Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 7:23 AM
Friday, December 30, 2011 at 6:49 AM
My support for him is as strong as ever and, despite all of the kvetching by progressives and demonizing by conservatives, I predict he’ll be reelected in a Reagan-style landslide.
(In support of Obama: my abiding … HOPE, The iPINIONS Journal, August 12, 2011)
First and foremost I think Obama should be reelected based solely on his record of accomplishments. In fact, even though Republicans roundly condemned him as an uppity braggart, none of them challenged his assertion recently that only three presidents could boast of similar accomplishments during their first term.
Nonetheless, I am mindful that, with Democrats doing almost as much as Republicans to foil his pragmatic agenda, Obama has been looking a lot like Wile Coyote lately: beep, beep.
We are in for some of the dirtiest and most divisive campaigning in U.S. history, and that’s just among Republican presidential candidates vying for their party’s nomination. But when all is said and done, I am convinced that even some Republican-leaning voters will think twice about helping to perpetrate the historic spectacle of reelecting George W. Bush to a second term – after he nearly bankrupted the country with his tax cuts for the rich and unfunded wars, but denying Obama a second term – despite his bipartisan efforts to clean up the mess Bush left behind.
Besides, trust me folks, race matters. This is why disappointed supporters like actor Matt Damon, as well as white independents whose votes are so indispensable, will also think twice about causing this first black president to go down in history as a failure – especially given all of the mediocre white presidents who cruised to second terms.
Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 6:29 AM
Even before Trump, Pawlenty, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney turned the Republican nomination process into a political version of the biggest loser, here is what I predicted would be the end result:
He may not send a thrill up and down the spine of the Tea Partiers and religious (anti-Mormon) nuts who comprise the base, but there are enough sensible people still in that party who recognize that only one candidate has a prayer against Obama next year, and it’s Mitt.
(And the Republican nominee is…, The iPINIONS Journal, September 9, 2011)
Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 7:14 AM
Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 7:09 AM
Given that North Koreans know their national suffering will only continue under Kim’s son and successor, Kim Jong-un, it may be that they are wailing not just Kim’s death but their cursed fate as well.
(Kim Jong-il, dictator of the hermit kingdom, is dead, December 20, 2011)
Kim Jong-il … is dead
Monday, December 26, 2011 at 7:04 AMIt is a curious thing that so many black Americans – who insist on calling themselves African Americans – know so little about their American heritage, and even less about their African ancestry. But this is probably because “black pride” is about as ethereal and subjective as religious faith….
Nonetheless, just as Martin Luther King Jr. taught us the objective value of judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, I humbly suggest that racial pride should be based not on the assumption of things unseen but on substance of deeds done.
And, it is in this spirit of racial enlightenment that I celebrate Kwanzaa (December 26 to January 1).
Accordingly, I pay homage to the Afrocentric Dr Maulana Kerenga who founded this holiday in 1966 “not to substitute for Christmas” but to reaffirm what it is to be of African ancestry.
More importantly, if all black people endeavored to live according to the seven guiding principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa, then having black pride would entail far more than spouting off hollow rhetoric:
1. Umoja (oo-MO-jah) Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, “I am We” or “I am because We are.”
2. Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah) Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.
3. Ujima (oo-GEE-mah) Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to play in the community, society, and world.
4. Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah) Cooperative economics emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.
5. Nia (NEE-yah) Purpose encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
6. Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) Creativity makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.
7. Imani (ee-MAH-nee) Faith focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.
In fact, given these guiding principles, I think we would do well to observe Kwanzaa the way Jews observe Hanukkah.
And once black pride becomes sufficiently actualized, perhaps then black Americans could assign the affirmative-action dispensation that is “Black History Month” to Hispanics – until they evolve to a point where Hispanic pride renders “Hispanic History Month” so redundant as to be absurd as well….
Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 7:40 PM
Friday, December 23, 2011 at 6:15 PM
Jesters were used in plays and other forms of entertainment to highlight the folly in prevailing thoughts and customs of the day long before William Shakespeare patented this literary device.
Therefore, it seems entirely fitting that it took jesters on the comedy show Seinfeld to highlight the blithe spirit with which we have made Christmas a celebration more of crass commercialism than of the birth of Christ. For it was on this show that most Christians worldwide were first introduced to the celebration of “Festivus for the rest of us.”
Festivus, which is celebrated on December 23, began in 1965 as a family ritual in the home of writer Dan O’Keefe. And, interestingly enough, it was his son Daniel, a writer for Seinfeld, who wove the entire history and meaning of Festivus into the December 18, 1997 episode of the show.
I saw this episode, and can attest to the fact that the uproarious laughter all references to Festivus elicited was surpassed only by the cunning messages about the real meaning of Christmas that I felt compelled to ponder long after it ended.
Ironically, Festivus is a wholly secular attempt to remind us that Jesus is the reason for the season. Accordingly, it encourages us to utterly shun not only the indulgent ritual of shopping but all of the other hedonistic activities Christians engage in this time of year.
The O’Keefes do this by having an “Airing of Grievances” meal at which each person tells other family members all the ways they disappointed him or her over the past year. They follow this meal with a “Feats of Strength” performance during which family members must wrestle and pin the head of household to the floor to bring the celebration of Festivus to a close….
Of course, since there’s no religious dogma associated with this holiday, you do not have to follow the O’Keefe’s fashion when celebrating this holiday. Instead, you can choose whatever non-commercial activities you wish to engage in to celebrate Festivus. For example, I think the most spiritual way of doing this would be to take a family walk in the woods (even in the snow) to commune with nature.
In any event, I urge you to think – “What would Jesus do?” – before joining the madding crowd of those rushing out in a last-minute dash to spend money in a patently perverse effort to celebrate His birth.
Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 7:45 AM
Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 6:44 AM
[F]rankly, the last thing I wanted when I began commenting on the deaths of famous people four years ago was to contribute to our culture’s morbid fascination with celebrities. In fact, I only began this feature of my weblog as a lark to propagate the superstition that the deaths of famous people come in threes.
(Post mortem on deaths of famous people commentaries, The iPINIONS Journal, June 4, 2010)
Consistent with the above, I commented on Monday on the death of Christopher Hitchens and on Tuesday on the death of Kim Jong-il. Now here I am feeling obliged for a third-consecutive day to comment on the death of another famous person, Václav Havel.
Of course, who constitutes a famous person these days is such that I use the term advisedly. For even though Havel embodied the Velvet Revolution that brought about the demise of Communist rule – not just in his native Czechoslovakia but throughout the entire Soviet Union, chances are that many of you know far more about Snooki than you do about him.
In any case, suffice it to know that I am paying this modest tribute because Václav Havel is to the demise of Communism in Czechoslovakia what Nelson Mandela is to the demise of Apartheid in South Africa. And that’s saying a lot.
Indeed, here is how historian Timothy Garton Ash remarked on the driving force Havel was in Civic Forum, the dissident group that drafted the proclamations and plotted the strategy that ended Communist rule:
It was extraordinary the degree to which everything ultimately revolved around this one man.
(New York Times, December 20, 2011)
Like Mandela, Havel was persecuted and jailed for championing the universal principles of freedom and democracy – with emphasis on freedom of expression and human rights. Like Mandela, he persevered to become his country’s first democratically elected president. And like Mandela, he exuded a moral authority throughout his public life that compelled comparisons to historic figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ himself. (Never mind that he had more in common with Bill Clinton when it came to marital fidelity; although, MLK was a womanizer too. But I digress….)
What I find so appealing about Havel is that he was by all accounts a painfully shy man. Which meant that, unlike Mandela, his influence had little to do with the inspiring and irresistible force of his personality. Instead it had everything to do with the way he empowered the powerless through his words, which he expressed in an impressive anthology of plays and essays and, most significantly, in his Charter 77 human rights manifesto.
Actually, think for a moment about how the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament inspires Christian missionaries and you’ll get a sense of how Havel’s words inspired Czechs and others who were living behind the Iron Curtain. I wrote of Hitchens that his commentaries on the fatwa against Salman Rushdie proved that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Well Havel proved that a thousand times more with his writings.
All the same, I’m embarrassed to admit that, while I was actively involved in anti-Apartheid demonstrations during the 1980s, I paid little attention to, let alone marched in solidarity with, anti-Communist demonstrations. No doubt this is why I was not nearly as moved when Communism ended in Czechoslovakia in 1989 as I was when Apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994.
Havel, like Christopher Hitchens, was a heavy smoker. He died from the acute respiratory problems he had been suffering since last spring. He is survived by his wife, Dagmar. He was 75.
Post mortem on deaths…
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 6:38 AM
Yesterday the world was treated to curious images of people wailing in the streets of North Korea upon hearing the news that Kim Jong-il, the man who had served more as jailer than leader for the past 17 years, had died of a sudden heart attack.
Instead of sympathy, though, their public display of grief evoked mostly incredulity and indignation. Frankly, I suspect it was just another of the jingoistic pantomimes Kim was so fond of. Not least because of the conspicuous absence of a single tear drop from the eyes of the mourners.
I am mindful, however, that this outpouring might just be a manifestation of the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. After all, North Koreans have been held hostage for decades by Kim and his father, Kim II-sung. During their reign of terror these folks suffered unspeakable privations and oppression, which included systematic indoctrination in the cult of the Kims and other forms of mind control.
More to the point, given that North Koreans know their national suffering will only continue under Kim’s son and successor, Kim Jong-un, it may be that they are wailing not just Kim’s death but their cursed fate as well.
That said, I do not have enough respect for Kim to eulogize him the way I have other famous people. Therefore, I shall suffice to reprise just a few excerpts from previous commentaries which should make self-evident why he’s so unworthy:
[T]his little tyrant has been performing his own version of the tail wagging the dog, with infuriating effect, for many years. Recall the embarrassing spectacle of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveling all the way to Pyongyang in 2000 to toast a similar triumph of diplomacy [thinking Kim would halt his nuclear program in exchange for food, oil and lots of cash] only to have Kim renege on his word even before she made it back on American soil. And recall the equally futile overtures of South Korean leaders who offered a bonanza of economic benefits through their Sunshine Policy only to have Kim accept with one hand while giving them the finger with the other.
Yet Kim is not the most ridiculous performer in this kabuki nuclear dance. Because this spectacle is distinguished by the incredulous fact that none of the five powerful nations involved in trying to prevent him from developing nuclear weapons even know the precise nature of the nuclear program they’re trying so hard to get Kim to forswear.
(Resolving the North Korean menace, The iPINIONS Journal, September 21, 2005)
This time, Kim’s temper tantrum – expressed in his patented passive-aggressive manner – was vented in the specious declaration that ‘extreme threats’ by the Americans have escalated their nuclear brinkmanship to a dangerous level and forced him to bring out his nuclear weapons… Never mind that no one outside of his ‘hermit kingdom’ has ever verified that Kim even has the nuclear weapons he keeps threatening to deploy.
When it comes to psychological warfare, this North Korean gnome is one Cassandra who manages to jerk the world’s chain every time. Indeed, true to form, statements of concern from world leaders about what Mr. Kim might do followed his antic declaration with Pavlovian predictability. Which, in turn, made me constrained to wonder why – given his record of idle threats – these world leaders would even bother to give him the time of day.
(Why do world leaders give Kim the time of day? The iPINIONS Journal, October 4, 2006)
No economic concession or military threat will ever induce or coerce North Korea’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ president, Kim Jong-il, to part with his nukes. After all, to do so would reduce his country from one that commands the world’s attention (on par with Iran), to one that languishes in relative obscurity (on par with Bangladesh).
(North Korea denuked? Dream on, The iPINIONS Journal, September 5, 2007)
I could barely contain my stupefaction at President Obama and world leaders for wasting time at their summit to fix the global financial crisis to warn Kim that playing with nuclear missiles is not the way to win friends and influence people.
After all, the record clearly shows his pathology to be such that dire warnings from perceived enemies only embolden Kim’s unruly behavior. Not to mention the fact that these warnings never amount to anything more than hollow words…
The best way to deal with Kim is to let him test fire his missiles without making it seem like an existential threat to the world. Especially since North Korea has the same sovereign right the US has to test its missiles … and he’ll do so anyway despite (or to spite) global protestations.
Of course, if he does the unthinkable (i.e. attacks another country or even attempts to sell nuclear weapons to terrorists), then I’m sure Obama will have no difficulty amassing a coalition of the willing, including the Chinese, to take out his little hermit kingdom.
(North Korea…calling the world’s bluff … again, The iPINIONS Journal, April 4, 2009)
So pay no mind to talk about President Obama taking military action (like interdicting North Korean ships on the high seas), putting pressure on China to intervene, or turning Japan into a nuclear power to check Kim’s now-patented nuclear gamesmanship.
After all, if North Korea’s defiance over nuclear weapons did not compel Bush to deploy any of these enhanced tactics, it’s plainly disingenuous for anyone to suggest that its kidnapping of two women will compel Obama to do so. And this is hardly a Somali-pirate situation where US Navy Seals can fire a few shots and end it….
(North Korea adds kidnapping to its diplomatic arsenal, The iPINIONS Journal, June 8, 2009)
[A]ll indications are that no country is going to do anything to check North Korea’s reckless and deadly behavior until it launches an attack so large in scale that it threatens the very existence of South Korea.
(North Korea attacks South Korea with impunity … again, The iPINIONS Journal, December 2, 2010)
I will only add, by way of an epitaph, that Kim taught other dictators one important life lesson; namely, that having nuclear weapons not only enables you to extort all kinds of concessions from nuke-phobic Western governments, but also prevents them from invading your country to impose regime change … and kill you.
This is a lesson Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi failed to learn; but it’s one the Mullahs of Iran seem determined to emulate.
Kim died on Saturday. He was 69.
Good riddance, Kim.
Resolving the North Korean menace
Why do world leaders even give North Korea’s president the time of day?!
North Korea denuked?! Dream on…
North Korea calling the world’s bluff … again
North Korea adds kidnapping
North Korea attacks South…
Monday, December 19, 2011 at 10:35 AM
To all who are wondering with indignation how an entire nation can demonstrate such outpouring of grief for a man who was not so much their leader as their jailer, I urge you to google the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Of course, one could be forgiven the suspicion that this mass demonstration of grief is just another of the well-choreographed jingoistic pantomimes that Kim was so fond of….
Monday, December 19, 2011 at 6:49 AM
[I]t is my pleasure to introduce you to my favorite columnist, Christopher Hitchens, a regular contributor to such prestigious publications as The Atlantic, The Nation, Vanity Fair, Slate, and World Affairs. For it is he who has written the definitive article that puts this latest Washington farce into proper perspective. (Although, truth be told, his overzealous support for Bush’s war on terror risks alienating my intellectual affection. But I digress…)
(Who outed Valerie Plame? The iPINIONS Journal, August 31, 2006)
I am tempted to assert that Christopher Hitchens was so great a polemicist (in books, commentaries and debates) that he’s the only one I’ve ever expressed public admiration for. But this might only betray the regard I have for my own polemics. (For the record, as entertaining as I find Hitchens, I have far greater admiration and affinity for writers like Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges.)
There is no gainsaying though that he was so skilled in the art of persuasion that he could prosecute both sides of almost any argument with equal effectiveness. This skill was very much on display when Hitchens, a pugnacious atheist, debated former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a newly converted Catholic, on whether religion is a force for good in the world.
It happened last year (November 28) when thousands crowded into a modest venue in Toronto, Canada to watch what was billed more as a death match between two gladiators than as a philosophical debate between two intellectuals. The fact that Hitchens was already displaying the ravages of cancer – complete with his head made bald like a cue ball from chemotherapy – gave the impression of a contrived handicap to give his foe a fighting chance.
As soon as he gave his first retort, however, it became clear not only that his illness had not diminished his intellect one iota, but that Hitchens would be showing the hopelessly outwitted Blair no mercy at all. Indeed, so domineering was Hitchens in making his case that the only regard he showed Blair was to begin making the former prime minister’s arguments for him only to eviscerate them with a barrage of recitations from his book God Is Not Great – the cumulative effect of which made anyone who believed in God seem like a delusional misanthrope.
He may not have won any converts to Atheism, but the spectators left no doubt that Hitchens was the undisputed winner. Incidentally, true to his religion, Blair spent much of the debate just turning the other cheek.
But Hitchens wasn’t just anti-religious, he made a virtue out of what religious people consider vices. The way he made drinking and smoking seem as indispensable to his career as his computer is testament to this fact.
Of course, that he was such a great debater does not mean that Hitchens was always right. Nor was he always so intellectually superior that he never soiled his arguments with ad hominems. This was the case, in both respects, when he engaged British MP George Galloway in a public-spirited war of words over the war in Iraq.
Ironically, Hitchens was proselytizing like a holy warrior in support of Bush’s invasion; whereas, Galloway was criticizing it with the intellectual fortitude and persuasion that were usually Hitchens’s forte. More to the point, Hitchens became so bereft of facts and reason that he settled for dismissing the “unmitigated Galloway” with self-satisfying retorts like this:
Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill-brushed fangs.
(George Galloway is Gruesome, Slate, September, 5, 2005)
But such momentary lapses never undermined his iconic (and iconoclastic) take on so many issues of his day. Most notable in this respect was the way he demonstrated that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword by writing commentaries challenging the rectitude of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwah against his friend, the novelist Salman Rushdie. Recall that Rushdie was accused of blaspheming against Allah in his book The Satanic Verses. The Ayatollah is dead. Rushdie is alive and thriving … openly.
But he was equally daring in his critique of everything from the charitable work of Mother Teresa to the political hijinks of Bill Clinton, and from the parasitic imperiousness of the British monarchy to the putative foreign-policy accomplishments of Henry Kissinger.
I personally want to ‘do’ death in the active and not the passive … to be there to look it in the eye and be doing something when it comes for me.
(From his 2010 memoir, ‘Hitch-22′)
As it happened, reports are that Hitchens did death not in the active, but in the passive as he succumbed to smoke-related esophageal cancer at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas on Thursday. No doubt he remained a devoted atheist to the end. So I pray God will have mercy on his soul.
Hitchens is survived by his wife, American writer Carol Blue, and their daughter, Antonia. He was 62.
Who outed Valarie Plame?
Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 7:40 AM
Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 4:28 PM
Because it was clear even to her in that awkward moment that to reject him would be to appear is some perverse way unpatriotic. Not to mention the PR backlash that would surely have followed, which would have adversely impacted not just the movie she was promoting, but her entire career. So she accepted.
Then Justin Timberlake was blindsided in similar fashion by a female marine, and he too accepted … for the same reasons.
But this ploy of soldiers blindsiding celebrities with requests to go out on dates strikes me as a little too contrived and self-indulgent by all involved. Not least because it sets an untenable and unsustainable precedent for soldiers to think that their military service entitles them to dates with famous people.
I’m all for welcoming the troops home, thanking them for their service and providing every assistance possible to help them get assimilated back into civilian life. It makes a mockery of this welcome, thanks and assimilation, however, for them to think that getting a date with their celebrity crush is a part of the deal.
Nothing demonstrates the impudence and folly inherent in this ploy quite like a marine blindsiding no less a person than First Lady Michelle Obama today by asking her to be his date for next year’s Ball. Even though she had the good sense to demur a little by saying he had to check with her husband, she too affected interest by adding that she’d love to be his date. Which of course is bullshit!
Don’t you know that I’m married young man?!
Then she should have politely told him to ask someone more suitable to be his date. Unfortunately, even more than any celebrity, Michelle probably felt in that awkward moment that to put that little bugger in his place would risk Republicans spinning it as just further evidence of how little respect her husband has for the men and women who serve this country in uniform….
But the best thing that can happen for soldiers and famous people alike in this context is for a famous person (in his or her prime) to publicly decry this form of blackmail patriotism before it becomes a trend. Alas, so far, the only celebrity who had the balls to say no is 89-year-old Betty White, who clearly felt she had nothing to lose at this point in her career.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday, at 8:11 pm
Friday, December 16, 2011 at 5:49 AM
No doubt many of you recall the aggressive way I challenged the British in a series of commentaries (between 2007 and 2009) to intervene in the UK Overseas Territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands (aka my mother country) to get rid of the corrupt and incompetent local politicians who were treating our national treasury as their piggy bank.
Well, they not only intervened (in August 2009) but are now prosecuting those crooked politicians.
Unfortunately, since suspending our constitution, dissolving our parliament and assuming full responsibility for governing our country, the British have proved in far too many ways just as incompetent, even if not as corrupt, as the local politicians they replaced.
I have been silent about their failures only because I made a public vow to defer to all of the local commentators who suddenly found their critical voices after the takeover. And no TC Islander has been more measured, insightful and constructive in this respect than Lillian Misick, the woman the British appointed to chair the Consultative Forum, which they established as a de facto parliament until they return our country to local rule (in 2013 or 2014).
Chairman Misick delivered what can fairly be described as a State of the Territory Address in the Forum on Tuesday. She focused on the nature of the UK-TCI relationship, but her address crystallized many of the issues our people are enduring under this British interim administration. If nothing else, I think you’ll find it an interesting read.
2011 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In short, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.
Many of you will no doubt recognize my allusion here to Her Majesty’s famous Guildhall speech in 1992. In her case, though, she was merely referring to the personal woes that had befallen the House of Windsor – ranging from the breakdown of her children’s marriages to the burning down of Windsor Castle itself.
By contrast I’m referring to the national woes that have befallen our nation this year – ranging from the recent arrest of former government ministers on charges of corruption to the imposition onerous taxes and fees that have us feeling as though we are paying fines for the crimes those ministers allegedly committed.
But, as we are fast approaching the dawn of a new year, I think it is best to look forward and not dwell too much on the past.
This brings me to the parental role the British are playing by implementing structural reforms to help us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. But let me hasten to clarify that I use the term parental advisedly.
For, on the one hand, far too many of our people seem oblivious to the fact that, even though our country is known these days as a British Overseas Territory, we are still for all intents and purposes a British Dependent Territory. And nothing demonstrates this quite like our having to rely on the British government not just to prosecute our crooked politicians, but also to bail us out of the financial black hole we got ourselves into.
On the other hand, far too many of our British overseers seem oblivious to the fact that they are partially responsible for creating and, by current accounts, now deepening that black hole. And nothing demonstrates this quite like British officials not just ignoring for years the alarms some of us were sounding about the corruption they are now trying to clean up, but also reporting recently that our national debt has almost tripled from $71 million to $200 million all under their fiscal management.
This latter point is especially noteworthy because it also reinforces what I have been trying to impress upon the British for some time now: namely, that some of us may be able to offer far better advice on solving our economic problems than the British experts who have been retained to do so.
Apropos of this, I urge them to hire one of our certified public accountants to replace the expatriate Chief Auditor who I gather was summarily fired yesterday under what can only be described as dubious circumstances.
All the same, I am pleased to report that the UK minister for Overseas Territories, Mr Henry Bellingham, now seems committed to developing a relationship between the UK and TCI that is defined by mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual appreciation. He demonstrated this by inviting Advisory Council member Theo Durham and me to join Governor Todd as TCI delegates at a conference in London a few weeks ago, which was aimed at redefining the UK’s relationship with its Overseas Territories.
I must say it was both humbling and heartening that the heads of all of the other territories expressed abiding sympathy with our plight and shared their hope for our return to local rule as soon as practicable. But we need only reflect on how inured the British were to outside criticisms (constructive and otherwise) over the suspension of our constitution in the first place to appreciate the folly of looking to others to help us define our relationship with them.
In any case, it was with this profound awareness that I shared my views with Mr Bellingham and other UK officials on what is necessary to forge a more collaborative relationship going forward.
As a general proposition I admonished them that no number of structural reforms can ever compensate for the spirit of distrust and alienation of goodwill that are growing between us.
I informed them that this distrust and alienation will only grow as long as our people have just cause to regard transparency and consultation as nothing but empty words. And it does not help in this respect that every aspect of our lives is being governed these days from behind closed doors by a gaggle of UK advisers who now populate every nook and cranny of our local government.
I pointed out, for example, that mere token consultation with forum members would have spared the British the public spectacle that attended the announcement of their civil service voluntary redundancy scheme. Not least because even I, in my capacity as head of the Business Development Center, would have urged them to consult with local with businesses throughout the islands to see how many affected civil servants could be placed in private jobs.
Instead, the British displayed the very kind of administrative incompetence they decried in the local leaders they are now prosecuting. Because, after insisting that all of the points in this scheme were duly assessed within the context of meeting the increasingly elusive milestone of a balanced budget, all it took was a little protest to force them to double the lump sum ear-marked for weekly paid workers.
By the way, I think it’s important to state here for the record that, despite the highly publicized strikes that a fraction of our civil servants mounted recently, the vast majority of us understand and fully support the ongoing effort to right size our civil service. We just regret the seemingly haphazard way the British are going about it.
Continuing on, I explained to Mr Bellingham and others that it sends an untenable neo-colonial message that not one TC Islander is amongst the many advisers the UK has retained for everything from drafting constitutional and electoral reforms to formulating our crown land policy. Moreover, that when this slight is coupled with the gratuitous insult of their refusal to re-appoint a TC Islander as deputy governor our people can be forgiven the prevailing suspicion that the British impute to all of us the corruption and incompetence that led to the arrest of so many of our government ministers. I submitted, with all due respect, that ascribing collective guilt in this fashion is as unfair as it is unsustainable.
On a more practical note I stressed, amongst other things, the need for public financing of elections, a greater nexus between education scholarships and the skills needed to grow our economy, and reform of our professional associations, suggesting in each case ways in which the UK can provide substantial support.
I concluded by lamenting that what the British are doing in the TCI these days seems geared more towards limiting their contingent liabilities than towards empowering us to govern ourselves. And, sure enough, Mr Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, went out of his way to reinforce this point during his visit here last week.
But be that as it may, the prevailing point I made at that conference is the point I’ve been making to the British from day one of this interim administration, and it’s the point I wish to reiterate today, which is that their blueprint to ensure good governance and sound fiscal management will never be worth the paper it’s written on if they do not interact with us more as mentors and partners than as overseers and bankers.
Having said all that, I am confident we shall overcome all of the interpersonal and structural challenges we face. I am particularly encouraged in this regard by the commitment Governor Todd has undertaken to learn from past mistakes.
For there can be no denying that if the British had heeded my public pleas to empower this body to play a more meaningful role in drafting legislation, holding public officials to account, and making government decisions more transparent there would not be nearly as much apprehension and restiveness amongst our people towards them today. Not to mention that we would not be experiencing the gravity-defying distress of paying more and more in taxes only to see our national debt going up and up.
There is still confusion, suspicion and frustration hanging like dark clouds over the TCI Bank, Provo Stevedoring, the Shore Club, and Interhealth Canada. I am convinced however that these are just a few of the controversial matters we could have been instrumental in resolving some time ago.
But no matter our disaffection over the way the British are treating us, nor our disappointment over the way they are managing our affairs, there is simply no excuse for the epidemic of apathy and cynicism that is spreading amongst our people. It will not do, for example, for us to protest in the streets about constitutional reforms when virtually none of us can even be bothered to submit suggestions on what constitutes the best path to TCI citizenship.
Finally, my wish for the New Year is that this body will be duly empowered to fulfill its mandate to advise the governor on government affairs, to represent the interests and concerns of TC Islanders in the drafting of legislation and formulation of new policies, and to communicate to our people – in an informed manner – not just what this interim administration is doing but, more importantly, how what this interim administration is doing impacts our lives.
Hope springs eternal.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 5:51 AM
Last week news organizations and financial markets were reacting like chickens with their heads cut off to efforts by the European Union to deal with its current debt crisis and put in place measures to prevent another one.
At the end of this EU summit on Friday news reports and financial analyses indicated that the member countries had reached an agreement to fully integrate their fiscal and monetary policies.
The agreement requires them, among other things, to submit their national budgets to a central committee in Brussels for approval: This extraordinary surrender of national sovereignty is intended to ensure that each country maintains the prescribed debt-to-GDP ratio to avoid any of them racking up the kind of national debt that has Greece teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy. It is also intended to reinforce the economic and political fundamentals that buttress the value of the euro, which is looking lately like it’s headed for the dustbin of history.
Yet upon careful reading it becomes clear that this agreement is not worth the paper it’s written on. Not least because it is merely an agreement to enshrine these new rules in a side agreement at some undetermined date (next spring). There’s also the inconvenient fact that similar debt and deficit rules are already in place and, more to the point, that the only reason the EU finds itself in this mess is that only a few EU countries have bothered to abide by these rules.
But all one has to do is reflect for a second on how multilateral agreements to combat climate change have been summarily flouted by all parties to appreciate what little chance this one has of being honored by member countries and enforced by Brussels.
In fact, the EU’s two most prominent leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, betrayed their concerns in this respect by attempting to codify these new rules as part of an amended, if not entirely new, European treaty to give them more weight.
Except that their attempt was foiled in dramatic fashion when British Prime Minister David Cameron shocked the world by exercising the UK’s veto to block it. Cameron insists that he acted to protect Britain from fees on financial transactions that would cripple its thriving finance industry.
But opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband led the chorus of UK critics who accused him of doing nothing more than pandering to the Eurosceptic backbenchers in his Conservative Party – who, incidentally, consider making political compromises with Europeans every bit as treasonous as Tea Partiers in the Republican Party consider making them with Democrats.
In fairness to Cameron, however, these critics seem oblivious to the fact that no less a person than his predecessor, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, established this untenable precedent of trying to carve out special exceptions for Britain as a condition of remaining within the EU. For here is how I commented on Brown’s attempt to do just that four years ago at an EU summit on drafting a new constitution:
[N]othing justifies my skepticism (over the viability of an EU constitution) quite like the Sisyphean attempts by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to reconcile the contradictions inherent in this treaty. Because, according to the BBC, he boasted in recent parliamentary debates – without any hint of irony – that he had secured ‘special treatment for the UK in a range of areas’ at the European summit and that Britain would keep opt-outs on foreign policy, labor rights, tax and social security.
But if Britain has already established the untenable precedent that it can ‘opt-out’ of all of the key provisions of the treaty, then what is the legal and substantive effect of this ersatz constitution?!
(A dead EU constitution resurrected as a ‘new treaty’…, The iPINIONS Journal, November 27, 2007)
It may be that no man is an island unto himself, but Britain seems determined to remind Europeans that, as countries go, it is an island unto itself … literally. And say whatever one might about Britain’s imperiousness and intransigence in this respect, there’s no gainsaying its good sense to stay out of the euro years ago, and Cameron’s decision to beg off this new fiscal agreement today may prove equally sensible.
For their part, Europeans responded to this latest attempt to enshrine British exceptionalism into the EU’s foundational documents by saying, in essence, good riddance Britain! Because here, according to the December 9, 2011 edition of Der Speigel Online, is just a sample of the indignation Cameron’s veto incited:
The country is primarily damaging itself. [The British must now decide if they want to be in the EU club or not.]The game of always wanting to have a say in the debate while also wrecking every compromise is not acceptable in the long run. You can’t be a little bit pregnant. It must be made clear to Great Britain: Either you want the whole package, or you can leave it alone.
(Manfred Weber, vice chairman of the European People’s Party)
Cameron is a coward.
(Franco-German politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chairman of the Greens)
It was a mistake to admit the British into the European Union… [The UK must now renegotiate its relationship with the EU.] Either they do it by themselves, or the EU will be founded anew – without Great Britain.
(Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, German MEP and vice-chairman of ALDE [Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe])
This final reaction is especially instructive. Because it gets at the heart of what makes the EU by definition a legal fiction. There is a growing feeling among a critical mass of Germans, for example, that the EU should be founded anew without countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, the so-called PIGS, because the only thing they add to the union is an unsustainable financial burden.
Never mind that it was a quixotic venture to try to create a “United States of Europe” in the first place given the fractious history and prevailing cultural differences among member countries – ranging from the industrious and financially prudent Germans in the north to the lazy and financially profligate Greeks in the south. After all, the only truly organizing principle the 27 member countries share is enjoying the benefits of a free trade eurozone, which does not require using a single, inflated currency (think NAFTA).
So only God knows what will become of the seemingly determined efforts by the other 26 member countries to enter into a new fiscal and monetary union. I am not even convinced that all of them will sign the agreement when the time comes next spring, let alone abide by the new rules.
What is certain though is that the treaty that established the EU 20 years ago this month is now, for all intents and purposes, dead.
A dead EU constitution…
Greece: from cradle of civilization to beggar’s colony
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 6:39 AM
[I]t’s important to know that basketball is to Syracuse what football is to Penn State: a veritable religion and cash cow to boot. Further that legendary coach Jim Boeheim is to Syracuse basketball what legendary coach Joe Paterno was to Penn State football: a god worshiped like the Golden Calf.
Now consider that the accused Bernie Fine (pictured right) was to Boeheim (left) what the accused Jerry Sandusky was to Paterno; namely, his most trusted friend and assistant coach for the past 35-plus years.
Just as it was with Sandusky, facts are emerging which indicate that Fine (66) is a serial abuser of little boys: Sandusky used a camp he founded for troubled boys as a veritable harem for his pedophile exploits; whereas, Fine used a continually refreshed squad of ball boys from the men’s basketball team for his.
(First Penn State, now Syracuse embroiled in child sex-abuse scandal, The iPINIONS Journal, November 29, 2011)
William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney investigating allegations of child sex abuse against Fine, held a news conference a week ago today to announce his profound regret that the statute of limitations prevents him from filing charges:
Bobby, I’m sorry it took so long. I wish I had met you as a prosecutor in 2002. Even more importantly, I wish I had met you as a prosecutor back in the 1980s. We wouldn’t be here today…
On almost every single criteria (sic), Bobby Davis came out as a credible person.
(Associated Press, December 7, 2011)
Frankly, “sorry” seems a poor excuse for justice in this case. As a practicing attorney, I understand his legal argument, but I profoundly disagree with his professional decision. Not least because the pursuit of justice should have compelled Fitzpatrick to at least convene a grand jury to force Fine to either tell the truth or lie under oath.
If he told the truth, that public admission might have been vindication enough for his accusers. If he lied, Fitzpatrick could have had him arrested on perjury charges. And I have no doubt that, just like Martha Stewart, Fine would have ended up in prison – convicted not for committing the crimes alleged, but for lying about them.
Surely either outcome would have provided a greater sense of justice (and closure) — not just for Bobby, but for all of Fine’s other silent victims as well.
Frankly, as things stand, I smell a cover up. Indeed, Fitzpatrick betrayed his institutional bias in favor of sweeping this sordid affair under the carpet by going out of his way to rebuke those of us who have made comparisons — not just between Fine and Sandusky, but also between school officials at Syracuse and Penn State. Specifically, he said that there was no cause for the head coach and chancellor in this case to be fired the way they were at Penn State.
But, with all due respect to Fitzpatrick, this is a decision not for the district attorney, but for Syracuse University’s board of trustees to make. And I hope they follow the trustees at Penn State, and do the right thing….
In any case, Fine may escape the jail house, but he won’t escape the poor house. Because Bobby and other victims are lining up to sue him for every cent he’s got.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 5:38 AM
Charlie Rose, my favorite TV interviewer, appeared on Larry King Live last night to share details about the health crisis that kept him confined to a hospital bed for a month (and then to his home for an additional 5 weeks)…
[I]t was instructive for me to listen to Charlie talk about his commitment to work, which he pursued, invariably, at the expense of family and friends. And, just as I was beginning to infer that he considered this an acceptable trade-off, he conceded the following:
‘I’ve had to think about how do I change … everyone who knows me knows that I’m always in fifth gear and too involved in work … pushing too hard [to do too many things]… But I have to think now of what is the appropriate balance… I want to make sure I have dinner with friends… I’m asking have I lived a good life… Nobody on their death bed says I wish I spent more time at the office… I’ve spent too much time working, and the opportunity, or the commitment I have now is to read more and to spend more time with friends….’
But enough about Charlie; It’s just that, as I was on sick leave for the first time in my 20-year career, his story led me to think about what impact my illness might have on my personal and professional life. But let me hasten to clarify that mine was hardly a ‘health crisis’. Indeed, compared to Charlie’s heart problems, my viral infection amounted to little more than a common cold.
Nonetheless, like Charlie’s, my A-type personality compels me to believe that I can do a million things at once, and do them all well. However, unlike him, I’ve always considered nurturing my family ties and personal friendships amongst the most important things I do. And I’ve received sufficient feedback in this respect to feel assured that no change is necessary.
Instead, when I thought ‘about how do I change’ my worker-bee personality, it occurred to me that I need to establish a more appropriate balance between my vocation (job that pays the bills) and avocations (hobbies) to relieve the mental and physical stress that my doctor is absolutely convinced was the cause of my illness (and sustained cholesterol level above 350). And there’s the rub: Because, when I reach Charlie’s age and begin reflecting on his question (i.e., Have I lived the good life?), I doubt I’ll be able to answer ‘yes’ if I continue to dedicate so much time and effort to my vocation at the expense of my avocations.
Therefore, as Charlie (who was himself a practicing attorney before becoming a TV interviewer) seeks to reduce his workload to have more time for the family and friends he has neglected over the years, I have resolved to reduce my workload to have more time for the public-service activities that I believe will lead to a much better life.
(Professional epiphany: I have returned my flower, a changed bee, The iPINIONS Journal, June 20, 2006)
I was as disappointed as I was shocked this summer to realize that it had been five years since I vowed to establish a more appropriate balance between my vocation and avocations. Because I honestly thought it would only take about a year to follow through on this life-changing (and life-saving) epiphany.
Mind you, this is not for want of trying. In fact I have been working assiduously this entire time to organize my professional life to arrive as this point:
I am happy to report that I have finally reduced (and reorganized) my professional life so that I have only a handful of clients to represent and, more importantly, can do most of my work from my now well-appointed home office.
Alas, I can’t say that there has been a commensurate improvement in my overall health. But it’s early days yet….
NOTE: The irony is not lost on me that, far from reducing his workload, Charlie has doubled it by signing on recently to host the CBS Morning Show. He clearly has a death wish. I don’t.
Monday, December 5, 2011 at 5:35 AM
[W]inning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way to eradicate bacchanalian images of his private life from public consciousness – even if not from the tabloids. And only this will give his understandably spooked corporate sponsors the cover they need to feature him as their spokesman once again.
When I wrote the above in a December 9, 2009 commentary entitled Tiger escapes to a ‘safe haven’, I could not have fathomed that it would take Tiger over two years to return to his winning ways. Yet here is how the Associated Press remarked on his unfathomable drought yesterday:
Two years after his life and career came crashing down, Tiger Woods is a winner again.
One shot behind with two holes to play, Woods finally looked like the player who dominated golf for so much of his career. He birdied his last two holes Sunday, making a 6-foot putt on the 18th, to win the Chevron World Challenge by one shot over former Masters champion Zach Johnson…
It had been 749 days and 26 official tournaments since he last won on Nov. 15, 2009 at the Australian Masters, back when he looked as though he would rule golf as long as he played.
Of course it is tempting now to assume that yesterday’s triumph marks the restoration of Tiger as the king of golf. But, like I cautioned my old college roommate, a die-hard Tiger fan, one tournament win does not a dominant player make. And this is especially so if that tournament happens to be one that is also known as the Tiger Woods Invitational….
That said, I am as happy as any fair-weather golf fan can be that Tiger won … finally. I just hope it helps him regain his trademark confidence, which does for his game what Samson’s hair did for his strength.
His next tournament is another non-major event scheduled for late January. But Tiger knows better than anyone that he will not be able to reclaim his throne until he wins another major (i.e., the Masters in April, U.S. Open in June, British Open in July, or PGA Championship in August).
In the meantime though I suspect this win will guarantee him a very Merry Christmas. And I wish him a triumphant New Year.