Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 5:08 AM
I have agreed to do my part to keep awareness of this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe alive by reprising my commentary entitled ‘Somalia: another drought and famine crisis in Africa’, which was originally published on July 22 and republished on August 4. I’ve agreed to republish it again today, August 17, on August 24, and once more on August 31.
I fear this crisis is even more grave today than it was on July 22. But who are we to lose hope? I trust you support this all too modest gesture.
I know, I know: reading about the scourge of drought and famine in Africa is like reading about the menace of guns and drugs in America. And, truth be told, I harbor no illusions that anything I write will have any bearing on the looming fate of millions who are now competing with wild animals for food and water.
(Kenya facing drought and famine of biblical proportions, The iPINIONS Journal, September 21, 2009)
This is how I began my appeal for donations to aid international efforts to combat drought and famine in Kenya two years ago. Clearly, even back then, my frustration with, if not cynicism about, this recurring theme in Africa was unbridled.
This paled in comparison, however, to my abiding humanitarian concern for the innocent victims of this and the other myriad plagues – far too many of them anthropomorphic (i.e., caused by wars) – that have beset this Dark Continent from time immemorial.
So here I am, once again, begging for donations for yet another African country facing a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s bad enough that Somalia is a failed state at war with itself. But I’m also acutely mindful that it hardly evokes much sympathy given everything from the legacy of “Black Hawk Down” to the menace Somali pirates now pose on the High Seas.
Yet if the U.S. and other nations can launch a war (purportedly) to save thousands of innocent lives in Libya, surely they can donate funds to save millions of innocent lives in Somalia. (In fact, drought and famine are ravaging much of the Horn of Africa, which also includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan.)
An estimated 10 million people have been affected in East Africa by the worst drought in more than half a century. More than 166,000 desperate Somalis are estimated to have fled their country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia. The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said $300m (£186m) was needed to address the famine in the next two months
(The BBC, July 20, 2011)
Ghana’s former president Jerry Rawlings is arguably the most admired and respected leader in Africa today – except of course for a now very frail Nelson Mandela. He now serves as the African Union’s High Representative for Somalia. Here is how he reconciled my cynicism and concern, which I suspect most of you share, in his appeal for aid:
A potential disaster is staring us in the face. The world must now focus on tackling this unfolding catastrophe if we are to prevent further needless loss of life. [I call on the international community to] demonstrate compassion for Somalia. Its people should not be viewed through the prism of the country’s long conflict.
Prejudice or fatigue on account of the last twenty years would only serve as deterrents or impediment to the delivery of help. We must instead see the millions of men, women and children who are the innocent victims of this situation.
(Ghana News Agency, 20 July, 2011)
Instead of waiting for governments to act, however, there’s something you can do right now: Experts from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are leading relief efforts. Please visit their website and make a donation to help them scale up their efforts: wfp.org
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 5:30 AM
A quick browse of my commentaries on previous MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) will attest to the fact that my review of this annual show is invariably as informed (and I hope as entertaining) as that of any music industry critic.
But watching Kanye and Jay Z perform at this year’s show, I could not help noticing that they not only looked, but even sounded like two warbling geriatrics trying way too hard to be hip – the hop in their steps seeming long a thing of the past.
If hip-hop was not already dead, as rapper Nas proclaimed prematurely in 2006, Kanye and Jay Z sounded its death knell on Sunday night.
More to the point, their performance made me realize that it’s probably time to leave commentary on the VMAs to those who are actually impressed by the increasingly packaged and formulaic acts that pass for entertainment these days.
When Katy Perry, whose performances all look like a slightly naughty Mickey Mouse Club production, wins the video of the year award, and picks up another for a collaboration with Kanye no less, you know the lip-synching vanilla pop that Britney Spears popularized is taking over music industry.
Accordingly I shall limit this, my last VMAs commentary, to just a few points.
Lady Gaga literally personifies the triumph of packaged and formulaic acts over talented performances. Which is rather a shame because this girl can sing.
But given this triumph, it seems perfectly reasonable that, instead of critiquing the way she performed on stage, most critics are hailing the way she spent the entire evening in character as Jo Calderone, her purported male alter ego who looks like a cross between a wannabe Bob Dylan and Danny Zuko (John Travolta in Grease).
Never mind that the only people who could have found Gaga’s “Hey, I’m Jo” ranting entertaining are those who tune in to The Jersey Shore every week to catch Snooki’s latest drunken rant, which, granted, are millions. In any case, this Lady has clearly jumped the shark.
Come to think of it, though, most performers seem to think the key to success is looking and behaving in a way off stage that makes what they do on stage seem almost irrelevant: Exhibit B – Nicki Minaj (or, for you older folks, think of all of the off-stage exhibitionism that rendered the music of artists like Grace Jones and Madonna irrelevant).
By sterling contrast, Adele not only sings like an angel, she might just be the music industry’s saving grace. Unfortunately, the VMAs have so little to do with musical talent these days that Adele performing on this show was rather like Andrea Bocelli performing on So You Think You Can Dance.
Finally, how’s this for irony of ironies:
Kanye nearly killed his career at the 2009 VMAs when he ruined Taylor Swift’s debut as the latest pop sensation by bum-rushing the stage, yanking the mike from her hand and letting the world know that he thought Beyoncé was more deserving of the coveted video of the year award, which Taylor had just won. At the time Beyoncé seemed mortified that Kanye would upstage a fellow performer in such a self-indulgent manner.
I wonder therefore why it did not occur to her that she would be upstaging all of her fellow performers if she chose the VMAs to make a self-indulgent show of being pregnant with her first child. Because that’s exactly what she did – no doubt to the seething chagrin of Katy and Gaga who had just cause to think that their schtick, not Beyoncé’s pregnancy, would be the talk of this year’s VMAs.
Regular readers know how truly fond I am of Beyoncé. But I thought this smacked too much of an imperious PR stunt. Who the hell does she think she is, Kate Middleton?!
Anyway I pray this does not come back to haunt her; i.e., counting her chicken before it’s hatched in this fashion might come home to roost … if you know what I mean.
Monday, August 29, 2011 at 7:10 PM
The U.S. spent hundreds of billions liberating Afghanistan only to have President Karzai call U.S. soldiers occupiers. It has spent tens of billions propping up Pakistan’s military only to have the Pakistanis conspire with the Taliban and al-Qaeda to kill U.S. soldiers.
Now the Libyan rebels who begged (and are still begging) for help in liberating their country have just rejected a U.S. request to extradite Megrahi – the Lockerbie bomber who killed hundreds of Americans and is reportedly really on his death bed this time.
WTF! The U.S. must have “sucker” emblazoned on the Stars and Stripes … in the native language of these impudent beggars.
Obama should tell them that if they don’t hand over Megrahi within 48 hours some of those smart NATO bombs now landing on Gaddafi’s forces will become very dumb indeed….
Don’t forget though that it was the UK that betrayed its “special relationship” with the U.S. by handing over Megrahi to Libya in exchange for oil in the first place.
UK betrays US for Libyan oil
Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:19 AM
From North Carolina to Pennsylvania, Hurricane Irene appeared to have fallen short of the doomsday predictions… Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned that Irene could be a “catastrophic” monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet.
(‘Little damage seen…’, Associated Press, August 28, 2011)
No shit. Now we’re being treated to the perverse spectacle of watching the politicians and reporters who hyped those predictions hem and haw – with a palpable note of disappointment – about how “we dodged a bullet.”
Except that the only bullets that were fired along Irene’s path were the blanks of sound and fury signifying nothing that came out of their mouths. By contrast, here in part is why I cannot resist this occasion to say, I told you so:
News outlets cover natural disasters purportedly as a public service. But there’s no denying that such coverage is a ratings boon for their bottom line – catering as it does to the perverse thrill of suspense that keeps us fixated on the hype of impending doom….
Am I the only one who figures that if Irene at Cat 3 did not wash away the tiny islands of the Caribbean, then Irene at Cat 1 is hardly likely to wash away the big island of Manhattan?!
(The hyping of Hurricane Irene, The iPINIONS Journal, August 26, 2011)
As it turned out, Irene was not even a Cat 1 as she passed over Manhattan, leaving none of the dreaded destruction in her wake that had Mayor Michael Bloomberg preparing New York City for her wrath as if he were Napoleon Bonaparte preparing Paris for the invasion of the Austrian, Russian and Prussian armies.
Indeed, this much ado about nothing was punctuated by the fact that instead of causing “catastrophic” damage as the governor of Virginia predicted, Irene did not even surge the Potomac into the streets of Old Town Alexandria, which happens almost every year during the rainy season in this area of Northern Virginia….
Like I said, falling trees, power outages, and flash flooding were all to be expected. But this hardly warranted the Irene hysteria given that vast areas of the United States experience these naturally occurring phenomena every year. As I suggested would be the case, last year’s floods in Tennessee, including the flooding of the Grand Ole Opry, caused far more damage than anything that can be attributed to Irene.
Meanwhile, watching hype-meister Al Rocker of NBC wax hopeful about Irene’s impending doom became almost as farcical as watching Geraldo Rivera wax hopeful about what treasures would be found in Al Capone’s vault.
Not to mention the unbridled contrivance of some no-name reporter from FOX News covering himself in sea foam just to vindicate the hype by giving the appearances of devastation that never came.
But oh what a ratings boon this was for news outlets. To spare us next time, however, I urge all of you with Twitter and Facebook accounts to chastise your local stations for wasting so much TV time following reporters on scavenger hunts for damage or otherwise featuring news anchors and weather boys and girls repeating themselves ad nauseam. These purveyors of manufactured doom even preempted coverage of the World Track and Field Championships for Christ’s sake!
The storm left millions without power across much of the Eastern Seaboard, left more than 20 dead, and forced airlines to cancel about 9,000 flights. [But] it never became the big-city nightmare forecasters and public officials had warned about.
(‘Irene: wet, deadly and expensive, but no monster,’ Associated Press, August 28, 2011)
That said, I have no doubt that one of these days their doomsday predictions (or self-fulfilling prophecies) about hurricane damage will come true. Alas, I also have no doubt that that will be the occasion when nobody heeds a word they say: Cassandra!
Hyping of Irene
* This commentary was originally published on yesterday (Sunday) afternoon at 12:29
Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 6:50 AM
Friday, August 26, 2011 at 5:20 AM
News outlets cover natural disasters purportedly as a public service. But there’s no denying that such coverage is a ratings boon for their bottom line – catering as it does to the perverse thrill of suspense that keeps us fixated on the hype of impending doom….
(Katrina’s coming, Katrina’s coming, The iPINIONS Journal, August 29, 2005)
Even worse, politicians now act as if every hurricane heading for the United States is the next Katrina, and they make all kinds of phony gestures to appear more concerned about potential hurricane victims than President George W. Bush did during Katrina.
Nothing is more contrived in this respect than the governor of New Jersey threatening to order mandatory evacuations from the shore just because Irene might strike a glancing blow; or the erstwhile sensible mayor of New York making the patently specious announcement that he might order the evacuation of lower Manhattan. Actually, to listen to some of these news reporters and politicians you’d think they were all reading from the Chicken-Little script of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
Meanwhile, my family and friends down in the Turks and Caicos Islands and The Bahamas just weathered a direct hit – as they so often do. Irene cut a menacing path through most of these islands as a Category-3 hurricane – with sustained winds of over 120 mph.
And, incidentally, they clearly did not even have the option of fleeing inland the way Americans do. Which rather puts all of the talk about evacuations into perspective, no?
Not surprisingly, virtually all of the poorly constructed homes on less developed islands were destroyed, electricity was lost in some places, and trees were uprooted all over like blades of grass. But, thank God, there have been no reports of any deaths directly related to Irene’s wrath.
Initial reports out of Eleuthera indicate the damage caused by Irene was significant, but not as bad as expected. [R]reports out of Harbour Island indicate there was no major damage except for trees and shrubs, beach erosion and destruction of beach huts.
(The Nassau Tribune, August 25, 2011)
This brings me to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States where she’s expected to tease residents – from the Carolinas to New England – over the next few days, decreasing in intensity from Category 2 (96 – 100 mph) to Category 1 (75-95 mph) as she moves up the East Coast.
No doubt there’ll be some flooding, and low-lying places like the NYC subway system are particularly vulnerable. But cities all over America experience major floods every year: remember the “1000-year flood in Tennessee” last year? This, in part, is why all of the talk about Irene being the storm of the century is bordering on Katrina envy. Not to mention that:
Americans are blessed with the technology, escape routes to inland shelters and other emergency management resources to gauge and withstand hurricanes with virtually no loss of life.
(Katrina’s coming, Katrina’s coming, The iPINIONS Journal, August 29, 2005)
In any event, apropos of perspective, there’s certainly no way Irene will do to the United States what this year’s tsunami did to Japan or what last year’s earthquake did to Haiti. Really, am I the only one who figures that if Irene at Cat 3 did not wash away the tiny islands of the Caribbean, then Irene at Cat 1 is hardly likely to wash away the big island of Manhattan?!
That said, I shall refrain from unleashing my pent-up indignation at the absurdity of reporters rushing out of their hurricane-proof, five-star hotel rooms to “brave” the elements just to report on what is so plain for all to see; i.e., that Irene is whipping things up a storm and pissing torrential rain.
Frankly, only when flying debris decapitates one of these misguided storm chasers will everybody exclaim ‘what the hell were they standing outside in the midst of a hurricane for anyway!’
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 6:51 AM
A 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the DC metropolitan area about an hour ago. It was the largest earthquake to hit this area in over 100 years. The epicenter was in southern Virginia, but reports are that it could be felt as far away as Canada.
It was pretty scary for the 45 seconds while it lasted. And of course, this being DC, my first thought was that we were being bombed in another terrorist attack.
All office buildings in DC were eventually evacuated. But we got the “all clear” within 30 minutes.
There are reports of minor structural damage to a few buildings, including spires falling from the National Cathedral and chimneys falling from a few homes. All I experienced though was having a few things fall off the desk and walls in my office, and I gather that the same was the case in units in my building across the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia. Therefore, I expect to be greeted by a few broken frames when I get home later.
But thank God the only real damage done was to nerves … and the egos of a few men who went screaming and running from our office building like scared little girls.
That said, to see the way it’s being covered (i.e., hyped) on the news, as well as the way most people are reacting, you’d think it was 100 times worse than the earthquake that hit Japan earlier this year. Which only reinforces our conceit about DC being the center of the universe.
Meanwhile, the aftershocks we’re experiencing are probably just reverberations from the “collective eye-rolling” of folks in California….
But AT&T has some ‘splainin to do. Because it was impossible to send or receive text messages for about 20 minutes after the earthquake hit. After the problems we experienced during 9//11, you’d think capacity would have been sufficiently enhanced to ensure functionality during incidents like this.
God help us (for many reasons) if a real disaster ever hits. We are so hopelessly unprepared….
For now though I’m really more concerned about my family and friends down in the Turks and Caicos Islands and The Bahamas who are now preparing for whatever wrath Hurricane Irene has in store.
My thoughts and prayers are with them….
NOTE: Initial reports about the earthquake being a 5.9 magnitude were revised down to 5.8.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Tuesday, at 3:00 pm
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 5:05 AM
It’s an open secret that college football is championed by “boosters” who ply high school athletes with perks – first to lure them to a particular college and then to incentivize their performance once they join the program. Yet the NCAA’s governing body never fails to feign moral outrage anew every time the unsavory nature of these perks gets media attention.
Such was its reaction last week when Yahoo Sports published an investigative report on the way one such booster, Nevin Shapiro, used proceeds from a $930 million Ponzi scheme to provide cash, cars, prostitutes, and other gifts to as many as 72 players on the University of Miami Hurricanes football team over a nine-year period ending in 2010.
Shapiro is serving 20 years in prison for his scheme. And he’s clearly settling a few scores by singing like a stool pigeon about the extent to which he corrupted Miami’s football program. But trust me, if he were just another rich guy living vicariously through young studs instead of just a mini Bernie Madoff, none of this corruption would’ve seen the light of day.
Now, however, there are reports that the NCAA is considering the same dreaded “death penalty” for Miami that it imposed on Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 1986 for similar violations. This penalty, which, among other things, banned SMU from competition for a year, effectively destroyed SMU’s once storied football program.
NCAA President Mark Emmert says he’s willing to back up his tough talk on punishing rule-breakers — even using the ‘death penalty’ as a deterrent.
(Associated Press, August 19, 2011)
But with all due respect to Yahoo Sports, the real story here is not the sordid details of Shapiro’s dealings (for there’s nothing new there); nor is it what sanctions the NCAA will impose on Miami. Rather it is the abiding hypocrisy, and even racism, inherent in the NCAA penalizing college athletes for accepting pocket money and other perks from the boosters who troll college sports with the open and notorious complicity of everyone from athletic directors to university presidents.
Hell, there’s even talk about reaching into the NFL to penalize the few Hurricanes who survived the indentured servitude big-time college sports have become to make it as properly paid professional athletes.
Apropos of this, here is how I addressed this farce when the NCAA forced professional player Reggie Bush to return his Heisman Trophy after revelations that he accepted pocket cash from a booster while playing for USC:
There’s nothing amateur about college football. It’s a billion-dollar business for Christ’s sake! And the people who generate its revenue are not the university presidents, athletics directors, or coaches who, incidentally, make millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals. Instead, they are the poor black athletes whose raw talents they all exploit to pack 100,000 fans into their stadiums on game day.
I have always felt that it is tantamount to modern-day slavery for universities to recruit poor and all too often uneducated athletes just to play football and not compensate them for their services, especially considering they rarely get an education…
But this indentured servitude is made much worse by branding these poor players as cheaters for accepting a little cash on the side. Mind you, those offering the cash are often boosters just trying to make life easier for the players so that they can perform better for their universities. Not to mention that, if the NCAA were to penalize all college players who accept such gifts, there would be no college football (or basketball) worth watching.
The hypocrisy inherent in this is beyond shameful. Universities should be required to compensate these athletes in direct proportion to the way owners of professional football teams compensate their players. They could then reallocate the scholarship money they spend on recruitment towards financial aid for poor (Black) students who aspire to be more than professional athletes.
(Reggie Bush forfeits Heisman Trophy, The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2010)
That said, it’s one thing to strip one player of a trophy or even to suspend a few “rule-breakers”. It’s quite another (these days) to destroy a big-time football program like Miami’s, which not only generates so much in TV revenues for the university and NCAA (via media agreements), but is so pivotal to the local economy.
This is why, despite the violations involved being of a nature that should warrant the death penalty, I predict the NCAA will finagle a way to spare this goose that lays so many golden eggs.
Instead, Miami will probably have to pay a relatively modest fine, miss a few games, and sacrifice a few of the indentured servants on its football team. All of which, of course, will only reinforce the hypocrisy that governs college sports….
In any event, I urge the star players on all NCAA Division 1 football teams to organize a wildcat strike this fall and demand fair compensation for the services they provide. Then let the NCAA and university presidents make the unconscionable and utterly unsustainable argument that these kids should be forced to continue generating billions in revenues for them in exchange for nothing more than a college degree that, in most cases, is not worth the paper it’s written on.
Reggie Bush forfeits…
Monday, August 22, 2011 at 5:08 AM
Leave it to a bunch of knucklehead kids to turn the wholesome notion of flash mobs into just another form of juvenile delinquency.
Remember when flash mobs were choirs and dance troupes striking up entertaining and heart-warming performances in public places? In fact, one of my favorite TV commercials is the one for AT&T’s 4G phone service featuring a guy – who looks like an accountant – prematurely launching into a flash-mob dance in Grand Central Station.
Well, today they are almost always packs of marauding kids either attacking unsuspecting strangers on the street or pillaging items indiscriminately from stores of every type.
This latest version was on shocking and appalling display during the London riots a couple of weeks ago. But far too little media coverage was given to the flash mobs that struck in American cities around the same time.
This summer, spontaneous incidents of group violence – dubbed ‘flash robs’ – have happened in Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Washington, among other cities. Most episodes involved groups of young people looting stores or assaulting pedestrians and then running off.
Authorities said they believe at least some of these incidents were triggered by calls on social-networking sites to meet up and wreak havoc.
(When flash mobs attack, CNN, August 18, 2011)
In my commentary on the London riots, I recommended that all those who joined in flash-mob criminal behavior should be locked up and given a few smacks upside the head in the process. This should apply even more so for kids in America who can’t even claim that they just got caught up in the nihilistic frenzy of prevailing riots.
Ironically, all of these kids seem too stupid to realize that the technology they use to organize their flash mobs is the same technology the police can (and will) use to identify and capture every one of them. For example, Scotland Yard hunted down and arrested over 1,300 rioters and looters in large measure by using facial recognition software. It was also a cinch for the police to cross-reference CCTV images with images all of those pilfering exhibitionists are so fond of posting on Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking sites.
No doubt the police in America will be able to do the same with the images of those who were caught on tape scavenging through stores for everything from candies to designer jeans. After all, there isn’t a store anywhere these days that does not have surveillance cameras installed.
And think again if you think you’re being clever by inciting others to participate in flash mobs while chilling out at home and waiting for those stooges to send videos of their crime spree for you to upload. Because two kids in the UK are each serving four years in the pokey for doing just that.
In a similar vein an up-and-coming rapper was arrested in Cleveland, Ohio just yesterday for urging his Twitter followers (aka his fans) to congregate at a suburban mall where they proceeded to cause public disorder and make a nuisance of themselves.
Interestingly enough, most adults are so incensed by this form of social barbarity that neighbors, and even parents in some cases, are tipping off the police, for no reward, when they recognize kids (from their mugs being flashed on TV or featured in newspaper) engaging in flash-mob criminal behavior.
On the other hand, it’s no wonder kids have no moral compunctions about pillaging a convenience store when some adults justify their behavior by claiming that “times are tough and people need to eat”.
For this was the fatuous and morally bankrupt reaction that was featured on the local news last week after a group of girls were caught on tape snatching drinks and snacks from two stores here in Washington, DC. Never mind that some of these purportedly poor, starving kids could be seen carrying the expensive mobile devices they used to set up their flash mobs….
Let me hasten to note, however, that I do not think these kids should be thrown in with the general prison population. Instead they should be sent to old-fashioned reformatory schools where they will be required to not only take age-appropriate academic courses (or have vocational training), but also participate in discipline-inducing, military-style boot-camp exercises on a daily basis.
Frankly, I’m convinced that these flash mobs and riots would not exist if, at age 18, boys and girls were required to serve in the military: i.e., a de facto Draft. Of course, this won’t happen in the U.S. or UK anytime soon because far too many rich white folks fear their kids being forced into tours of duty in killing fields like Afghanistan and Iraq … with Syria looming.
Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 6:45 AM
Friday, August 19, 2011 at 5:14 AM
No doubt you’ve heard variations on this question being posed by everyone from the members of the Congressional Black Caucus – who began lamenting openly this week that what little Obama is doing is geared towards white folks, to members of the Republican Party – who have been goading him about jobs from the day he was inaugurated.
The goading by Republicans however is belied by the inference that every one of them took a religious oath to oppose every job-creation policy Obama proposes.
But this hasn’t prevented Republicans from appearing all over TV ranting about the audacity of Obama flying off yesterday for a 10-day family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard instead of staying in Washington to work on another job-creation policy for them to oppose … when they return in September from the vacation members of Congress have been on since August 1.
If the above were not hypocritical enough, consider this:
The people screaming loudest for Obama to create jobs are the very Republicans, including all of the ones campaigning for his job, who preach the convenient gospel that the government does not create jobs, only the private sector does. These folks are not only two-faced; they are diabolically stupid.
Putting aside the fact that, since time immemorial, the government has been creating jobs through public works, public services, and an alphabet soup of related bureaucracies, here for the record is a concise and accurate explanation of the only role any president can play in creating jobs:
The White House doesn’t create jobs. The government together — White House, Congress — creates policies that allow for greater job creation. And that can be through tax cuts, for example, for working Americans; everyone who works pays a payroll tax. And the tax cut that this President pushed for, for one year, for this calendar year, he’s pushing for to be extended next year.
(White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Real Clear Politics, August 4, 2011)
Nobody can deny that Obama has been dutifully playing his role from day one. The reason so many people disapprove of his job-creation efforts is that he has not done enough to call out the do-nothing, just-say-no Republicans for reflexively opposing every job-creation policy he proposes simply because they believe this is their best (and only) way to make him “a one-term president”.
He should continually remind the nation that no less a person than Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is on record declaring that the number one priority for Republicans in Congress is not to help create jobs, but to defeat Obama.
Meanwhile, please note the inclusion of Congress in Carney’s formulation. Because to hear Republican congressmen, you’d think the only role they have to play in creating jobs is to carp at Obama out of both sides of their mouths.
Apropos of mouths, this picture (taken at last week’s Iowa State Fair) of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who is clearly Obama’s critic with the biggest mouth, might induce even a few Brothers to vote for her:
Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 5:35 AM
Julius Malema (30) is president of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) – the youth arm of South Africa’s ruling party. Unfortunately, he behaves more like a wannabe gangsta than a future political leader.
It’s arguable though that he’s merely emulating the behavior that catapulted his mentor, Jacob Zuma, to the presidency. Which, of course, explains why the country that Mandela liberated – with great expectations that it would become the Dark Continent’s beacon of democracy, economic development, and black empowerment – is turning into just another dysfunctional African kleptocracy under Zuma’s rule.
Anyway, to get a sense of Malema’s foreboding and untenable popularity, just imagine Malik Zulu Shabazz, the racist and anti-Semitic leader of the New Black Panther Party, having such popular support in America that political analysts begin talking seriously about him mounting a challenge to President Barack Obama in Democratic Primaries next year….
Clearly this Shabazz-Obama scenario is utterly farfetched. Even so it captures the essence of what is now playing out between Malema and Zuma in South Africa. Indeed, political analysts there are speaking openly about Malema doing to President Zuma what Zuma did to then President Thabo Mbeki, namely, depose him as head of the ANC and then replace him as president.
It is noteworthy that Malema endeared (or ingratiated) himself to Zuma a few years ago by vowing that he and his young comrades would “kill for Zuma” if that’s what it takes for him to replace Mbeki as president. Not to mention the patronly pride Zuma must have felt when Malema defended him back then by claiming that the woman who famously accused Zuma of rape must have had a “nice time” because the morning after she “requested breakfast and taxi money”.
Yet all indications are that Zuma is becoming sufficiently wary of Malema’s mushrooming popularity and commensurate political ambition that he’s reportedly looking for ways to keep him in check. Ironically, Zuma may be able to ensnare Malema in the web of corruption that surrounds him just as Mbeki tried, to no avail, to do with that which surrounded Zuma.
In this case, Malema is being dogged by allegations that he uses his political connections to steer government contracts (e.g. for the privatization of government assets as well as tenders for public works) to select companies and then launders kickbacks from them through his Ratanang Family Trust. But his “secret” money-making schemes are so brazenly transparent that they have incited headlines like the following in local papers:
Two faced … Malema was happy to make millions from privatization while calling for nationalization.
(Mail & Guardian, August 7, 2011)
Malema founded the Trust in 2008 purportedly to fund orphanages, build schools and deliver welfare services to the poor. But this smacks of the typical ruse drug kingpins pull by dabbling in charity to give their criminal enterprise the veneer of legitimacy and respectability. Moreover, Malema makes a mockery of the purported mission of his Trust by living an ostentatious lifestyle that is grossly disproportionate to his legitimate income – complete with chauffeured limousines and armed bodyguards.
One wonders though if Malema has already become too intimidating and popular to keep in check: On the one hand, ANC leaders treat him like the schoolyard bully whom even the principal is afraid to discipline. On the other hand, poor blacks – who comprise the vast majority of the ANC’s base – treat him like a latter-day Robin Hood; never mind that they are too ignorant to appreciate that he’s not stealing from the rich to give to them, but from them to enrich himself.
In fact, white politicians and activists seem to be the only ones daring enough to call a spade a spade where Malema’s corrupt practices are concerned:
Today I will follow up on my previous letters written to the SA Revenue Service and the public protector requesting investigations into the personal finances of Mr Malema.
The alleged payments of R1.2m that have now come to light add greater urgency to our requests for a full investigation into who is financing his upmarket lifestyle and the building of his R16m Sandown home.
(Dianne Kohler Barnard, spokesperson for the opposition Democratic Alliance, News 24 Cape Town, August 15, 2011)
I suspect, however, that the political dynamics and demographics that enabled Zuma to overcome similar allegations of corruption will conspire twofold to enable Malema to overcome these. Not least because Zuma was being accused by fellow members of the ANC; whereas Malema is being accused by whites who he can easily dismiss (as he routinely does) by playing the race/colonialists card:
White kids are driving around his neighbourhood in expensive sports cars. But if a black kid becomes wealthy, people assume it is the result of corruption.
(Malema, BBC, February 27, 2010)
Alas, it hardly matters that, in far too many cases, the wealth blacks are amassing under ANC rule is in fact the result of political corruption and outright theft.
Yet, as venal a rabble-rouser as Malema clearly is, there’s no denying the pot-call-the-kettle-black spectre of complaints being filed against him by whites whose families enriched themselves for generations under the racist and genocidal rule of Apartheid.
And nothing indicates what little sympathy there is for whites among ANC leaders in this respect quite like their refusal to publicly rebuke Malema for leading tens of thousands of blacks in singing the song “Shoot the Boer” at ANC rallies. This refusal compelled AfriForum, a white civil rights group (with no appreciation of the irony, if not hypocrisy, inherent in its cause), to file a civil suit earlier this year in which it claimed that this song polarizes South Africans along racial lines and has incited blacks to kill white farmers.
The court agreed and banned the song. This was clearly the correct ruling. Because the lyrics are per se hate speech, which has no place in a democratic society.
It is important to note, however, that no link was ever established between the singing of this song and the killing of white farmers. Especially since it is far more likely that the few misguided blacks who took out their subsistence frustrations on white farmers in South Africa were incited to do so by the many misguided blacks who did the same in neighboring Zimbabwe … pursuant to official government policy.
To the relief and exultation of restive blacks, Mugabe announced sweeping land reforms in which his government would seize the ‘farms of white colonialists to give to landless peasants and the veterans of the war of liberation’. Unfortunately, like his independence blueprint for black empowerment, Mugabe’s land reforms have been an abject failure: Five years ago, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of sub-Saharan Africa; today, it is a basket case of starving people. Five years ago, there were 4000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe; today, there are only 400 – mostly unproductive – farms left.
(Zimbabweans pray for liberation from their liberator – Robert Mugabe, The iPINIONS Journal, May 29, 2005)
But the point is that even blacks who think Malema is nothing but a national embarrassment could be forgiven their indignation at whites now complaining about a black song violating their civil rights when they expressed no concern at all about a white government that sanctioned institutional racism, economic hegemony and even murder against blacks.
Of course, such is Malema’s impudent and incorrigibly provocative nature that, after the court’s ruling, he promptly began leading ANC rallies in singing this same song only inserting the word “kiss” instead of “shoot”.
This man, despite displaying the disposition of a spoiled brat, seems to be on an inexorable and accelerated path to the South African presidency. The BBC titled a February 27, 2010 feature on him, “Julius Malema: Genius, clown or fat cat?” In fact, he is all three.
However, apropos of the allusion above, I fear Malema would do for South Africa what President Robert Mugabe has done for Zimbabwe. That is, of course, unless Zuma remains power hungry enough to “neutralize” him, which I’m betting is the case.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 5:18 AM
Like me you probably paid no attention to much of the blather that came out of the mouth of Donald Trump during the three-ring circus that was his pretend exploration of a run for president of the United States.
Yet there’s no denying the truth of at least one of Trump’s talking points; namely, that the U.S. allows far too many allies to play it for a sucker and a fool. Here’s a case in point:
Virtually everyone in Washington reacted with shock and indignation yesterday to reports that Pakistan allowed China to scavenge amidst the remnants of the stealth helicopter the Navy Seals flew in to get Osama bin Laden before deigning to grant the U.S. permission to retrieve them.
Access to a super-secret stealth helicopter that could evade Pakistani (and thus Chinese) airspace and sovereignty would be an extraordinary boon to the People’s Liberation Army and China’s state-owned military-industrial complex.
(CNN, August 15, 2011)
Adding insult to this perfidy, while it was allowing China free reign to exploit this sensitive technology, Pakistan was denying the U.S. access to merely interview bin Laden’s wives and children.
But I was not shocked in the least by these reports. For here is how I presaged them within days after the Pentagon admitted that the Seals were forced to leave remnants of this stealth helicopter behind:
Nothing demonstrates [why allies play the U.S. for a sucker and a fool] quite like the U.S. lauding Pakistan for finally returning a critical part of the stealth helicopter that crashed landed during the raid on bin Laden’s compound. After all, it seems clear to me that Pakistan delayed this return to allow China, which is fast becoming its most-favored superpower patron, to reverse engineer all of the helicopter’s top-secret features.
Not to mention the tail-wagging-the-dog spectacle of the U.S. thanking Pakistan for finally granting CIA agents access to the compound weeks after their counterparts (ISI agents) had already combed through it for all incriminating evidence — not just against al-Qaeda, but also against Pakistan.
(Arrest of Ratko Mladic, The iPINIONS Journal, May 31, 2011)
Frankly, given the way it has been treating the U.S. lately one could be forgiven for thinking that Pakistan is one of America’s few remaining sworn enemies (like Cuba) instead of a long-standing ally that receives over $1.5 billion a year in U.S. assistance. It’s quite understandable that Pakistan would nurture ties with the Taliban as an existential necessity; it’s simply unforgivable that it would betray the U.S. in this fashion merely to curry political and economic favor with China.
After winning the Cold War, you’d think the last thing the U.S. needs to learn is that, in foreign relations, it’s often better to be feared and respected than cheered and exploited. But this is the lesson Pakistan has been trying to teach it for years….
Arrest of Mladic…
Monday, August 15, 2011 at 8:02 AM
Winning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way now to eradicate images of his bacchanalian private life from public consciousness. And only this will give his understandably spooked corporate sponsors – who dropped him like a hot potato – the cover they need to feature him as their spokesman once again… In any event, I am convinced that Tiger will return … sooner rather than later.
(Tiger escapes to a “safe haven,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2009)
When I wrote the above, in the immediate aftermath of his scandalous fall from grace, I would have bet my life savings that Tiger would have won his 15th Major by now. The Majors, of course, are the four most prestigious annual tournaments in professional golf. They are comprised of the Masters in April, U.S. Open in June, British Open in July, and PGA Championship in August.
Well, just as I predicted, he did return sooner rather than later after that now infamous domestic incident in November 2009 – only four months later to be exact. The surprise however is that Tiger has not won a single, rinky-dink tournament since then, let alone that 15th Major.
This is why, by contrast, those who vowed back then that he would never win again are feeling somewhat vindicated. And that feeling could only have been reinforced on Friday when Tiger missed the cut at the PGA Championship, the final major of the year and a tournament which accounts for 4 of his 14 major titles.
It is impossible to resist engaging in pop psychology to explain why he can’t even buy a win these days. Apropos of this, I cannot help remarking on how delusional Tiger sounded on Friday after what had to have been the most humiliating performance of his professional career:
It’s a step back in the sense I didn’t make the cut but a giant leap forward in the sense that I played two straight weeks healthy.
(BBC Sport, August 12, 2011)
A giant leap forward? Hell, if merely staying healthy, physically, for two straight weeks is a giant leap forward, then actually winning another major might take a miracle….
But it’s plainly disingenuous for Tiger to suggest that chronic injuries have prevented him from winning. For this is belied by the fact that he not only seemed just fine throughout his winless 2010, but actually won his “last” Major, the 2008 U.S. Open, while in obvious pain caused by a knee injury. (Incidentally, Tiger did withdraw from the final round of the Players Championship in May 2010, complaining about a neck injury. But that he was back on the tour within weeks gave credence to suspicions that he withdrew merely out of frustration because he had no chance of winning.)
Frankly, one does not have to be a trained psychologist to diagnose that Tiger’s problems are more mental than physical. Because it is self-evident that the public humiliation he endured following that domestic incident, which exposed his Charlie-Sheen like penchant for prostitutes, sapped him of the self-esteem and confidence that not only fueled his game, but instilled self-defeating fear in other players.
Unsurprisingly, the media have focused on the fact that he lost his wife and a half billion dollars in divorce payments and commercial endorsements. It’s arguable though that an even greater loss was the mental strength that gave him that invincible swagger, but which depended so much on reverence from fans and fellow players alike.
What Rory McIlroy, the winner of this year’s U.S. Open, said about playing this PGA Championship with a strained tendon in his right wrist is instructive in this context:
It was probably tougher mentally more than anything else, trying to get it out of your mind.
(BBC Sport, August 12, 2011)
Furthermore, that a physically fit Tiger announced after missing the cut that he won’t play another tournament until November is testament to how mentally vulnerable he has become. Indeed, one can be forgiven for thinking that he’d rather nurse his wounded pride than risk another ignominious cut.
Unfortunately, this avoidance strategy will only make his performance anxiety more acute. And, given his now notorious sexcapades, how’s that for irony of ironies…?
I am convinced that Tiger is losing his very pubic fight to recapture his mojo simply because he cannot get that public humiliation out of his mind. And each loss will only make him more anxious about playing his next tournament.
Meanwhile, apropos of humiliation, earlier this summer Tiger unceremoniously fired Steve Williams, the caddie who served him loyally through 13 of his 14 majors. Therefore, imagine Tiger’s resentment when Williams moved on to caddie for Adam Scott who won his first World Golf Championship at the Bridgestone Invitational a week ago; especially since Tiger only managed to finish in an ego-crushing tie for 37th … 18 shots back.
Perhaps even more devastating was hearing Williams then gloat all over TV about Scott’s victory being “the best win I’ve ever had.” The insinuation being that he was as responsible for Scott’s win as he was for all of Tiger’s. So, on top of all of his other performance anxieties, Tiger now has to worry about proving that he can in fact win without Williams….
At any rate, Tiger is 35. So he can probably compete, physically, for another five years. But if he still hasn’t won his 15th major by this time next year, then I fear he will never be able to compete well enough, mentally, to dethrone Jack Nicklaus as the king of the majors with 18 wins.
Still, it speaks volumes about how much this sport revolves around Tiger that even when his misses the cut (or is not even playing in a tournament), sports commentators spend more time talking about him than about any other player – as Scott found out last week and Keegan Bradley, the rookie who won this PGA Championship, found out this weekend. No doubt this is because it has been demonstrated quite convincingly that when Tiger is not featured in some fashion viewership plummets dramatically. The “bottom line” is that golf needs Tiger more than Tiger needs golf.
NOTE: For the record, I am convinced that Tiger will win again – and not just some rinky-dink tournament, but a major. But to give you a sense of how difficult it is for one player to dominate the majors the way Tiger once did, just bear in mind that the last 13 major championships have been won by 13 different players.
Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 5:28 AM
Friday, August 12, 2011 at 5:07 AM
[F]ar too much of this criticism is fickle, hypocritical and emotionally wrought… The real narrative arc of course is that progressive columnists (like Maureen Dowd of the New York Times) who once fawned over Obama’s style are now criticizing it.
But I hope Obama shows the same indifference towards their criticisms that he showed when they were swooning over him not so long ago. Because it would be a travesty if he were to try now to emulate that emotional chameleon Bill Clinton – who these same media prima donnas ridiculed for continually feigning emotions just to curry political favor.
(BP spill turns swooning over Obama toxic, The iPINIONS Journal, June 7, 2010)
This is how I dismissed the internecine criticisms fellow progressives were hurling at President Obama last year in the wake of the BP oil spill. Lately though it seems they’ve been trying to outdo conservatives in their gratuitous and often ad-hominem criticisms of him.
Mind you, this is not to say that Obama does not deserve heaps of criticism. In fact, a cursory search of this weblog will reveal that few people have been more critical of some of his policies than me.
Most notable has been my criticism of his incomprehensible decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Just days ago I wrote that the body blow the Taliban/al-Qaeda gave America by killing those celebrated Navy Seals there last week was just the latest incidence of chickens coming home to roost because of that ill-fated decision.
And, as regards the now prevailing criticisms of his economic policies, which have made strange bedfellows of progressives and conservatives, here is how I presaged much of this 18 months ago:
[H]e’s turning out to be all talk and no action… I urge him to spend less time talking and more time creating jobs…
(Obama: what we have is a failure to communicate, The iPINIONS Journal, January 26, 2010)
Specifically, like most progressives, I have criticized Obama for failing to submit a jobs plan commensurate with all of his talk about focusing on creating jobs. This is why I was encouraged yesterday when he promised that he will have one ready for legislative action when Congress returns in September. And he made it clear that his plan will include all of the road-building and bridge-repairing features (complete with an “infrastructure bank”) that progressives have been clamoring for.
Despite my criticisms, however, I have never doubted Obama’s commitment to the core progressive principles that made him such an appealing presidential candidate. By contrast, many of my progressive friends have become not just disillusioned, but disaffected because of what they consider his unwillingness to fight for, or his outright abandonment of, these principles.
But, with all due respect, I fear they are suffering a mild form of the same delusional zealotry that afflicts Tea Partiers. For what they criticize as Obama’s weakness for not matching the Tea Partiers’ my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing is just his pragmatic way of trying to get something, anything done – given a Republican-controlled House that he knows is hell-bent on blocking anything he proposes.
As my October 2006 commentary entitled Run Obama Run will attest, I was a die-hard Obama supporter long before most of these disillusioned folks even knew his name. More to the point, I have always known and accepted that the key to his appeal as a transformative politician was his pragmatism.
I was also mindful, however, that the bane of his presidency would be left-wing ideologues who would mistake his pragmatism for weakness. But I was confident that Obama would always have enough self-confidence to make pragmatic compromises despite carping from the left.
(“Mutiny against Obama over Bush tax cuts,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 9, 2010)
Of course I get why so many progressives want to see him stand up to Republicans just for the sake of proving to them that “Yes, he can”. But just because political jihadists in the Congress would rather destroy the country than compromise one iota on their agenda does not mean that Obama should become a political jihadist too.
Meanwhile, given the way these progressives are joining conservatives in dismissing him as a spineless, feckless leader, you’d think Obama has nothing to show for his preternatural pragmatism. Whereas, in fact, this enabled him to:
- negotiate a stimulus package (pulling the U.S., if not the world economy, from the precipice of another Great Depression);
- bailout the auto industry (saving it from imminent and terminal collapse and saving tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs);
- sign landmark healthcare reform (providing health insurance to over 30 million poor Americans and prohibiting adhesive insurance practices);
- sign unprecedented financial regulation (overhauling the financial industry for the first time in generations – complete with a consumer bureau to protect borrowers against abuses in mortgage, credit card and other types of lending);
- sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (launching a new era of national service and volunteerism);
- sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (making it easier for women to sue for equal pay);
- expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP – providing health, dental and vision coverage to poor children);
- ease restrictions on stem cell research; appoint the first Hispanic, Sonia Sotomayor, to the Supreme Court; and enact student-loan reform (making the government, not loan-sharking commercial banks, the originator of student loans); just to name a few.
Except that it would be remiss of me not to mention the daring orders he issued for Special Forces to rescue an American sea captain from Somali pirates and to finally get Osama bin Laden: Weak? Spineless? Feckless? I don’t think so….
Obama is clearly convinced that maintaining his reasonable, pragmatic approach will redound to his and the Democrats’ favor in November 2012 when voters have their next opportunity to decide who should be kicked out of office for turning Washington into such a dysfunctional mess. I agree.
When voters consider what it’s going to take to finally address the nation’s problems in a reasonable and constructive manner, I think the vast majority of them are going to opt for his balanced and necessarily bi-partisan approach instead of the dogmatic and devilishly doctrinaire approach that every Republican seems to have taken a religious oath to follow. For it is oxymoronic, if not Talibanic for Republicans to insist that they can balance the budget and reduce the national debt without ever compromising in negotiations with Democrats.
Which brings me to this simple question for my progressive friends: if not Obama, whom? And please do not mention the wistful fantasy of seeing Hillary Clinton mount a Kennedyesque challenge to him next year. Voters are disdainful enough of the betrayal Republican Jon Huntsman pulled by resigning from Obama’s Cabinet to run against him. Hillary is too sensible and indeed too pragmatic to even contemplate such a betrayal. The far more likely scenario – long rumored in Washington – is that she and Vice President Joe Biden will switch jobs so that she will be ideally positioned to succeed Obama in 2016.
So criticize him, get pissed off, become disaffected. But do not ever lose sight of the fact that there’s no politician more capable of leading America through this period of mindless political pandering and brinkmanship than Barack Obama. 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.
Frankly, it smacks of a cult of sheer madness that every Republican thinks he (or she) can get elected by merely promising to reinstate the Bush policies that got this country into all of the economic and military mess Obama is trying to get it out of….
Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 5:21 AM
When Governor Gordon Wetherell arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands three years ago, our country was mired in such endemic political corruption that he spent most of his first year overseeing the British government’s plans to suspend local rule.
I fully appreciate that it has become politically expedient lately, perhaps even fashionable, to claim that Wetherell was the point man for a hostile takeover instead of a salutary intervention. But there’s no denying the popular support he enjoyed for ridding us of politicians whose venality was matched only by their incompetence.
Alas, there’s also no denying that Wetherell’s tenure has been marked by national angst and frustration. These were caused, quite understandably, by his dutiful efforts to implement economic and political reforms to ensure sound fiscal management and good governance once local rule is restored.
Then, of course, there’s our abiding anxieties over whether those implicated in corruption would ever be prosecuted….
It must be said, however, that persistent mischief-making by local politicians greatly exacerbated this angst and frustration.
For instead of working with Wetherell to put our country on a path to sustainable development, PNP leaders seemed only interested in blaming the British for their scandalous (and allegedly criminal) mismanagement of public funds, and PDM leaders seemed only interested in shaming the British into summarily handing over the reins of government to them.
Yet nothing distinguished this governor’s tenure quite like the unflappable way he dealt with the ignorant, self-interested, and often pugilistic challenges these politicians continually posed to his leadership. Indeed, what speaks volumes in this respect is the juxtaposition of the temperament he displayed with that displayed by former Premier Michael Misick – who not only incited most of these challenges, but whose tenure was distinguished by public brawls he himself instigated.
Frankly, Wetherell’s combination of steely determination and disarming sufferance made him ideally suited to lead our country during this difficult interim period.
I have no doubt, however, that he regrets having to leave office later this month before implementing all of the reforms that constitute the necessary preconditions (or milestones) that must be met before local rule is restored.
All the same, it is noteworthy that no less a person than UK Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham declared just weeks ago that the work Wetherell and his interim administration did “surpassed expectations“. Therefore, a heart-felt ‘Thank you, Governor Wetherell’ is clearly in order.
But I suspect the measure of this man is such that he would probably be more embarrassed than pleased to be thanked so publicly for doing his job.
Nonetheless, given the very public role I played in lobbying him and the British government to suspend local rule and implement the reforms now underway, it would be remiss of me not to at least wish him well in his future endeavors.
So Godspeed, GW.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 7:12 AM
Almost two years ago I wrote a commentary titled, “Obama Saluting War Dead Will Be Defining Image of His Presidency.” Nothing vindicates this commentary quite like the president feeling compelled to clear his schedule yesterday to be at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to salute the Navy Seals who were returning home from Afghanistan in body bags on Saturday.
This is why I am reprising the commentary I felt compelled to write on Saturday (August 6, at 10:32 pm) when I first heard news of this tragedy. For it is impossible to overstate what a strategic blunder it was for Obama to escalate this war two years ago or how critical it is for him to end it now.
Al-Qaeda strikes back: the killing of Seal Team 6
I was just as happy as any critic of the war in Afghanistan could be when “Obama got Osama”. But even back then I felt constrained to temper the prevailing jingoistic triumphalism as follows:
There’s no denying the psychological boost this will give the war on terrorism. And the celebration this news prompted across the United States is understandable.
But, as victories go, this one is pyrrhic at best. After all, almost as many American lives were lost prosecuting this war as those that were lost on 9/11. What’s more, tens of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan and Pakistan were killed as collateral damage and over one trillion dollars were spent just to arrive at this point.
(Obama gets Osama, The iPINIONS Journal, May 3, 2011)
Reports are that Obama has already made what he probably thinks is the Solomonic decision to send an additional 20 thousand troops to the killing fields of Afghanistan, giving his commanding general only half of the 40 thousand he requested.
Unfortunately, this means that troops are bound to be returning home in body bags throughout his entire presidency. Because, frankly, given the military quagmire Afghanistan has become, sending 20 (or even 40) thousand additional troops amounts to the proverbial tossing of a 50-foot life line to a man drowning 100 feet away….
(Picture of Obama saluting war dead the defining image of his presidency, The iPINIONS Journal, October 30, 2009)
Sadly, my foreboding view of this war came home to roost in spectacular fashion today when Taliban and al-Qaeda forces shot a U.S. helicopter from the sky over Afghanistan, killing 30 U.S. soldiers.
What made this so poignant – inflicting as much of a psychological blow as getting bin Laden injected a psychological boost – is that most of those killed were from the same elite Seal Team 6 who were hailed just months ago for their daring mission to get bin Laden. Now, there’s no denying this untenable juxtaposition:
It took the U.S. military 10 years to avenge the killing of 3,000 on 9/11 by killing bin Laden. It took the Taliban and al-Qaeda only 10 weeks to avenge the killing of bin Laden by killing these celebrated Navy Seals.
This tragic reversal of fortune will clearly undercut Obama’s telegraphed plans to exploit his daring order to get bin Laden during his reelection campaign. And, frankly, it’s silly to try to minimize the triumph this represents for al-Qaeda by spinning the notion that none of those killed were actually involved in the bin Laden raid.
What’s more, nothing vindicates my admonition quite like the fact that this episode represents the deadliest single day in this infernal 10-year war. And the fateful irony is not lost on me that this happened not on the watch of the war-mongering President George W. Bush, but on that of the putatively peacemaking President Barack Obama.
A further irony is that the shoulder-fired missile that was used to take down this helicopter is very likely a remnant from the stash the Americans supplied the Mujahedeen to help them take down Russian helicopters during Russia’s own ill-fated 10-year war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In fact, it was such deadly missile attacks on helicopters that forced the Russians to finally turn tail and run – as was gleefully dramatized in Charlie Wilson’s War. This is why nobody can blame the Russians for expressing unbridled schadenfreude over this unfolding comeuppance for the Americans today.
But Obama does not even need to look to the Russians for an instructive precedent. For he could cite the precedent former President Bill Clinton set by beating a hasty retreat out of Somalia after rebels shot down a helicopter in the infamous Black Hawk Down incident. It was ignominious, but withdrawing troops soon thereafter spared the senseless loss of more lives and probably saved Clinton’s presidency. Not to mention the uncanny symmetry – with these tragic events occurring in the first term of a beleaguered presidency in both cases.
If all of this does not constitute a divine sign that Obama should declare victory and get the hell out of Afghanistan, then there is no God!
Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 5:37 AM
What happened here on Thursday night raised huge questions and we need answers. The response to that is not to loot and rob.
We have officers in hospital, some seriously injured. It’s a disgrace. This must stop. A community that was already hurting has now had its heart ripped out. The post office, shops, newsagents, the council building that deals with customer complaints, were smashed to pieces by mindless, mindless people, many of whom had come from afar intent on trouble.
(MP for Tottenham David Lammy, The Sun, August 8, 2011)
“What happened here” – in the multi-ethnic London neighborhood of Tottenham – is that the police shot and killed a suspected black “gangster” named Mark Duggan. And this ignited a frenzy of rioting and looting the likes of which, alas, have become all too familiar.
Indeed, this seems an uncanny repeat of similar riots that broke out in this very neighborhood in 1985 after the police shot and killed a black woman during a search of her home. And those riots occurred only one week after the more infamous Brixton riots, which broke out after the police shot and killed another black woman under very similar circumstances.
Therefore, it was as easy to foresee that riots would break out after the Duggan shooting as it is difficult to understand why the police keep shooting black people under such dubious circumstances. Which means, ironically, that the facts surrounding this latest incident are hardly relevant. Besides, they depend entirely on whether they’re being recounted by the police or the rioters.
Nevertheless, I will note that it does not inspire much confidence in the police’s version of events when the bullet they claim Duggan shot at them, which compelled them to return the fire that killed him, turns out to be from “police issue ammunition”.
In any case, I believe there are only two points worth mentioning here:
The first point is actually a reiteration of the prescient warning I gave in my first commentary on the riots that had Paris burning in 2005 and which I reiterated in one on similar riots that had Athens burning in 2008, namely:
[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 grievances that define ghetto life to set 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)
So, notwithstanding the alleged police brutality that triggers them, the reason riots continue to erupt in London is that political leaders fail to heed the categorical imperative to address the chronic unemployment, racial/religious discrimination ,and social alienation that are the long-simmering sparks that give rise to these periodic combustions.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Tottenham is a very impoverished neighborhood with the highest unemployment rate in London. Unfortunately, that Prime Minister David Cameron has rushed back from vacation and recalled Parliament – not to address these root causes, but to spearhead efforts to put out the fires – suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the next eruption…
(Incidentally, I find it interesting that so many indignant politicians are using the term “feral” to describe the rioters’ behavior. For, even though undeniably apt, this term betrays an inclination to put them down like dogs instead of treating them like the “stray” human beings they are; i.e., by socializing and assimilating them.)
The second point has to do with the distressingly self-immolating feature of these riots. For they invariably involve poor, disenfranchised, and dispossessed minorities engaging in a “destructive mania” that only results in making them poorer, more disenfranchised, and more dispossessed.
It might seem incomprehensible to an outsider that a person would engage is such wanton destruction and pillaging of his own community. But if you have no education, no job, and little prospect of being anything but a ghetto dweller, then chances are that you too would have little vested interest in the livelihood and functioning of your own neighborhood. Hell, getting locked up for rioting and looting might just provide the best hope some of these hopeless kids have of getting three-square meals and a bed on a daily basis.
Now, lest you think these are just garden-variety race riots, let me hasten to note that white middle-class anarchists seize every opportunity these days to turn even peaceful street protests into orgies of mayhem and destruction.
In Tottenham they found unwitting comrades who were like the cork on a champagne bottle that had been shaken violently for maximum combustion once uncorked.
But there seems no doubt that these anarchists and London’s well-known “opportunistic yobs” – coordinating their attacks via social networks – are the ones responsible for spreading looting and burning throughout London and other cities in the UK for a third-consecutive night of rioting last night.
Meanwhile, just as the riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating overshadowed the legitimate grievances about police brutality that triggered them (and only further alienated the rioters from the mainstream society), I fear the same will happen in this case.
The police have already made over 200 arrests, and that number is bound to increase significantly:
Officers are shocked at the outrageous level of violence directed against them. At least nine officers were injured overnight in addition to the 26 injured on Saturday night.
We will not tolerate this disgraceful violence. The investigation continues to bring these criminals to justice.
(Metropolitan Police Commander Christine Jones, ITV News London, August 8, 2011)
Indeed, with the purportedly aggrieved rioters causing this kind of widespread and indiscriminate lawlessness, is it any wonder the police will not find time to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the shooting that ignited their rage?
MP Lammy is right of course: these rioters are mostly mindless idiots … intent on trouble. And the only way British authorities seem intent on dealing with them is by locking them up. Truth be told, I’m all for locking them up, and bashing a few heads in the process. But politicians are every bit as misguided as the rioters are if they think this will do anything to put a permanent lid on the simmering tinderbox London’s ghettos have become.
Furthermore, the notion that parental discipline and political condemnation will suffice to tame those who escape arrest is plainly delusional. I fully recognize that these riots reflect a poverty of values as much as a poverty of needs. But this is what distinguishes middle-class anarchists and yobs who riot for opportunistic fun from poor kids who do so to vent a lifetime of privation, victimization, alienation, and utter hopelessness. Let us not forget why and where these (and previous) riots began….
This is why targeted and sustained socialization and assimilation programs in chronically poor neighborhoods (focusing on everything from mandatory extracurricular activities to mandatory job training) provide the only hope against these recurring riots. Or, in language UK political leaders will better understand, these amoral scavengers must be properly domesticated.
But, given the (white-collar) culture of greed and corruption that led to so many MPs shamelessly padding their expenses for personal gain, these politicians would do well to appreciate the instructive hypocrisy inherent in their condemnation of the urban (i.e., black) culture that they claim led to these riots.
NOTE: I am sure British authorities will use any means necessary to ensure that these riots do not hamper ongoing preparations for the 2012 Olympics. And I am confident they will take all steps necessary to ensure that similar riots do not break out during the Games – even if that means interning profiled troublemakers for the duration….
Monday, August 8, 2011 at 5:04 AM
Despite threats by the major credit rating agencies to downgrade America’s AAA credit rating, chances are now slim to none that they will actually do so. This reflects one of the ironic (or oxymoronic) perks of being both the richest and most-indebted nation in the history of mankind: i.e., rating agencies have to think twice about downgrading America because, in doing so, the ripple effect throughout the global economy would be disastrous.
(Crisis averted, but reputational damage done, The iPINIONS Journal, August 2, 2011)
Well, it seems I was only two-thirds right in asserting that the major credit rating agencies would not dare downgrade America’s AAA rating for the first time in history. Because, even though Fitch and Moody’s maintained the top rating, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgraded it to AA+ on Friday.
I am constrained to note, however, that there’s persuasive merit to the criticism that S&P’s move was more political than economic. Not least because S&P refused to reconsider their decision even after admitting, rather embarrassingly, that the Obama administration was correct in pointing out a $2 trillion error in the calculations upon which they based their downgrade.
They’ve handled themselves very poorly. And they’ve shown a stunning lack of knowledge about the basic U.S. fiscal math. Look at the quality of judgments they’ve made in the past…
I think everyone can be confident around the world, that Treasuries are the … most liquid, the strongest place to put your money at this time.
(U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Associated Press, August 7, 2011)
This, in part, is why I maintain that the economic impact will be fleeting and relatively minimal. On the other hand, the political impact could be significant, which is arguably the intent. For nothing will help the Republicans marginalize (or Carterize) President Obama quite like being able to assail him as the president who presided over the once-unthinkable loss of America’s “gold-plated” credit rating.
Which begs the question: Do the politically motivated executives at S&P hate or resent Obama’s presidency so much that they would willfully inflict this kind of reputational damage on the United States – the ripple effects throughout the global economy be damned? You betcha!
After all, the rich businessmen funding and egging on the Tea Party (most notably the billionaire Koch brothers) were prepared to go even further by plunging the country into default — despite all of the reputational and practical damage that would have entailed.
Again, these born-again zealots would prefer economic Armageddon to what they have deluded themselves into thinking is Obama’s (black-nationalist/Muslim-inspired) plan to turn America into a socialist, Greek-style banana republic — ignoring the ironic fact that nobody is doing more towards this end than they. Their hatred of Obama is so irrational, one could also be forgiven the suspicion that their dark, ulterior motive is to see America become so dysfunctional and humiliated under his leadership that Americans would not even consider electing another Black person as president for at least another 100 years.
At any rate, I just hope the Democratic-controlled Senate makes a public show of summoning S&P’s executives to appear at an open hearing to expose the Machiavellian motives behind their decision. For they will be hard-pressed to explain why they downgraded the credit rating of the inherently solvent U.S. government when they never even hinted at downgrading that of any of the literally bankrupt mortgage and banking institutions that precipitated the global financial meltdown in 2008.
Frankly, it’s demonstrably clear that S&P are pursuing a political agenda not just to cover their asses for that historic blunder, but also to avoid the heightened regulation of their activities that would surely come if Obama is reelected. And, of course, doing whatever is necessary to ensure that Obama is not reelected just happens to coincide with the demonstrably clear Republican agenda.
For no less a person than Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declared repeatedly and quite unabashedly that:
The single most-important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
(Sen. McConnell, National Journal, October 23, 2010)
That, folks, is what this is all about – not creating jobs, reducing the national debt, or maintaining America’s AAA credit rating.