• Monday, December 31, 2007 at 5:41 AM

    The politics of nepotism in Pakistan, and corruption in Kenya

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall


    Asif Ali Zardari (left), the widower of the slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Amin Fahim, president of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which Bhutto headed before she was assassinated on Thursday, held a news conference yesterday to announce that Bhutto’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal Zardari (center), has been named to succeed her as party leader.

    This, of course, will extend the Bhutto dynasty that began when her father – Pakistan’s first elected prime minister – founded the PPP in 1967.

    “I stand committed to the principle of federation . . . . My mother always said, `democracy is the best revenge’. [Bilawal “Bhutto” Zadari, who has co-opted his mother’s name “to honor her memory” and make himself more politically appealing]

    However, according to Fahim, Bhutto named her husband to succeed her in her will, and that it was he who then nominated their son to lead the party, which would appear to contradict Bhutto’s public declaration that she did not want her children to get involved in politics.

    At any rate, it appears father and son will serve as co-chairmen. And they claim to be fully prepared to contest next month’s parliamentary elections. Moreover, they appealed to the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to reverse its decision to boycott the elections. And reports are that Sharif has agreed.

    But here’s the rub: neither Bhutto’s son nor her widower is eligible to participate in the election. Not that either one of them would have been interested even if he were eligible.

    After all, Bilawal has made it clear that he intends to return to England (ASAP) to continue his studies at Oxford University. Never mind that this seems a backwards decision given that no textbook or lecture could prepare him to lead Pakistan nearly as well as being tutored and mentored (on the job) by PPP party elders in Pakistan.

    Although, it hardly seems fair to expect him to forego the years of character building – borne of youthful indiscretions – that await him at university. After all, this is the rite of passage for every young adult.

    Meanwhile, despite his firebrand political rhetoric, Asif Ali seems positively averse to succeeding his wife, as a martyr-in-waiting for her cause. Moreover, he has made it clear that he’s quite happy to have party president Fahim serve as prime minister if the PPP wins, while he continues living the good life in Dubai (on the billions many Pakistanis suspect he embezzled by skimming off “10 percent commissions on government contracts” during his wife’s two terms as prime minister).

    But am I the only one who finds it ironical, if not hypocritical, that Bhutto, who purportedly embodied the best hope for democracy in Pakistan, bequeathed leadership of the PPP to her husband, who immediately declared that their son will take over whenever it suits his fancy . . . ? Evidently nepotism, not democracy, is the best revenge …..


    Given the international media focus on Bhutto’s assassination, you can be forgiven for having no clue that Kenya held hotly contested national elections on that same fateful day last Thursday. But reports are that the re-election of the 76-year-old incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was achieved by “vote rigging and foul play” that were egregious even by African standards.

    Yet there was such widespread dissatisfaction with his party’s leadership that, despite this alleged corruption, 23 of Kibaki’s 32 cabinet members, including his vice president, lost their parliamentary seats – according to the latest count. This, of course, would tend to lend credence to allegations that his presidential results were fraudulent.

    “We believe that . . . the ECK [Electoral Commission of Kenya] . . . has not succeeded in establishing the credibility of the tallying process to the satisfaction of all parties and candidates.” [Chief EU observer Alexander Lambsdorff]

    Meanwhile, Opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the ECK’s results, and his party has announced that it will hold an alternative ceremony today to inaugurate him as the duly elected president. This, notwithstanding the fact that Kibaki was sworn in yesterday, and is already trying desperately to form a new cabinet.

    “There is a clique of people around Kibaki trying to rob Kenyans of the election.” [Raila Opposition leader Odinga]

    Alas, this sets up the all-too-familiar prospect of Africans resorting to tribal warfare to settle their political disputes.

    Indeed, as soon as Kibaki was declared the winner, clashes broke out between members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and those of Odinga’s Luo tribe. And those of us who are still hoping against hope for a political awakening in Africa could not help but look on in despair as Kenya, the beacon of democracy on the continent, descended back into the heart of darkness – where bloodlust gives rise to Idi Amins and Rwandan genocides….

    NOTE: Adding an international dimension to this spectacle, Kenya’s former colonial masters in England have sided with Odinga; while its current political benefactors in America have already congratulated Kibaki on his re-election.


  • Sunday, December 30, 2007 at 10:21 AM

    Never mind the Chinese, the Americans make defective toys too . . .

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, December 28, 2007 at 9:32 AM

    The assassination of Benazir Bhutto: a rendezvous with destiny

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The October 18 attempt on her life made it ominously clear not only that Benazir Bhutto’s assassins were determined to kill her, but also that her days were numbered.

    Therefore, it came as little surprise yesterday when they finally succeeded in what appears to have been a well-orchestrated suicide mission; which, in addition to Bhutto, killed at least 22 others at her campaign rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She was 54.

    Of course, Bhutto always spoke in rather heroic terms about the dangers she faced. But I’m not sure whether this was because she was possessed of an enlightened optimism – as she claimed, or of a death wish – as seems to have been the case.

    Whatever the case, her life seemed fated for this rendezvous with destiny. Because just as the Ghandis of India are distinguished almost as much for their legacy of tragic deaths as for their political accomplishments, the Bhuttos of Pakistan now share this dubious distinction – given that Bhutto’s father, himself a former prime minister, was executed and two of her brothers also assassinated.

    Meanwhile, virtually all of Bhutto’s avenging supporters are blaming President Pervez Musharraf for her death. Not least because Bhutto repeatedly warned that if (or when) she’s assassinated, her blood would be on his hand. After all, she allegedly complained to many “close friends” that Musharraf ignored her requests to enhance her security detail and purge his government of three high-ranking officials – who she was reliably informed were plotting to kill her.

    But, with all due respect to Bhutto, her allegations against Musharraf in this respect smack of a calculated campaign to undermine his leadership posthumously. And this seems especially so given the fact that terrorists attempted an almost simultaneous assassination of her political rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Never mind the fact that Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders had issued a practically unpreventable fatwa against her simply because they consider it a religious abomination for a woman to hold political office, let alone lead a Muslim country; or that there were countless other factions in Pakistan lying in wait to assassinate her….

    Moreover, it’s impossible to say that Musharraf’s failure to provide the security Bhutto requested (if in fact he did) was the proximate cause of her death.

    After all, reports are that even though she was being chauffeured in a heavily armored vehicle and escorted by an impenetrable cordon of bodyguards, it was her spontaneous decision to stand through the sunroof to wave to her supporters that allowed the assassin to fire a fatal bullet into her neck, before detonating his suicide bomb.

    But frankly, Musharraf was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. Because just last month, Bhutto condemned him for preventing her from holding a political rally at the very location where she was assassinated yesterday because he deemed it be unsafe. But he clearly knows that her supporters are too hysterical at the moment to appreciate his saying “I told you so….”

    Incidentally, the irony is not lost on me that if Musharraf had not caved in to Bhutto’s demand to lift the state of emergency on December 15, she would probably still be alive today. Because here’s what I wrote on November 5 about the prospect of her survival:

    [T]here’s no denying that both Musharraf and Bhutto will enjoy far greater personal safety in a Pakistan under martial law than in one where the free movement and association of would-be assassins – who want to kill him as much as they want to kill her – remained unchecked.

    That said, it does not reflect well on Musharraf that battalions of Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers have allegedly infiltrated the army he led for so many years. Even worse, the precision, skill, and access it took suggest that this assassination was executed by one or more Pakistani soldiers.

    And it hardly seems to matter that these infiltrators have tried to assassinate him on at least two occasions as well. (In fact, having survived numerous attempts on his life, Musharraf’s days may be numbered too.) But no doubt he’ll redouble his efforts now to purge these Muslim fanatics from the military.

    For now though the challenge for Musharraf and his new army chief of staff is to ensure that anti-democratic forces do not use appropriate national mourning over Bhutto’s death as a pretext to foment mass civil unrest. And those forces could be unwittingly abetted in their efforts by Sharif who is using her assassination as a pretext to repeat his fatuous calls for Musharraf’s resignation and a boycott of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8.

    At any rate, Musharraf should order a sustained military crackdown to restore law and order and ignore reflexive admonitions from western leaders to hold those elections as scheduled. After all, what legitimacy would there be if the vast majority of secular Pakistanis – who support Sharif – do not even participate…?

    Never mind that only God knows which faction will end up winning an election under these chaotic circumstances. (Note: I doubt a single western leader thinks it furthered democracy in Palestine when Hamas “terrorists” won free and fair elections there….)

    Meanwhile, only grief-stricken nostalgia would lead anyone to assert that prospects for Pakistani democracy died with Bhutto – who, incidentally, was heralded at age 35 as the first female leader of a Muslim country. Because even though she was by far the most popular politician in the country, there was no reason to believe that she would have been any more capable of leading a democratic renaissance in Pakistan this time around than she was able to do during her two previous (ill-fated, corruption-plagued) terms as prime minister.

    By contrast, with his godfatherly ties to the military, the country’s only viable institution, Musharraf is uniquely suited to oversee free and transparent parliamentary elections once this period of mourning and unrest subsides. Not to mention the fact that he’s the only person anyone outside Pakistan trusts to keep it’s nuclear weapons in safe hands….

    But the best
    thing western leaders can do to help him restore law and order is to shut up with their Pollyannaish talk about holding elections. Although, it would also help if they could show due regard for the fact that only Musharraf can extinguish the fuse that was ignited yesterday on the political powder keg that Pakistan has become.

    NOTE: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a tragedy for all who value democratic freedoms. In fact, no one in modern times has demonstrated a more principled commitment to the cause of democracy than she. Her tragic death is a great loss for us all.

    My heartfelt condolences go out to her family, friends, and the people of Pakistan.

    UPDATE (11 a.m.): Even though (according to customary Muslim practice) no autopsy was performed on her, Pakistani government officials announced that Bhutto died from trauma to the head, not from a gunshot or shrapnel as previously reported. They claim that she suffered this trauma when she banged her head on the sunroof trying to dodge the gunshots being fired at her.

    But who knows? Although, frankly, determining what killed her is not nearly as important as determining who did . . . .

    Related Articles:
    Hamas terrorist win legitimate power
    Day of reckoning for Pervez Musharraf
    Crocodile tears in the West as Musharraf imposes martial law…

  • Monday, December 24, 2007 at 8:45 AM

    Is the Holy Bible literally the word of God? Do we even know who wrote it?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    To my Christian critics:

    Judge not, lest ye be judged.

    Alas, many of you have judged my Christian faith and found it wanting. But I understand your visceral reaction to my Friday commentary entitled Why believing in the Bible is like believing in Santa Claus.

    Therefore, I apologize unreservedly for my unwitting offense against your Christian faith. And this, even though your letters are conspicuous by their distortion of facts and failure to address the main question I asked in this commentary, namely: Do you believe every word in the Bible is the true word of God?

    Never mind that I could have raised an even more provocative issue by asking: Do you know who wrote the Bible? For if you believe, as most Christians do, that it was written by “Holy men inspired by the Holy Ghost”, then how do you explain the internecine struggles (and patently political motivation) that led to so many passages being purged over time from the “original” Holy Bible. (E.g., what about the Septuagint, Apocrypha, etc…?)

    Indeed, who ordained that we should believe the Jewish canon, from which we derive our Christian Bible, constitutes the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the word of God?

    And, more to the point, whose intelligent design is responsible for us having stories about Abraham and Hagar, but none about Adam and Lilith? Or for us having accounts about the Acts of the Apostles, but none about the Acts of Paul and Thecla?

    Ultimately though, is it not Talibanical of you to call me an apostate for merely asking these questions, when, according to the Bible, the questions the disciples asked Jesus could be considered far more “heretical”?

    At any rate, I feel obliged to disabuse you of your most egregious inference. And it pertains to your assertion that, as a professed proud son of a preacher man, I must have rejected my Christian faith.

    In fact, my Christian faith has never been stronger. However, it is based on my personal relationship with God; not on fables of dubious inspiration and provenance. And I look to Him as the sole arbiter of my faith.

    But I find it more than a little curious that you had nary a word of rebuke for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, or the ordained Baptist minister and Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. After all, their dismissal of portions of the Bible as “legend” and “allegorical” fairytales, respectively, is what provoked my commentary in the first place.

    But since ‘tis the season to be jolly, here’s to all of the shopping and festive parties you’ll no doubt partake in to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

    God bless.

    NOTE: Please spare a little of your loaves and fish for the still starving multitudes in Africa….

    Related Articles:
    Why believing in the Bible is like believing in Santa Claus

  • Sunday, December 23, 2007 at 2:49 PM

    Who says that Jesus is the reason for the season…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, December 21, 2007 at 11:04 AM

    Why believing in the Bible is like believing in Santa Claus…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    During a recent Republican presidential debate, the candidates were asked a question that most Christians would have considered a no-brainer, namely: Do you believe every word in the Bible?

    Yet I found it ironic and instructive that the only candidate who answered yes was Mitt Romney – whose Mormon faith many Christians believe is based on folklore and cult worship. (In fact, one of those candidates, the ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee [pictured here], even asked indignantly during a New York Times interview last week: “Don’t Mormons believe the Devil and Jesus are brothers?”)

    But I found Romney’s answer ironic not only because I was actually indoctrinated to believe that every word in the Bible is the true word of God; but also because far too many Christians I know would have answered that question exactly as he did.

    Incidentally, my innate curiosity inspired me to abandon such Pentecostal belief in the Bible at a relatively young age. Alas, this resulted in my being called an apostate whenever I questioned even the most patently allegorical Bible verses. (Try discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution with a “born again” Christian. Talk about folklore and cult worship….)

    However, I found Huckabee’s answer instructive not only because he disagreed with Romney without hesitation or equivocation; but also because he dismissed many of the Bible teachings upon which the Christian faith is based as pure fiction. (And my Sunday school teacher told me that it was the Devil in me that caused me to question whether Jesus really fed multitudes with just five loaves and two fish….)

    Meanwhile, what does it say about their professed belief in every word in the Bible that fundamentalist Christians are embracing Huckabee as their political savior instead of rebuking him as an apostate…?

    But since Huckabee is clearly manipulating his Christian faith for political gain, perhaps what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had to say about the Bible just days ago will be even more instructive.

    Because this leader of the 77-million Worldwide Anglican Communion chose a Christmas interview on BBC Radio to proclaim that the Nativity, the Biblical account of the birth of Christ, which most Christians regard as gospel, is, in fact, pure “legend”.

    Specifically, after asserting that Jesus was probably not even born in December, Dr Williams explained that:

    Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival….Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told. It works quite well as legend.

    Of course, this means that all of those “Christmas cards which show the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men” are not only misleading but have as much basis in fact as Santa Claus.

    Which begs the question: If the Bible misrepresents the birth of His son, how can we believe any of it is the true word of God…?

    But where I can take being called a religious apostate, I cannot abide anyone thinking that I’m an Ebenezer Scrooge. Therefore, let me hasten to note that this is not a call to abandon the celebration of Christmas.

    Instead, I hope the truth – that Christmas has nothing to do with the word of God – will set Christians free. Especially since, from time immemorial, the rites we practice this time of year have been more consistent with a pagan festival than the birth of Jesus Christ.

    Accordingly, I hereby withdraw from the chorus of those still singing that Jesus is the reason for the season.

    Merry Xmas!


  • Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 7:06 AM

    Vladimir Putin: TIME’s Person of the Year

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In the decade or so since I’ve been trying to guess TIME’s Person of the Year, this is the first time they’ve chosen the person who I thought was most worthy of recognition, namely, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    And never mind that they chose him as much for being a megalomaniac who seems determined to rule Russia as either a latter-day Czar or a neo-Stalinist dictator; as for imposing order and stability in a Russia that was slipping into apocalyptic chaos.

    After all, Adolf Hitler was chosen in 1938, and Joseph Stalin in 1939 and 1942 for very similar reasons. Moreover, having read their essay Why we chose Putin, it is clear that they intended his selection to be, at best, a back-handed compliment:

    TIME’s Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse… Putin is not a boy scout….He stands, above all [even at 5’3”- he, he, he], for stability – stability before freedom, stability before choice…. he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power. For that reason, Vladimir Putin is TIME’s 2007 Person of the Year.

    Hear, hear. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    Nevertheless, I have no doubt that Putin will regard TIME’s dubious recognition as indisputable vindication of his iron-fisted rule and a celebration of the cult of personality he enjoys at home and abroad. And who can blame him – especially when he can look down on Nobel Laureate Al Gore as his runner-up…?

    So, congratulations…Czar Putin!

    Related Articles:
    Putin’s master plan to rule Russia for life
    Al Gore wins Nobel Prize


  • Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 6:29 AM

    ANC hails its new leader (South Africa’s next president): “Zuma, Zuma, Zuma”

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    They should please not choose someone of whom most of us would be ashamed. Our country deserves better. We’re very worried that [Zuma] had relations with a woman who regarded him as a parent; and, although he is very likeable, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What is happening in the ANC?'” [Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the South African Mail and Guardian newspaper]

    After days of internecine wrangling over petty procedural matters, delegates attending the leadership conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) finally got down to the business of voting for a new president today. And, as widely expected, they elected Jacob Zuma over incumbent Thabo Mbeki by an overwhelming margin.

    In fact, of the 3,834 voting delegates, Zuma received 2,329 to Mbeki’s 1,505. More importantly, however, this election puts Zuma in the catbird seat to be elected president of South Africa in 2009.

    But even though the arch rivals demonstrated encouraging camaraderie by embracing after the results were announced, I have no doubt that Mbeki – who is now, effectively, a lame-duck president – will do everything that remains within his power to ensure that Zuma does not succeed him as president.

    For now though, I refer you to the back story on their rivalry in the Related Articles below and shall close by echoing Tutu’s lament:

    What’s happening in the ANC when its members can so blithely elect a suspected thief and rapist to be their leader?

    Indeed, South Africa deserves better….

    * Published originally yesterday at 4:13 pm

    Related Articles:

    Mbeki versus Zuma for ANC leadership


  • Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 1:23 PM

    Why is it front-page news that Fidel’s retiring from public life…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Today, newspapers all around the world are running headline stories about Fidel Castro’s “resignation letter”, in which he concedes that it’s time to make way for the next generation of Cubans to continue his revolution.

    But who thought Fidel would ever return to power?! And this, even if he clings on to life for another 10 years. After all, from the time Fidel transferred power to him in July 2006, Raul Castro has made it clear that he’s basically holding auditions to help his brother select a worthy heir.

    Meanwhile, one has to admire the fact that, despite his physical decay, Fidel’s mind is as lucid as ever. And nothing demonstrates this fact quite like his politically-savvy declaration that he merely wants to:

    …contribute experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional times that I have lived through…I think like [Oscar] Niemeyer that you have to be of consequence up to the end.

    Viva Fidel!

    Related Articles:
    Rumors of Castro’s death prove greatly exaggerated

  • Monday, December 17, 2007 at 8:13 AM

    Mbeki versus Zuma in South Africa for ANC leadership

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In their most important election since the end of Apartheid 13 years ago, South Africans will vote today for either President Thabo Mbeki (right) or former Deputy President Jacob Zuma to head the country’s ruling African National Congress (ANC). And no one doubts that the man they choose will either determine who leads or will himself lead South Africa as president for the next decade.

    However, if one were to judge from the rousing applause that greeted Zuma at the opening of this ANC conference on Sunday – especially compared to the heckles that greeted Mbeki, Zuma would appear to be the overwhelming favorite to win. And there’s the rub for South Africa.

    But let me hasten to clarify that Mbeki finds himself in this untenable position because, having already served two terms as president, he is constitutionally prohibited from serving a third-consecutive term. Nevertheless, as leader of the ANC, he could do in South Africa what President Vladimir Putin, himself term limited, is doing in Russia; namely, to serve as the leader of the country’s most dominant political party, which would give him the power to effectively appoint his successor as president.

    Yet it says more about the gullibility and restiveness of its members than it does about Mbeki’s wish to remain relevant that the ANC is having its first open leadership contest in 58 years. Moreover, it’s an insult to Mbeki’s distinguished career of public service that he’s being so unceremoniously upstaged today by the man he fired as deputy president in 2005 – after South African prosecutors made it clear that Zuma faced imminent arrest not only for financial corruption but also for rape.

    Alas, despite his legal woes, the only people who seem to regard Zuma as a hopelessly compromised leader are South African elites and any non-South African with half a brain. In fact, after Zuma got off with rape last year, I was so certain it would come to this that I expressed my despairing hope for this country as follows:

    “Let’s hope the judge assigned to render the verdict in Zuma’s trial for corruption is more judicial, not paternal, in his legal reasoning than the one who acquitted him today of rape. Because, with so much evidence arrayed against him, if he’s acquitted of corruption as well, Zuma – who is arguably a morally-bankrupt rapist and thief – will become South Africa’s next president in 2009.”

    But my despair pales in comparison to that which Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Laureate and South Africa’s foremost moral authority, expressed on behalf of his more enlightened compatriots. Because here’s the national plea he made to Zuma’s supporters on the eve of this historic ANC conference:

    They should please not choose someone of whom most of us would be ashamed. Our country deserves better. We’re very worried that this leader had relations with a woman who regarded him as a parent and, although he is very likeable, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What is happening in the ANC?'” [South African Mail and Guardian newspaper]

    (Not to mention the fact that Zuma still faces trial on charges of corruption.)

    Unfortunately, many South Africans are criticizing Archbishop Tutu for pleading so publicly for national sanity. Although, the irony, if not hypocrisy, is not lost on me that those criticizing him for saying he would be ashamed to have Zuma as his president are the very ones who praised the Dixie Chicks for saying that they’re ashamed to have George W. Bush as theirs.

    Meanwhile, , given his apparent failure to exert any influence over this contentious conference, I feel inclined to say here that Nelson Mandela (89) must be rolling over in his grave. But he’s still kicking, and saying only that:

    “It saddens me to see and hear of the nature of the differences currently in the organization.”

    At any rate, I fear that Archbishop Tutu’s plea may have been drowned out by the sound of Zumanistas proudly singing the anthem of Zuma’s campaign, which is forebodingly entitled Bring me my Machine-gun, as if it were the new national anthem of South Africa.

    I shall update this post with official results by 5 pm GMT on Monday….

    UPDATE 9:28 pm GMT: Due to the fractious and chaotic nature of proceedings, the vote for party leader has been postponed until tomorrow.

    Related Articles:
    Mbeki sacks corrupt and compromised Zuma
    Mbeki: South Africa’s principled but unloved president
    Zuma gets off on rape
    Hail Putin

    , ,

  • Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 12:37 PM

    Yes, that’s the fat lady singing Hillary. And, having embraced her authentic self, Oprah really looks the part too…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, December 14, 2007 at 12:02 PM

    Mitchell Report says most baseball players are steroid junkies….No s#!+

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades — commissioners, club officials, the players’ association and players — shares to some extent the responsibility for the Steroids Era….There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on.

    [I urge Commissioner Selig] to forego imposing discipline on players for past violations of baseball’s rules on performance enhancing substances, including the players named in this report. Spending more months, or even years, in contentious disciplinary proceedings will keep everyone mired in the past.

    This opening quote summarizes all one needs to know about the findings in former Senator George Mitchell’s 409-page report on the illegal use of steroids in baseball. Alas, despite Mitchell’s 21-month effort, there’s nothing new in it (not even the outing of high-profile cheaters like Roger Clemens).

    Moreover, it’s simply naïve to think that this report will precipitate the end of the “steroid era” in baseball. Indeed, nothing indicates why it won’t quite like Mitchell’s own lamentation that the formidable and enabling players’ union was “largely uncooperative [and] rejected totally my requests for relevant documents”.

    Which brings me to the game’s beleaguered commissioner, Bud Selig. Because when he vowed to punish the 86 players named in this report, he was about as credible as Barry Bonds was when he swore that his performance-enhancing drug of choice was flaxseed oil….

    Meanwhile, Mitchell’s concern about his report triggering a flood of litigation is instructive. After all, Donald Fehr, who heads the players’ union, has already indicated that he intends to sue Mitchell for defamation on behalf of at least some of the players named.

    But if Selig attempts to discipline any player based solely on the allegations in this report, he will be hit by a tsunami of lawsuits. Because he would be clearly liable to charges of being arbitrary, capricious and, in fact, discriminatory – given that Mitchell himself conceded that there are many more steroid abusers in baseball beyond those named in his report. (And no player is more conspicuous by not being named than Mark McGwire – the game’s second most notorious juicer.)

    Although, no discipline Selig imposes could possibly do more harm to players like Roger Clemens than Mitchell has already done by naming them in this report….

    That said, the following excerpts from my previous articles should suffice to explain not only my profane regard for this report, but also why it just confirms my contention that Barry Bonds is being scapegoated for the epidemic of steroids in baseball.

    1. [The commissioner, owners, sports writers and fans] all profess incredulity at Canseco’s claims that he and many of baseball’s best players were (and are) juiced-up on steroids….

    Baseball “purists” are so outraged that they are calling for all records set over the past decade to be eradicated because they were probably achieved by pumped-up cheaters. Yet these cheaters were the ones who rescued the game from almost terminal disinterest after the baseball strike of 1994. And team owners and fans alike knew full well that the sudden supernatural performances of once mediocre players did not result from pumping iron during that strike.

    At any rate, so what if players take steroids. It’s, essentially, a victimless vice – far less poisonous than alcohol. And where steroid junkies usually endanger only fellow players on the field, drunks endanger all of us on the highway (and in so many other ways).

    [from Baseball is Juiced. So what!, February 2005]

    2. The real question is not: Is Barry Bonds (or any other player) a steroid junkie? Instead, the question is: What is baseball going to do about it?

    [from Baseball’s MVP, Barry Bonds, is a steroid junkie…duh!, March 2006]

    3. Bashing Bonds about steroids has become a national sport. Never mind that if all players taking steroids were hounded from the game, there would be few players left deserving of cheers.

    Steroid use has flourished in baseball (and other professional sports) pursuant to an open conspiracy among players and team owners to feed the gladiatorial lust of fans – who want to see bigger, stronger and faster cyborgs perform for their atavistic enjoyment. And, naturally, the more fans revel in their steroid-fuel feats of athleticism, the richer players, and even richer team owners become.

    Just as the achievements of players like Babe Ruth have not been diminished even though they drank alcohol during prohibition, the achievements of players like Barry Bonds should not be diminished even though they’re taking steroids today…. “Babe Ruth didn’t play with no brothers.” What is more of an advantage: steroids or racism?

    So, asterisk this!!!

    [from Bonds should be cheered, not jeered, as baseball’s new home run king, August 2007]

    4. The entire world witnessed Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire perjure themselves during congressional testimony last year. Yet the Congress gave them both a walk by refusing to indict.

    It’s patently disingenuous for Commissioner Selig to assert that former Sen George Mitchell’s report will preserve the integrity of baseball. And speculation that he will suspend players like Bonds, and even strip them of their records and awards – based solely on this report (no matter what Mitchell “discovers”) – is utter rubbish!

    [from The indictment of Barry Bonds would be an error for baseball, April 2006]

    So, let’s play ball!

    Related Articles:
    The Mitchell Report (pdf)
    List of players implicated


  • Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 11:34 AM

    What’s wrong with waterboarding terrorists if it saves innocent lives?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Political correctness, moral relativism and cowardice have driven political leaders to absurd extremes to ensure plausible deniability [e.g. via renditions] even when torture is absolutely justified. [“Justified torture, The iPINIONS Journal, April 2005]

    Most politicians who profess opposition to waterboarding are hypocrites (or hopelessly naïve); although you’d never know it based on the ferocity of their moral outrage. But they’re hypocrites because, among other things, they know full well that successive American governments have sanctioned far more egregious abuses of human rights by the CIA, including the assassination of foreign leaders.

    Whereas, truth be told, compared to torture that involves real pain (like pulling out fingernails or electrocuting testicles), waterboarding is about as harmful as a good wedgie. After all, here’s how former CIA operative John Kiriakoua described this so-called torture and lauded the positive effect it had on one of al-Qaeda’s most notorious terrorists:

    Abu Zubayda was wholly uncooperative for weeks and refused to answer questions. That’s when the CIA decided to waterboard him. Waterboarding [which is designed to emulate the sensation of drowning] begins by placing a suspect on a table with the suspect’s feet slightly elevated. Once a suspect is secured on the table, interrogators wrap his face in a cellophane-like material….There is a bladder, or a water source, above the head with water pouring down on the mouth, so no water is going into your mouth, but it induces a gag reflex and makes you feel like you’re choking.

    After only 35 seconds, Zubayda broke. From that day on, he answered every question. He said that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because it would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured. The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.

    Now bear in mind that Zubayda suffered no permanent harm. Waterboarding only scares people shitless. Moreover, it can only be 20/20 hindsight to argue that talking nicely, or even harshly to him would have yielded the life-saving information Kiriakou cites.

    Therefore, why all the moral self-flagellation and questioning of America’s national character over waterboarding?! (So much for President Bush being the only reason why America is a laughing stock in the Muslim world….)

    But frankly, I think this debate has more to do with political amnesia than moral principals. Because these politicians seem to forget that virtually everyone in America would have condoned killing, let alone waterboarding, anyone who even looked like an al-Qaeda terrorist in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

    Nevertheless, if you want to know how critics of waterboarding really feel about torture, just ask them the following question:

    If CIA agents were to inform you that waterboarding a terrorist is the only way to get information about a radioactive bomb they suspect is planted in your hometown, would you approve?

    Because I have no doubt that every one of them would not only approve but wouldn’t care if it took 35 seconds or 35 minutes to break that SOB. So again, why the moral navel gazing?! Not to mention that this whole debate will become moot as soon as terrorists pull off another, and perhaps even more spectacular 9/11.

    (For the record, the CIA claims that it discontinued using this tactic four years ago. But I find this about as credible as the claim that Iran discontinued its nuclear weapons program around the same time….)

    Finally, politicians invariably cite Sen John McCain (R-AZ) as the moral authority on waterboarding because he was tortured during his five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But I think his personal experience is precisely why his perspective may not be the most reliable on this issue.

    After all, the fact that McCain claims that he has “slept like a baby every single night” since his release – with none of the familiar post-traumatic stress or flashbacks other POWs suffered – suggests that he may be in deep denial about his torture. Never mind the real possibility that his antic concern for the welfare of these terrorists might have more to do with his Stockholm Syndrome than with their human rights….

    That said, I do not condone the fact that CIA agents destroyed videotapes of the interrogation (torture?) of Zubayda and another terrorist at Guantanamo Bay. Because they were operating not only under a court order, but also under a directive from the head of the CIA not to destroy them.

    In fact, no matter their legitimate concerns about exposing operational secrets to irresponsible, unreliable and untrustworthy politicians, this amounts to a wilful and craven case of obstruction of justice, which only further undermines the agency’s already tarnished reputation.

    Related Articles:
    Justified torture…rendition
    CIA’s tarnished legacy of human rights abuses
    A video demonstration of waterboarding

  • Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 11:36 AM

    Putin taps his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, to be his successor

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Even though his Stalinist intent to rule Russia for the rest of his life has been self-evident for years, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to bedevil political observers with his Kremlin maneuvers.

    For example, he shocked the world in September by appointing his old St Petersburg comrade, Viktor Zubkov, as prime minister. And back then, everyone presumed this was pursuant to his Machiavellian plan for Zubkov – who was little known outside, or even inside Russia – to succeed him as president next year. In fact, here was my cynical take on this move:

    I rather suspect that Putin’s appointment of Zubkov [Russia’s financial crime investigator] has more to do with protecting the billions of dollars he siphoned off from the oil companies he nationalized, than with his Stalinist ambition to serve as Russia’s president for life.

    …What better way to ensure Zubkov’s trust, if not complicity in this regard, than a quid pro quo in which Putin makes him president, and Zubkov launders Putin’s loot…? Besides, Putin could even allow the 65-year old Zubkov to serve two terms and still be a relatively young 63 when it becomes his “rightful” turn to reclaim the presidency in 2016.

    But Putin shocked the world again on Monday when he tapped his equally unknown protégé, Dmitri Medvedev (42), as his chosen one. And this all but guarantees that Medvedev will win the presidential election scheduled for 2 March – and probably by a landslide similar to that by which Putin’s chosen party, United Russia, won parliamentary elections 10 days ago.

    The majority of Russia’s political analysts thought it was going to be Zubkov. Over the last month Medvedev was nowhere to be seen. He was sitting in his lonely government office. [Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at Moscow’s Carnegie centre]

    Of course, the only thing that explains Medvedev selection is the fact that he will be even more deferential to Putin than Zubkov – especially on matters of national security and foreign affairs. Although, since Medvedev ran Gazprom, the state gas company that is allegedly the source of so much of Putin’s wealth, Putin may deem it even more critical for him to be a part of his St Petersburg troika (of Medvedev, Zubkov and Putin) that will rule Russia for the foreseeable future.

    At any rate, Medvedev went out of his way during his first televised address yesterday to assure the Russian people (and warn the world?) that Putin shall continue to be the most powerful man in Russia:

    Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country, stronger and more prosperous….In order to stay on this path, it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology….That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government.

    Evidently Medvedev’s business background compels him to regard Russia as a big corporation in which he will serve as CEO and Putin as chairman of the board. Alas, such positions are not provided for in the Russian constitution. Therefore, since Medvedev will be president, the only title available for Putin’s “most important position” is that of prime minister.

    But this just happens to coincide with Putin’s reorganization plan. Because, upon accepting United Russia’s “invitation” to become its leader in October, Putin asserted that even though the constitution prevents him from serving a third consecutive term as president, it provides no prohibition against his becoming prime minister – a prospect he declared then as “entirely realistic”.

    Well, all indications are that it’s a fait accompli….

    Hail Putin!

    NOTE: If you’re wondering what becomes of Zubkov under this reorganization, I suspect he’ll gladly serve as Putin’s deputy. After all, it would be just like old times – when he served as Putin’s deputy chairman (of the External Relations Committee) in the office of the mayor of St Petersburg during the early 1990s.

    Related Articles:
    Putin appoints Zubkov prime minister
    Putin’s party wins by landslide


  • Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 11:54 AM

    Bill Clinton has had more black women than Barack Obama…so what?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    First Barack was “not black enough”. Now Bill Clinton is “every bit as black” because he’s had more black women…?

    I want Barack Obama to be president…in 2016. Barack Obama does not have the support network yet to get to be president. The Clintons have — he’s — he’s smart, he’s brilliant. But you cannot be president alone. Hillary Clinton, first of all, has Bill behind her, and Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.

    andrewyoung-763666This is how former UN ambassador and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young responded at a recent black Newsmakers forum when he was asked to comment on Barack Obama’s candidacy. But after hootin’ and hollerin’ at what he claims was “just a joke”, I admonish you to consider the following:

    There is nothing funny about black leaders like Young, Rev Jesse Jackson and others trying to convince impressionable black people that Obama is not black enough to be president of the United States. And nothing betrays their utter lack of political integrity quite like their craven suggestion that the white woman they support, Hillary Clinton, actually is. (As for being “president alone”, I won’t even dignify Young’s insinuation that Michelle cannot support Barack every bit as effectively as Hillary supported Bill when he was president.)

    But let me hasten to disabuse you of any impression that Hillary would pursue policies that are more favorable to blacks than Obama would. In fact, I defy Young, or anyone else who suggests this, to cite a single policy that supports this political canard.

    clintonhillaryx-764893After all, if Hillary’s appeal is based on her continuing the policies Bill implemented during his presidency, then I submit that blacks have far more to fear from a President Hillary Clinton than from a President Barack Obama. Because it was Bill who cut welfare benefits for black single mothers in order to curry favor with the white barons of his Democratic Leadership Council. And it was Bill who did so little to combat the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, which affects blacks so disproportionately, that an outraged Richard Gere stunned Hollywood A-listers when he stood up at an AIDS benefit in 2003 – at which Hillary was guest of honor – and said:

    Senator Clinton, I’m sorry, but your husband did nothing for AIDS for eight years.

    Never mind the fact that, even though Clinton paid a lot of lip service to hiring blacks in his administration, President George W. Bush actually hired many more and placed them in much higher positions.

    Now consider that much of the talk about Hillary’s experience is just that. And nothing demonstrates the uselessness of what little experience she has more than the fact that it was Obama, not Hillary, who spoke out with such clarity and conviction in opposition to this war in Iraq – when it was still unpopular to do so. (And, when it was still unpopular to do so – as Oprah reminded folks on Saturday.)

    At any rate, Obama is even more experienced than JFK was when he was elected president. And Hillary knows better than anyone that, if Washington experience were really all that important, Bill Clinton would never have been elected. After all, he ran against a sitting president in 1992 who had more experience than any other candidate in US history, namely, Papa George H. W. Bush.

    jesseandalsharpton-711747Therefore, if there’s no basis in fact to support Hillary over Obama, nor any reason to suspect that her experience would make her a better president, then what’s behind this open conspiracy to commit racial fratricide against Obama?

    Alas, I can only surmise that old-fashioned black leaders are staying on the Hillary bandwagon simply because she and Bill not only enable their race-baiting politics, but have also promised to continue doing for them what Bill did during his presidency: namely, to give them the political cover to shakedown corporate America in exchange for their political support.

    obamaoprahd-761673Not to mention that I have it on reliable authority that Obama’s integrity compelled him to rebuff their overtures to arrange a similar quid-pro-quo deal, and that this is what is fueling their intra-racial vendetta.

    Ironically, given these facts, it’s a perverse form of Uncle Tomism for Young and other blacks to suggest that Bill and Hillary are blacker than Barack; or even worse, that he should wait his turn, like a good boy, until the Clintons fulfill their 2-for-1 presidential ambition.

    Because it’s one thing to say in jest that Bill was the first black president of the United States (as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison did). But it only insults our intelligence, and smacks of insidious self-loathing to suggest that because he uses black women for late-night booty calls that blacks should vote for his wife instead of Obama to be the next president of the United States.


  • Monday, December 10, 2007 at 11:01 AM

    Mayweather KOs boxing’s latest “great white hope”

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    What the fucking hell happened? Mayweather was better than I thought he was. I’m sorry everybody…it wasn’t my night but I’ll definitely be back.

    No shit Sherlock! But this was the only defense the formerly undefeated Ricky “the Hitman” Hatton of Manchester, England could offer – after he regained consciousness from a 10th round knockout by the still undefeated and undisputed World WBC Welterweight Champion, Floyd Mayweather.

    Meanwhile, even though, in public, most fans limited their trash talk to pride in the fighters’ impressive records (Hatton 43-0, Mayweather 38-0), I have no doubt that nationalism and racism (to a lesser degree) inspired the cheers and jeers of almost everyone who watched this fight, which took place on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Mayweather’s home turf. And, given reports that over 10,000 hooligans traveled from England to watch it in the 16,800-seat MGM Grand Arena, one can only imagine the booze-fueled epithets that filled the air.

    Nevertheless, here’s to the brilliant exhibition of this sweet science that both men displayed; and, moreover, to the exemplary demonstration of sportsmanship they showed after Hatton’s corner threw in the towel. (Although, I hope Hatton made it out of town – with his $6 million consolation – before Thomas (the real) “Hitman” Hearns gave him another ass whopping for usurping his famous nickname.)

    And congratulations to Mayweather for proving once again why he is universally regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing history. Especially since Oscar “Golden Boy” De la Hoya – who was once regarded as such – no longer has the balls to step back into the ring (to redeem his loss earlier this year to Mayweather) after being outed recently as a transvestite.

    Now let’s hope Mayweather stays true to his word and quits before he becomes punch drunk – like so many other superstar fighters, including Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, have become:

    I’ve done what I had to do in the sport. I’ve accomplished what I came to accomplish, now is time for me to be a promoter. I have nothing else to prove.

    After all, it’s not like he needs the money – having pocketed $11 million plus a take of the pay-per-view receipts for this one fight alone. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that he’ll be lured back for at least one more fight – ostensibly to end his career with an even 40-0 record.

    At any rate, for those of you who missed it, here’s a montage of the fight for your enjoyment:

    Related Articles:
    Oscar de la Hoya outed as a draq queen

  • Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 12:50 PM

    Sudan pardons British teacher who allowed her student to name his teddy bear "Mohammed"…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    But if these Muslim fanatics think that reducing her jail sentence (from 15 to 9 days), or sparing her 40 lashes, or saving her life (since many called for her to be executed) shows how humane they are, then they are also hopelessly delusional.

  • Friday, December 7, 2007 at 11:05 AM

    Massacre in Omaha

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    According to the Associated Press, a teenager armed with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire on Christmas shoppersat an Omaha shopping mall on Wednesday, killing at least eight people before turning the gun on himself.My condolences go out to all of those who have been affected by this senseless rampage.

    I don’t know why the media always reward these psychotic teenage boys by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and on the front page of every major newspaper … worldwide, and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds? Isn’t it clear to see, especially in this age of instant celebrity, why some loser kid would find this route to infamy irresistible?

    He had said how much he loved his family and all his friends and how he was sorry he was a burden to everybody and his whole life he was a piece of shit and now he’ll be famous. [Debroa Maruca-Kovac, the woman who gave this homeless teenager a place to stay and to whom he addressed his suicide note]

    After all, you’d think that – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the shooter to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in hell!

    Incidentally, as one who enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in high school, I remember well going out of my way to befriend kids who were generally regarded as nerds. And I rather suspect that if more “popular kids” today were disposed to do the same (instead of bullying and treating them like outcasts), many of these shootings would be avoided.

    Nevertheless, my support for the revenge of the nerds extends only to those who attain enviable success – like the googleaires at Google and the billionaires at Microsoft. Because I have nothing but contempt for the ones who think that becoming mass murderers constitutes sweet revenge.

    But, apropos contempt, I cannot muster enough for the arm-chair psychologists who always spew psychoanalytic gibberish to excuse these American psychos. Never mind the irony that, despite showing obvious signs of psychosis, social alienation and suicidal ideation, the most counseling these kids ever get usually comes only after they’ve murdered a bunch of innocent people.

    Meanwhile, these same shrinks invariably heap scorn on the motivation of Muslim teenagers who become suicide bombers. But at least Muslim psychos are motivated by more than posthumous fame. After all, they martyr themselves for Holy Jihad; although, eternal rapture in the bosoms of 72 virgins must sweeten their sacrifice….

    Related Articles:
    Massacre at Virginia Tech

  • Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 11:02 AM

    The NIE on Iran: How can a non-nuclear Iran be a nuclear threat?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Of course, any sane person would say that a non-nuclear Iran cannot be a nuclear threat. Therefore, I suppose it should come as no surprise that President George W. Bush disagrees.

    Because here’s how he answered this no-brainer during a White House press conference yesterday:

    Look, Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

    After yesterday’s press conference, however, even his dead-end supporters were beginning to question his sanity. Because most people reasonably assumed that Monday’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a report produced by the government’s 16 intelligence agencies, would have compelled Bush to moderate his bellicose rhetoric against this Muslim state – especially his crazy talk about a confrontation with it igniting World War III. After all, this NIE contained the shocking assessment that Iran ended its covert nuclear program in 2003; perhaps fearing that the blitzkrieg of American military forces into Baghdad might end in Tehran….

    Instead, Bush rationalized his determination to stay on his rhetorical course as follows:

    What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program? I still feel strongly that Iran’s a danger. Nothing’s changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don’t we just stop worrying about it. Quite the contrary.

    But since this NIE effectively neutered Bush of what little power he retained to launch preemptive strikes against Iran, there seems no point in commenting on his twisted logic or congenital mendacity. Besides, I’m encouraged by the fact that there seems to be a bipartisan resolve now to impeach him if he even thinks about doing so.

    Rather, I think it’s important to appreciate the mixed messages this NIE sends – not only to Americans, but also to friends and foes abroad. Because on the one hand, the US intelligence community should be commended for conducting a diligent review and publishing this revised report, which makes a lie of almost everything Bush has said about Iran over the past four years. While on the other hand, given the egregious and notorious intelligence failures that led to the invasion of Iraq, the only conclusion most people will draw from this report is that the US government cannot be trusted.

    But frankly, I am stupefied. Because just weeks ago I was commenting on how French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems as determined to march with Bush into Iran to destroy its nuclear program as British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to march with him into Iraq to find its WMDs.

    Meanwhile, the Israeli government – which has what is generally recognized as the most reliable intelligence agency in the world – felt compelled after Bush’s press conference to declare that this latest American NIE on Iran is wrong. In fact, the Israelis insist that the Iranians remain actively engaged in developing nuclear weapons:

    I am familiar with the American intelligence assessment. Nevertheless, I say again that Iran is today a central threat on the world and the State of Israel. [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ]

    Then, of course, we all have just cause to doubt any report by American intelligence agencies. After all, these are the same experts who gave us not only the NIE in 2003, which contained the “slam dunk” assessment that Iraq possessed WMDs, but also the NIE in 2005, which reported then what the Israelis insist remains true today about Iran’s nuclear program.

    Therefore, since only a western fool would claim to know what those Iranian Mullahs are really up to, I’m going to take it on faith that this latest NIE is correct, and shall leave it to the Israelis to deal with the import of their own intelligence in this respect. But I’m ever so mindful that Iran has vowed to wipe Israel, not America, off the map as soon as it develops nuclear weapons….

    Related Articles:
    Bush will attack Iran to redeem his presidency
    Bush invokes specter of World War III
    Israel’s secret plan to attack Iran

  • Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 11:32 AM

    Referendum defeat actually vindicates Chávez …

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Anyone who votes ‘No’ is voting for George W. Bush. Our true enemy is the US empire, and on Sunday, December 2, we’re going to give another knockout to Bush. [Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday, December 1]

    Editorials from around the world were dripping with schadenfreude yesterday as they heralded the “first ever electoral defeat” for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. But those editorials merely reflected the seemingly-universal view that the rejection of his little red book of constitutional reforms was not only devoutly to be wished, but also wholly warranted. Nevertheless, Chávez may yet have the last laugh.

    Just weeks ago, however, those opposed to his reform agenda, including Church leaders, business leaders, media organizations, human rights groups, student activists, Chávez’s ex-wife, Marisabel Rodríguez, and former Gen Raúl Isaías Baduel, who was Chávez’s defense minister until he became a conscientious objector, were all lamenting the consensus opinion that Chávez would enjoy a Putin-style mandate after Sunday’s historic vote.

    In fact, news reports were replete with stories about Venezuelans who were planning to leave the country rather than live under a constitution that vests in Chávez absolute dictatorial powers, including the right to nationalize private property, curtail civil liberties, quash the freedom of the press, appropriate Venezuela’s oil revenues to fund his radical socialist agenda and, above all, to be president for life.

    Yet, on the eve of the referendum there was a palpable sense that a critical mass of Venezuelans, international reporters and, I suspect, even Chávez himself were finally beginning to appreciate what I’ve been arguing for some time now; namely, that despite his posturing, Hugo Chávez is no Fidel Castro! In fact, here’s what I wrote almost a year ago today in an article hailing his landslide re-election as president:

    Henceforth I shall refrain from calling Chávez a ‘Castro wannabe’. After all…having won two democratic elections, Chávez has earned the right to be distinguished – as a benign demagogue, from Castro – who was never anything but a ruthless dictator for whom democratic elections [and referenda] were like the plague. [“Viva Chávez!” Caribbean Net News, 8 December 2006]

    Accordingly, even though Chávez lost Sunday’s vote in a surprising upset (51% to 49%), this defeat may have been the best thing that could have happened to him. Because this referendum and (especially) its result make liars out of all who have insisted that Chávez is nothing but a tin-pot dictator.

    Moreover, his gracious acceptance of “the will of the Venezuelan people” stands in stark contrast to the way George W. Bush litigated his way to the US presidency in 2000:

    I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense….There’s no way to make up the deficit…Therefore, it is best to recognize this immediately and congratulate them….Venezuelan democracy is maturing….From this moment on, let’s be calm….There is no dictatorship here…. [Chávez conceding defeat in a televised address early on Monday morning]

    But nothing demonstrates Chávez’s (occasionally-thuggish) regard for the democratic process quite like the fact that he did not act like a dictator (e.g., like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf) by ordering his military to assault the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who took to the street last week to protest against his reforms.

    That said, it would be reading far too much into this defeat to suggest that Chávez has been cowered. Because I have no doubt that he will continue to flex the formidable powers he retains under the existing constitution to rule Venezuela like, well, a de facto dictator.

    And with another five years left on his term in office, it would be naïve to assume that this is the last we’ve heard of Chávez ’s efforts to codify his socialist ideology and win popular support for his perennial presidency. After all, even though he is prohibited from resubmitting his reforms for a second vote, Chávez retains:

    the power to pass any law unilaterally, until August 2008, that does not explicitly contradict the current constitution.

    Therefore, I would not bet against his using the same rubber-stamp legislature, which voted unanimously to grant him this power, to implement his entire reform agenda – no matter how much this maneuver defies even his implied constitutional powers.

    Meanwhile, if Bush thought he was a pain in the ass before, a humiliated Chávez – who scapegoats America for all of his woes and insecurities in ways that Castro could never have even imagined – may now be hell-bent on creating mischief for him.

    For example, Chávez might emulate Russian President Vladimir Putin after all by “turning off” the gas he supplies to the US (and at the height of winter to maximize the message of his discontent).

    So stay tuned. It won’t be long before Chavez gets his swagger back….

    Related Articles:
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