• Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 6:26 AM

    Republican Party elects first black as chairman

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    My younger son … he now says that he would like to be black… Black is in.

    (Larry King on his program Larry King Live, January 21, 2009)

    As ridiculous and naïve as Larry King’s assertion is, it has merit in the context of American politics.  After all, there’s no denying that, but for the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, the Republican National Committee (RNC) would not have elected Michael Steele yesterday as its first black chairman. 

    Never mind that the historic nature of his election is somewhat undermined by the fact that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) elected its first black chairman, Ron Brown, 20 years ago.

    Nevertheless, let me hasten to note that Steele, a respected lawyer and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, is every bit as qualified to lead the RNC as Obama is to lead the United States.  Moreover, no matter its monkey-see-monkey-do outcome, electing Steele was a shrewd political move. 

    We’re going to say to friend and foe alike: We want you to be a part of us, we want you to with be with us, and for those who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.

    (Steele in his acceptance speech)

    This is not to say, however, that Republicans are just hoping Steele will help them draw hordes of black voters into their tent.  After all, with Obama as president, they know they don’t have a prayer in this respect.

    Rather, I suspect they recognize that he possesses many of the same cross-cultural and transformative qualities that make Obama such an appealing politician: articulate, informed, telegenic, “non-threatening” … and non-white.  Specifically, Steele is bound to have a far greater appeal than any of his white predecessors to Hispanics, gays, politically conservative women and, yes, even blacks (especially Christian fundamentalists).

    In fact, nothing demonstrates his broad and consensus-building appeal quite like the fact that Steele was elected by defeating the incumbent party chief and three other challengers over six rounds of voting.

    Accordingly, I proudly congratulate him on his election.  And I wish Steele (and the RNC) well….

  • Friday, January 30, 2009 at 7:34 AM

    UPDATE: Illinois Senate impeaches Governor Blagojevich by vote of 59 to 0 !

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    No doubt you’ve seen Illinois Gov Rod Blagojevich on television in recent days whining about not being allowed to call witnesses (like Pres. Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel) for his defense in the impeachment trial that was ongoing in the state legislature. But he knew full well that this was not a criminal trial, during which all of the due process rights he was complaining about would have been guaranteed.

    Instead, this impeachment trial was by definition a constitutional mandate for the state legislature to determine not whether Blago is a criminal but whether he is fit to continue serving as governor. And, given his documented attempts to peddle his good office (including his notorious effort to sell Obama’s senate seat) for personal gain, the verdict was indeed a foregone conclusion.

    This is why plans were in place, including having his personal effects boxed and ready to ship out, to swear in the Lt. Governor Pat Quinn to replace Blago within minutes of the state senate rendering its stunning and historic vote of 59 to 0.

    That said, even though Blago has been thrown out of office, it might be some time before “tomorrow” comes, when federal authorities finally throw him in jail.

    In this respect, let me hasten to express my professional disagreement with celebrity lawyers like Geraldo Rivera who have condemned federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for arresting Blago on criminal charges and lauded Blago for currying favor with the Chicago jury pool during his public relations blitz.

    Because I am convinced that Fitzgerald not only had probable cause to arrest Blago (as delineated in the now infamous federal criminal complaint) but also has a very good chance of convicting him on corruption charges beyond all reasonable doubt. After all, the potential jurors Blago was trying to win over and influence are the same ones who have convicted and sent off to prison three of his predecessors on similar charges in recent years.

    So stay tuned…

    Related commentaries:
    Feds arrest and indict Gov Blago
    Blago fills Obama’s Senate seat

  • Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 5:37 AM

    Communists Lecture Capitalists at World Economic Forum in Davos

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have made something of a ritual of ridiculing the American masters of the universe who fly to Davos, Switzerland around this time each year to give lectures at the World Economic Forum on what it takes to get rich like them.  Because they were always so full of self-congratulatory hot air.

    Unfortunately, since the record of their wealth creation seemed so beyond reproach, I was invariably obliged to limit my ridicule to the hypocrisy inherent in their quixotic crusade against global warming.  Nevertheless, the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do self-righteousness they exuded by lecturing people about the excesses that cause global warming, despite flying to this forum in their gas guzzling, CO2-emitting private jets, provided more than enough fodder in this respect.

    At any rate, I am thrilled to be able to piggyback on the criticisms being hurled at these haughty Americans this year from the very stage they always commanded at Davos. And this occasion is made especially sweet by the fact that the leaders of China and Russia are the ones lecturing them; especially since I presaged this triumph of socialism over capitalism as follows:

    [I]f nothing else, [these bailouts] should finally destroy the myth that the US is running a capitalist, free-market economy.  After all, this (and the other government bailouts cited above, which effectively privatized shareholder gains and nationalized losses), coupled with longstanding corporate subsidies, is indistinguishable from the way China and Russia run their socialist, centrally planned economies.

    [Chickens come home to roost on Wall St, and Main St maybe next, The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2008]

    For his part, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo led the chorus of leaders from developing countries in blaming the United States and Western institutions for the global financial meltdown. Specifically, the reasons he cited were America’s:

    …unsustainable model of low savings and high consumption, a blind pursuit of profit and a lack of self-discipline among financial institutions as well as a failure of regulators to keep up with new financial instruments.

    Then, without a hint of the schadenfreude he no doubt felt, Wen reminded his rapt audience (of political and business leaders from around the world) that the US is forecasting recession, if not depression, for its economy this year. And, by contrast, he waxed triumphantly as follows:

    Will China’s economy continue to grow fast and steadily? Some people have doubts about it… Yet, I can give you a definite answer: yes it will. We are full of confidence.

    To be sure, all economic indicators give Wen and the Chinese just cause to be full of … themselves. Forecasts have their economy growing at a rate of eight percent this year, despite the global financial crisis. Granted, this is lower than the double-digit growth they’ve been averaging in recent years. But it is still well above anything the U.S. has experienced in decades.

    I would not be surprised, however, if the foundations of China’s economy turn out to be even more unsustainable than that of the US. After all, China cannot continue riding its real-estate boom on the ownership aspirations of consumers whose credit per capita is even less solvent than that of the sub-prime consumers in the US who caused its real-estate boom to go bust.

    Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was blunt, to the point of being indignant, in his criticism. Because when he took center stage all he said about the United States was that:

    Today, investment banks – the pride of Wall Street [i.e., American capitalism] – have ceased to exist… a fact that spoke louder than any public tongue lashing [I could give].

    Yet, given his pithy tongue lashing, my annual gibes about global warming would seem superfluous.

    But I would be remiss not to note that Al Gore, the ordained (by the Nobel Committee) prophet of global warming, had the good sense to limit his carbon footprint by forgoing his annual jaunt, by private jet, to Davos this year. Never mind that he, like many other American leaders, was probably too ashamed to show his face.

    Instead, Gore decided to come to Washington to lecture the US Congress on the elusive hazards of global warming. Though, ironically, the inconvenient ice storm that rained on his parade yesterday may have proved even more humiliating than any criticism Wen or Putin could have hurled at him.

    Related commentaries:
    Attendees emit more CO2 than solutions at Davos
    Mother nature makes UN report on global warming seem a flaming hoax
    Al Gore: an Emmy, Oscar and a Nobel for global warming

  • Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 5:41 AM

    John Updike, the “kaleidoscopically gifted writer,” is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have been accused on occasion of being relatively well read.  Therefore, I feel obliged to confess that I had no interest in reading anything by John Updike until I saw the movie version of his novel The Witches of Eastwick in the late 1980s. 

    Even worse, when I finally set my mind to reading his then most celebrated novel, Rabbit is Rich, what the New York Times describes as his kaleidoscopic gift did little to sustain my interest.  Although, I suspect this was due in part to the all-consuming interest I was developing in non-fiction. 

    Nevertheless, I was acutely aware over the years of Updike’s exalted place in the pantheon of American letters. After all, he was almost as renowned for his literary criticisms, essays and poems as he was for his novels. And his 61 books and the Pulitzers he won for two of his four-volume Rabbit series are living testaments in this respect.

    Indeed, such was his influence that he incurred the wrath of feminist leaders who found the “clash of extremes in everyday dramas of marriage, sex and divorce” as depicted in his books patently chauvinistic, if not misogynistic.

    Ironically, it is this politically correct criticism of Updike that compels my tribute to him.  It stems in fact from watching his last appearance a couple months ago on my favorite current affairs program – Charlie Rose.  Because I found Updike’s exposition on the equal tendency of men and women towards the abusive use of power provocative and insightful. 

    Here, in part, is how he posed this unassailably feminist proposition – appropriately enough in the context of promoting The Widows of Eastwick, a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick:

    There is this notion that if only women could run the world there would be no war and no unpleasantness of any significant thought and I thought that if women did have power, the power of witches say, they would use the power much as men find themselves using it.  That is to say to wreak justice of a harsh sort. This idea motivated me to write this book and it was about witches in the end turning on another witch, a junior witch, and being as much killers as men would be. 

    (Updike on Charlie Rose, November 12, 2008)

    As an ardent feminist, I agree.  After all, there’s a reason why some women are called … (rhymes with witches).

    Updike died of cancer yesterday at home in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. He was 76.

    Farewell John

  • Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 5:35 AM

    President Obama orders no more Gitmo and no more torture…!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Within 48 hours of being sworn in last week, President Barack Obama signed executive orders to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and ban torture of terror suspects.   

    These executive orders will do more to regain America’s moral high ground in the international community than one million US troops can do in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  And this is the case notwithstanding the fact that some of the detainees released into foreign custody might well end up,  as others have, launching new terrorist attacks against the United States.

    Therefore, hail to the commander in chief for inaugurating the triumph of principle and courage over ideology and bravado.

    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 21, 2005]

    Nevertheless, it would be disingenuous of me not to note that Obama left enough wiggle room in his order on torture to allow “coercive interrogation” in exigent circumstances.  But, given the politically correct notions of what constitutes torture, he is understandably loath to specify exactly what methods might be used to coerce terror suspects.

    I have no doubt, however,  that, like George W. Bush, he would approve the controversial waterboarding method if CIA interrogators insist that it’s the only way to extract information from a suspect to save American lives.  And – for the reasons I delineated in a related commentary – rightly so!

    All the same, nothing demonstrates Obama’s intent to fight global terrorism more with words than with bombs quite like his decision to grant his first media interview as president to the Arab television network Al Arabiya:

    [M]y job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.

    Related commentary:
    What’s wrong with waterboarding if it saves lives

  • Monday, January 26, 2009 at 5:18 AM

    Conspiracy in The Bahamas to extort John Travolta

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A little Background

    Last week law enforcement authorities in The Bahamas arrested three people who were allegedly involved in a plot to extort $25 million dollars from Hollywood actor John Travolta.  These extortionists reportedly threatened to publish pictures related to the death of Travolta’s son, Jett (or perhaps related to Travolta’s suspiciously intimate relationship with Jett’s male nanny) unless Travolta paid them $25 million.

    Meanwhile, in addition to our sympathy for the emotional distress this despicable act caused the Travolta family, my fellow Bahamians felt especially betrayed by who the alleged perpetrators turned out to be. 

    After all, they were not only Bahamians but included two members of Parliament: namely Tarino Lightbourne, the ambulance driver who rushed Travolta’s dying son to hospital, Senator Pleasant Bridgewater, Obie Wilchombe MP (right), a former Minister of Tourism and self-proclaimed close friend of Trovalta.

    Then late on Friday, the police released Obie without charge (pending further investigation), released Pleasant on bail after charging her with extortion (she then had the decency to resign from the Senate), and kept Tarino behind bars (presumably because he could not make bail). 

    This prompted me to write the following in an update on Saturday:

    … If the police don’t have [Obie] on tape saying things (or acting) in furtherance of this plot, he will never be charged.  After all, nobody in The Bahamas (i.e., no jury) will ever believe Pleasant’s word over his… [However], if what was caught on tape was sufficient to charge Pleasant, one presumes it would have been sufficient to charge Obie as well….

    For the full text of my original commentary on this sensational story, click here.

    Now my final word

    Obie and Pleasant insist, with indignation, that this is all a misunderstanding, and both have pointed the finger at Tarino as the “one single individual” who they were trying to prevent from extorting Travolta and “embarrassing our country.”

    But if this was truly their motivation, I challenge them to answer the following:

    When you got word that Tarino was trying to perpetrate this outrageous extortion, why didn’t you report it to the Bahamian police instead of rushing to do “the noble thing by giving Travolta’s people a heads up”?

    After all, even in a panic, any half wit could have figured out that it would be far better for Travolta and for the country to either talk sense into Tarino or have the police arrest him immediately. 

    Therefore, I can conceive of no innocent reason for Obie to contact Travolta; except of course to seize an opening to plant his (brown) nose even further up his celebrity friend’s ass. 

    Nevertheless, I urge my fellow Bahamians to allow the police to complete their investigations and reserve judgment until those charged in this case have a fair trial.

    Related commentaries:
    Bahamian pols arrested in Travolta extortion plot

  • Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 6:11 AM

    By tradition, he was only supposed to leave a personal note, but Bush left a whole lot more on Obama’s desk

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It figures that, just as a brother becomes president of the United States, the country is facing such dire economic straits (including the worst global financal crisis since the Great Depression) that he will have to be twice as good as any other president to be considered successful.

    [The historic inauguration of Barack Obama, The iPINIONs Journal, January 17, 2009]

    Can Obama do it…? Yes he can…! 

  • Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 6:30 AM

    Bahamian politician arrested in plot to extort Hollywood actor John Travolta

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The rogue’s gallery of American politicians who have been arrested, tried and convicted for all manner of crimes is legendary. 

    Therefore, I find it more than a little hypocritical for Americans, like FOX News gas bag Bill O’Reilly, to cast aspersions on The Bahamas, my home country, because one of our politicians is alleged to have committed a crime (or because one of them got ensnared in the surreal life of Anna Nicole Smith). 

    That said, I am profoundly disappointed that two of my compatriots have been arrested for attempting to extort “millions of dollars” from actor John Travolta by threatening to publish photos related to the death of his son, Jett.  Perhaps you recall that Jett died a few weeks ago under circumstances even more mysterious than those surrounding the death of Anna Nicole’s son, Daniel.

    And, that one of alleged extortionists is Senator Pleasant Bridgewater is bad enough. But that she happens to be a member of the (Opposition) Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) only exacerbates her betrayal of our national trust and the emotional distress she has inflicted upon the Travolta family. After all, one of her fellow PLP members, Mr Obie Wilchcombe, was not only the de facto spokesman for the sympathy we all felt over Jett’s death (which I duly expressed in a related commentary), he also professed to be Travolta’s very close personal friend.

    At any rate, I commend Bahamian authorities for apprehending the suspects: Bridgewater was arrested yesterday and her co-conspirator, ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne, was arrested this afternoon. It remains to be seen if anyone else is involved…. 

    Meanwhile, there’s no indication that they ever had any direct contact with Travolta. Because local sources indicate that his lawyer contacted our police immediately, and then flew to The Bahamas pursuant to their instructions to help them catch these greedy nincompoops in the act.

    Reliable sources also indicate that Bridgewater, a second-rate attorney, is now singing like a canary – no doubt hoping in vain to bargain for a lenient sentence. Therefore, the resolution of this case will probably be swift, fair and just….

    Finally, on behalf of all Bahamians, especially those living in West End, Grand Bahama where Travolta maintains a second home, I would like to express our profound regret for the distress this extortion attempt has inflicted upon the Travolta family.


    I thought it was a despicable act. One person should not destroy the character of the country.

    9:20 PM:  This was how Obie Wilchcombe, the former Minister of Tourism, expressed his outrage just yesterday on Larry King Live at the breaking news about this extortion plot. 

    Therefore, when I wrote earlier that Bridgewater was singing like a canary, I could not have imagined that she was singing Wilchcombe’s name as the mastermind of this harebrained scheme.  Yet reports are that she was so convincing in this respect that Wilchcombe was arrested late this afternoon.

    Of course, Wilchcombe is right: one person should not be able to destroy the character of an entire country. Nevertheless, just as Barack Obama enhanced the character of the United States upon his election, Wilchcombe will diminish the character of The Bahamas if facts implicate him in this now-notorious extortion plot.

    But talk about a betrayal (of country and friend) and the malicious infliction of emotional distress….

    Say it ain’t so Obie … not only for John’s sake, but also for ours !!!

    January 24, 6:30 AM:  Evidently he has said “it ain’t so.” Because, after being detained for questioning, Obie was released late last night “pending further investigation.”  Pleasant might be a good singer, but we all know what a smooth talker Obie is….

    In fact, if the police don’t have him on tape saying things (or acting) in furtherance of this plot, he will never be charged.  After all, nobody in The Bahamas (i.e., no jury) will ever believe Pleasant’s word over his.  (To explain why would be tantamount to airing my family’s dirty laundry in public. So you’ll just have to trust me on this one….) 

    Speaking of that canary, Pleasant was charged and released on bail.  Lightbourne remains in custody … probably unable to make bail….

    January 25, 10:30 AM: Latest reports are that Obie was not only caught on tape but can be heard haggling with Travolta’s representatives to extort as much of the initial $25 million he and his co-conspirators demanded.

    This of course begs the question: why then was he released without being charged? After all, if what was caught on tape was sufficient to charge Pleasant, one presumes it would have been sufficient to charge Obie as well….

    He’s a smooth talker, but this makes no sense.  Although, to be fair, the police made a point of noting that he was released “pending further investigation”, which I suspect means that it’s only a matter of time before they re-arrest and charge him too…. 

    * Original article was published yesterday at 8:05 PM

    Related commentaries:
    Tragic death of Travolta’s son Jett

  • Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    Hail to the Chief: Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States !

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Congratulations Barack ! 

    You have filled us with hope

    And made us exceedingly proud.

    Good luck

    And God bless you …

    Mr President !

    Meanwhile,  Obama gave so many soaring speeches during his election campaign that, like Icarus, he was fated to soar no more

    Nonetheless, it is ironic, if not disappointing,  that it was today – on the occasion of greatest expectations in this respect – when this fate befell him.

    Because, even though brilliantly crafted and well-delivered (with all of the now-familiar themes), his inaugural address lacked the inspirational punch that the two million people on the Mall longed to feel.  No doubt this inconsistency is due to the fact that the speech was fused with the yeoman input of far too many professional speech writers.

    That said, given the stereotype of black Americans (as lazy, etc), nothing was more ironic than having this black president scold (white) Americans for their slothful, greedy and irresponsible behavior, which precipitated the still-worsening global financial crisis. Frankly, Obama never seemed more presidential than when he was lecturing his fellow Americans, in part, as follows:

    [T]he time has come to put aside childish things…  What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility… Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

    At any rate, the most interesting and entertaining moment in the ceremony came at the end when Rev Joseph Lowery delivered the Benediction, which he ended with this memorable flourish:

    Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow can be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen !

    NOTE: This article was published originally on Tuesday, January 20 at 2:15 pm.  It was updated this morning.


    7:45 pm:  The New York Times is reporting that, because Chief Justice Roberts misled him into flubbing his oath of office at the inauguration, Obama had him re-administer it at the White House moments ago to preclude any right-wing speculation about the legitimacy of his presidency.

    For the record, however, Obama executed this redo merely “out of an abundance of caution” – since the consensus amongst constitutional scholars is that it was not required.  In fact, according to the US Constitution, Obama became president at 12 noon on Tuesday – even before he took the flubbed oath.

  • Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    Team Obama sells out “We are one” inaugural concert to HBO

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It pains me to rain on Obama’s parade in any respect.  But a few days ago I felt compelled to complain about his inaugural committee’s decision to feature a group of Southern belles wearing plantation garb in Tuesday’s inaugural parade.

    Now I feel compelled to complain about this committee’s decision to sell HBO the rights to this afternoon’s “We are one…” inaugural concert, which is currently being broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial.  Because, even though HBO is allowing non-subscribers like me to watch, tens of millions of Americans who do not have digital (cable) TV will be completely tuned out of this entertaining celebration.

    (And that CNN is prohibited from carrying this event means that the hundreds of millions of people Obama inspired around the world will be tuned out as well.)

    This is a damn shame! Especially given the nearly $1 billion Obama raised from ordinary Americans over the past two years to fund his campaign. 

    Indeed, instead of selling the rights to HBO for $2.5 million, I cannot understand why his inaugural committee could not have absorbed the cost of broadcasting this “people’s concert” on network television so that as many people as possible could tune in.

    Not to mention the insult to Lincoln’s legacy of having a corporation hold exclusive commercial rights to this historic “public” event on the steps of his memorial….

    Frankly, requiring everyone to go to HBO to see this inaugural concert on TV makes a mockery of Obama’s claim that he wants to hold on to his blackberry so that ordinary folks can stay in touch with him.

    NOTE:  I appreciate that Obama was probably not personally involved in the decision to invite the Scarlett O’Hara wannabes to march in his parade or to sell exclusive rights to this concert to HBO.  But, by the same token, George W. Bush was probably not personally involved in the decision to out CIA agent Valerie Plame or to humiliate Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib … etc.

    More to the point, as President Truman said of all decisions made on behalf of any president(elect), “the buck stops here“!

    Related commentaries:
    Southern belles in inaugural parade…?

  • Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 6:52 AM

    The “historic” inauguration of Barack Obama

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It figures that, just as a brother becomes president of the United States, the country is facing such dire economic straits (including the worst global financal crisis since the Great Depression) that he will have to be twice as good as any other president to be considered successful.

    Can Obama do it…? Yes he can…! 

    (I just hope these issues don’t stretch him too thin; after all, the brother is barely skin and bones already….)

  • Friday, January 16, 2009 at 7:37 AM

    “Miracle on the Hudson”… indeed!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Reports are that, in remarkable symmetry, birds flew into both engines of a US Airways flight departing New York’s LaGuardia Airport yesterday, causing them both to blowout immediately.  Then, performing an even more remarkable feat, the pilot managed to land the plane on the Hudson River with such ease and in tact that all 155 people on board survived this harrowing experience. 

    But this is one of those stories where the picture above is worth a thousand words. Therefore, I shall end here by joining the nation in paying homage to the pilot as a bona fide hero:

    Meanwhile, it is an indication of how fated President George W. Bush is to be relegated to oblivion that coverage of this incident has preempted all reports on the farewell address he gave to the nation last night….

    NOTE: This week, lead counsel for the British Commission of Inquiry into corruption in my homeland of the Turks and Caicos Islands finally had Premier Misick in the hot seat.  For my commentary on his interrogation, click here.

  • Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 5:33 AM

    Roland Burris to be sworn in as Senator … finally!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    To hear Democratic leaders in the US Senate hailing today’s scheduled swearing in of Roland Burris as the junior senator from Illinois you’d never know that these are the very senators who only a week ago were swearing that he would never set foot on the Senate floor.

    By way of reminder, however, here’s the public statement Democratic leaders issued when Illinois Gov Rod Blagojevich announced that he was appointing Burris to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. (And it is noteworthy that, in a rare display of rash judgment, Obama publicly endorsed this statement):

    Under these circumstances anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus of the Senate.

    By contrast, here’s what I wrote in a commentary on this controversial appointment:

    In a move as socio-pathetic as it was politically strategic, beleaguered IL Gov Rod Blagojevich appointed former State Attorney General Roland Burris, 71, to fill Obama’s Senate seat…  [Nevertheless] legally speaking, Blagojevich’s move is unassailable; and politically, it is shrewd – if only for the vexing dilemma it presents to his detractors.  Therefore, I predict Burris will serve.

    [Mr Burris comes to Washington, The iPINIONS Journal, January 9, 2009]

    Enough said?!

    Except that, even though I argued in my January 9 commentary that Burris would be a fool to agree not to run in his own right in 2010 (i.e., as a precondition imposed by Democratic Senators before being sworn in), I think he would be a fool to run.  After all, Burris has become so reviled in Illinois that he would be lucky to win the Democratic primary (especially against the black congressmen who rejected Blagojevich’s offer on principle), let alone win a statewide race.  

    Indeed, when he turned out to be the only politician opportunistic enough to accept this tainted appointment by the patently corrupt Blagojevich, Burris reminded everyone in Illinois why he lost the four political races he entered over the past decade, including one for governor against Blagojevich. 

    Therefore, I urge Burris to bask in all of the glory he can grasp over the next two years.  And his glory would be greatly enhanced if he were to announce within six months that, at 71, he thinks it would be best to pass the torch to a younger politician in 2010 to represent Illinois with all of the vigor it deserves.  He could then retire gracefully….

    Related commentaries:
    Mr Burris comes to Washington

  • Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 5:14 AM

    Wannabe Scarlet O’Haras have no place in Obama’s inauguration parade

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Of course, I appreciate not only the from-slavery-to-the-White House theme but also the Illinois connection this commemoration is intended to reflect.  But I hope the organizers have the presence of mind to pay homage to the 80th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birth as well.

    [Obama’s inauguration…, The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2008]

    When I read that the Presidential Inaugural Committe (PIC) had chosen to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth as the theme of Barack Obama’s inauguration, I wrote a commentary admonishing its members to be mindful of focusing too much on Lincoln’s era of Civil War and slavery and not enough on MLK’s era of Civil Rights and black liberation

    Then when it became clear that Obama himself was fixated on fashioning his presidency based on Lincoln’s, I felt obliged to write another, warning team Obama that:

    Even though I appreciate President-elect Barack Obama’s desire to emulate the presidency of Abraham Lincoln – by appointing a “team of rivals” [featuring Hillary Clinton] to his cabinet, I think he’s taking it way too far.

    [Despite my warning, Obama offers Hillary Sec of State, The iPINIONS Journal, November 22, 2008]

    At the time, I thought it was obvious that changed circumstances made it untenable for Obama to pursue this course – fraught as it was with inherent conflicts. Yet, I was prepared to concede that appointing Hillary might turn out to be a shrewd political move; although, for reasons proffered in related commentaries, I give this appointment no more than a 44% chance of success.

    I’m at a loss, however, to see how parading a bunch of women dressed up like Scarlet O’Hara – the coquettish icon of slave-holding, rebellious Southerners – celebrates the spirit of HOPE Obama’s election purportedly represents.

    Therefore, I am not at all surprised that the head of the Alabama NAACP, Edward Vaughn, has filed a protest with the PIC. He laments that of all of the progressive marchers they could have chosen to represent his state, the PIC’s choice of Mobile’s Azalea Trail Maids is an insult.

    Moreover, he pleads that:

    We needed something that could show Alabama’s great progress rather than something that shows a shameful past.

    And frankly, no matter how benign a Southern tradition these maids represent, I share Vaughn’s indignation.  Which makes me wonder what the hell members of team Obama – many of whom comprise the PIC – were thinking….

    Related Commentaries:
    Obama emulating Lincoln’s “team of rivals” Cabinet
    Obama’s inauguration to commemorate Lincoln

  • Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 5:07 AM

    Now that he’s sold us on hope, it’s time for Obama to manage our expectations…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President-elect Obama has been sounding just like a typical politician lately, trying to explain why America’s worsening economic crisis will prevent him from fulfilling some of his campaign promises in a timely fashion, and others perhaps not at all.  And I gather that many of you are becoming disllusioned by this … change.

    But keep hope alive. Because he’s just doing what any prudent and pragmatic politician must do to get anything done in Washington these days….

  • Monday, January 12, 2009 at 5:29 AM

    Ignoring UN ceasefire resolution, Israel escalates battle in Gaza

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On Thursday the UN passed a resolution calling for:

    … an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

    Instead of honoring this resolution, however, Israel escalated its ground offensive over the weekend, demonstrating not only its determination to end this latest battle on its own terms but also the utter fecklessness of the UN to enforce its resolutions. (Recall that, between 1990 and 2000, Saddam Hussein ignored 16 UN Resolutions designed to ensure that Iraq posed no threat to international peace.)

    Therefore, chances are very good that the number of Palestinians killed (almost 900) and wounded (3500) will increase commensurate with the intensity of this escalation. By contrast,  only 13 Israelis have been reported killed. But their entire nation remains under paralyzing terror from the specter of Hamas rockets that continue to land indiscriminately.

    Sadly, innocent Palestinian women and children will likely continue to comprise one third of the casualties of this war.  But this is due far more to Hamas fighters using them as human shields than to their being collateral damage from Israeli bombs.

    Meanwhile, I was surprised by the number of people who questioned why I opened my January 3 commentary expressing the cynical view that this is only the latest battle in the neverending story of a territorial (holy) war between Israelis and Palestinians.  But perhaps the following view expressed by BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in his January 9 commentary will prove more authoritative in this respect:

    The conflict has lasted the best part of a century, which suggests that this latest episode, bloody and brutal though it is, will not be decisive.

    Related Articles:
    Neverending story: territorial (holy) war
    between Israelis and Palestinians (in Gaza)

  • Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 7:01 AM

    The security surrounding Obama’s inauguration makes it seem like the coronation of a despised monarch

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Unfortunately, given the number of wackos who’d love to assassinate him, and the number of terrorists who’d love to kill thousands of Americans in the most symbolic and spectacular way possible, it’s all very necessary.

    But just in case, I think I’ll stay home and watch this historic event unfold on TV.  Just kidding, I’m sure it’ll be safe.  It’s the sheer number of people making pilgrimages to Washington for this occasion that scares me….

    In fact, even though millions are expected, only 1600 people (mostly politicians and big donors) will have tickets for the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the Capitol. And only those who were lucky enough to get one of the 5000 tickets sold in less than a minute yesterday will have access to preferred viewing areas along the parade route. 

    Everyone else will spend the entire day looking at the back of other people’s heads. But just being there, yeah, that’s the ticket!

  • Friday, January 9, 2009 at 5:36 AM

    More (much-ado-about-nothing) political drama in the TCI

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    No doubt you recall that the British governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), HE Gordon Wetherell, suspended the House of Assembly, indefinitely, a few weeks ago. And perhaps you recall that, in a commentary published here just hours before the Governor announced his decision, I dismissed the political drama unfolding in our beloved country as an embarrassing farce.

    But if any of you doubted the wisdom of the Governor’s decision, or the fairness of my commentary, I trust the public spat that erupted within the ruling Progressive National Party (PNP) this week has erased all doubts.

    Nevertheless, I suspect there is much confusion about the political implications of these latest developments. And I fear that much of what is published about them in coming days will only add to this confusion. 

    Therefore, I hope this commentary not only clarifies this confusion but also demonstrates that all of this drama is (still) tantamount to the captain and his mates rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

    Here, in a nutshell, is the latest:

    In what appears to have been a clumsily arranged address on Tuesday night, Premier Hon. Dr. Michael Misick informed the nation that he had effectively whipped all disaffected Cabinet ministers and backbenchers back in line, and that there would be no further calls for, or even talk of, his resignation. To continue the shipwreck analogy, he insisted that they had all agreed to “stay the course”.

    He then delineated a litany of austerity measures and political reforms that he intends to impose upon everyone except himself to revive the TCI economy and ensure good governance.  At no point, however, did he betray the slightest hint that he knew full well the majority of his Cabinet ministers still wanted nothing to do with him.

    Accordingly, this forced the Premier’s disaffected ministers, led by Deputy Premier Hon. Floyd Hall and Health Minister Hon. Dr. Lillian Boyce, to punctuate his farcical performance by issuing a press release yesterday, in which they claimed to be “shocked, shocked” that the Premier would tell such bold-faced lies about them and the state of their party.

    Then, in a manner that seemed almost as unhinged from reality as the Premier’s address, they delineated the litany of egregious misdeeds and misconduct that compelled them a few weeks ago to call on the Premier to resign, insisting that they remain unshaken in their resolve to see him gone.  At no point, however, did they betray any pangs of conscience for having aided and abetted (and perhaps profited for years from) the acts they now find so repugnant.

    In fact, to reiterate the lament I expressed in the commentary referenced above, it shall stand as a historic failure of nerve that, despite knowing years ago that the Premier was running our ship of state aground, these Cabinet ministers did absolutely nothing to avert the shipwreck from which we are now begging the British to rescue us.

    This brings me to the real cause of this drama:  the ongoing Commission of Inquiry into government corruption and serious dishonesty.

    After all, no matter how indignant their voice or how firm their resolve, none of these ministers can deny that, but for this Commission that has them all floating in legal jeopardy,  they would still be sitting in the Premier’s kitchen Cabinet helping him cook up more crooked schemes to seal our demise. Whatever the case, nothing they do or say now will affect the ongoing work of the Commission. 

    This is why all of the machinations we’re witnessing within the PNP today smack of rats abandoning a sinking ship. And it hardly matters whether they jump or the Premier pushes them overboard – as he did Minister Boyce on Wednesday. 

    Finally, it reflects a delusion worthy of the Premier’s own mind that these disaffected ministers believe their rationalizations and belated finding of no confidence in him will cause the British to have confidence in them (to guide our ship of state) – as their press release clearly indicates.  But I hope to disabuse them of this belief by ending this commentary as I did the last one on the political farce unfolding in the TCI: 

    [T]he only thing for all of them to do now is to cooperate fully with the Commission and await their fate.   As for the rest of us, please be patient and let our British overseers do their job!

    NOTE:  Given that Hall, Boyce and other disaffected ministers are scheduled to appear before the Commission within the next two weeks, I admonish them to be as forthright in testifying about their own “failures” as they will undoubtedly be in citing the Premier’s.  Because, no matter how self-incriminating, such confessions will be good not only for their soul but also for their liberty.

    Related Article:
    Political farce in the TCI
    Case for an Interim Government in the TCI

  • Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 7:45 AM

    Obama’s taps a politician, Leon Panetta, to head the CIA…? That’s inspired!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Alas, the same people who insisted that Barack Obama was too passive, naive and inexperienced to defeat the ruthless team of Bill and Hillary Clinton (or the war-hero John McCain) are the ones now insisting that his choice to head the CIA, Leon Panetta, is too passive, naive and inexperienced to lead this agency “in a time of war”.  But they are as wrong about Panetta as they were about Obama.

    Panetta was a longtime congressman from California before he went on to earn a stellar reputation for fiscal prudence as director of the Office of Management and Budget and for political shrewdness as White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration. 

    And it was this reputation that led President George W. Bush to appoint him to the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel that released a report at the end of 2006 with dozens of recommendations for the reversing course in the Iraq war.

    No doubt  it was this reputation that also led President-elect Obama to tap him to head the CIA.  After all, what the agency needs now more than anything is someone with not only the management skills to transform its Cold-War orientation but also the objective mindset to correct its systemic failures, which caused America to be blind-sided on 9/11 and misled into invading Iraq.

    Not to mention the need for a director with the diplomatic skills of a seasoned politician instead of one with the cloak-and-dagger skills of a seasoned spy.  After all, in addition to restoring discipline and due care in the gathering of intelligence, the next director will have to help repair the damage done to America’s international reputation by CIA handiwork that led to puerile abuses at Abu Ghraib and the cowardly renditioning of terror suspects to be tortured in secret prisons by foreign agents.

    For these reasons, I think Obama’s choice of Panetta is inspired!

    Meanwhile, apropos political skills, I am stupefied that none of the seasoned politicians on his transition team thought to give Senator Diane Feinstein, the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a heads up on Panetta’s appointment.

    Ironically, this caused her to throw a very public hissy fit vowing to oppose it, which made Obama seem every bit as naïve and inexperienced as his critics once claimed. 

    But after the President-elect made an appropriately groveling apology, she issued a statement saying that she too considers his appointment of Panetta inspired.

    Related Articles:
    What wrong with waterboarding terrorists
    Iraq Study Group

  • Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    Cold War over gas supplies leaves millions of Europeans out in the cold

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Russian President Vladimir Putin made Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko an offer he could not refuse: he told Yushchenko that if Ukraine’s 47 million “orange revolutionaries” wanted to continue receiving gas from Russia to cook their food, heat their homes and drive their cars, they would have to pay four times as much for it. When Yushchenko refused, Putin made good on his threat and cut off the gas supply!

    But this is the kind of behavior one might have expected from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As it happens, Putin’s provocative action has conjured up Cold War memories of Soviet domination that have unnerved many Europeans.

    [Putin fires first salvo in Cold War in Europe, The iPINIONS Journal, January 3, 2006]

    No one has been more critical than I of (now “Prime Minister”) Vladimir Putin’s attempts to reassert Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence over the satellite countries of the former Soviet Union.  And, as the opening quote suggests, I have been particularly concerned about his use of the natural gas Russia supplies to (and through) unabashedly pro-western Ukraine as a political weapon (in this case, to punish Ukrainians for rejecting his communist puppet, Viktor Yanukovich, in favor of Yushchenko as president.)

    But my solidarity with my favorite ex-communists, the Ukrainians, is not unconditional.  Indeed, as the related articles below will attest, no one has been more critical than I of the petty internecine battles amongst Ukrainian leaders that have caused their governing coalition to fall three times since it was formed just three years ago. 

    Now I fear their petty mindedness and myopic ambitions are not only making Putin’s domineering interest in their domestic affairs seem altruistic but are also undermining their relationship with western allies whose favor they covet so desperately.  

    Admittedly, I do not pretend to know all of the details involved in this ongoing dispute. But it seems the Ukrainians are trying to have their cake and eat it too.  Specifically, this latest episode is over the amount Russia charges Ukraine for natural gas and the amount the Ukraine charges Russia to ship that gas through its pipelines to the rest of Europe.

    But the sticking point seems to be the Ukrainians’ refusal to pay the same price for Russian gas that other European customers pay.  Never mind that the 50% discount they enjoyed until last year was based solely on the legacy of the Russian Cold-War sphere of influence they now reject so indignantly.

    Of course it follows that just as newly independent Ukraine should pay market price for Russian gas, Russia should pay market rates for the transshipment of its gas through Ukraine.    

    That said, I actually sympathize with the order Putin gave today to cut off all gas supplies; especially given credible reports that Ukraine has been “siphoning off tens of millions of cubic meters of gas meant for Europe from its transit pipelines”.  After all, this passive aggressive action is clearly preferable to the alternative: military intervention to protect a vital national interest. 

    In fact, it would not surprise me to learn that Putin is already considering plans to use this dispute as a just cause to invade Ukraine.  Though, frankly, this cause would be no less just or credible than the one US President George W. Bush used to invade Iraq. And the Georgians know all too well that Putin is not one to spare the rod on an unruly (former) dependent territory. 

    At any rate, I suspect EU leaders will take a more active role in resolving this dispute now that millions of Europeans are facing the coldest winter in history without gas to heat their homes and cook their food. Specifically, given their historical wariness about incurring the wrath of an a hostile Russia, they will prevail upon Ukrainian leaders to make whatever concessions are necessary to appease Putin.

    It is unacceptable that the EU gas supply security is taken hostage to negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

    (EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde)

    More to the point, however, both Ukraine and Russia have too much to lose (in terms of international good will and income), if it persists much longer. In fact, Ukraine must be mindful that this dispute is only furthering Putin’s wish to derail them from the track they’re on to join NATO; and Russia must be concerned that it is forfeiting revenues needed to fund its campaign to show off its revived superpower status around the world.

    Accordingly, I predict that this dispute will be resolved within days.

    NOTE: About 80% of Russian gas to Europe is shipped through Ukraine. This is why, despite considerable political and financial obstacles, the Russians have launched an aggressive project to build alternative pipelines that bypass the territory of their former comrades. But I suspect the Ukrainians will live to regret forcing the Russians to go this route….

    Related Articles:
    Putin fires first salvo in Cold War in Europe
    Update on my favorite ex-communists: the Ukrainians
    With mission accomplished in Georgia, Putin orders ceasefire

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