Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 4:40 PM
I am on record declaring my belief that Oscar Pistorius is “as guilty as sin,” and predicting that Judge Masipa would sentence him to seven years in prison (after weighing all mitigating and aggravating factors).
Before commenting any further, however, I feel constrained to note that many commentators criticized Judge Masipa’s legal reasoning when she convicted Pistorius of (the lesser charge of) culpable homicide instead of premeditated murder. I was among them.
For, with all due respect to Milady, it defies logic to find that a reasonable person cannot foresee that firing four bullets into a toilet stall would probably kill whoever is inside. Not to mention that this conduct comports with the textbook definition of depraved indifference for human life. And that’s murder … even in South Africa!
(“Oscar Pistorius Gets Off on Murder. Manslaughter Looms,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 12, 2014)
Some commentators even proffered that she harbored sympathies that would preclude her from sentencing him to any time in prison. I was not among them.
It’s in this latter respect, at least, that Judge Masipa vindicated her legal reasoning, as well as her judicial independence, courage, and temperament, by imposing a sentence that is worthy of King Solomon:
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to a maximum of five years imprisonment for culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp…
‘Having regard for the circumstances of the matter, I am of the view that a non custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community; on the other hand a long sentence would not be appropriate as it would lack mercy.’
(South Africa Mail & Guardian, October 21, 2014)
Granted, I was off by two years. But my prediction of seven years seems positively clairvoyant when compared to the consensus among legal experts, which had Pistorius getting off with a “wholly suspended” sentence.
All the same, as I am not one to gloat … too much, here are a few points to serve as my closing statement on this tragic case and Oscar’s fall from grace:
- Even though I would have found him guilty of the more serious charge of premeditated murder, I believe justice was served. Not least because, like beauty, justice is so often in the eye of the beholder.
- It spoke volumes, and made a mockery of the able-bodied persona he advertised, that Pistorius pleaded for mercy by claiming that his disability would make it impossible for him to cope (for any period of time) in prison.
- In trademark fashion, Twitter is fueling outrage borne of ignorance – much of it stemming from rumors about Oscar getting out in 10 months. In fact, that’s only when the law allows him to apply for house arrest, which even then would include 24/7 corrective supervision and severe restrictions on his freedom for the remainder of his five-year sentence. House arrest would surely bar him from participating in athletic competition, which makes today’s piggyback decision by the International Paralympic Committee to ban him for five years as opportunistic as it is spineless.
- Even though Judge Masipa had discretion to sentence Pistorius to as many as 15 years, the sentence she handed down is entirely consistent with the majority of sentences for convictions on charges of culpable homicide in South Africa (e.g., The State vs Mapipa – four years; The State vs Nikelo – five years; and The State vs Nesane – eight years).
- It’s an indication of how politicized this case became that members of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) are condemning this (Black) female judge for presiding over what they deem is a “sad” miscarriage of justice. But all you need to know about these women, to put their catcalls into perspective, is that they were in the vanguard of those defending President Jacob Zuma after he was indicted for raping a girl – who he knew was HIV-positive and considered him a surrogate father. In fact, during his trial, scores of ANCWL members held supportive rallies outside the courthouse, during which they hurled insults (and stones) at the female anti-rape campaigners with whom they should have been rallying in solidarity.
- It speaks volumes, and makes a mockery of those expressing outrage, that both Reeva and Oscar’s families say they are “satisfied” that justice was served and intend to “accept” the sentence Judge Masipa handed down.
Case closed. This, notwithstanding prosecutors posturing for the cameras about appealing the judge’s earlier finding of not guilty on the charge of premeditated murder.
Pistorius … manslaughter…
Monday, October 20, 2014 at 4:56 PM
No matter how keen the editing, typos have a way of slipping into published books. Acclaimed authors like Tom Wolfe, Henry Miller, and Kurt Vonnegut — whose books have the dubious distinction of appearing on the dreaded “Corrigenda List of Book Errata” — know this all too well. Therefore, please forgive me if you found/find any typos that make this book a candidate for that list.
(“Acknowledgement,” The iPINIONS Journal, Vol. 1, 2006)
Notwithstanding the above, one of my cultural pet peeves is finding articles in major publications that are littered with typos. In fact, family members and close friends will attest that I get more exasperated on Sundays finding typos in the New York Times than I get watching my quarterback throw interceptions in Football games.
Frankly, it’s one thing for you to find typos in commentaries on my weblog (and I invite you to point them out, by the way); it’s quite another for you to find them in articles in the New York Times.
After all, writing commentaries is not my day job. More to the point, unlike the Times, I don’t have a department of editors getting good money to proofread and edit everything I publish.
This is why I feel some measure of vindication that other major publications now have the balls to take the Times to task for its typo problem, which is becoming embarrassingly chronic. Here, for example, is how the Huffington Post is now hounding the Times in this respect:
Last week, we reported that the New York Times had published a story on its front page that began mid-sentence and failed to include a byline or subheading.
Today, the Times has committed yet another huge front-page error with a glaring typo in the lead Ebola story.
Can you see it?
(October 20, 2014)
See it? It was impossible to miss! After all, this glaring typo appeared on the front page, in a centered headline, and in boldface type. It read as follows:
Panic Were Ebola Risk Is Tiny; Stoicism Where It’s Real
To be fair, though, this seems a minor typo when compared to the more egregious ones that have become a regular feature of articles in practically every major newspaper, including no less a publication than The Times of London.
Interestingly enough, after reveling in the New York Times’s humiliation, the Huffington Post proffered the excuse that the typo-littered pages of America’s leading newspaper might be due to major layoffs as part of its transition to digital publishing. But it might just be that the digital editors have already taken over; and, as anyone who reads online knows all too well, typos in digital content are as commonplace as farts in men’s locker rooms.
Thanks to the cognitive dissonance social media hath wrought, we live in typo times….
Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Thousands of people go missing in the United States each year and many are never heard from again.
(ABC News, May 8, 2013)
Given the above, only God knows why searching for a chosen few becomes a media cause celebre. Hell, eight women went missing in the last five years in the same area of central Virginia where UVA student Hannah Graham went missing. Like Hannah, two of them, Bonnie Santiago and Janet Field, went missing this summer. Yet chances are very good that you’ve never even heard their names. Not to mention the role race plays in whose missing case the media deem worthy of their obsessive coverage.
In any event, Hannah went missing under suspicious circumstances on September 13. Within days the police named Jesse Leroy Mathew as “a person of interest.” They soon arrested him in Galveston, Texas, and extradited him back to Charlottesville, Virginia, on September 26. Needless to say he insists he had nothing to do with Hannah’s disappearance and knows nothing of her whereabouts. It is highly probative, however, that forensics link Mathew to a number of sexual assaults….
Meanwhile, media coverage of the search for Hannah has been surpassed only by media coverage of the hysteria over Ebola. This was borne out yesterday, when the media interrupted their 24/7 Ebola coverage to report “Breaking News” on her case:
Remains have been found in the search for Hannah Graham, a University of Virginia student who went missing on Sept. 13, Virginia police said.
Police have not confirmed that the remains, which where found behind a vacant home, are those of Graham…
‘Right now we have the discovery of human remains and a great deal of work ahead of us,’ said Col. Steve Sellers
(ABC News, October 19, 2014)
I appreciate, of course, that the police probably have good reasons to believe those remains are in fact Hannah’s. But, given the public interest they and the media have generated in this case, this breaking news smacked of a cruel tease.
This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with what passes for news in this age of Twitter. For it’s bad enough that media hounds could not wait to report this unconfirmed bit of information as breaking news. But only the Twitter phenomenon of making news for news sake (no matter how uninformed or dead wrong) explains why the police did not wait just a few days to confirm their discovery before holding their backslapping news conference. Indeed, it would seem perfectly reasonable in this perverse cultural context for the officer who found the remains to tweet about it before he told the officer in charge of the search….
But now the police have a captive audience for their next backslapping news conference – as the entire nation is now waiting with bated breath for them to confirm their findings. Mind you, because even those in charge have no qualms about making news just for news sake these days, I would not be the least bit surprised if they announce that the remains are not Hannah’s after all.
Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 10:29 AM
Today the five conservative justices of the Supreme Court upheld a Texas voter identification law, which will likely make it impossible for as many as 600,000 Black and Latino voters to participate in next month’s midterm elections.
I concur with the Court’s ruling; the four liberal justices dissented.
‘The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,’ Ginsburg wrote in dissent.
(The Associated Press, October 18, 2014)
But neither this ruling, nor its breakdown along ideological lines, should surprise anyone who knows anything about the “politics” (as opposed to the legal reasoning and judicial precedents) that guide this Court’s rulings. For the one thing that distinguishes this Court is that the justices Republican presidents nominated invariably vote on the side of issues that affirms conservative ideology; whereas those Democratic presidents nominated invariably vote on the side that affirms liberal ideology.
Of course, the ideological nature of Court rulings only reflects the even more partisan nature of politics these days, which makes it impossible for conservatives and liberals to agree on anything. Accordingly, as an unabashed liberal commentator, I would be expected to join the chorus of those hailing Ginsburg’s dissent, as surely as every conservative commentator is hailing the Court’s ruling.
Except that I’m on record decrying fellow liberals for opposing “progressive amendments” to Voting Rights Act of 1965:
… which include requirements that voters present valid IDs at the polls, and that states provide translators for voters not fluent in English.
(“Blacks Commemorate Civil Rights Act … by Spewing Racial and Anti-Semitic Hatred!” The iPINIONS Journal, August 11, 2005)
In other words, I see nothing wrong with states requiring all citizens to have government-issued identification for voting (and other) purposes. And it’s an insult to Blacks who had to pass literacy and other plainly discriminatory requirements during Jim Crow days to call this a “poll tax.”
More to the point, if Black and Latino leaders (along with their enabling White ideologues) had spent just a little of their time and efforts over the past decade ensuring that Blacks and Latinos had proper IDs, they would not be fighting this civil rights battle, which should have been settled in the twentieth century.
Therefore, despite insidious political pandering, this case was not about denying anybody the right to vote. Instead, it was about the failure to ensure that previously disenfranchised minorities were fully prepared to avail themselves of this right.
Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 8:16 AM
A gay cabal in the Vatican continues to indulge and cover up the sexual exploits of gay priests, including abuse by pedophiles.
(“The Pope Comes to America,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 16, 2008)
Facing outrage from traditional Catholics, top clergy at a Vatican meeting on Thursday altered a document meant to guide future outreach to gays and lesbians, changing the goal of ‘welcoming homosexual persons’ to ‘providing for homosexual persons.’
(Washington Post, October 16, 2014)
Pope confesses: gay cabal in church
Friday, October 17, 2014 at 8:23 AM
Thus spoke anchor Shepard Smith … of FOX News no less.
His pleading was so warranted because, given the media coverage, one could be forgiven for fearing that Ebola has already become such a contagion, its devastation could rival that of the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed as many as 50 million people. Frankly, I can attest that one does not have to be sick from Ebola to be sick of Ebola….
And don’t get me started on all of the government’s feckless, panic-affirming measures, which include TSA agents screening incoming passengers for high fever, the CDC forming Ebola SWAT teams, and congressmen calling for a ban on travel from West Africa. For these make about as much sense, in the circumstances, as police swarming subway stations and area airports – looking like invading U.S. Marines – whenever al-Qaeda issues a vague threat about striking New York City again.
Incidentally, am I the only one who wonders why we never hear about terrorists threatening to strike a city like South Bend (Indiana), Columbus (Ohio), or Tallahassee (Florida)…? After all, chances are very good that, with so much of America’s anti-terror efforts focused on New York City and Washington DC, terrorists could easily kill more people by targeting one college football game in one of those cities than they killed on 9/11. But I digress….
Here in part is the solitary note of reason I sounded weeks ago, when I finally felt compelled to do my part to counter this Ebola scaremongering:
Despite panic-inducing media reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 times as many people die in the United States from the flu each year than the number of those who have died from Ebola in all of Africa.
(“Ebola,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 26, 2014)
Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online… We do not have an outbreak of Ebola in the United States: nowhere…
Get a flu shot: unlike Ebola, flu is easily transmitted; flu, along with resulting pneumonia, killed 52,000 Americans last year alone.
(Huffington Post, October 16, 2014)
In fact, no less a person than Dr. Isabelle Nuttall – director of the World Health Organization’s global capacities, alert, and response – took pains during a briefing yesterday to distinguish between a Ebola arriving in a country (as it has in the United States) and Ebola spreading throughout a country (as it has in Liberia).
Moreover, no reasonable person listening to her briefing could fail to appreciate that more people will die in the United States from gun violence today, than the number who might die from Ebola over the next three months – the amount of time WHO experts believe it will take to stem its spread in West Africa, where the latest death toll is 4,500.
This is why Smith was so right to decry America’s hysterical reaction by reminding folks that all we have are two infected healthcare workers in Texas – who, because they failed to follow proper protocol, contracted the disease while treating a dying man (Eric Duncan) – who himself contracted it in Liberia before flying to the United States.
Unfortunately, only the next big scare will stop major networks like CNN from continuing their Chicken-Little coverage. And nothing is more disingenuous in this respect than the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams spending the first nine minutes of its broadcast last night scaremongering about Ebola, and the next minute emulating Shepard’s cautionary reporting about Ebola hysteria.
What’s more, I suspect TV viewers all over the country are finding that their local news stations are fully engaged in monkey-see-monkey-do reporting on Ebola. Because, no matter how plainly unsustainable, they all generate spikes in ratings these days by presenting everything as “Breaking [Bad] News.”
But, really, the only thing more ridiculous and irresponsible than having reporters all over TV inciting panic about Ebola is having financial analysts all over TV blaming the roller-coaster ride on Wall Street on news reports about Ebola.
Yet, most disheartening of all is the way President Obama gave credence to all of this media scaremongering by cancelling all scheduled engagements on Wednesday and convening an emergency meeting at the White House – to devise a national strategy to combat an Ebola outbreak that does not, and very likely never will, exist.
Not to mention that, in so doing, he practically ensured that the media will not be reporting, among other things:
- that, despite un-American and un-Christian Republican efforts to undermine it, Obamacare has performed far beyond even Obama’s great expectations in its first year, which ended on September 30;
- that unemployment is at a six-year low (with jobless claims at a 14-year low), and the budget deficit Republicans scaremongers claimed Obama’s economic policies would balloon above $1 trillion has in fact shrank to the lowest level since 2007 at $483 billion for fiscal 2014;
- that Obama has done such a terrific job of putting the squeeze on Putin (for annexing Crimea and stirring unrest in Eastern Ukraine) that the price of the oil Putin relies on to fund his mischief has fallen by almost 20 percent. (This is particularly newsworthy because Putin has been reduced to making the kinds of hollow threats about launching nuclear war to get attention on the world stage, which we’ve come to expect only from the boy president of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.);
- that the Kurds, with air cover from U.S. and other coalition bombers, are forcing Daesh (aka ISIS) to retreat in Iraq. (This is particularly newsworthy because these are the same Daesh terrorists/bogeymen who the media were covering just weeks ago as an even greater threat to the United States than the contagion they would have us believe Ebola is today.); and, perhaps most important,
- that you are far more likely to get struck by lightning … twice than you are to contract Ebola, which requires direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is not just infected but already showing symptoms of the disease.
Of course, there’s nothing scary about any of these “October surprises;” therefore, they do not qualify as news that’s fit to cover by the media, which thrive these days on scaremongering.
Finally, I know of no expert on the spreading of infectious diseases who has advocated imposing the ban on travel from West Africa referenced above. In fact, they all say that such a ban would likely incite panic travel and thereby exacerbate the spread of Ebola.
Therefore, politicians insisting on a travel ban, in defiance of what science dictates are the best practices for combating Ebola, are no different from those insisting on a rollback of environmental regulations, in defiance of what science dictates are the best practices for combating climate change. And the shame in this context is all the more dismaying given that Obama’s former press secretary, Jay Carney, is leading the peanut gallery of those calling for this ban.
This is why I commend Obama for refusing, thus far, to extend his shameless pandering on Ebola to siding with these flat-earth politicians – who clearly have no compunctions whatsoever about scapegoating West Africans just to provide their ignorant constituents a false sense of security.
NOTE: Since December 2013, an Ebola-like virus called chikunguya has been spreading throughout the East Caribbean the way Ebola has been throughout West Africa. It is reportedly not nearly as deadly as Ebola. Yet the Pan American Health Organization has documented 113 deaths related to chikungunya.
My people down in the Caribbean are hardly begging for the kind of attention or aid Ebola has spooked the international community into directing towards West Africa. But I hope they can be forgiven a little indignation – not only at the hysteria Ebola is causing in the United States, but also because U.S. officials seem so utterly unconcerned about chikungunya coming here too.
Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 7:53 AM
My respect for the spousal role Winnie Mandela played in South Africa’s “long walk to freedom” has always been undermined by my contempt for the political role she played, which too often had her behaving more like the matriarch of a crime family than the long-suffering mother of an oppressed people.
But even I was shocked and appalled in 2010, when she publicly damned Nelson Mandela as a money-grubbing sellout who had let all Black South Africans down.
Here is an excerpt from “Nelson Mandela Is a Traitor and an Albatross,” March 9, 2010, in which I put her unforgivable betrayal into context:
Truth be told, there was always a disconnect between Winnie Mandela’s behavior and the Joan-of-Arc vestments she wore during the last throes of Apartheid rule in South Africa. More to the point, her behavior always gave the impression that those vestments were covering up character traits that were more Idi Amin than Indira Gandhi.
But anti-Apartheid supporters in the West overlooked her intemperate, boorish, and even murderous ways because we considered her a rebel with a cause…
In any event, I suspect most of us were finally disabused of all hope that she would ever reconcile her behavior with those vestments, when it became clear that neither marriage to a freed Nelson Mandela nor the Black rule for which she struggled so heroically was enough to satiate her promiscuous political ambition.
Therefore, it was clearly just a matter of time before spiteful bile came pouring out of this woman scorned – presumably not only by Nelson (who divorced her in 1996), but also by the new Black leadership (which has refused to honor her as the ‘mother of the nation’ in ways she no doubt expected).
Well, here comes the bile. It flows from an interview conducted by Nadira Naipaul (wife of internationally acclaimed Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul), excerpts of which were published yesterday in the London newspaper The Evening Standard.
Here are just some of the things Winnie is now saying about Mandela – a man who, by all accounts, wore the vestments of a political saint and savior as well as any mortal ever could:
‘This name Mandela is an albatross around the necks of my family. You all must realise that Mandela was not the only man who suffered. There were many others, hundreds who languished in prison and died.
‘Mandela let us down… I cannot forgive him for going to receive the Nobel with his jailer de Klerk. Hand in hand they went.
‘Mandela is now like a corporate foundation. He is wheeled out globally to collect the money.’
This is why I was so stupefied that I seemed to be the only one who bristled with contempt when Winnie began making quite a show of behaving as if she, not Graca Machel, were Mandela’s legitimate wife during his dying days. I duly registered my contempt in “Who the Hell Does Winnie Mandela Think She Is,” July 3, 2013.
Still, notwithstanding all that, even I never thought Winnie would stoop this low:
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has claimed in papers filed in the High Court in Mthatha that her divorce from former president Nelson Mandela was fraudulently obtained…
In her application, Madikizela-Mandela challenged Mandela’s estate, seeking the rights to his home in Qunu, Eastern Cape.
(Africa’s Mail & Guardian, October 15, 2014)
Of course, this might explain why she seemed so hell-bent on usurping Graca’s spousal rights and privileges. For Winnie evokes such cynicism, I can believe that – having good reason to suspect that Mandela had excluded her from his Will – she thought acting like his only legitimate wife would be the best way to get, what she clearly thinks is, her rightful share of his $4 million estate. Claiming now that she and Mandela were never legally divorced is just the coup de grâce.
Nelson Mandela left money in his will to children and grandchildren, staff and the African National Congress (ANC) but gave nothing to his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, it emerged on Monday…
Lawyers said [Graca] Machel is likely to waive her right by marriage to half the Mandela estate, opting instead to receive four properties in Mozambique and other assets including cars and jewellery.
(London Guardian, February 3, 2014)
Frankly, I’m loath to dignify – with any further comment – Winnie’s latest attempt to defile Mandela’s good name. But it’s worth noting that the juxtaposition between Winnie grasping for the right to inherit from his estate, and Graca waiving that right, provides yet more insight into why Mandela divorced Winnie and married Graca.
But I fear Mandela will be rolling over in his grave for many years to come. After all, I’ve had cause on too many occasions in recent years to lament – in such commentaries as “Is Nothing Sacred?! ‘Being Mandela’ – the Reality TV Show?! March 18, 2013 – the way his children and grandchildren were shamefully exploiting and dishonoring his name. Not to mention the courtroom drama that unfolded when several family members took his eldest grandson to court over grave sites, which prompted my gallows observation (in “Who the Hell Does Winnie Mandela Think She Is” referenced above) that:
He who controls the Mandela graveyard controls the tourist dollars they all expect will come from pilgrimages to it.
The point is that this all happened when Mandela was still alive. Therefore, I shudder to think what other family members might do to get, what they think is, their rightful share of his estate; notwithstanding the specific provisions Mandela made for all of them in his Will.
So much for resting in peace….
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 7:56 AM
Putin lords over a kleptocracy that has fleeced public funds on such an unprecedented scale that it makes kleptocracies headed by notorious African despots seem petty by comparison.
(“Ukraine’s (Peaceful) Orange Revolution Turns Red … with Blood,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2014)
President Vladimir Putin sold the Russian people on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as an opportunity – not only to showcase culture, wealth, and resurgent power to rival that which China showcased during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but also to build a year-round holiday resort to rival those on the French Riviera.
Nothing betrays the fact that Putin and his cronies used the $51-billion Sochi Olympics as an egregious kickback scheme quite like Sochi already looking like a crumbling, desolate North Korean settlement just weeks after the end of the Games.
(“Prokhorov, Russian Owner of NBA Nets, Exposed,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 26, 2014)
Still, the Russian people should have known better. After all, they only had to reflect on what became of state-of-the-art venues from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo (or even those from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens) to appreciate what likely portends for the Sochi venues. Not least because, in the run up to the Olympics, there were as many stories foreshadowing Sochi’s doomed fate as there were hailing its Shangri-La future:
Abandoned and left to crumble into oblivion, most of the 1984 Winter Olympic venues in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo have been reduced to rubble by neglect as much as the 1990s conflict that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. The bobsleigh and luge track at Mount Trebevic, the Mount Igman ski jumping course and accompanying objects are now decomposing into obscurity.
(Agence France-Presse, February 10, 2014)
Now bear in mind that Sarajevo is Bosnia’s capital; whereas Sochi is as remote from Moscow as Little Rock is from Washington, DC. It stands to reason, therefore, that Sochi is even more disposed to salutary neglect than Sarajevo….
More to the point, though, such desolation and decay is inevitable when, besides sheer graft, organizers are more interested in the political prestige the Olympics brings than in how the capital expenditures required will ultimately redound to the long-term benefit of the host city.
But leave it to Putin to extract life out of Sochi even as it falls into inexorable decay. Only this explains how it managed to enjoy the highly coveted honor of hosting a leg of the Formula One Gran Prix, which Sochi did on Sunday.
Last weekend the Black Sea resort of Sochi hosted Russia’s first ever Formula One Grand Prix race. The debut was acclaimed as a success, with famous drivers, journalists and the public lining up to pay compliments to the Russian organizers on their achievement…
Most of the people associated with F1, not only Hamilton, were surprised to see how popular racing is in Russia.
(Russia Beyond the Headlines, October 13, 2014)
Of course, putting on a good show for a captive audience, no matter the circumstances, is quite easy when you’re a despot and public funds are no object. Moreover, I would bet some of my well-gotten gains that Russia paid far more to host this F1 race than it generated in revenues/profits.
But, given the control Putin wields over mainstream and social media, this event would have been reported to the Russian people as a resounding success even if race cars ended up plummeting into sinkholes in the middle of the track.
I don’t know what other public shows Putin has in mind for Sochi. But what I do know is that, far from the fantasy of “if you build it, [they] will come,” this is one field of dreams that will end in a nightmare. The only question is how much more Putin is prepared to waste before even he sees the futility of keeping up appearances to make this money pit seem like a national treasure….
That said, as an avid fan of F1, despite its now venal association with Putin, I would be remiss not to offer this abiding observation:
If you don’t know Formula One from Formula 409, please take note:
F1 car racing is a sport that requires the steady hands of a surgeon, the daring skill of a jet fighter, and the physical stamina of a marathon runner.
Moreover, no sport can match the sustained thrill and nail-biting suspense one gets from watching those drivers navigate the zigs, zags, and hairpin-turns of a grand prix racetrack as they jockey for position at speeds exceeding 200 mph!
(“Hamilton Becomes the Youngest Ever and First Black F1 Champion,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 3, 2008)
Meanwhile, Putin’s neo-fascist reputation is such that, when I saw him shaking hands with the victorious Hamilton, I could not get the image of Adolf Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens – ever so begrudgingly – out of my mind. This probably had something to do with my being compelled to draw so many historical comparisons between Hitler and Putin earlier this year in such commentaries as “Putin as Hitler, Crimea as Sudetenland?” February 26, 2014.
Whatever the case, I share this image with profound apologies to Putin. Because, even though he’s a megalomaniacal fascist, he’s no genocidal racist. Specifically, unlike Hitler with Owens, I think Putin genuinely appreciated Hamilton’s master-race performance (i.e., notwithstanding that he was the only Black driver who competed).
NOTE: I know the prevailing view is that Hitler left the stadium in a huff after Owens made a mockery of his proclamations about Aryan superiority. But no less a person than Owens himself is on record saying that, although too humbled, if not too humiliated, to shake his hand in full public view, Hitler did so privately.
And don’t get me started on the insidious hypocrisy inherent in the fact that, many of the compatriots hurling moral indignation at Hitler for snubbing Owens in Nazi Germany, were the same ones who would not eat in the same restaurant with him, let alone shake his hand, back home in Jim Crow America.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 6:56 AM
The Editorial Board of the New York Times made news on Saturday, when it published a special editorial calling on President Obama to “End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba:”
Scanning a map of the world must give President Obama a sinking feeling as he contemplates the dismal state of troubled bilateral relationships his administration has sought to turn around. He would be smart to take a hard look at Cuba, where a major policy shift could yield a significant foreign policy success.
For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo…
He must — and he should see it as an opportunity to make history.
Specifically, the Times urged Obama to seize the occasion of the Seventh Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015, not only to break the elephant-in-the-room tradition of excluding Cuba, but also to formally announce the end of the embargo.
I agree. In fact, I can probably be forgiven for thinking that this critically acclaimed editorial board is just following my lead. After all, I’ve been calling on U.S. presidents to “end the U.S. embargo on Cuba” for decades.
Except that I’ve been urging them to do so more as a moral/categorical imperative than just to have another feather in their political cap. I remember evoking utter consternation among classmates in the early 1980s, for example, when I posited immoral equivalence between America’s embargo and South Africa’s apartheid.
I first framed the issue as commentator in “President Bush, Help Fulfill the Pope’s Legacy: Lift the Embargo against Cuba,” April 11, 2005, which I published just weeks after inaugurating this weblog. Here is an excerpt:
It is doubtful that any world leader has ever given a more convincing endorsement of the Pope’s moral authority. Therefore, one might expect Bush to be inspired to help fulfill the Pope’s legacy by honoring the clear moral tone he set for dealing with Cuba.
Long before he actually visited Cuba in 1998, the Pope decried America’s policy towards Cuba as ‘oppressive, unjust, and ethically unacceptable.’ During that historic visit he reiterated that:
‘…imposed isolation strikes the people indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living, things such as food, health and education….’
It is noteworthy, however, that the Pope never granted Castro absolution for his dictatorship. Because he was equally unrelenting in his condemnation of Cuba’s human rights abuses, imprisonment of political dissidents, and stifling of religious freedom…
But, demonstrating that he was not entirely averse to politics, the Pope also admonished Cuban Americans to seek reconciliation. He was clearly aware that these exiles, most of whom live in Miami, are primarily responsible for the irrational and uncompromising policy the U.S. has maintained towards Cuba for all these years…
Therefore, instead of merely extolling the Pope’s moral authority, President Bush should rise above political pandering and heed his call to end America’s inhumane and immoral embargo against Cuba. After all, when a communist dictator can claim papal sanction to dismiss the president of the United States as a hypocrite, this alone should cause a God-fearing president like George W. Bush to reexamine his policies, if not his soul.
Truth be told, though, I harbored no hope that, despite his public adoration, Bush would heed the Pope’s admonition. Not least because he was clearly more concerned about his political legacy – which, ironically, compelled him to strengthen the embargo – than he was about his everlasting soul.
By contrast, I not only harbored this hope when Obama was elected, but was sufficiently mindful of the politics that would militate against him ending the embargo that I noted he could do so only in his second term … when he had “nothing” to lose.
I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba….
(“Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 17, 2009)
Of course, Obama was duly re-elected. Accordingly, I remain, well, hopeful that he will heed my call – with all due respect to the Editorial Board of the New York Times and other Johnnies-come-lately.
Monday, October 13, 2014 at 7:52 AMColumbus sailed the ocean blue….
Above is the course Christopher Columbus sailed on the misadventure that brought him to the Caribbean. He thought he had landed in “the Indies”; so, in typical European (imperial) fashion, he named the natives he met (oh right, “discovered”) there “Indians”.
The rest, as we say, is HIStory.
They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
This entry from Columbus’s own journal shows what he intended to do from the outset with the hospitable and unsuspecting Tainos who greeted him upon his arrival. It’s only one of the many reasons why eminent historians are finally beginning to cast a critical, if not accusatory, eye at the hagiography his voyages have enjoyed throughout history.
Here, for example, is how Howard Zinn frames this corrected version of history in A People’s History of the United States1492-Present:
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves – unwittingly – to justify what was done… The easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) – that is still with us.
All the same, Americans have been celebrating Columbus Day for centuries. Yet it wasn’t until 1971 that the U.S. Congress declared the second Monday in October a federal holiday in honor of this sea-faring Italian.
Other countries throughout the Americas, most notably in the Caribbean, followed suit. But many of them now designate this holiday for national heroes — perhaps reflecting the cognitive dissonance scholars like Zinn are propagating.
Interestingly enough, some states in the U.S. are now following those Caribbean countries in this latter respect:
The Seattle City Council is replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the city.
The resolution that passed unanimously Monday celebrates the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community in Seattle on the second Monday in October, the same day as the federally recognized Columbus Day.
(The Associated Press, October 7, 2014)
Meanwhile, though, some of us just consider Columbus a wanted man (i.e., to correct the historical record)….
Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 7:29 AM
Despite panic-inducing media reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 times as many people die in the United States from the flu each year than the number of those who have died from Ebola in all of Africa.
(“Ebola,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 26, 2014)
Friday, October 10, 2014 at 8:23 AM
I am on record decrying members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for awarding the hallowed Peace Prize to people who were so plainly underserving. I did so, for example, when they awarded it jointly to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat,Shimon Peres, and Yitzhack Rabin in 1994 for brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians that never was; and again when they awarded it to Barack Obama in 2009 for the forlorn hope of ushering in world peace that remains even more forlorn today … five years later.
But I finally have cause to applaud those clueless old farts. And, ironically, it’s because they have awarded this year’s prize to a person who is not only eminently deserving, but also the youngest recipient in Nobel history.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education…
Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzay has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations. This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.
(Nobelprize.org, October 10, 2014)
Incidentally, with all due respect to Mr. Satyarthi, being Malala’s co-winner is rather like being the father who chaperones her around the world. In fact, Malala is so young (at 17), one could be forgiven for thinking that the Nobel Committee selected the most respected grownup in her field as a de facto guardian of her prize.
In any event, here is why I so thoroughly approve:
The Nobel Foundation would go a long way towards reclaiming some credibility if it were to award this prize to a 16-year-old Pakistani, Malala Yousafzai, for fighting for the right of Muslim girls to an education (even after defying a near-fatal assassination attempt by the Taliban).
Not least because her fight is every bit as inspiring and Nobel worthy as Gandhi’s was….
(“Higgs Boson Nobel Prize Based more on Hope than Accomplishment,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 9, 2013)
Granted, they are a year late, but better late….
Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 2:45 PM
[NOTE: In light of the pandemic coverage of Ebola, I have decided to reprise this commentary, which I published originally on September 26. In the two weeks since, U.S. officials have held so many press conferences to hail the resources available to treat victims here (compared to what’s available in Africa) that they bordered on gloating.
Therefore, I am waiting with baited breath for their press conference to explain - not just why one of the five victims to receive treatment here ended up dying yesterday (i.e., the way so many Ebola victims die in Africa), but also whether it’s just a patented coincidence that he just happened to be the only Black among them….]
After all, no continent has been more beset by genocidal wars and political corruption on the one hand, and by drought and disease on the other. This led me to coin the alliterative lament (in one of my first commentaries on March 7, 2005) that Africa too often features among the continents of the world as a dark, destitute, diseased, desperate, disenfranchised, dishonest, disorganized, disassociated, dangerous and, ultimately, dysfunctional mess.
Alas, this latest outbreak of Ebola only affirms the Dark Continent’s dubious distinction in these respects:
Yet another set of ominous projections about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was released Tuesday, in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gave worst- and best-case estimates for Liberia and Sierra Leone based on computer modeling.
In the worst-case scenario, the two countries could have a total of 21,000 cases of Ebola by Sept. 30 and 1.4 million cases by Jan. 20 if the disease keeps spreading without effective methods to contain it. These figures take into account the fact that many cases go undetected, and estimate that there are actually 2.5 times as many as reported.
(New York Times, September 23, 2014)
In fact, of all outbreaks of deadly viruses over the past 50 years, including Marburg, MERS, and SARS, Ebola is by far the most deadly: the W.H.O. reports that, to date, more than 2900 deaths have been linked to Ebola; and, perhaps most fateful, its locus just happens to be in Africa. By comparison, 775 deaths were linked to MERS, and its locus was in China.
All the same, arguably in a show of man’s humanity to man, President Obama is leading a coalition of the willing to fight Ebola that is almost as impressive as the coalition he is leading to fight Daesh (aka ISIS).
The United States is dispatching 3000 soldiers as well as medical and public health troops to Liberia with an unprecedented mission: Wage war on Ebola by helping the battered Liberian public-health and medical community, including setting up treatment units in each of Liberia’s 15 counties. President Obama called for a ‘campaign for community care.’
(The Boston Globe, September 24, 2014)
My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected. But I feel constrained to note that, despite panic-inducing media reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 times as many people die in the United States from the flu each year than the number of those who have died from Ebola in all of Africa.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 8:34 AM
It’s one thing for White House staffers to write books to settle scores and make a quick buck – as Bush’s former Press Secretary Scott McClellan did with his truly damning What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. But it sets a new precedent for betrayal in this respect for a former cabinet secretary to do so. Especially given not just that Obama is still in office, but that this self-described “secretary of war” knows full well that he’s still commanding American troops in the killing fields of Afghanistan.
(“Former Secretary of Defense Gates Betrays Own Views and Obama’s Trust in Memoirs,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 9, 2012)
Many commentators argued that the nature of partisan politics in Washington these days is such that, as a lifelong Republican, Robert Gates had to parrot the Party line (about Obama being weak and incompetent) to reestablish his bona fides after serving in a Democratic administration.
Except that it’s far more likely that Gates was motivated not by partisan politics, but by a compulsion to settle scores, as well as a desire to make money. Indeed, only this explains McClellan’s memoirs, as well as the more critically acclaimed one by George Stephanopoulos – who settled all kinds of scores with his boss, Bill Clinton, and got a pretty penny for All Too Human.
Which brings me to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. For he has now made it patently clear that there is no cabinet secretary who won’t betray the president to settle scores, which usually means publishing memoirs in which they make themselves seem even more presidential than the president himself. Not to mention collecting their proverbial “thirty pieces of silver.”
After all, Panetta had such a highly regarded reputation for loyalty, trust, and professionalism that Bill Clinton hired him as chief of staff when his White House was beginning to function more like a frat house.
This is why, despite the sorry record of bipartisan betrayal in this respect, Obama can be forgiven for being shocked and dismayed that Panetta has joined this rogues gallery of former Cabinet members.
Here is how the Washington Post is characterizing his book, Worthy Fights, noting that it is so surreal and spooky in its vindictiveness that the launch is “the sine qua non of the pre-Halloween party of season:”
The book, as we recently noted, includes a scorching takedown of President Obama’s foreign policy operation and says Panetta was thwarted in his effort to keep a residual U.S. force in Iraq.
Lest the point was lost, Panetta zeroed in on his former boss in an interview published Monday. Obama has ‘kind of lost his way,’ Panetta told USA Today’s Susan Page.
And then the heavy artillery: Obama has a ‘frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause,’ Panetta says in the book, and too frequently ‘relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.’ ‘Sometimes,’ he writes, Obama ‘avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.’
(Washington Post, October 6, 2014)
The problem with all of Panetta’s self-serving psychobabble about Obama’s logic and passion is that he’s referring to a president who:
- defied 90 years of futility by his predecessors to enact comprehensive healthcare reform;
- defied his political and military advisers to order the incursion into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden;
- defied his political base by launching more drone strikes against terrorists than George W. Bush;
- defied “drill-baby-drill” critics by implementing energy policies that led to the United States becoming a net exporter of oil for first time since 1949; and
- defied an open and notorious conspiracy among Republicans to make him a “failed president” by not only getting re-elected, but leading the economy from the brink of “economic Armageddon” in 2009, when unemployment was at 10 percent with monthly job losses of over 700,000, to the most stellar recovery since the Great Depression, with unemployment now at 5.9 percent with monthly job increases of over 200,000. Not to mention economic policies that have led to a doubling of the stock market (from 7949 on the day he took office to 16,719 at the close yesterday). Yet it speaks volumes that Obama’s biggest critics are Republican fat cats on Wall Street who have made out like bandits, literally, during his presidency. Frankly, they appear to be pining for the bear markets of the Bush years to justify their (racial?) hatred of Obama.
I could go on, but you get the point. The question, though, is what about this unassailable record is either weak or incompetent?
Meanwhile, Panetta is all over TV feigning political and ethical conflict over betraying this president. But his rationalizations will boomerang on him even more than Gates’s did on him. After all, Panetta’s main critique is that Obama fatally undermined his presidency by:
a) failing to secure an agreement with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep U.S. forces stationed in Iraq;
b) failing to do to Syrian President Bashar Assad what he did to Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi; and
c) failing to arm Syrian opposition forces to fight a two-pronged war against Assad and Daesh terrorists (aka ISIS).
However, all any interviewer has to do to throw his critique back in his face is to pose the following questions:
a) Are you suggesting, Mr. Secretary, that the president of the United States should have either allowed Maliki to dictate the terms under which U.S. troops would continue to defend his country from enemies foreign and domestic, or ignored the protestations of this democratically elected prime minister and leave U.S. forces stationed there as a de facto hostile occupying force, hell-bent on doing for the Iraqis what they seem unwilling or unable to do for themselves (despite the 10 years U.S. soldiers spent training them; to say nothing of the hundreds of billions spent and oceans of American blood expended doing so).
b) Are you suggesting, Mr. Secretary, that the failed state Libya has become since the United States helped depose Gaddafi is a commendable outcome to be replicated elsewhere. Is it not likely that Obama has simply learned from the unintended consequences of deposing dictators, no matter how brutal…?
c) Finally, apropos of unintended consequences, are you suggesting, Mr. Secretary, that if Obama had armed Syrian rebels two years ago Daesh would not be the menace it is today? Are you not aware, Sir, that this assumption was belied in rather spectacular fashion when tens of thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqis not only cowered in the face of a few hundred Daesh fighters, but blithely abandoned all of their U.S.-made weapons, which Daesh is now using to kill them and their Syrian foes? In other words, is it not more likely the case that, had Obama heeded your counsel to bomb Assad and arm the so-called Syrian opposition, Daesh would not only control huge swathes of Iraq today, but all of Syria as well…? Or would you have advised putting American boots on the ground to police Syria in perpetuity – the way you and others would have them police Iraq and Afghanistan?
Trust me, even a savvy politician like Panetta cannot square the circle such questions would put him in. His overweening lament is that Obama is sending “the wrong message to the world.” Except that the only people who are getting the wrong message are Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, and Syrians; and they’re getting it, not from Obama, but from misguided imperialists like Panetta and Republican Senator John McCain. That wrong message, of course, is that Obama will ape Bush by ensuring that American foot soldiers will always be there to fight their internecine wars and police their dangerous streets….
And you probably thought Republicans were the only ones possessed of a congenital aversion to acknowledging the transformative accomplishments of Obama’s presidency (think Roosevelt more than Reagan).
But you ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until Bill and Hillary start spinning (as part of their 2016 presidential campaign) the notion that his highly touted healthcare reform was just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on work they did during the first period of their two-for-one presidency (1992-2000); and that there’s nothing commendable about Obama’s foreign policy, which Hillary famously insinuated just weeks ago is predicated on nothing more than the fiddle-while-Rome-burns principle of “don’t do stupid stuff.”
That said, I feel constrained to end by clarifying that, notwithstanding all of the above, I am no Yellow-Dog Democrat or proud Black for whom Obama can do no wrong. Indeed, my recent commentary, “Demystifying ISIS: the Case against Obama’s Bush-lite War on Terrorism,” September 10, 2014, will attest to this. Not to mention my abiding criticism of the (too big to fail, too rich to jail) “wrong message” his administration sent to the Wall Street bandits I referenced above, which I commented on most recently in “SEC Lawyer Admits Big Dogs on Wall Street Untouchable,” April 29, 2014.
I just think this narrative about Obama being a weak and incompetent leader is belied by so many stubborn facts that it requires a willful (if not racial) suspension of disbelief to continue propagating it.
NOTE: I declared in “Demystifying ISIS…” that Daesh terrorists pose no security threat to the United States, and nobody has produced any evidence or proffered any argument to the contrary. They pose a threat only to Syria, Iraq, Iran and other (Muslim) countries in the Middle East. Not to mention that, if we can live in a world with a wacko nation like North Korea amassing stockpiles of nuclear weapons, surely we can live in one with jihadists fighting to set up a medieval Caliphate in the Middle East.
Therefore, it smacks of an imperial and inherently misguided form of geopolitical noblesse oblige for the United States to be leading this fight, especially given that these countries are quite capable of defending themselves … if the United States sent them the right message, namely, that they must do so.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 8:09 AM
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same. We have made a lot of progress but still have a long way to go and need your help!
(National Breast Cancer Foundation)
Monday, October 6, 2014 at 5:38 AM
Theories abound about Baby Doc’s return – ranging from it being pursuant to a political plot orchestrated by the U.S. and France, to a desperate attempt to fulfill a condition Swiss banking authorities have placed on the release of what remains of his ill-gotten gains.
Whatever the case, I fear no contradiction in asserting that Baby Doc returning to Haiti makes about as much sense as Idi Amin returning to Uganda. This is why I am convinced he has returned from exile because he’s now either certifiably insane or terminally ill. And judging from his rather frail and jaundiced appearance, I suspect it’s the latter. Alas, he’s probably suffering heroic delusions of dying on home soil.
All the same, I applaud Haitian authorities for launching an immediate investigation to hold him to account not just for the violent crimes his dreaded Tonton Macoutes executed, but also for the financial crimes he perpetrated.
I just hope he stays alive long enough to face the judge before he meets his maker.
Well, here’s to dashed hopes:
Jean-Claude Duvalier, who presided over what was widely acknowledged as a corrupt and brutal regime as the self-proclaimed ‘president for life’ of Haiti until a popular uprising sent him into a 25-year exile, has died.
The former leader, known as ‘Baby Doc,’ made a surprise return to Haiti in 2011, allowing victims of his regime to pursue legal claims against him in Haitian courts and prompting some old allies to rally around him. Neither side gained much traction, however, and a frail Duvalier spent his final years quietly in the leafy hills above the Haitian capital.
(The Associated Press, October 4, 2014)
He clearly got – what I suspected was – his wish to die in peace. I can only hope now that his maker ensures that he does not rest in peace.
I fully appreciate, of course, that victims of his regime now feel doubly betrayed by Haitian President Michel Martelly. After all, he not only welcomed Baby Doc back with open arms, but expressed presidential sympathy upon his death while, as The Associated Press duly noted:
… making no mention of the widespread human rights abuses that occurred under Duvalier and his more notorious predecessor and father, Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier.
As it happens I am irreconcilably conflicted: on the one hand, I sympathize with the victims because Martelly should have acknowledged (the truth about) the Duvaliers’ legacy of corruption and human rights abuses; on the other hand, despite my declared hope for Baby Doc to face the judge, I sympathized with Martelly when he inaugurated his presidency by vowing to pursue political reconciliation … even at the expense of judicial truth and consequences.
Here in part is what I’m on record saying with respect to this latter point in “New Haitian President Seeks Reconciliation,” The iPINIONS Journal, Vol. VII, October 12, 2011:
In a deft and enlightened move, Martelly declared from the outset of his presidency that he wanted to make peace – not just with Aristide but with every other former Haitian leader as well. To this end he made quite a public show today of meeting with both Aristide and Baby Doc.
Implicit in this of course is that he will discourage any attempt to prosecute Baby Doc, and that Aristide will now be loath to challenge the legitimacy of his presidency. Beyond this, Martelly’s move is deft and enlightened because it lays the foundation for the kind of political certainty that is sine qua non for the foreign direct investments Haiti will need to rebuild…
And, after Haiti’s judicial authorities duly announced in January 2012 that Baby Doc would not stand trial for his alleged crimes against humanity (making it clear that, where there might be political reconciliation, there will be no judicial truth), I attempted to console his victims as follows:
I wish the long-suffering people of Haiti an extended period of peace, happiness, and prosperity. I am convinced that foregoing a war-crimes trial will help this wish come true.
(“Haiti Reconciles with Baby Doc,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2012)
Meanwhile, the irony is not lost on me that, while diabolical dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier escaped the judge, saintly priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide is currently under house arrest—awaiting his day in court to answer charges related to money laundering, drug trafficking, and embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars. Alas, this irony only affirms the historical truth that, when it comes to commission of the worst crimes imaginable (e.g., collaborating with Nazis and sexually abusing children, to say nothing of The Crusades), self-professed political leaders have nothing on self-professed men of God.
Baby Doc died of an apparent heart attack – on home soil – on Saturday. He was 63.
Good riddance, Baby Doc!
Return of “Baby Doc
Saturday, October 4, 2014 at 7:18 AM
The irony seems completely lost on American media that they’re the ones terrorizing us … [to death].
(“America, Stop Scaremongering…” The iPINIONS Journal, January 22, 2014)
Hysterical, terror-inciting reporting has become so mainstream that, in just the past few weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking that Russia was triggering World War III; that China was executing another Tiananmen Square-like massacre in Hong Kong; and that Ebola was infecting every man, woman, and child on planet Earth.
Nothing has been more perverse or irresponsible in this respect than the media reporting on Daesh terrorists, a ragtag bunch of Muslim Jihadists (aka ISIS), as if they were rampaging across the entire Middle East, emulating Christian crusaders of the eleventh and twelfth centuries – complete with avenging beheadings of thousands of Westerners along the way.
Except that nothing could be further from the truth. These terrorists are merely exercising temporary dominion over rat holes in parts of Syria and Iraq, which U.S.-led coalition bombers are now in the process of turning into their graves.
In the meantime, though, it should be noted that these Muslim Jihadists are executing one thousand Muslims for every non-Muslim they behead. I should also note that the U.S. military publishing videos of drone strikes, which give the impression of a kid picking off sitting ducks in a violent video game, probably terrorizes innocent people over there every bit as much as Daesh publishing beheadings terrorizes innocent people over here….
I appreciate, of course, that the operating motto of all media these days is: “if it bleeds, it leads.” But surely even ratings whores in the mainstream media can appreciate the difference between reporting on the menace of gun violence in America and serving as nothing more than a propaganda tool for Daesh.
After all, given that “Jihadi John” performs these made-for-YouTube beheadings for no other purpose than to terrorize everyone who knows about or, better still, sees them, what sense does it make for the media to ensure that as many people as possible are thusly terrorized?! Incidentally, apropos of gun violence, am I the only one who finds it hypocritical, almost to the point of being unconscionable, that the media invariably make rock stars of loser kids who go on school-shooting sprees, and then propagate pop psychology about why these loser kids go on school-shooting sprees…?
Forget the irony, it speaks volumes about how much the media have lost their way that they couldn’t care any less that they’re serving no public interest by reporting on these beheadings. All they care about is stoking rubbernecking interest to improve their ratings.
But frankly, the only people who need to know about these beheadings at this point are the loved ones of the godforsaken beheaded. What’s more, notwithstanding the media, President Obama can help quell the hysteria by expressing his condolences privately, instead of issuing pubic statements — full of angst and outrage signifying nothing — after each of them.
Friday, October 3, 2014 at 5:23 PM
For a little context, here is a relatively lengthy excerpt from “China Buying Up Political Dominion Over the Caribbean (Latin America, and Africa),” February 22, 2005, in which I presaged (almost 10 years ago) the spectre – not only of countries selling their sovereignty to China for easy cash, but of China placing increasingly mercantilist demands on these countries in return:
While the United States, Europe, and Japan are anxiously monitoring the way China is flexing its rapidly increasing military and economic muscle in Asia, China is strategically basing state-controlled enterprises (and operatives) throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
With relatively unlimited cash and human resources, China is becoming a major player in the pharmaceutical, petroleum, machinery and equipment, engineering and construction, textile, telecommunications, electronic, financial services, and transshipment fields. Nevertheless, as wary as they are about China’s expanding military, all countries seem to regard its economic infiltration as rather benign … so far. (Recall that Troy regarded the infiltration of Sparta’s wooden horse as rather benign as well – until it became the proverbial Trojan Horse.)…
[China’s] search for new markets is really a pretext for their quest for dominion. And with massive direct investments and Chinese tourists boosting visits to unprecedented levels, China’s trade with the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa will soon become indispensable to national economies throughout these regions. And, as a geopolitical fringe benefit, China’s ability to exercise unprecedented political influence will also be assured.
To be fair, however, China has made no attempt to disguise its political strategy. For example, it demanded that Caribbean countries sever all diplomatic ties with Taiwan as a condition of its largesse.
Accordingly, abandoning its longstanding alliance with the United States in this respect, The Bahamas became the first Caribbean country in 1997 to duly comply. Its shifting alliance just happened to coincide with Hong-Kong based Hutchison Whampoa investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a container port and several hotels. Today, this Chinese company is fast becoming the largest employer in The Bahamas
In fact, China’s “benign infiltration” throughout the Caribbean has become so pervasive that only five countries still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan — the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And it seems only a matter of time before they abandon ship too…
But consider international developments that might lead China, for strategic reasons, to base missiles in Jamaica or convert its container ports, factories and chemical plants in the region to dual military and commercial use. Would the governments in the Caribbean duly comply? Would they have any real choice? Would America then blockade the entire region – as it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis? Now, consider China making such strategic moves in Latin America or Africa, where its benign economic infiltration dwarfs its Caribbean operations. This new Cold War could then turn very hot indeed….
But don’t worry man, be happy!
This is why it came as no surprise to me when China began demanding that countries utterly shun the Dalai Lama pursuant to its national interest. Hell, it had become so empowered that it felt entitled to place this demand even on the United States, which (in a profound case of geopolitical irony) had since become China’s biggest debtor nation.
Apropos of which, here is another instructive excerpt from “Countries Queuing Up To Become As Indebted To China as the U.S. Is,” September 15, 2011:
The Chinese can be forgiven for thinking that even President Obama would heed their extraterritorial directive against meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. And they were undoubtedly emboldened last year, when Obama appeared to be doing just that, when he snubbed the Dalai Lama on the eve of his (Obama’s) first state visit to China.
But the day of reckoning on this directive for Obama, as well as the Chinese, is drawing nigh. For when the White House announced yesterday that Obama intends to welcome the Dalai Lama later this month, the Chinese reacted variously like an angry parent disciplining a willful child and a loan shark dealing with a delinquent debtor.
I applaud Obama for calling China’s bluff. Not least because any real attempt to squeeze the U.S. financially would amount to an unprecedented case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. After all, the U.S. market is even more indispensable to China’s economic growth than China’s credit is to the U.S.’s…
This episode should serve as a warning to all countries around the world that are not just lapping up China’s largesse, but heralding it as a more worthy superpower than the United States. Because, if China can spit such imperious and vindictive fire at the rich and mighty United States over a relatively insignificant matter like meeting the Dalai Lama, just imagine what it would do to a poor and weak country in a conflict over a truly significant matter.
Nobel peace summit [is] cancelled after South Africa refuses visa for Dalai Lama.
Jacob Zuma’s government accused of ‘selling its sovereignty’ to China for refusing to admit exiled Tibetan spiritual leader…
Fourteen laureates protested to President Zuma, pressuring him, begging him, to give a visa to His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] so that we all could be together and celebrate in South Africa the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
(The Guardian, October 2, 2014)
As it happens, I warned it would be thus in “China Prevailing Upon South Africa To Ban the Dalai Lama …Again,” September 30, 2011:
There was worldwide condemnation two years ago, after South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa to join fellow Nobel Peace Laureates at an international peace conference in Johannesburg. The organizers ended up canceling the conference in protest. China just smiled….
More to the point, I ended this September 2011 commentary by reiterating that:
They’re only directing that the Dalai Lama should be shunned today. But who knows what extraterritorial directive the Chinese will issue pursuant to their perceived national interest tomorrow…? Just consider for a moment what passive-aggressive hegemony they have in mind if they already presume that they can dictate who the president of the United States can invite to the White House….
(“World Beware: China Calling in Loan-Sharking Debts, The iPINIONS Journal, February 3, 2010)
The prevailing and abiding point, alas, is that the United States heads a list of precious few countries with the military and financial power to reject China’s inducements to sell its sovereignty … without fear of reprisals. No country in the Caribbean, Latin America, or Africa is on that list.
But I feel constrained to end by clarifying that China is not doing anything the United States has not done. However, the salient and commendable difference is that, far more often than not, the United States prevails upon other countries to act pursuant to universal democratic principles; whereas China prevails upon them to act pursuant to its totalitarian national interests.
Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 5:11 PM
Overreaction to Prostitution Scandal, which Demoralized Secret Service, Ends with New Director’s Resignation
If you consider what incredible access members of the public have always had to U.S. presidents, you would only begin to appreciate the almost fatalistic challenges Secret Service agents face on a daily basis.
This is why, despite the assassination of JFK in 1963, a close call on Ford’s life in 1975, and an even closer call on Reagan’s in 1981, the Secret Service enjoyed a vaunted reputation ever since it assumed the full-time duty of protecting the president in 1902.
I had this unassailable reputation in mind two years ago, when I became stupefied watching members of Congress react to reports about one “knuckleheaded” agent having a spat with a prostitute as if this were sufficient to bring the professionalism of the whole agency into disrepute.
Here is an excerpt from “No Secret Service Sex Scandal … If Supervisor Were a Man,” April 23, 2012, in which I expressed my stupefaction and warned about the consequences a politically correct approach to protecting the president would have:
It’s an indication of the reflexive, myopic and opportunistic rhetoric that passes for political opinion today that some of the most influential politicians in Washington are referring to this as the worst scandal in the history of the Secret Service…
Meanwhile, former Secret Service director Basham only hinted at the undeniable truth that, if Reid had been one of the good ol’ boys instead of a newly appointed woman, this incident would have been handled just like all others had been (i.e., with the supervisor slapping the primary agent involved on the wrist and fellow agents ribbing him as a knucklehead and admonishing him to just pay up next time)…
This is why, while everyone else in Washington seems to think highly of the way she ‘swiftly rounded up 11 agents and officers and ordered them out of the country [Columbia, where they were preparing for Obama’s visit],’ I think supervisor Reid simply overreacted. This, notwithstanding all of the moralizing about their infidelity – not just to the agency’s Hooverian code of conduct, but also to their marriages.
Now, lest you think my judgment here is clouded by bad old-fashioned male chauvinism, please bear in mind that I have written many commentaries with titles like “Women Make Better Politicians than Men,” October 14, 2010, in which I proudly extol the virtues and effectiveness of women assuming positions of power traditionally held by men.
I just don’t think there can be any gainsaying that, but for Reid’s hysterical reaction:
- there would be no scandal;
- the critical esprit de corps within the agency would still be firmly intact (reports are that the agents are now turning on each other to save their own hides and some are even threatening to sue the agency); and most important,
- there would be no greater concern about the agency’s ability to protect the president today than there was on the day he was inaugurated…
Finally, human nature being what it is, I’d hate to be in Reid’s position. Because even though grandstanding politicians are hailing her as a latter-day Miss Goody Two-Shoes, the “Mad Men” inside the agency undoubtedly deplore and resent her trigger-happy officiousness. She may not see it now, but she just placed a glass ceiling over her own head as far as her career in the Secret Service is concerned.
Unsurprisingly, this contrarian view incited readers to call me everything from politically naïve to a male-chauvinist pig. But I felt thoroughly vindicated the very next day, when no less a person than President Obama channeled my stupefaction as follows:
These guys are incredible. They protect me, they protect Michelle, they protect our girls, they protect our officials all around the world… 99.9 percent of them every day they’re putting their lives on the line and do a good job. So a couple of knuckleheads shouldn’t detract from, you know, what they do.
(Reuters April 24, 2012)
Therefore, imagine my dismay one year later, when Obama appointed a new Secret Service director who not only looked like a schoolmarm, but telegraphed her intent to transform the Special Forces-like esprit de corps among Secret Service agents into one that comports more with the camaraderie among Mormon Church missionaries. Even worse, though, there was this glaring red flag:
Despite Pierson’s long tenure, some agents interviewed about the top contenders for the job told The Washington Post several weeks ago that Pierson was considered a weak candidate among rank-and-file agents because she had spent relatively little time supervising or working high-priority protective details, spending most of her career in administrative jobs.
Pierson oversaw the Office of Protective Operations, most recently as a deputy director, but with the job of overseeing budgets, resources and personnel assignments. By contrast, O’Connor [a clearly more qualified candidate] had protected presidents, the pope and numerous presidential candidates.
(Washington Post, March 26, 2013)
It is a universal truth that, when you treat professional men (and women) like unruly school children, they will behave as such – invariably by finding passive-aggressive ways to defy your presumed authority. Not to mention the fallout if those professionals have just cause to complain about being understaffed and having insufficient resources to properly do their job:
Speaking before a House inquiry into the security lapses, Pierson remarked that the budget sequester has left the Service nearly five hundred and fifty people short of their optimum number of personnel.
(Washington Post, October 1, 2014)
Frankly, one got the impression that Pierson’s schoolmarmish leadership of the whole agency would make Reid’s goody two-shoes supervision of field agents seem too regimental and, well, too much like a presidential protection force. And, sure enough:
A critical new report from The Washington Post portrays Pierson as a consistent voice for a less robust security presence around President Obama and other dignitaries. One of the most damning details: Pierson, who was “irate” at what she considered excessive security measures for this summer’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, said that ‘We need to be more like Disney World. We need to be more friendly, inviting.’ Pierson had worked as a Disney costumed character during high school.
(Huffington Post, October 2, 2014)
Is it any wonder, then, that agents were even more anxious to derail Pierson’s leadership than they were to derail Reid’s supervision? Is it any wonder that a man, armed with a knife, was able to jump the White House fence, make it across the wide-open lawn, and run all the way into the hallowed East Room before an off-duty agent managed to apprehend him? Is it any wonder that it has already come to this:
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday, after a security breach at the White House and other high-profile incidents raised widespread concerns about the safety of the president and his family.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced the resignation in a written statement, and the White House confirmed her decision shortly afterward. President Obama ‘concluded new leadership of that agency was required,’ White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
(FOX News, October 1, 2014)
A recently retired Secret Service agent told MailOnline on Thursday that former director Julia Pierson’s resignation will be welcomed by the agency’s rank-and-file because ‘people in the service thought she was a joke from Day One.’
He attributed her swift fall from grace to a cadre of ‘p***ed off agents who had had enough’ of feeling disrespected by the service’s first female director.
‘Putting her in charge was part of the [Obama] administration’s push to feminize the service after the “hookergate” nightmare,’ the agent said, referring to agents who were fired after patronizing prostitutes during a security-check trip to Colombia before President Obama’s 2012 visit.
(Daily Mail, October 2, 2014)
With that, we’ve come full circle.
Except that, in fairness to Pierson, I feel constrained to note that Obama is as much to blame for any security failure that occurred on her ill-fated watch. After all, if Obama wanted a Secret Service that was more focused on protecting him and his family than on treating the White House like a theme park (and him like Mickey Mouse?), he would not have quelled sanctimonious and misguided outrage over agents patronizing prostitutes by appointing her director in the first place. He has now appointed a veteran “good ol’ boy” to replace her….
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 3:40 PM
Of course, with all they have invested in, and can still make off, this greatest Olympian of all time, I suspect advertisers and USA Swimming and/or the IOC will do all they can to give Phelps a pass. For example, the IOC could ban him from competition for two or three years, claiming it’s only his first offense, and he would still be eligible to compete in 2012.
Meanwhile, the inconvenient fact that he was caught on candid camera engaging in an illegal act will be overlooked by all interested parties. But Phelps is lucky he wasn’t caught taking this hit during his 18-months probation for DUI, which he received in December 2004. Because this would have triggered far more dire consequences than losing sponsors and medals.
At any rate, it is instructive to note what he promised the judge, his advertisers and his fans back then:
‘I recognize the seriousness of this mistake. I’ve learned from this mistake and will continue learning from this mistake for the rest of my life.’
(“Michael Phelps, 14-Time Olympic Champion, Is a Dope Fiend,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2009)
Evidently Phelps was being literal when he said he would learn from “this mistake.” After all, his latest arrest has nothing to do with smoking dope, and he made no probationary promise about learning from that earlier DUI mistake. Fatuous, I know, but it’s the only thing that explains this:
Legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, was arrested early Tuesday in Maryland on a DUI charge, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
Phelps, known as the “Baltimore Bullet” and winner of 18 Olympic gold medals, was arrested at about 1:40 a.m. and charged with driving under the influence, excessive speed [84mph in a 45mph zone] and crossing double lane lines within the Fort McHenry Tunnel on I-95 in Baltimore, the authority said in a statement. He was later released.
(CNN, September 30, 2014)
Not surprisingly, Phelps wasted no time yesterday tweeting a now patented apology:
Earlier this morning, I was arrested and charged with DUI, excessive speeding and crossing double lane lines.
I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility.
I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.
Of course, the only meaningful part of his apology is his recognition that his word means nothing.
Unfortunately for him, prosecutors, sponsors, and USA Swimming are right in the midst of learning from the spectacular mistakes prosecutors, sponsors, and the NFL (including his hometown team, the Baltimore Ravens) made by giving star athletes a pass on criminal behavior, which ran the gamut from pot smoking to wife beating.
This is why Phelps will not (and should not) get off quite so easily this time. That this is now his second DUI arrest will be an exacerbating factor for sponsors and USA Swimming. It will not be for prosecutors, however, because his 2004 DUI arrest is outside the “lookback period” that is relevant for sentencing.
Apropos of which, though, it must be said that anyone who knows anything about the confluence of drunk driving, celebrity, and law-enforcement can reasonably presume that:
- Phelps has engaged in this reckless behavior on many occasions;
- He has been stopped by the police and given a celebrity pass on more than one of those occasions; and
- He just happened to get stopped on this occasion by a rare cop who cares more about doing his job than currying favor with a celebrity.
Therefore, I hope Maryland prosecutors bear these three-strikes-and-you’re-out presumptions in mind when they consider whether or not Phelps should serve jail time (even if only for a few days), in addition to paying a maximum fine and performing the most onerous probationary conditions. It should not take Phelps injuring himself or, more likely, injuring somebody else for him to truly learn from his reckless “mistakes” or to be properly punished for them.
In the meantime, I fully expect sponsors like Subway to drop him even faster than sponsors like Gatorade dropped Tiger in 2009. After all, besides being fodder for tabloids, there was nothing illegal about Tiger’s infamous marital spat and subsequent bimbo eruption. Not to mention that no company wants to have as its spokesman anyone whose behavior triggers headlines about pot smoking and drunk driving.
The Olympian question now is whether his USA Swimming suspension or criminal punishment will torpedo his celebrated comeback. I think not.
I’m hardly surprised that Phelps is adding his name to the dubious list of superstar athletes who found life unbearable out of the limelight. But, because his fame is based primarily on his Olympic feats, Phelps seems more sympathetic in this respect. After all, he had/has to wait every four years to bask in the kind of glory an athlete like Jordan got to bask in every year of his career.
(“Phelps Comes Out of Retirement. Duh,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 16, 2014)
This is clearly not the kind of limelight, between Olympic Games, Phelps was longing for. What’s more, this latest mistake is bound to dim not just the unusual limelight his comeback journey was generating, but even the usual limelight his participation in the Rio 2016 Olympics will surely generate.
But whatever suspension or punishment he receives should not preclude his participation in next year’s World Championships or the Rio Games one year later. On the other hand, fallout from this arrest could force him to suspend some aspects of his training, which in turn could affect his performance at those seminal events.
Still, Phelps can be assured that all will be forgiven if he weathers this storm and adds to his now-record haul of 18 Olympic gold medals. Indeed, overcoming this bump on the road to Rio might just make his comeback story all the more … compelling.