These riots demonstrate what little spark it takes for the simmering resentment that burns in ghettos to set nearby cities ablaze and terrorize an entire country… There but for the grace of God…
[World beware: French riots affect us all, The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2005]
Specifically, reports are that the young people in Athens are protesting the widening gap between rich and poor, lack of job prospects and pension reform that threatens their future welfare.
Apropos my warning, riots are spreading throughout Spain, Italy and other countries as young people are taking to the streets “to attack targets of economic oppression” in solidarity with their Greek comrades. And where this will end, nobody knows….
For example, I can imagine nothing breeding more alienation amongst the poor in America than having the government dole out $700 billion in taxpayer money to Wall Street bankers (no matter the justification or rationalization) but refuse to loan a mere $14 billion to Main Street automakers (with millions of blue-collar jobs on the line).
More to the point, if the big 3 automakers go bankrupt as result of this refusal, it would not surprise me if the children of laid-off auto workers (or the workers themselves) begin rioting in the streets to vent their resentment and frustrations.
World beware: French riots affect us all
Friday, December 12, 2008 at 5:14 AM
At an extraordinary summit in Cuba this week, leaders of all countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) called on President-elect Barack Obama to lift America’s nearly 50-year embargo against their host country.
As we gather today in Cuba, the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America is still in place… The Caribbean community hopes that the transformational change which is underway in the United States will finally relegate that measure to history. (Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, CARICOM president)
I have written a number of commentaries calling on American presidents, including Bill Clinton, to relegate this embargo to history. For example, here’s what I wrote on January 24, 2006 in one entitled President Bush, seal your legacy: Lift the embargo against Cuba:
Advocates for America’s puerile, inhumane and hypocritical policy towards Cuba invariably cite Fidel Castro’s dictatorship as justification for sustained hostilities. But all one has to do is cite China – with whose dictators the U.S. courts a very beneficial relationship – to dismiss this justification as demonstrably specious….
Nevertheless, I find it ironic, if not misguided, that CARICOM leaders traveled to Cuba – in an unprecedented show of unity – for this elusive purpose.
After all, MY call was always tempered by my hope that a fully integrated CARICOM would be firmly established to compete economically (and politically) in the region with a Cuba unbound by the perennial restrictions the US has placed on its growth.
Yet here we had all of the leaders of a congenitally fractious CARICOM advocating for a cause that is sure to hasten the economic demise of their respective countries. Indeed, its member states are notorious for the zero-sum fighting over tourism and off-shore financial services that has prevented their integration.
CARICOM leaders pose with host Raul Castro for the “family photo” in front of Jose Marti monument in Santa Efigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba: (L to R front) Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo; Dominica’s PM Roosevelt Skerrit; Barbados PM David Thompson; Antigua and Barbuda’s PM Baldwin Spencer; Cuba’s President Raul Castro; Bahmas’ PM Hubert Ingraham; Belize’s PM Dean Barrow; Grenada’s PM Tillman Thomas and Haiti’s President Rene Preval. (L to R back) Association of Caribbean States representative Fernando Andrade; Trinidad & Tobago’s PM Patrick Manning; Saint Lucia’s PM Stephenson King; Saint Kitts & Nevis PM Denzil Douglas; jamaica’s PM Bruce Golding; St Vincent & the Granedines PM Ralph Gonsalves; Suriname’s President Ronald Venetiaan; Caricom’s President Edwin Carrington and Oriental Caribbean States organization representative Len Ismael.
Meanwhile, the irony seemed completely lost on them that they were attending a summit to discuss economic ties with a country that not only poses a far greater threat to their economies than the global financial crisis but also looms as yet another cause for more zero-sum fighting.
Specifically, CARICOM countries are already reeling from the loss of remittances (from Caribbean nationals working in America) and tourism revenues as a result of the economic recession in the US. And the large sucking sound that will be heard throughout our region if this embargo is lifted will be American tourists abandoning the Caribbean for more exotic, and cheaper, vacations in Cuba.
More to the point, President-elect Barack Obama has already declared that, like every other president over the past 50 years, he has no intention of lifting the embargo against Cuba – unless Cuba becomes a bona fide democracy, which nobody expects any time soon. In fact, he has promised only to lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba.
Of course this suits Fidel (of nine lives) and his brother Raul just fine. Indeed, the wily Castros must thank their lucky stars for the double standard that has governed political and moral outrage against this embargo. Because those who condemn American leaders have invariably granted the Castros absolution despite the fact that Fidel and Raul have imposed a 50-year embargo on their own people – in terms of travel, freedom of expression and other basic human rights – that has been even more oppressive than the US embargo.
But it must have seemed an insult to his visiting Caribbean comrades when Raul greeted them at the opening of this summit by declaring that Cuba is “prepared to battle the embargo for another 50 years”. Frankly, one wonders why CARICOM leaders coordinated this highly publicized trip to make such a patently quixotic, adversarial and futile call. After all, this is hardly the way to begin a constructive relationship with the US president-elect.
Instead, their time would have been far better spent holding a summit in a member state for the sole purpose of discussing ways of lobbying Obama to amend his pending legislation Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act. Because this Act contains provisions that could prove even more devastating to our regional economies than the fallout from this global financial crisis or the loss of tourism market share to Cuba.
Never mind the perennial dithering among these leaders (since 1973) over the categorical imperative of integrating our regional economies to better withstand the other looming effects of globalization….
Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 7:02 AM
[Author's Note: The following was published at 3:30 pm yesterday as an update to my original article, on this unfolding scandal, which was published earlier at 5:28 am.]
It seems my worst fears about Jesse Jr are being realized. Because his lawyer has just confirmed that Blagojevich was, in fact, referring to Jesse Jr when he was caught on wiretaps saying the following:
We were approached ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him [Senate Candidate No. 5, namely, Jesse Jr] a senator.
Of course the lawyer insisted that Jesse Jr did not authorize anyone to approach the Governor on his behalf and had no knowledge about anyone doing so under any circumstances.
For his own part, Jesse Jr issued the following denial:
It is impossible for someone on my behalf to have a conversation that would suggest any type of quid pro quo or any payments or offers… [It's] an impossibility to an absolute certainty. (Jesse Jr to ABC News)
Despite his emphatic denial, however, I’m afraid Jesse Jr has become too ensnared and tainted by this unfolding political and criminal scandal to keep any hope alive of being either appointed or elected to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate. And that’s a damn shame !
Frankly, I suspect Jesse Jr retained this lawyer not to help him with political damage control as much as to insulate him from any criminal exposure he might suffer as a result of his behind-the-scenes efforts to get this Senate seat.