• Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 10:46 AM

    The (undeclared) war in Iraq is no WWII; and Bush is no FDR!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday, during a visit with U.S. Patrol at the Mexican border, President Bush previewed the big speech on Iraq that he plans to deliver this morning at the U.S. Naval Academy. He declared his intent to reinforce border controls as part of his new (get tough) immigration policy and accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces as part of his (never say quit, never, never) war against Muslim terrorists in Iraq

    No matter how forcefully President Bush insists that he will not make decisions about what to do in Iraq based on politics at home, that is precisely what he has decided to do. Because nothing but political pressure from Democrats and anxious (CYA) Republicans has compelled him to try emulating FDR’s reassuring fireside chats by delivering a series of chats of his own (beginning today) – in which he touts the pockets of success in Iraq and lays out an exit strategy for American troops.

    But, with all due respect to Senator Warner (R-VA) – who offered Bush this “pretend you’re FDR” advice last Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, this political PR strategy for exiting Iraq seems as misguided as the military “shock and awe” strategy was going into Iraq. Because the problem with Iraq is not a failure to communicate successes; instead, it is the overriding fact that Americans do not see Bush’s prosecution of this war as a life or death proposition the way Americans a generation ago saw FDR’s prosecution of World War II. (Which, of course, is why they all tuned-in to every word FDR uttered on the progress of that war.)

    Indeed, by contrast, most Americans have already decided that going to war in Iraq was a mistake and are now only interested in hearing when the troops will be coming home. Therefore, there seems little hope that Americans, in any significant number, will tune-in to hear anything Bush has to say about the progress of this war. Even worse, since the war in Iraq is now tagged, irredeemably, as an elective war (based on faulty or misleading intelligence), every American soldier killed in Iraq now represents thousands of people back home who are losing faith in Bush’s leadership – not only on Iraq but also on the global war against Islamic Jihadists (which Bush refers to amorphously as a “war on terror [or terrorism]”).

    But, as I indicated in this article months ago, the only thing Bush can do (not say) to salvage the honour of the American military, restore faith in his leadership and build a democratic country in the heart of the Muslim Middle East (which is the only rational course to take at this point) is to execute the Powell Doctrine:

    Instead of withdrawing troops, as his narrow-minded and politically motivated critics are demanding, Bush should double or even triple the number of troops on the ground so that they are controlling every nook and cranny of Iraq (including monitoring activities inside insurgent fortress masquerading as mosques). After all, willing Iraqis and their western advisers and contractors have no chance of building democratic institutions (including a reliable police force and viable army) and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure under constant fear of attack by Islamic insurgents. It’s really that simple!

    Note: No amount of reassuring talk in America (about “standing up” Iraqi forces) can mitigate the demoralizing fact that – 2 years into this war – it still takes an act of uncommon heroism in Iraq just to vote. Moreover, Bush is now waging precisely the kind of war his father warned against: an endless, no-win, guerilla war against fanatical insurgents (just like in Vietnam!).

    The only way to deal with this hornet’s nest is by smothering the insurgents with overwhelming military force and, effectively, putting Iraq under similar marshal law conditions that allowed American soldiers to oversee the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after WWII. (And Bush should declare unequivocally that U.S. troops shall remain in Iraq just as long, if not longer!)

    As former Secretary of State Colin Powell admonished before Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq: if you break it, you own it. And, whether he has 3,000 or 300,000 American troops deployed, Bush created the mess in Iraq and he has to clean it up. And, damn the politics (American and Iraqi); this is war!

  • Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 11:38 AM

    The Canadian government falls!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Six months ago, when political pundits were predicting that a no-confidence vote would bring down the government of Canadian Prime Minster Paul Martin, I predicted in this article that he would, in fact, prevail. And, so he did.

    Unfortunately, the corruption scandals that precipitated that vote have dogged Martin and his Liberal Party ever since. Indeed, disaffection and disillusionment with their leadership became so acute that even erstwhile supporters felt compelled to join a newly galvanized and morally indignant coalition of opposition Parties in calling for another no-confidence motion, which was held last night.

    The motion resolved that the ongoing corruption scandals have left Martin and his Liberal Party “without the moral authority to lead the nation.” And this time he lost the vote in spectacular fashion, and his government fell.

    But leave it to the Canadians plunge their country into a political crisis that is bound to not only throw cold water on the warm Christmas spirit but also chill the interest of any sensible voter who would naturally prefer hearth and home to political rallies in the dead of the Canadian winter.

    Nevertheless, general elections are due to be held in late January.

    O Canada!

  • Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 11:36 AM

    Another Commonwealth Summit on trade ends with imperial promises but no guarantees

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Leaders from 52 nations (primarily former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean) met in Malta last weekend for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOG) Summit – under the auspices of HM Queen Elizabeth II (seen here addressing them in her trademark hat). Their agenda was dominated by trade issues. But talks amounted to little more than poor black leaders (especially from the Caribbean) plaintively protesting the loss of preferential trade access to the European market that was once guaranteed by England, their former colonial master.

    It has been demonstrably clear for some time now, however, that the only ties that bind Commonwealth countries are historical. Therefore, it seems a rather pathetic exercise in futility for poor black members to continue pleading for help from rich white members who have little more than sympathy to offer. After all, these rich countries have economic ties of their own that now bind them, through trade agreements, either to America (as Canada established with NAFTA and CAFTA) or Europe (as England established with Maastricht).

    And anyone who wonders about the collateral damage these agreements have had on poor and marginalised Commonwealth nations need only look to the fall-out from the recent Banana trade war – where England was exposed as an utterly feckless guarantor of their economic interests. Moreover, nothing written in their joint communiqué ensures them that England will provide any greater support at the upcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) global free trade talks in Hong Kong next month – where trade preferences based on colonial ties are likely to be discredited even further.

    But, as I delineated in this previous article, these poor countries are mostly to blame for their economic marginalisation. Because, despite recognizing the benefits to be derived from integrating their economies, they continue to fight amongst themselves and against the trade winds of globalization as islands unto themselves….

  • Monday, November 28, 2005 at 11:32 AM

    Governor Schwarzenegger, do not execute Stanley “Tookie” Williams!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Advocates for capital punishment often argue, in exasperation, that if a child molester, serial killer or anyone deemed sufficiently evil (in the eye of the beholder) does not deserve the death penalty, then who does? And this is an eminently sensible argument; but it arises from a misguided premise. Because, the question is not who deserves the death penalty but whether it should even exist as a form of punishment in any civilized criminal justice system?

    I do not think so!

    I am categorically opposed to the death penalty because I find it morally reprehensible (in every case), patently wanton as a deterrent against crime and fraught with racism, abuse, unfairness and incompetence in its due process determination.

    Nevertheless, I accept that intelligent and well-intentioned people can disagree violently on this question. But this is hardly the forum for such a volatile debate. It just that intellectual honesty compels me to declare my position as a prelude to this plea for the life of Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

    Williams is a 51-year old death-row inmate who is scheduled to be executed by the state of California in 16 days. He was convicted for the 1979 slayings of a Whittier convenience store clerk and three people at a Pico Rivera motel. But, from the time of his arrest to this day, Williams has vehemently denied any involvement and claims that only tainted, contaminated or planted evidence could have connected him to these murders. (Please click here to read why his claims in this respect are all too credible.)

    Of course, since almost every convicted felon proclaims his innocence, it is entirely understandable that many people are inured to Williams’ protestations. But just as this is not the appropriate forum to debate the death penalty, it is also not the appropriate venue to re-argue the facts of his case.

    Nonetheless, I confess that I am too acutely aware of my own fallibility to ever render a death sentence against another human being; especially given the alarming frequency with which “evidence” that led to the execution of individuals later proved to be tainted or demonstrably false. But I entreat those of you who are blessed with the messianic confidence to sentence someone to death to re-examine, for the sake of our shared humanity, how you reconcile the values of retribution, rehabilitation and redemption with capital punishment; especially given the record of injustice in the American criminal justice system.

    Unlike others who are pleading for his life, I am loath to argue that if Williams does not deserve clemency, then who does? It is noteworthy, however, that even those demanding his execution concede that Williams has lived an exemplary life in prison. Alas, such a concession seems only the kiss of death when execution is the consummation devoutly to be wished.

    Therefore, I challenge those who remain committed to the proposition that justice demands death for Williams to take a moment to browse here to see why we believe his execution would constitute a perversion of justice. (I have no doubt that the chronicles of his life will move even the most ardent advocate of the death penalty to join us in calling on the governor of California to grant Williams clemency.)

    The power to grant clemency to condemned felons is the most awesome and controversial power vested in state governors in the United States. Because, with the stroke of a pen, they can determine whether a person lives or dies.

    Therefore, I was very encouraged when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on Friday that he will review Williams’ case to see if he’s worthy of clemency. And, like a Roman Emperor, Governor Schwarzenegger is expected to give Williams a thumbs up or down, on or before 8 December.

    I am acutely aware that sometimes it takes a great deal of courage to do the right thing. But if Governor Schwarzenegger has only a smidgen of the courage demonstrated by Governor George Ryan of Illinois, then he will commute Williams’ sentence – from death to life in prison – without hesitation.

    Note: Governor Schwarzenegger has reviewed 2 previous pleas for clemency and gave the dreaded thumbs down in both cases. Nevertheless, I am confident that the reasonable doubts that have arisen about his conviction in recent years, coupled with the worthy deeds he has performed in prison, will compel the governor to spare the life of Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

  • Sunday, November 27, 2005 at 11:57 AM

    So, how was your Thanksgiving…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Saturday, November 26, 2005 at 11:53 AM

    Meet America’s (Dr Frankenstein’s) new leader (monster) for Iraq

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Ahmad Chalabi, former Iraqi exile (and dictator-in-waiting), is the man senior officials in the Bush administration have accused, on the record, of deliberately fooling the Pentagon, CIA and other international intelligence agencies with bogus information about stockpiles of WMDs that led to the invasion of Iraq.

    In fact, once the Americans realised that there were no WMDs and that Chalabi had merely gotten them to do his dirty work of toppling Saddam Hussein, they resented him so much that they tried to have Chalabi and his son arrested based on bogus information of their own about a U.S. dollar counterfeiting operation. But not only did they fail in this misadventure; the Americans actually prevailed upon King Abdullah of Jordan to squash a legitimate arrest warrant against Chalabi that was issued pursuant to his conviction in absentia for embezzling over 300 million (real U.S. dollars) from a Jordanian bank.

    Now – as Deputy Prime Minister and head of the oil ministry – Chalabi is easily the most powerful man in Iraq and destined to become its next maximum leader. And, the gullible Americans seem all too willing to “get fooled again.” Why else would this “pariah” be welcomed back to Washington for “friendly consultations” with the very officials who hold him responsible for over 2100 American lives…?

    Only in America folks!

  • Friday, November 25, 2005 at 11:32 AM

    Update: Controversial but fair punishment for 2 predatory school teachers

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Last summer, at the height of frenzied news reports about female school teachers sexually assaulting their students, I published what I hoped would be instructive articles on how the criminal justice system should deal with a few of these misguided “sex-ed” teachers.

    Well, 2 of them received their punishment on Wednesday; and, I don’t mind confirming that the judge seems to have followed my sentencing guidelines in each case:

    Click here to read what he decided in the Sandra Beth Geisel (L) case; and here to read what I recommended.

    And, click here to read what he decided in the Debra Lafave (R) case; and here to read what I recommended.

    Clairvoyant? Not exactly. But sometimes it pays to take a gamble on commonsense prevailing in the American criminal justice system….

    Note: In the Lafave case, I never even suggested – as her lawyer agued, incredulously – that she was “just too pretty to be locked up” because she’d be “like red meat to those animals” in prison. Because, if I were the judge hearing Lafave’s lawyer make this asinine argument, I would have conveyed to her that if she did not reappear with a new lawyer, she would indeed be doing time with those caged animals.

  • Thursday, November 24, 2005 at 11:28 AM


    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Just kidding folks! In fact, no less an authority than Dr Anthony Fauci of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declared all of America’s sacrificial birds safe and quite edible. And, even last week’s bird flu scare in Canada turned out to be a false alarm.

    Therefore, this year, let us break our day of feasting, if only for a moment, to give thanks for being blessed with good health and so much to eat, and to pray for those who are plagued by disease and chronic starvation….

    But for your edification, click here to read the Thanksgiving Day Story (it’s brief); and please take note of the enabling (decidedly NOT savage) role the native Indians played in making this day possible.

    Bon appétit!

  • Wednesday, November 23, 2005 at 11:17 AM

    Update: Angela Merkel inaugurated Chancellor of Germany…finally!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Angela Merkel, yesterday, looking more like a person just convicted of fraud than as the person just affirmed as Germany’s first female Chancellor. But, given the fractious nature of the election campaign and the uneasy coalition she has forged to govern the county, perhaps Merkel is already fearing the ides of March

    In this recent article , I heralded the election of Angela Merkel as Germany’s first female Head of State. But, despite the razor-thin margin by which she upset incumbent Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, I did not expect the congenitally organized German Bundestag to take longer to ratify her victory than it took the perennially disorganized U.S. Congress to ratify George W. Bush’s victory in 2000.

    My prediction about the composition of Merkel’s ruling coalition, however, proved correct. But my awareness of the lust for power amongst her coalition partners, and my understanding of the daunting challenges they face, cautioned me against offering predictions about Merkel’s success as Chancellor. (Challenges, incidentally, that include double-digit unemployment and a French-style restiveness amongst immigrant [Muslim] youths that could prove equally incendiary.)

    Nevertheless, as I am unabashedly in favour of “woman power”, I don’t mind proclaiming my hope against hope for Merkel’s unprecedented success: Especially since she seems as disposed to moderating President Bush’s neo-con world view (as in “you’re either with us or against us”) as former British PM Margaret Thatcher was to grounding former President Ronald Reagan’s intergalactic notions of American military power (as in his Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars plan).

    Good luck Angela!

  • Wednesday, November 23, 2005 at 11:07 AM

    Update: Al Qaeda suspect Omar Abu Ali convicted; faces life in prison

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Ahmed Omar Abu Ali – the al Qaeda suspect who confessed to being ordered by Osama bin Laden to assassinate President Bush – was convicted yesterday by a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia.

    Perhaps this conviction will prove to Bush and his trials-be-damned Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, that U.S. courts are fully capable of bringing suspected terrorists to justice. And, therefore, that there’s no humane reason to keep them hog-tied on Guantanamo Bay or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, indefinitely.

    Click here for a little background information on this case and to see why it would’ve been a shock if Abu Ali were not convicted….

  • Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 11:33 AM

    Just a little rant about Desperate Housewives…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    My idea of a good TV drama series is 24 (on FOX) starring Kiefer Sutherland. And, for a good TV comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm (on HBO) starring Larry David gets my vote. Therefore, this commentary on Desperate Housewives (on ABC) is admittedly suffused with bias, if not condescension. But the fact that I could not figure out whether it was trying to be a drama or comedy did not bode well for my review of the show.

    I am writing about Desperate Housewives because a friend who worships it like a new-found religion tried to convert me to its saving grace during an episode last Sunday night. But much to her dismay – when it was over and she asked “well?” – I had so many critical things to say about the stereotypical scene in which a black man was arrested that we never got to what, if anything, I liked about the show.

    Yet, I suspect that a vast majority of blacks who watched this episode would give it an equally jaundiced review. After all, many of them criticized popular TV sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends for neglecting to feature people of colour (not even as extras), despite being ostensibly situated in the very diverse New York City.

    But I did not buy into this quota-based criticism. Because I appreciated that both of those sitcoms revolved around the private lives of a group of “white” friends. And, as shocking as it might have appeared to people who have never lived in New York City, I was not at all surprised that neither show depicted much interracial socializing. After all, New Yorkers generally accept that eventhough whites and blacks interact as professionals; they rarely socialize as friends. Which, incidentally, is why the belated casting of a black love interest for one of the male characters on Friends during its final season seemed so woefully contrived.

    New residents in the Wisteria Lane neighbourhood on “Desperate Housewives” who are adding a little colour but, alas, not much texture to the show

    Instead, what incited my reaction was the stereotypical way the only black family in this lily-white neighbourhood was (and is) being portrayed. And my dismay was compounded when I thought of how often openly gay men like the show’s creator Marc Cherry proclaim their empathy and solidarity with victims of racial stereotypes. Because it seems that Cherry decided to promote racial diversity in his TV world by casting a black family whose members are alienated not only by mundane racial prejudice but also because of the suspicious, menacing and criminal traits he assigned to them.

    Even worse, after having his white characters commit every crime imaginable – including murder – with relative impunity, Cherry played on black stereotypes by having a police squadron raid Wisteria Lane to arrest one of these black characters in such dramatic fashion. And, his failure of creativity in writing this scene was only exacerbated by the fact that Cherry had all of the white neighbours congregate on their lawns to gawk at the arrest and watch this black “intruder” being driven-off to a place where so many black men call home: prison. (Meanwhile, he has already put the only Hispanic-looking main character behind bars…)

    It’s fair to assume that I won’t be watching any more episodes of Desperate Housewives….

    Note: I acknowledge Cherry’s creative license to portray the characters in his show as he pleases. But just as I don’t think one has to be gay to resent stereotypical portrayals of gays on TV, I hope one does not have to be black to resent stereotypical portrayals of blacks. Nevertheless, here’s to more black creators and writers of TV shows!

  • Monday, November 21, 2005 at 11:23 AM

    Alas, Bush fared better as an American tourist than as U.S. President in Asia

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Bush riding his troubles away with the Chinese Olympic cycling team on mountain bike trails in Beijing, China

    Last week, on the eve of President Bush’s 8-day diplomatic tour of Asia, I wrote this article in which I predicted that the highlight of his trip – a Beijing summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao – would result in a conspicuous triumph of form over substance: where Bush’s words (especially about human rights) would only amount to sound and fury signifying nothing.

    But who knew that so many Asians would be impressed by Bush’s cowboy charm. Because working the groupie rope line on some legs of his tour, he was greeted more like presidential rock star Bill Clinton than as a beleaguered and reviled war-monger – as he is so often characterized in the press these days. Indeed, strolling the Japanese gardens, mingling with students at a South Korean university and mountain biking with the Chinese Olympic cycling team, Bush seemed every bit the most popular (if no longer the most influential) man in the world.

    Of course, none of these “photo-op” outings had anything to do with the declared purpose of Bush’s tour – which was to press the Chinese on human rights reforms and get them to open their markets to American companies.

    Though, with respect to these substantive matters, American media reports about their summit yesterday might give one the impression that Bush and Hu proved me wrong (at least where human rights are concerned). After all, so many of their headlines today proclaim that Bush made headway in “pressing” the Chinese on human rights; and, some newspapers even heralded Bush’s visit to a Beijing church as evidence that China had heeded his calls for religious reforms.

    But eventhough Bush may have pressed the human rights issue, he made no headway at all. And eventhough he visited a Church, he attended one of only 4 protestant churches sanctioned by the ruling Communist Party. In fact, China still restricts religious freedom to inhumane extremes – including an absolute ban on Catholic Churches because the Chinese apparently believe that religious proselytizing by Pope John Paul II was more responsible for the demise of the communist Soviet Union than the political brinkmanship of former President Ronald Reagan.

    Despite the diplomatic spin, it was clear at their post-summit press conference that President Bush and President Hu are not looking in the same direction when it comes to improving human rights in China and bilateral trade

    Nonetheless, at their post-summit press conference, Bush himself betrayed the triumphal headlines by offering this rather sobering assessment of his “frank discussions” with Hu on human rights:

    “President Hu is a thoughtful fellow and he listened to what I had to say….It was very interesting in his comments that he talked about human rights. Those who watch China closely would say that maybe a decade ago a leader wouldn’t have uttered those comments.”

    That’s it folks. Bush went all the way to China to press the Chinese on human rights reforms, and all he got was a concession from Hu to utter a few words about human rights…for the cameras. Meanwhile, Chinese citizens who utter political speech that contravenes the communist Party line or press for any of the democratic freedoms we take for granted are still being imprisoned in gulags indefinitely. And, as for Hu’s supposedly revolutionary comments, what Bush did not say (and what was not reported) is that he merely reiterated what every Chinese leader has been saying for decades:

    Human rights in China are a matter of domestic concern and none of America’s business!

    (But perhaps this diplomatic rebuff was lost in translation….)

    Nonetheless, unlike the positive spin he tried to put on his human rights talks, Bush made no attempt to disguise his disappointment with the outcome of discussions on trade. And this is especially noteworthy because it was generally thought that – since the American market is indispensable to China’s economic superpower status – Bush would have considerable leverage to exact market concessions from Hu. Yet, by his own admission, Bush got nothing but a reiteration of stale promises which prompted him to lament that:

    China needs to do more to provide fair opportunities for American farmers and businesses seeking access to China’s market.

    Note: Where many American media reports about the summit were headlined by references to Bush pressing Hu on human rights, foreign media reports (like those from the Agence France-Presse [AFP]) were headlined by references to Hu rebuffing Bush at every turn. Alas, perception is reality (and news)…

  • Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 11:41 AM

    Fox reprieved as Castro puts Chávez back on his leash

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Talk about the pot calling the kettle black….

  • Saturday, November 19, 2005 at 12:17 PM

    EXTRA: Bob Woodward traded journalistic principles for access to power (and a string of political best sellers)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has often referred to the “imperial presidency” to describe the accretion of power in the executive at the expense of the (constitutionally co-equal) judiciary and legislative braches of the U.S. government.

    But given the startling revelations this week about his role in the CIA leak investigation, one might now refer to the “imperial journalist” to describe Woodward’s imperious attitude towards fellow reporters. Because, whilst they were being grilled by federal prosecutors about what they knew and when they knew it – concerning the identity of covert agent Valerie Plame, Woodward was sitting above the fray on Larry King and Meet the Press pontification about the journalistic and judicial merits of the investigation.

    Yet, incredulously, we now know that, despite watching the incarceration of reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times for refusing to disclose the confidential source who leaked Plame’s identity to her and the indictment of VP Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby for being that source, Woodward neglected to inform federal prosecutors that someone else in the White House (none other than President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card) had, in fact, leaked Plame’s identity to him long before Libby is alleged to have leaked it to Miller.

    Remarkably, instead of coming forward – in the name of truth and justice (and to spare the country 2 years of senseless political intrigue and millions in legal expenses – to say nothing of sparing fellow journalist Miller months behind bars on contempt charges), Woodward claims that he withheld this exculpatory information simply because he did not want to get caught up in the federal investigation….

    But, whatever his personal reasons, Woodward’s colleagues at the Post are hardly sympathetic. Indeed, Jonathan Yardley probably expressed their collective disappointment (and feelings of betrayal) when he lamented – in an internal memo leaked, ironically, to the press – that the publishers of the paper have indulged Woodward’s imperial prerogatives to such extremes that he now assumes he’s bigger than the Post itself…let alone fellow reporters.

    Well, here’s to your long-overdue federal subpoena Bob. Because the prosecutor who indicted Libby and jailed Miller announced yesterday that he’s empaneling a new grand jury to come after you (and your White House leaker Mr. Card?)….

  • Friday, November 18, 2005 at 11:12 AM

    Publishing tycoon Lord Conrad Black: A royal thief…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday, the imperial name of Lord Conrad Black of Hollinger International Inc. was added to the rogues gallery of corporate crooks – which includes Ken Lay of Enron, Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco and the Rigas family of Aldelphia Communications – that will be recorded in the annals of history as royalty amongst thieves.

    Oddly enough, this should provide Lord Black some consolation considering that he himself is an acclaimed historian (having written a definitive biography of FDR) and a man so covetous of the effluvia of British royalty that he renounced his Canadian citizenship to be granted a “life peer” by HM The Queen. (A dubious honour, it is alleged, that he earned only after misappropriating millions of shareholder dollars to fund British charities and royal dinner parties.)

    No couple personified the pomposity and debauchery of the idle rich than Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel – who once infamously told the editor of Vogue “I have an extravagance that knows no bounds.”

    Given the litany of criminal fraud charges alleged against him, however, Lord Black seems to have been born to this rogues gallery of royal thieves. Because the greedy acquisition and ostentatious flaunting of his ill-gotten gains (abetted regally by his criminally spendthrift wife) were of such egregious magnitude that they would shame even the man whose shameless excesses incited the French revolution, King Louis XVI (abetted by his equally self-indulgent wife, Marie Antoinette).

    But as far as this royal poseur is concerned, he is already suffering the harshest punishment imaginable: banishment from favour with the royal family and stricken from the social registers of New York City and Palm Beach!

  • Friday, November 18, 2005 at 10:51 AM

    Update: Martha reverts to bitchy diva after getting her goose cooked on Apprentice spin-off

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Alas, The Apprentice starring this friendly and “reformed” Martha Stewart showed more style than substance and delivered more hype than ratings…

    Ironically, Martha Stewart was never quite so successful in business as she was when her stint in prison prevented her from doing business. Indeed, as I noted with cynical awe in this previous article, the world seemed at her feet after she became inmate number # 55170-054 and the poster girl for corporate greed, arrogance and mendacity.

    Therefore, when she was released last March, many people wanted to be associated with Martha, hoping to milk her like a cash cow. And no one was more crass in this respect than the mercurial Donald Trump. But to make her more marketable, Trump retained a gaggle of PR flacks to soften Martha’s iron tits by spinning the public on her “prison conversion” – from a frumpy, grumpy know-it-all bitch to a svelte, serene and (gasp) humble domestic arts teacher.

    But the fact that Martha violated the terms of her lenient house arrest – because she couldn’t wait to jump back into money-making ventures (compelling her sentencing Judge to penalise her by adding more time) – betrayed her alleged conversion. After all, her lactating business prospects in this context was rather like Mother Teresa suddenly wheeling and dealing like an amoral business mogul.

    At any rate, Martha and her shrewd partners decided that a female version of Trump’s Apprentice would be the most lucrative showcase for her new professional persona. But it did not take long before word got out that Martha off-screen was the same old bitch. Even worse, TV critics (and her would-be fans) soon realised that the reformed Martha on-screen was about as interesting and entertaining as watching paint dry on a barn at her country estate.

    Despite catering to Donald Trump’s Olympian ego, Martha was not spared his trademark diss “you’re fired” and, no doubt, a parting wink and whisper from Trump telling her “you just don’t fit in”

    Therefore, Martha could not have been too surprised when her bosses at NBC cancelled her show earlier this week. And, to compound her reversal of fortune, Trump – her partner in this loser of a show – wasted little time yesterday informing listeners of the popular IMUS in the Morning radio programme that “Martha is now the 14th person who thought they could do what I do and failed miserably…what I can say.”

    But Trump is not the only one debunking the haloed Martha. Because, yesterday, it was reported that Martha is being sued by the consultant she hired to pick a jury that would keep her out of prison. But, perhaps because Martha thought this was a guarantee, she never paid the consultant, Julie Blackman, her fees.

    And with that, we’ve come full circle: because who else but a bitchy diva would think she could get away without paying her bills. Indeed, Martha probably feels about paying bills the way fellow bitchy diva Leona Helmsley felt about paying taxes (before she too was sent to prison): “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

    Note: Don’t cry for Martha because she has already offset the loss of this TV show with the gain of a Sirius satellite radio gig that begins airing next week.

    Hail Martha, full of grace…

  • Thursday, November 17, 2005 at 11:01 AM

    Fighting bird flu…by vaccinating 14 billion chickens?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Can you imagine these vaccinated chickens being “finger lickin’ good”?

    Much has been made in the international media about the looming pandemic of (avian) bird flu. Yet, it has been difficult to reconcile “informed” fears that this H5N1 strain of the flu could kill more people than the reported 50 million who died from a similar strain in 1918, with the fact that only fowl seemed at risk of infection. And, quite frankly, neither wholesale slaughter of infected chickens nor news of China’s surreal plan to vaccinate 14 billion farm birds has been terribly worrisome.

    But that was last week…

    Because wire reports this week confirm what World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists predicted would be the tipping point towards a new flu pandemic to rival the outbreak of 1918: namely, that the virus has now made the quantum leap from infecting chickens on small farms with relatively little human contact to infecting a variety of birds on large factory farms with nearly swarming human contact.

    Therefore, it is not surprising that alarm was sounded all over the world yesterday when China reported its first human infections (3) that resulted in 2 swift fatalities. Because there’s scientific consensus that human infections in densely populated areas can spread like wildfire. And, if every 2 out of 3 people infected die, then the 50 million deaths in 1918 will seem modest by comparison.

    Naturally, such an apocalyptic prospect compels one to wonder about the feasibility and effectiveness of vaccinating 14 billion birds. After all, it begs this rather elementary question:

    Have the Chinese developed a vaccine that inoculates birds, but not humans, from the H5N1 flu strain?

    Because it seems far more sensible to vaccinate 6 billion people and just wring the necks of the 14 billion chickens. (Perhaps I’m missing something fundamental here….) Nevertheless, if the Chinese vaccine is only for the birds, then one wonders why it was unavailable to the British and other governments that have executed millions of chickens upon the mere suspicion of having one infected bird in their midst.

    Tamiflu seems destined to become the most coveted little pill since Viagra

    Meanwhile, western pharmaceutical companies – including the infamous Chiron – are racing to develop an effective bird flu vaccine…for humans. And, to date, Roche’s Tamiflu is generally recognised as the most promising. Unfortunately, Roche claims that, under ideal conditions, it will be 2007 before it reaches full manufacturing capacity; which – even then – will produce enough Tamiflu for only 300 million treatments annually.

    Alas, this means that if bird flu begins spreading at the rate scientists predict, either tomorrow or 5 years from now, most of us will be like sitting ducks.

    But don’t worry, be happy…

  • Wednesday, November 16, 2005 at 10:50 AM

    One small step for Israelis and Palestinians, one giant leap for peace in Middle East

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice – with EU Foreign policy chief Javier Solana (L) and international envoy to the Middle East James Wolfensohn – announcing the historic agreement she brokered between the Israelis and Palestinians to open the borders of the Gaza Strip to allow free movement for Palestinians within the territories and to the outside world

    These days, with the international media focused on the American-led struggle against Islamic jihadists in Iraq, it usually takes a Palestinian suicide bomber killing more innocent Jews for Israel and Palestine to make front-page news. But even then, the media focus returns to Iraq because most jihadists – including Osama bin Laden himself – have invoked the Israeli / Palestinian conflict as the casus belli for their global terror crusade (and Iraq is clearly now their main theatre of operations).

    Nevertheless, as an unsparing critic of the Bush Administration’s counter-offensive against these Islamic crusaders, I am relieved to report that the Americans now seem fully capable of dropping bombs and brokering peace at the same time. Because on the day U.S. forces launched yet another military offensive in Iraq, Dr Rice announced from Jerusalem

    “…a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians designed to open up the Gaza strip to Israel and the outside world.”

    This historic agreement will give Palestinians the greatest freedom of movement (of people and goods) that they’ve had since 1967. And, with President Bush taking political heat for blowing-up America’s prestige and goodwill in so many places around the world, this good front-page news is welcome relief; not only for him but for all who value America’s role as peacemaker far more than its role as self-appointed world (democracy) police.

    Note: To his credit, however, Bush was the first American President to call for a free and independent Palestinian state complete with contiguous borders. And this agreement – giving the Palestinians control of the border between Gaza and Egypt – represents the most significant move, along the very bumpy road, towards fulfilling this historic promise for the Palestinians and bringing peace to the Middle East.

    Endnote: There’s probably nothing but grudging respect in the Clinton camp for Condi’s extraordinary diplomatic feat; especially when it’s juxtaposed with former President Clinton’s futile efforts over 8 years to broker any movement on the Middle East roadmap for peace. Moreover, it must be acutely galling to his wife Hillary that Condi announced this historic agreement at the very time she was canvassing Israel trying to burnish her foreign policy bona fides for her own presidential run in 2008…against Condi.

    Things that make you go, hmmm…

  • Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 11:53 AM

    Bush bids his Washington troubles adieu…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

    Therefore, it was fortuitous for President Bush that he was scheduled to leave Washington yesterday to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in South Korea, as part of an 8-day diplomatic tour of Asia. But unlike his predecessor Bill Clinton – who ran from the political heat he got for his affair with Monica Lewinsky into the forgiving and redeeming arms of Nelson Mandela – it is doubtful that Bush will find such refuge in the embrace of any of his Asian hosts.

    After all, despite his domestic woes, Clinton was always adored abroad. By contrast, however, it seems Bush is as disliked and disrespected abroad as he is at home: where recent polls rated him as the most unpopular president in U.S. history (due in part to the growing disillusionment of many Americans with his administration – stemming from the bloody quagmire in Iraq and the upsetting suspicion that Bush misled them about his reasons for targeting Saddam.)

    Moreover, even though this is a timely trip to escape political heat in Washington, it is most untimely for Bush to be risking what little remains of his international gravitas at this APEC summit. Because his gospel about the values of democracy and free trade is bound to fall on more deaf ears – given his spectacular failure to impress leaders in his own backyard with these values at the recent Summit of the Americas in Argentina.

    Nevertheless, the highlight of Bush’s tour of Asia will be his bi-polar summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao. However, no one expects anything Bush says during this meeting to amount to much more than sound and fury signifying nothing. Because China’s economic power has become so great that the Americans and Chinese both understand that China is now completely immune to political or even military pressure from the United States.

    In fact, China’s rise to superpower status has effectively muted all western talk about human rights abuses within China. And it shall signal a shameful retreat (reversal in fact) for U.S. presidents, when Bush pleads (as expected) for greater access to Chinese markets for American corporations to exploit Chinese workers; instead of lecturing President Hu about the human rights of the poor and oppressed labourers who fuel China’s booming economy.

    Note: One potentially constructive item on Bush’s agenda will be his discussions with Hu about emergency measures to deal with the looming pandemic of bird flu; especially in light of the recent outbreak in the Hubei province of China.

  • Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 11:28 AM

    Venezuela’s Chavez warns Mexico’s Fox: You better not mess with me amigo…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    At the recent Summit of the Americas, Chavez (L) eyed Fox (standing at attention) like a hunter stalking his prey

    Fallout from the recent Summit of the Americas in Argentina seems to have affected diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Mexico more than between Venezuela and the U.S. as was generally anticipated. And, things took a rather nasty and puerile turn last week when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called Mexican President Vicente Fox “a puppy of the [American] empire” for supporting the U.S. inspired Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) draft agreement. (One wonders what diplomatic words he has in store for Canadian President Paul Martin who [along with U.S. President Bush] is the other major sponsor of this free trade proposal.)

    Then, true to the machismo tradition, Fox threatened that if Chavez did not issue an immediate apology, he would do whatever is necessary to “defend the honour of the Mexican people.” But, in equally machismo fashion (made more menacing by his paranoid megalomania), Chavez responded on Sunday by warning Fox on live TV: “don’t mess with me [amigo] because you’ll get stung!”

    (Right gentlemen…take 10 paces turn and…sting?)

    So today, Mexico and Venezuela are in a diplomatic stand-off – having recalled their ambassadors pursuant to reciprocal temper tantrums. And, the world waits with bated breath to see how long it takes for these Latin hotheads to cool off….

    Note: Ultimately, this row amounts to nothing more than a pissing contest between these two equally matched heads of state. However, it portends more dire consequences for leaders of less powerful nations in the Americas (like those of CARICOM countries) who see in Chavez a reliable foil to the hegemonic power of the President of the United States. Because his preemptive personal attack on Fox demonstrates how quickly Chavez can turn on friends who disagree with him, and betrays what little regard he has for diplomatic protocol and the sovereign prerogatives of foreign leaders.

    Indeed, it is becoming patently clear that unless one is a peasant farmer begging for a handout, it is risky business befriending or trusting Hugo Chavez.

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