• Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 5:53 AM

    Happy New Year…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 5:27 AM

    Terror in the sky … another close call

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It must be understood that no matter their collective resolve, there’s absolutely nothing our governments can do to prevent such [9/11 and 7/7] attacks…

    That said, we should still do everything possible to foil, and protect ourselves against, these attacks – even if that means installing Orwellian cameras and interrogating wannabe terrorists … aggressively…

    With all of the consternation, if not derision, being expressed about these botched attempts, let us be mindful that it does not take a genius to actually pull-off a truly horrific terrorist attack….

    [From New York to London, Islamists are terrorizing us to death, TIJ, July 2, 2005]

    There’s a great deal of handwringing (and some finger pointing too) going on over the spectacular failure of post-9/11 security measures to prevent an al-Qaeda wannabe terrorist from nearly blowing-up a Northwest jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. But I fear that, ultimately, only dumb luck will be our saving grace (as it was in this case – with all due respect to the passengers who finally jumped him after his detonator failed). 

    It is inexcusable of course that this close call ever even materialized; especially given all of the glaring red flags that trailed this nincompoop (his name is utterly irrelevant here) from his home in Nigeria right up to the ticket counter in Amsterdam. Consider, for example, that his own father warned US authorities over a month ago about his jihadist intent, that he paid for his $2,831 ticket in cash, and that he was even on a federal anti-terror watch list.

    Never mind the fact that he managed to pass through several layers of security, including bomb-detection machines, with a syringe strapped to his thigh and explosive materials sewn into the crotch of his underwear.

    Here’s to getting over prudish self-consciousness and welcoming all-seeing, full-body scans…. Mind you, nothing demonstrates what a haphazard farce airport security has become quite like the fact that, after the shoe bomber bungled his attempt in December 2001, we were led to believe that every passenger had to take off his/her shoes for separate scanning to ensure air safety. For if this made any logical sense, after this underwear bomber bungled his attempt, surely every passenger would have been required henceforth to take off his/her underwear for separate scanning…, no?

    More to the point, it is patently delusional for government officials to think that preventing passengers from going to the bathroom for an hour after take-off and an hour before landing or from having anything on their laps, including blankets and books, during this same period will make us safe. A delusion, incidentally, that was made manifest when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano committed a “good-job-Brownie” faux pas by declaring on Sunday that the system worked fine.  

    Frankly, instead of implementing so many feckless and reactionary measures, US authorities would make flying a lot safer by properly investigating red flags, surveilling the usual suspects (according the profile of their established traits), and bombing the hell out of (known) terrorist hideouts in places like Pakistan and Yemen.   

    After all, far better to do everything possible to stop would-be terrorists from boarding planes than to impose all kind of silly restrictions on passengers in the vain hope of trying to foil their plans once they’re on board.

    Meanwhile, the irony should not be lost on us that the mere fear of another 9/11 is causing Western leaders to turn our putative democracies into Orwellian police states.  Which begs the question:  Who do you think is winning the war against terrorism…?

    NOTE: Our innocent Arab brothers can take some consolation from the fact that instead of focusing only on them, airport screeners and fellow travelers will now be focusing at least one of their suspicious eyes on black Africans. (And it really is a  curious thing how one can easily distinguish them from black Americans and those of us from the Caribbean based solely on appearance….)

    Related commentaries:
    Islamists are terrorizing us to death

  • Monday, December 28, 2009 at 5:41 AM

    Healthcare reform passes milestone

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    We are incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country. Our challenge now is to finish the job.

    This was how President Obama heralded the Christmas-eve passage of healthcare legislation in the US Senate, which emulated the early-November passage of similar legislation in the House.  Now he’s banking on members of the Democratic-controlled House and Senate being able to reconcile the putatively irreconcilable provisions of their respective bills.

    The HOPE, of course, is that he will be able to sign a reconciled bill before he delivers the annual State of the Union Address next month, enabling Obama to fulfill his promise to pass this centerpiece of his domestic agenda before the end of his first year in office.

    There’s no denying, however, that this historic accomplishment will be undermined by the fact that it was enacted on party-line votes in both chambers. Not to mention that many of these votes (particularly in the Senate) were bought and paid for in an all-too transparent bartering process that gave credence to the adage that watching legislation being enacted is rather like watching sausage being made. 

    This debate was supposed to produce a bill that reformed health care in America. Instead, we’re left with party-line votes in the middle of the night, a couple of sweetheart deals to get it over the finish line, and a public that’s outraged.

    (Republican leader, Sen Mitch McConnell, R-Ky)

    Yet there’s also no denying that, no matter its partisan nature, final provisions or ultimate cost (est. $871 billion), this bill will be considered every bit as significant and transformative as the passage of Social Security if it delivers on Obama’s core principles of healthcare reform: making insurance affordable for over 30 million uninsured Americans, eliminating pre-existing medical conditions as a disqualifier for insurance coverage and reducing the deficit.

    Also, key provisions in a reconciled bill are expected to eliminate co-payments and deductibles on preventive services, including physical examinations, immunizations, and mammograms, as well as bar insurers from dropping beneficiaries when they become sick and from imposing lifetime limits on coverage.

    When people learn what’s actually in the bill and all the good it does, it is going to become more and more popular.

    (Sen Chuck Schumer D-NY)

    Moreover, I fully expect Congress to pass a timely bill that delivers on Obama’s principles.  This, despite calls by Democratic ideologues to kill it if it does not ultimately deliver on all of their principles (including, most notably, a government-run public option for insurance coverage, which they are convinced is the only way to break the monopoly of private insurance companies).

    Meanwhile, nothing demonstrates the cynicism and partisanship that now characterizes politics in America quite like the fact that Republicans have remained unified in their perverse determination to just say no to any healthcare bill, no matter its principles and provisions. 

    Even worse, it is patently clear that Republicans have calculated that it is far more important to oppose healthcare reform – in the vain hope of positioning themselves for big gains in mid-term elections next year, than it is to support it – in the salutary hope of providing millions of Americans a chance to gain healthcare coverage for life.

    At any rate, the enactment of this healthcare legislation will vindicate what I always knew would be the triumph of Obama’s pragmatism over the idealism of left-wing members in his party:

    I’m sure the congenitally pragmatic Obama will have a moderating influence on Congressional Democrats, which will prevent them from pursuing a radical … agenda that could undermine his presidency….)

    [… Bad omen for Republicans, TIJ, October 28, 2008]

    Finally, you’ve no doubt heard Republicans expressing righteous indignation about costs. Their professed concerns, however, would be a little more credible if these very same Republicans were not so blithely unconcerned when President George W. Bush was running up trillions of dollars in debt – funding tax breaks for the rich and fighting an ill-advised, if not illegal, war in Iraq.

    And, as Obama duly noted, seven US presidents have tried and failed to sign similar legislation since Theodore Roosevelt proposed universal healthcare coverage in 1912. 

    So here’s to Obama making history; especially for the sake of tens of millions of poor, uninsured Americans.

    Related commentaries:
    Bad omen for Republicans

  • Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 6:03 PM

    Biggest miscalculation of the decade…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Supreme Court deciding the Florida recount in favor of Bush instead of Gore!

    Any questions….?

  • Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 6:20 AM

    More hot air but no binding agreement in Copenhagen…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Perhaps this is because Santa kept getting stuck between CO2-emitting smokestacks trying to deliver it:

    President Obama flew all the way to Copenhagen yesterday reportedly to seal a legally binding deal on climate change, which would compel 130 countries to take specific and measurable steps to limit ozone-depleting CO2 emissions. Yet he was forced to concede that all he managed to do was to get the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa to make non-binding pledges to do their best.

    Virtually none of the countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol – with its legally binding emissions targets – is honoring promises made in this agreement (in many cases their emissions have actually increased).  And Kyoto, which climate-change zealots in the European Union ratified in 2002, merely called on developed countries to reduce their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by a paltry 5 percent over the period 2008-2012.

    [G8 Summit: emitting more hot air … not to mention hypocrisy, TIJ, July 9, 2008]

    Therefore, one can only assume that Obama was speaking under the influence of the CO2 his and the private planes of other leaders and VIPs emitted in the Copenhagen atmosphere when he announced that this constituted a “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough”. After all, this non-binding agreement will clearly prove no more meaningful than his flying all the way to this same city in October to seal a deal for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics only to have the IOC award it to Brazil.

    This non-binding agreement would mean the deaths of millions because of the effects of global warming such as floods and droughts. [It is] devoid of any sense of responsibility or morality… It is a solution based on the same values that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces.

    (Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-aping, chairman of the G77 group, which represents 130 of the world’s poorest nations)

    Of course, Di-aping can be forgiven for overstating the consequences of this failure given that this summit was billed as the last chance to secure binding commitments to stave off the catastrophic effects of global warming that environmental Cassandras like Al Gore have been preaching about for years….

    Meanwhile, there’s no greater indication of what a failure this summit was than the fact that Obama and other feature players blew off the traditional “family photo” of all leaders, which is often the highlight for many of the more marginal players.

    Not to mention the irony of Obama claiming that he had to rush off from this summit on global warming to get back to the White House before an unprecedented snowstorm blankets Washington, DC.

    In any event, I think Obama would be well-advised to avoid Copenhagen like the plague for the remainder of his presidency….

    Finally, since this is probably the last international (finger-pointing) gabfest we’ll have for some time, I feel constrained to reiterate that I am not a climate-change denier.  In fact, I can cite commentaries dating back to 2005 in which I conceded that global warming is real.

    I am simply persuaded by the arguments of experts who maintain that, instead of being Anthropogenic (caused by humans), this warming is a manifestation of a naturally occurring, cyclical phenomenon, which, alas, has been grossly exaggerated to further political agendas (as the Climate-gate emails exposed).

    In this context, I have often cited not only NASA research confirming the melting and re-freezing of the Arctic ice caps over time, but also the fact that the scientists who are warning about a global-warming doomsday today seem oblivious to the fact that scientists were warning about a global-cooling doomsday just a few decades ago.

    I have also noted that my efforts to recycle and conserve energy means that I am much more of an environmentalist than Al Gore whose carbon footprint is more akin to Big Foot’s than that of any conscientious human being.

    So, instead of attending these patently useless summits, developed countries should spend more time and money developing new green technologies to reduce CO2 emissions.  More to the point, they should then donate these technologies to developing countries and make trade with and aid to them conditional on their comprehensive use of green methods of production, manufacturing and consumption.

    Of course, if countries like China refuse to adopt such methods, then they should be shunned as international pariahs just as North Korea and Iran are because of their refusal to abide by the requirements of nuclear non-proliferation.  After all, if Gore and others are to be believed, global warming poses an even greater apocalyptic danger to mankind than nuclear weapons….

    Related commentaries:
    G8 Summit: emitting more hot air
    Copenhagen treaty on climate change goes up in smoke
    Climate-gate: emails expose scientific doubts about climate change

  • Friday, December 18, 2009 at 5:40 AM

    End of the Banana Wars!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    News media around the world lauded the Armistice in the six-year ‘Banana Wars’ that was signed on 11 April 2005 by the United States and the European Union. But much of the reporting about this event glossed over the complex geo-political and economic relationships that fueled this conflict and ignored lingering issues that are bound to cause internal strife for a number of the more marginal warring parties.

    [Peeling the skin off the banana wars…, TIJ, April 19, 2005]

    This is how I opened a commentary almost five years ago on the origins of the global war over bananas that reportedly ended this week with the signing of a deal between the US and its Latin American agents and the EU and its African, Caribbean and Pacific (APC) dependencies – namely, former British and French colonies.

    I referred to the deal these warring parties signed in 2005 as a mere “Armistice” because I knew full well that its failure to address the economic concerns of the poor APC countries affected guaranteed that it would only lead to a temporary cessation, not an end, to hostilities.

    Incidentally, the developed countries now trying to manufacture a climate change treaty in Copenhagen would do well to be instructed by this precedent.  After all, no treaty (or “political agreement”) they sign will have any binding effect or substantive impact unless it properly addresses the economic concerns of developing countries – by, amongst other things, requiring rich countries to provide $200 billion annually in development aid to help poor countries cope with the demands for combating climate change.

    I digress; but this explains, in part, why I am so hopeful that this latest deal will finally end the decades-long trade war over bananas.

    For it appropriately slashes longstanding EU tariffs on imports of bananas from Latin American countries (like Ecuador and Guatemala) that were imposed just to give preference to virtually tariff-free imports from APC countries (like Cameroon and Dominica). More to the point, it provides hundreds of millions in development aid from the EU to help its former colonies not only cope with the terminal loss of market share but also diversify their economies to make them more sustainable.

    Ironically, this deal also means less expensive but even “bigger” bananas for the EU – the world’s biggest importer of bananas, as well as more profits for the US – specifically for its multinational companies (like Chiquita and Dole) that are the main producers of bananas exported from Latin America.

    That said, it might be helpful to know that the US and its Latin American agents launched the first salvo in this war by filing a complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1993, alleging that the preference the EU accorded its APC dependencies violated international trade rules.

    This led to a WTO ruling against the EU in 1999. But the EU’s imperial failure to reduce its tariffs consistent with this ruling compelled the US to request a review.  This in turn led to a reaffirmation in July 2008 of that WTO ruling, which read, in part, as follows:

    The current EU banana regime contains measurers inconsistent with various provisions of the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] and has nullified or impaired benefits accruing to the United States under that Agreement.

    The deal signed on Tuesday now gives binding and substantive force to this ruling – thus ending this very lengthy fruit fight.  Here’s how European Trade Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner reflected on this resolution:

    I’m very happy to see the longest-running trade dispute finally solved. History is being made today because this dispute has soured global trade relations for too long.

    So go bananas and have a banana split to celebrate!

    Related commentaries:
    Peeling the skin off the banana wars

  • Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:29 AM

    Oral Roberts, pioneering televangelist, is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As the son of a preacher man, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the “return unto the ground” of pioneering televangelist Oral Roberts on Tuesday.

    I reference my Daddy because, during my childhood, he had me convinced that a Roberts hellfire and brimstone crusade was must-see TV, much as Hanna Montana is for kids today. No doubt regular readers of this weblog can tell that I’m still dealing with the psychological trauma this caused….

    In fact, in his prime, Roberts had millions of people worldwide believing that he had the same power in his hands that enabled Jesus to heal the sick and even raise the dead.  Ironically, it was his faith-healing shtick that gave me a unique opportunity to challenge my Daddy’s reverence for this religious crackpot.

    It happened in my 20s, by which time I had become a bona fide apostate.  At the time, early 1987, Roberts made an international spectacle of himself (and of the Christian faith) by proclaiming on TV that God would “call him home” if he did not raise $4.5 million by a date certain to complete construction on his City of Faith Medical Center, a $250 million monument to himself that only a megalomaniac like Saddam Hussein could possibly appreciate:

    I’m asking you to help extend my life… We’re at the point where God could call Oral Roberts home in March.

    You’d think that the contradictions inherent in this fatuous pitch would’ve caused anyone in his right mind to tune this huckster out.  But Roberts made quite a show of informing his faithful suckers that they not only spared his life but gave him an extra $3.5 million – presumably to help him maintain the jet-set lifestyle to which he (and his religious spawn who preach the patently perverse “prosperity gospel [of] the more you give me, the more God will bless you”) had become accustomed.

    Indeed, it was in this context that I simply asked my Daddy:

    Why Deke, if you believe that Evangelist Roberts is the faith healer he claims to be, do you think he needed $250 million to build a medical center?

    He summoned his endless reserve of righteous indignation to accuse me, for the umpteenth time, of doing the work of the Devil, but he never answered my question. More importantly, though, he never spoke so reverently about Oral Roberts ever again.  Not surprisingly that $250 million manifestation of Roberts’ holy delusions was (fore)closed in 1989.

    That said, I am acutely mindful that my Mummy, whose serene spirituality tempered my Daddy’s rabid religiosity, always admonished me to never speak ill of the dead.  But I know she’ll forgive me (as she invariably did – with a wink and a smile) if I show mercy now by noting that there’s really nothing else worth mentioning about the legacy of this man who was little more than a religious snake-oil salesman.

    Except that, despite Roberts using His name in vain, the Lord really blessed him with longevity, not calling him home until he reached the enviable age of 91. So, despite likening him to a classic Tartuffe, I suppose I should wish him well … wherever the hell he ends up!

    Farewell Brother Roberts

  • Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 5:31 AM

    The self-fulfilling crucifixion of Silvio Berlusconi…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It must confound friends and foes alike that Silvio Berlusconi has become the longest-serving prime minister in post-war Italy, having served May 1994 – January 1995, June 2001 – May 2006, and May 2008 – present. After all, each of his stints in power has been distinguished by political gaffes and sex scandals the likes of which would surely have ended the career of any other politician.

    For example, his gaffes have included insinuating that a German member of the EU parliament – who dared to criticize him – was a Nazi, as well as comparing himself to Jesus Christ.

    While his scandals have included being dumped by his wife in an open letter to a leading newspaper in which she derided him as a narcissistic philanderer with an unseemly attraction to teenage girls and prostitutes, as well as having a “girlfriend” reveal kiss-and-tell details about their assignations that would make Tiger Woods green with envy.

    Not to mention the damoclean sword of being prosecuted for corruption that has hovered over his entire career, which has compelled this billionaire politician to spend almost as much time in court defending himself as he has spent in parliament representing the Italian people.   

    It seems ironic therefore that being the victim of a shocking physical assault might redeem him from all iniquities.  For the way he withstood a brutal strike in the face on Sunday, sustaining two broken teeth, a broken nose and a busted lip, is the thing of which legends are made. 

    The assault occurred at a political gathering after Berlusconi had given one of his vintage speeches, during which he no doubt reminded voters that he’s the best thing to happen to Italy since pasta and wine and hurled indignation at dogged prosecutors who are trying once again to convict him on charges of corruption. 

    In fact, his persecution complex, which causes him lament on occasion that he is “the person the most persecuted by the judiciary of all times, in all history”, made what followed seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    For, as Berlusconi was reveling in the hosannas of devoted supporters on his way to his motorcade, a man in the crowd threw a souvenir model of an Italian cathedral at him, striking him in the face.  Video footage of the incident shows Berlusconi wincing in pain as he falls back into the arms of one of his bodyguards.

    What is truly amazing, however, is that, despite his injuries, a visibly dazed Berlusconi pushed his wary handlers aside and stood on the landing of the door to his limo – presumably so that his disciples could not only see that he was okay but also witness the stigmata of his crucifixion.

    His political supporters are asserting that this physical assault was inspired by the hate-mongering that now characterizes political attacks against Berlusconi; whereas (many of) his critics are countering that he got exactly what he deserved.

    Meanwhile, reports are that the assailant, Massimo Tartaglia (42), is a man with a history of mental illness who has no known ties to any political or criminal organization whatsoever.  And one has to think that if Tartaglia were truly a would-be assassin he would have used something a little more lethal than a marble souvenir. 

    Berlusconi is expected to be discharged today, but is under doctor’s orders to cancel all official duties for the remainder of the year….

    But it can’t be lost on this messianic cad that this incident gives him an opportunity to really emulate Christ by making quite a show of forgiving his attacker (for he knows not, mentally, what he did).  Never mind that Tartaglia was sane enough to apologize as soon as he was hauled away and charged with aggravated assault, even calling his attack “cowardly”.

    In any event, since Berlusconi’s media empire influences more than 90 percent of all television news in Italy, a well-scripted, televised visit to this coward’s prison cell to pray with him (as Pope John Paul did with the man who actually shot him) should do the trick.

    Thanks to all of the many who sent me messages of support and affection. I say to all of you, stay calm and happy. Love always triumphs over hate and envy.

    (Berlusconi from his hospital bed)

    Hail Silvio!

    NOTE: If the party-crashing Salahis were not enough to put President Obama’s security detail on high(er) alert, this attack on Berlusconi most certainly will.

    Related commentaries:
    Silvio, PM of Italy … again
    Salahis expose Obama’s vulnerability

  • Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 5:51 AM

    Hillary reasserts America’s ‘sphere of influence’… to no avail

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In previous commentaries I have lamented the fact that, on the world stage, President Obama is looking far too much like George W. Bush. In fact, despite his transformative rhetoric, Obama is not only continuing but actually expanding far too many of Bush’s foreign policy tactics.

    One glaring example of course is his recent decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, exacerbating Bush’s folly of keeping American soldiers deployed there to do little more than prop up a hopelessly corrupt government and serve as target practice for Taliban insurgents. 

    And who would’ve thought that Obama would order more Predator drone missile strikes in Pakistan in one year than Bush ordered in eight? For even though reports are that these unmanned aircrafts have been used to kill hundreds of senior al-Qaeda leaders, one third of those killed have been civilians.  Not to mention that many legal scholars consider these attacks an even greater violation of international law than the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib.

    Closer to home, however, I’ve been dismayed by the way Obama is aping Bush in his dealings throughout the Americas

    One glaring example of course is his stay-the-course refusal to lift the Cuban embargo. After all, Obama enforcing this embargo against Cuba is every bit as “crazy” as Bush refusing to talk to Iran.

    More to the point, though, who would’ve thought that Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, would be channeling Bush’s secretary, Condoleezza Rice, by hurling hollow threats at leaders throughout the region who dare to court relationships with Iran?  Never mind the contradiction, if not hypocrisy, inherent in the fact that Obama himself has been courting Iran pursuant to his foreign policy agenda.

    Here, in part, is how she attempted to reassert America’s sphere of influence throughout the Western Hemisphere in a policy speech on Friday:

    I think if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them. And we hope that they will think twice and we will support them if they do … it is a very bad idea for the countries involved.

    Unfortunately, where Obama seems content to have Hillary hurl Condi-light threats from Washington, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been taking substantive steps on the ground to enhance Iran’s economic and political influence in America’s back yard. 

    Moreover, nothing demonstrates the futility of hurling hollow threats quite like the way Bush warned of dire consequences if countries throughout the region turned to Venezuela instead of the US as their sugar daddy.  After all, many of them did, and Bush did absolutely nothing.

    There is no doubt, however, that this Agreement has significant geopolitical implications. Indeed, for many CARICOM leaders, PetroCaribe is merely a fringe benefit of the political alliance they forged with Chávez earlier this year when they abandoned their presumptive deference to the United States and supported his candidate for president of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

    [CARICOM and Venezuela consolidating ties, TIJ, September 6, 2005]

    It is not surprising therefore that, despite initially wooing Obama with pedantic gifts and faint praise, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is fast becoming as much a pain in the ass for Obama as he was or Bush:

    Mrs Clinton’s statements (are) like a threat above all against Venezuela and Bolivia… They are the clear signs of an imperial offensive seeking to stop the advancement of progressive forces, and regain its back yard… It’s ridiculous … we aren’t afraid of her.

    Plus ça change… .

    Related commentaries:
    Obama governing just like Bush
    Obama escalates war in Afghanistan
    Chavez tries to resuscitate Cold War tensions
    CARICOM and Venezuela consolidating ties

  • Monday, December 14, 2009 at 12:07 AM

    Tiger escapes to a “safe haven”

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Author’s note: The saga of Tiger as cheetah has become such a cultural phenomenon that even the most inane and innocuous tidbits about it are still leading the evening news.   But after refraining for the past two weeks from participating in this gloating, prurient frenzy, I decided that his seminal statement on Friday about taking an indefinite break from professional golf was worthy of comment.

    More to the point, since this commentary was published originally on Saturday when, I’m reliably informed, traffic is relatively low, I’ve decided to republish it below … in case you missed it.]


    With a menagerie of 15 women, including porn stars and prostitutes, coming out of the woodwork to share salacious kiss-and-tell details about their assignations with him, Tiger Woods clearly felt compelled to issue another statement yesterday which read, in part, as follows:

    I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children… What’s most important now is that my family has the time, privacy, and safe haven we will need for personal healing,” the statement says. “After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf. I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person.

    Of course, anyone who has read anything about the sexcapades of professional athletes (yes, even golfers) knows that, if 15 women are talking, there are at least 150 who aren’t.  But frankly, instead of running away, I think he should come out of hiding, admit, in an Oprah-style confessional interview, that much of what is being reported about his dalliances is true (noting parenthetically that some of the women have creative memories and others he has never even met), and explain that he’s now in therapy to deal with his psycho-sexual issues and would appreciate some privacy and space to do so.

    This would’ve done a great deal to satiate the public’s prurient interest in his private life, allowing him to deal with his issues without having to run off to some undisclosed location.  Moreover, he could’ve resumed doing what truly made him the most fascinating and well-paid professional athlete in the world without having to take this contrived time-out.

    Now, I’m afraid, this statement will only increase the public’s appetite for more answers about his whereabouts and, above all, about how long is “indefinite” (until the next Major, The Masters in April, for all of 2010, or later?).  Even worse, he will still have to deal with all of these questions whenever he decides to come out of hiding….

    I just hope he takes time out from his counseling (marriage and psychological) to practice so that, whenever he returns, there’ll be more public interest in his victories on the tour than in his conquests in the bedroom.

    Fans will readily forgive him of course. But winning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way to eradicate bacchanalian images of his private life from public consciousness – even if not from the tabloids.  And only this will give his understandably spooked corporate sponsors the cover they need to feature him as their spokesman once again.

    In any event, I am convinced that Tiger will return (sooner rather than later) as an even better player and, more importantly, as a better husband, father and person.

    Indeed, I urge his fellow competitors on the PGA Tour to take full advantage of his absence.  Because, relieved of the distractions of being such a fiendish playa, a more focused Tiger is bound to be an even more formidable player.

    Meanwhile, corporate sponsors and media executives alike must be salivating with anticipation over the boon this scandal will deliver in television ratings once he returns. And trust me, there’ll be no shortage of corporations not only eager to replace any that dumps Tiger but also willing to pay even more for the privilege of having him as their spokesman.

    Good luck and get well Tiger!

    Related commentaries:
    Tiger issues indignant … statement

  • Friday, December 11, 2009 at 6:09 AM

    Obama incites mixed emotions as he accepts Nobel Prize (updated)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Obama is being honored (primarily) because he is not George W. Bush!  And it’s debatable whether he or Bush should be more insulted by this.  Not to mention the insult to all of the truly accomplished people (like Nelson Mandela) who took such pride in being awarded this prize.

    But I’m sure Obama will be gracious, and will humbly accept his prize for what it is.

    [Obama awarded (affirmative action) Nobel Peace Prize, TIJ, October 10, 2009]

    When George W. Bush declared that he had to wage war to make peace he was roundly criticized. It was more than a little ironic therefore to see Barack Obama being roundly applauded today when he said essentially the same thing during his acceptance speech for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

    I can only assume it was thus because – using the rhetorical skills that won him this hallowed prize – Obama spoke so aspirationally about reconciling Ghandi’s philosophy of nonviolence with Clausewitz’s categorical imperative of waging war as diplomacy by other means. 

    But his speech was also distinguished by a robust defense of America’s exceptional history of expending blood and treasure in defense of freedom and democracy around the world that can be fairly described as, well, Bush light….

    Frankly, this inconsistency is such that only a wanton suspension of disbelief could possibly explain awarding this prize to Obama – who is not only waging two wars but deploying tactics as commander in chief that were condemned as violations of international law when Bush deployed them.

    Of course, it is a testament to his character and good sense that nobody is more mindful of this inconsistency than he.

    I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations… I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize – Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela – my accomplishments are slight… 

    I cannot argue with those who find [others] to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

    Yet it’s an indication of how fickle admiration for Obama can be that Norwegians are reportedly expressing shock and dismay that he jetted all the way to their country to accept this prize but refused to attend some of the other traditional events associated with it, including a television interview, a children’s event promoting peace, a music concert and an exhibition in his honor at the Nobel peace center.

    But nothing has incurred their jingoistic wrath in this respect quite like his decision to decline an invitation to lunch with Norwegian King Harald V, an event every prize winner invariably attends with due deference.

    The American president is acting like an elephant in a porcelain shop. In Norwegian culture, it’s very important to keep an agreement. We’re religious about that, and Obama’s actions have been clumsy. You just don’t say no to an invitation from a European king. Maybe Obama’s advisers are not very educated about European culture, but he is coming off as rude, even if he doesn’t mean to.

    (Norwegian public-relations expert Rune Morck-Wergeland)

    Indeed, the irony can’t be lost on any Norwegian that this is the kind of arrogant behavior they would have expected from Bush…. 

    So much for change they can believe in, eh?

    I just hope Obama’s spinmeisters are prepared to counter the Muslim-related inferences right-wing nutjobs back home are bound to propagate about him bowing down before the King of Saudi Arabia but refusing to lunch with the King of Norway.

    Never mind that if he attended all of the other leisurely events these same nutjobs would criticize him for hanging out with royalty while American soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan….

    Finally, many people are still wondering what that mysterious light hovering over Norway was on the night before he arrived.  But, despite claims that it was generated by a UFO or the failed test lunch of a Russian missile, die-hard believers (like me) will tell you that it was just a celestial sign heralding the Nobel coming of Barack Obama….

    Meanwhile over in Copenhagen:

    With all due respect to the Norwegians, their shock and dismay pale in comparison to the existential indignation being hurled at Obama by leaders of developing nations attending the summit on climate change in Copenhagen. 

    For they are accusing this Nobel peace laureate of nothing short of rank hypocrisy for, on the one hand, delivering lofty rhetoric about responsible global leadership in his acceptance speech; whilst on the other, trying to ram through a climate change treaty to save the planet that requires little sacrifice by the United States but burdens developing nations with unfair and unjust commitments.

    Nevertheless, I do not think it is wise for (already marginalized) African and Caribbean leaders to risk undermining what little regard Obama has for them over this issue.  After all, given that virtually none of the countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol honored the commitments they made to reduce CO2 emissions, chances are very good that commitments made pursuant to a Copenhagen treaty will suffer a similar fate. 

    Not to mention that fallout from those hacked emails and irreconcilable differences between the US and China will probably render all of their indignation irrelevant, if not moot.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama awarded … Nobel…
    Emails expose scientific doubts about climate change

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday morning and updated last night

  • Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 1:44 AM

    American student Amanda Knox guilty of murder in Italy

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Street demonstrations in Italy in the days preceding Berlusconi’s address evinced a palpable lust among many Italians for their pound of flesh from the Americans – no matter the facts in this case.

    [Italians accuse Americans of murder and deceit, TIJ, March 11, 2005]

    Many legal analysts in America are asserting that Amanda Knox (22) was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison on Saturday, not based on evidence, but merely as payback for the Americans who got away with committing two alleged crimes against Italians in recent years:

    The first of these alleged crimes occurred in 1998 when an American fighter pilot, flying too low over an Italian ski resort, clipped the cable of a gondola, sending 20 people plunging to their deaths; and the second occurred in 2005 when an American soldier in Iraq killed an Italian operative who was on a secret mission there to rescue (or pay ransom for) an Italian journalist being held hostage.

    I too suspect that some payback was involved. Indeed, the opening quote above – from my commentary on the second on these alleged crimes – presaged this revenge.

    I am also mindful, however, that anti-Americanism was so pandemic when Amanda was arrested in November 2007 that reporting on her case in many European countries evinced this palpable lust for a pound of flesh. And nowhere was it more palpable than in England, the home of the girl she was convicted of murdering.

    Instead, I am far more troubled by the fact prosecutors produced woefully scant evidence to support the sensational claims they made during this trial.

    For, on the one hand, they argued that Amanda is a spoiled American girl who killed her British roommate, Meredith Kercher (21), in a fit of jealous and petulant rage for treating her like a messy, thieving slut.

    While on the other, they argued that she is a dope and sex fiend who killed this “prissy” English girl in a depraved and premeditated scheme to teach her a lesson; and that pursuant to this scheme she and her Italian boyfriend of two weeks, Raffaele Sollecito (25), solicited a black African immigrant, Rudy Guede (22), to brutally rape Meredith in the home she shared with Amanda, after which Amanda repeatedly stabbed her and slit her throat in a perverted frenzy fueled by drugs and alcohol. Got that?!

    All three were arrested and charged with murder in fairly short order.

    Insisting that she had nothing to do with this crime, Amanda testified that the police beat conflicting statements out of her. She claimed that they even forced her to falsely implicate local bar owner Patrick Lumumba – who was probably the only black man she could think of under duress to finger for the crime….

    Meanwhile, the only forensic evidence prosecutors submitted to support their charges against her was a knife the police took from Raffaele’s apartment, which they claim had traces of her DNA.  But defense experts testified that the blades on this knife were inconsistent with wounds Meredith suffered.

    Moreover, Amanda’s lawyers argued that the only credible evidence placed only one person at the scene of this horrific crime, and that that person was not Amanda the American, but Guede the African.

    Not to mention that Guede had already confessed to raping and killing Meredith alone, telling the police, at least initially, that he had never even met Amanda Knox.

    And since he had already been tried, convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison, one can see why defense lawyers maintained that the prosecution of Amanda reflected the ruthless and vindictive ambition of lead prosecutor Giuliano Mignini.

    Indeed, it’s instructive to note that, when he filed charges in this case, Prosecutor Mignini was already under investigation for proffering “bizarre and lurid psycho-sexual homicide theories” in his attempt to win convictions in another murder case.

    Alas, the local media had a starring role in this show trial, parroting the prosecutors’ alternating theories of the crime as unimpeachable facts. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Amanda’s jurors, who were never sequestered, convicted her after only 14 hours of deliberation.

    I am saddened by the verdict and I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty… I will be conveying my concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    (US Senator Maria Cantwell of Amanda’s home state of Washington)

    Notwithstanding this verdict, however, it smacks of an unseemly mix of arrogance and hypocrisy for everyone from pundits to politicians in the United States to be hurling self-righteous indignation at the Italian justice system.

    After all, one would be hard-pressed to find a judicial system that is guilty of more egregious miscarriages of justice than America’s: There are of course the more notorious cases like O.J. and the Duke Lacrosse players. But I’m thinking here of its shameful legacy of convicting, and in some cases executing, Blacks for crimes they did not commit.

    Therefore, instead of criticizing the jurors and condemning the Italian justice system, Amanda’s supporters would be well-advised to just pray that Italy’s appellate courts do in this case what they’ve done in many others, namely, overturned guilty verdicts that offended all notions of justice.

    Related commentaries:
    Italians accuse Americans
    Rogue prosecutor in Duke case disbarred

  • Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 1:09 AM

    Beware: Google declares nothing’s private!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As a practicing attorney, I am all too mindful of the ease with which the public can access private information about anyone these days.  In fact, this was demonstrated with poignant irony a few years ago when a blogger trolled Goggle’s own archives to find out all kinds of private information about its CEO Eric Schmidt.

    Frankly, this is why I was so stunned when Schmidt declared the following during an interview with CNBC’s “money honey”, Maria Bartiromo, last week:

    Bartiromo:  People are treating Google like their most trusted friend, should they be?

    Schmidt: If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines  … do retain that information for sometime … it’s possible that information could be made available to the authorities.

    What this means is that you’d better pray you’re never prosecuted or sued for anything. Because not only Big Brother but even your civil adversary could compel Google to turn over all of the searches you made when you thought nobody was watching.  And just think how embarrassing or compromising it would be to have some of those search terms come under public scrutiny – no matter how innocent your explanation.

    So if you’re planning to cheat on your spouse (or to do something even worse), don’t search Google for guidance; because you might as well be talking to your local gossipmonger, or to the police. And, if you think you can un-Google your most compromising searches, think again….

    By the way, it’s not just Google.  You’d be shocked at the spying and eavesdropping your employer, your Internet Service Provider, your local supermarket and even your favorite (naughty) website engages in to keep track of your purchases, preferences and … peccadilloes.  And all of them blithely use that information for their own commercial purposes, but would rat you out just as blithely at the mere hint of prosecution or civil litigation.

    Alas, this PSA comes too late for Tiger.

    (Though, to be fair, it wasn’t Google or any other Big Brother entity that made his juvenile sexting fodder for public ridicule.  Instead, he can thank his growing gaggle of opportunistic mistresses for that….)

    Related commentaries:
    Google restates its corporate hypocrisy

  • Monday, December 7, 2009 at 5:38 AM

    Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy…

    (President Franklin D. Roosevelt)

    Given President Obama’s fateful decision last week to escalate the war in Afghanistan, all Americans would do well to remember the sacrifices (in terms of human life and national treasure) that are necessary to wage war. 

    After all, far too many citizens and political leaders seem willfully ignorant of these sacrifices. Since only this can explain why citizens have not demanded the Draft and why political leaders have steadfastly rejected all legislative attempts to reinstate it. Never mind that the Draft would be the most objective way of ensuring shared sacrifice:

    I am merely proffering the morally-imperative and self-evident truth that politicians would be more circumspect about sending Americans to war if their loved ones were obligated to serve.

    [Support the draft to prevent stupid wars, TIJ, March 14, 2007]

    And now Congress seems equally determined to reject proposed legislation to impose a war surtax on wealthy Americans. Never mind that this surtax would balance the human sacrifice being borne by poor Americans who comprise the vast majority of troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan:

    If we have to pay for the health care bill, we should pay for the war as well … by having a war surtax… The problem in this country with this issue is that the only people that has to sacrifice are military families and they’ve had to go to the well again and again and again and again, and everybody else is blithely unaffected by the war.

    This was the common-sense rationale Rep David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the purse string-controlling House Appropriations Committee, proffered in support of legislation to impose a war surtax.  And, significantly, Sen Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has seconded this legislative initiative.

    Unfortunately, Congressional priorities are so perverse these days that taxing the American people to bailout Wall Street is proclaimed a national emergency while the very notion of taxing them to fund a “necessary” war is declaimed a polarizing stunt.

    But Congress’ well-earned reputation is such that this perversion should come as no surprise. What is surprising, however, is that even the preternaturally sensible Obama does have his priorities straight in this context.  For, even though the Draft and surtax are being championed by well-respected and principled Democrats, he too is treating them like the political plague.

    So the next time you hear him trying to distinguish himself from Bush – who passed the buck on funding for his wars – just bear in mind that Obama has not only escalated US involvement in these wars without the Draft, but will end up passing the buck when it comes to paying from them as well.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama escalates Afghan war
    Support the draft

  • Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 6:10 PM

    Why Tiger’s domestic spat has foreign policy implications…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Tiger apologizes

  • Friday, December 4, 2009 at 5:06 AM

    Climate-gate: Emails expose scientific doubts about climate change

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Only a couple weeks ago I published a commentary explaining why it came as no surprise that last month’s summit of Asia-Pacific leaders – that was intended to produce a consensus on legally binding climate change commitments – produced nothing but hot air.

    I noted that my cynicism about this Chicken-Little nature of the efforts to combat climate change was based, in part, on the fact that:

    Virtually none of the countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997) – with its legally binding emissions targets – is honoring promises made in this agreement. In many cases their emissions have actually risen….

    I won’t even comment on the “emissions trading” scheme, which allows rich countries to pollute all they want provided they pay poor countries (that typically pollute far less) for the privilege: a scheme eerily reminiscent of papal indulgences….

    [Critical climate change treaty goes up in smoke, TIJ, November 19, 2009]

    Little did I know, however, that my intellectual cynicism was no match for the scientific machinations of those whose research forms the basis for much of today’s global warming orthodoxy.

    This, alas, is the only conclusion one can draw from the revelations in thousands of emails (some dating back 13 years) that were hacked from the University of East Anglia’s prestigious Climate Research Unit (CRU) and published on the Internet last week.

    In fact the smoking gun is one email in which Professor Phil Jones, the director of CRU, suggests “using a trick to massage years of temperature data to hide the decline.”  This also happens to support the contention I made in a commentary last year that natural climate variations (i.e., cyclical phenomena) have us now entering a period of “global cooling.”

    I can confirm what has been written in other places: research in some areas of climate science has been and is full of machination, conspiracies and collusion, as any reader can interpret from the CRU files… The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas.

    Meanwhile, this is the extraordinary take of Eduardo Zorita, an expert in European climate trends, on this unfolding climate email scandal. Even worse, he claims that he and other scientists were “bullied and subtly blackmailed” by more powerful colleagues to fit in the scientific mainstream.

    Yet I doubt there’s a single world leader who is genuinely shocked by this revelation that the global warming debate has been more about crass politics than hard science.  The only issue now is whether any leader can maintain a straight face when merely blowing hot air about “legally binding emissions cuts” at the UN’s climate summit in Copenhagen next week.

    In any event, the political firestorm these emails have caused has finally extinguished all hope of getting any of the major emitters of greenhouse gases (like India and China) to sign on to the highly touted Copenhagen Climate Treaty.  After all, these gases are fueling their unparalleled economic growth.

    Then of course there’s the cynicism being expressed by leaders of developing countries, most notably in my region  of origin – the Caribbean. For they clearly see this whole debate as little more than leaders of developed countries saying ‘do as we say, not as we do.’ Not to mention their indignation at the open conspiracy to get Third-World economies to pay for the environmental crimes that were blithely perpetrated throughout the 20th century to develop First-World economies.

    Here, for example, is how Joseph Ross, Trinidad and Tobago’s Tourism Minister, rejected UK calls for a climate tax on air passengers:

    We recognize the importance of protecting the environment and so on, but we are also saying that in the Caribbean, we are not in fact the ones responsible for the disaster.

    Naturally, all of this makes one wonder why any world leader would even bother to attend this summit….

    Especially since nothing indicates what a waste of time attendance would be quite like the fact that the prophet of climate-change doom himself, Al Gore, abruptly canceled his appearance today, citing, in patently disingenuous fashion, “unforeseen changes in his schedule”. For his cancelation is as unforeseen as a fat rat jumping a sinking ship!

    Related commentaries:
    Critical climate change treaty goes up in smoke
    Global cooling? Yes

  • Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 4:52 AM

    Party crashers expose Obama’s vulnerability to would-be assassins

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who crashed the Obamas’ first State Dinner last week are exhibit A for how grownups are dumbing deviancy down in their insidious quest for instant fame on reality TV. 

    Because all indications are that this whole farce was concocted by these two nincompoops as an audition to appear on the reality TV program The Real Housewives of D.C.

    I’ve seen an episode of one of these now franchised programs (The Real Housewives of New Jersey). And they amount to nothing more than a gaggle of self-absorbed women acting out scripted scenes from their nouveau-riche lives, exhibiting all of the intelligence, talent and class of water buffalos rolling around in mud.

    This is why it seemed perfectly sensible to these two wannabes to crash this White House dinner, with reality TV cameras rolling, for the sole purpose of sucking up to celebrities to notch pictures on their Facebook page the way kids do to notch signatures in their autograph books.

    But the real story here is not their idle-minded antics or even the culture that breeds and rewards such superficial ambitions. Rather it is the surreal and unpardonable lapse in security that enabled these star stalkers to sneak into the White House.

    Let us pray that as Obama begins to look more and more like the truly inevitable Democratic nominee (and the next president of the United States), his Secret Service bodyguards will redouble their efforts to protect him. Because the last thing America needs right now is another assassination that triggers all of the lost hope and incendiary rage of the killing of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr… combined!

    [Hillary wins New Hampshire; Defies pundits, but not her ill-fated destiny, TIJ, January 9, 2008]

    Clearly, his Secret Service bodyguards have not taken heed. In fact they don’t even seem to fully appreciate that there but for the grace of God went two al-Qaeda terrorists waltzing pass their much vaunted security right up in the face of the president.  And how do you suppose this makes Obama’s guest of honor, Indian PM Manmohan Singh, feel…?

    Mind you, I think casting the Salahis as harmless party crashers is a mistake. After all, they exhibited potentially dangerous passive-aggressive delusions on the TODAY show on Tuesday as they were muttering on about their invitation that was evidently lost in email transmissions between themselves and a far too polite staffer at the Pentagon.

    Frankly, I don’t understand why the Secret Service isn’t using all of its power to put this couple in jail, instead of issuing press releases about how embarrassed it is by the whole thing.  But l really HOPE this is a wake-up call for this agency.

    Meanwhile, the Salahis are adding insult to this national farce by peddling interviews to extend their 15 minutes of fame. 

    In fact, their only real punishment was to be meted out today at a congressional hearing during which moronic, publicity-seeking congressmen were expected to tell these two fauxlebrities what publicity-seeking morons they are.  Unfortunately, the Salahis’ lawyer won them a reprieve…. 

    God save the president!

    NOTE: Have you heard there’s a controversial healthcare debate going on in the US Senate…?

    Related commentaries:
    Hillary wins New Hampshire; Defies pundits

  • Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 5:29 AM

    Obama escalates Afghan war; the “die” is cast on his presidency

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The media did quite a Barnum & Bailey job of drumming up suspense, but President Obama’s address tonight on his new military strategy “to bring this war [in Afghanistan] to a successful conclusion” was wholly anticlimactic.  Not to mention the pedantry he displayed in restating all of the (now Bushy) reasons why this is a just war, which only served to remind us of all of the reasons why the war he’s still waging in Iraq is an unjust one….

    We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven.  We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum… And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government.

    In any event, his now infamous dithering over this strategy clearly telegraphed his intent to find the most politically palatable way to give his generals the additional forces they requested. And there can be no denying that political concerns figured every bit as prominently in his deliberations as military ones.

    In fact I’m sure Obama spent most of the past six months trying to fashion a strategy that would protect his political hide at home while achieving some (objective) measure of success in Afghanistan.  Alas, I doubt even King Solomon could fashion such a strategy.

    For, on the one hand, he’s clearly trying to pacify his liberal (Democratic) supporters by sending only 30,000 of the 40,000 (or 65,000 according to some reports) troops requested, setting all kinds of political and military benchmarks, and articulating a plausible exit strategy; while on the other, he’s trying to appease his conservative (Republican) critics by showing a hawkish willingness to fight (even choosing to announce this escalation at the Military Academy at West Point) and assuming full responsibility for winning this “good war.”

    Meanwhile, because of his predecessor’s misguided, six-year preoccupation with that “bad war” in Iraq, Afghanistan has descended into a political and military quagmire that would take 500,000 troops and decades to stabilize.

    Therefore, it makes one wonder what possible reason – other than cynical political pandering – Obama has for not sending at least the 40,000 troops his generals requested….  Moreover, it seems more than a little disingenuous for him to declare that he will begin withdrawing troops in July 2011.  After all, even if he does, it could still take years after that date to reduce the number of troops deployed there to today’s level … or lower.

    But this was not nearly as disingenuous as his touting NATO participation in this surge. For, having criticized President Bush for making a similar claim, he knows full well that the vast majority of those NATO troops will serve as nothing more than political window dressing. Hell, the Italians have become a laughing stock for their jingoistic refusal to even leave their cloistered and heavily fortified base; similar “combat caveats” limit German participation to “gardening”; and the French, well, plus ca change… .

    These are just some of the reasons why his proverbial splitting of the baby will end up pleasing neither his supporters – who will accuse him of just aping the war-mongering policies of George W. Bush; nor his critics – who will (eventually) accuse him of playing politics and undermining the war effort by shortchanging his generals.  Even worse, I fear it will amount to nothing more than the kind of march of folly in Vietnam that doomed the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

    I appreciate of course that Obama is merely fulfilling his campaign promise to fight and win this war.  But the changed circumstances on the ground today – viz  the political mess that would compromise even a perfect military strategy – makes his decision to follow through almost as foolhardy as Bush’s decision to follow through with his invasion of Iraq even after it was clear that there were no WMDs there.

    No doubt you’ll be inundated with the belated insights of Johnny-come-lately commentators and weather-vane politicians criticizing Obama for escalating this war. By contrast, here are a few excerpts from previous commentaries establishing my informed and principled criticisms dating back to 2005:

    These wars have converted multitudes of peaceful Muslims into Jihadists who welcome the opportunity to sacrifice their lives in bin Laden’s holy war. Moreover, these Jihadists have demonstrated that they are as committed to (and capable of) killing Americans (in Iraq and Afghanistan) as President Bush is committed to (and capable of) “routing them out … one by one.” And it doesn’t take a genius in military war strategy to figure out who will win this war [especially on their turf].

    [Please spare us the al-Qaeda obituaries, TIJ, December 2005]

    Not so long ago, some of us considered the war in Afghanistan as much an unqualified success as we deemed the war in Iraq an unmitigated failure. But a new crop of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are beginning to surpass die-hard insurgents in Iraq in their ability to undermine US efforts to “stand up” a democratic Afghan government

    Alas, victory in Afghanistan may prove another casualty of the war in Iraq.

    [Meanwhile over in Afghanistan: snatching defeat from the hands of victory, September 18, 2006]

    Nothing is more responsible for the bedeviling success of the insurgents in Iraq (and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan) than Bush’s refusal to deploy enough soldiers to win these wars. And this despite pleadings by his most respected military advisers, including his Secretary of State Gen Colin Powell and Army Chief of Staff Gen Eric Shinseki, for Bush to deploy 4 to 5 times the number of troops he finally ordered into battle.

    [Support the Draft to prevent stupid wars, TIJ, March 17, 2007]

    The irony is not lost on me that McCrystal’s grim assessment makes it woefully clear that nation building in Afghanistan (even under the guise of a “counterinsurgency strategy”) is no longer advisable or feasible. Indeed, all indications are that the die has been cast for this “good war.”

    Accordingly, the US legacy there will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent in Afghanistan), or by tens of thousands of American soldiers being lost in Afghanistan’s “graveyard of empires” as they continue fighting this unwinnable war (following America’s own precedent in Vietnam) … [And more troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters.]

    Not to mention the prevailing fallacy that America must wage war in Afghanistan because it (still) constitutes the central front in the war against al Qaeda. After all, for the past six years the Bush administration prosecuted the war in Iraq as if it was the central front in this war.

    Moreover, there’s no denying that the last vestiges of al Qaeda are now so splintered that they are just as likely to be found in Pakistan, Somalia or, indeed, in the United States, which makes the strategy for taking them on in Afghanistan patently misguided.

    Therefore, Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and run ASAP; to let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and to rely on Special Forces and aerial drones to “disrupt and dismantle” Taliban and al Qaeda operations there.

    [‘Without (or even with) more forces, failure in Afghanistan is likely’, TIJ, September 23, 2009]

    [E]veryone from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Sen Kerry himself has insisted that Obama will not send over any more troops until the Afghan government gets rid of corruption.

    And since the corruption UN officials uncovered at the presidential level is in fact endemic throughout the entire government, nobody believes there will be any change in this respect even if the next president could channel honest Abe Lincoln.

    Accordingly, I urge Obama to stop his Hamletian dithering on this issue. In particular, he should ignore the (conservative) chicken hawks who are egging him on to surge troops in Afghanistan to follow the precedent President Bush set in Iraq.

    Because the only instructive precedent here is the one President Johnson set in Vietnam, which should warn Obama not to allow a military quagmire to doom his presidency the way a similar quagmire doomed Johnson’s.

    [Karzai submits to runoff election, TIJ, October 21, 2009]

    Unfortunately, this means that troops are bound to be returning home in body bags throughout his entire presidency. Because, frankly, given the military quagmire Afghanistan has become, sending 20 (or even 40) thousand additional troops amounts to the proverbial tossing of a 50-foot life line to a man drowning 100 feet away

    [Picture of Obama saluting war dead the defining image of his presidency?  TIJ, October 30, 2009]

    Enough said?

    Well, to be fair, in rejecting the Vietnam precedent, Obama cited UN support for this war, lack of general support in Afghanistan for the insurgents and the fact that the 9/11 attacks were launched from there.

    But he conspicuously failed to counter the three salient points on which this precedent is based, namely: that the military is caught in a quagmire (fighting Afghans who are essentially engaged in their own feudal/territorial wars, not al Qaeda’s holy war); that American soldiers are dying in a misguided search for al-Qaeda fighters who everyone knows are no longer there; and that the US is trying to prop up an Afghan government that shows no signs of developing into anything worth fighting for.

    I should also note that the president said, in effect, that he will be able to stamp “mission accomplished” on Afghanistan before he leaves the White House … in seven years.

    But I suspect he’s predicating this on a little too much HOPE: first, that this ill-fated escalation won’t doom his run for reelection; and second, that conditions will be better in Afghanistan then than they were in Iraq when Bush declared “mission accomplished” there, woefully prematurely, six and a half years ago.

    Never mind the folly of announcing that he’ll begin bringing troops home in 18 months and have them all out in seven years to make sure the Afghan government gets the message that he’s “not giving them a blank check.” After all, this not only encourages the Taliban to simply lie in wait, it also defies the common sense of conveying this message privately.

    Meanwhile, I do not see how Obama can possibly justify the loss of life and waste of money that will occur over this period just for him to end up doing in seven years what President Nixon did way too belatedly in Vietnam: i.e.,  declaring victory and going home….

    * This commentary was published originally last night at 9:19

    Related commentaries:
    Spare us the serial al-Qaeda obits
    Afghanistan: snatching defeat from the hands of victory
    Support the Draft to prevent stupid wars
    Picture of Obama saluting war dead
    Without (or even with) more forces
    Karzai submits to runoff election

  • Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 7:11 AM

    Alas, it’s full steam ahead on the NHIP

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Two weeks ago I called on all residents in my mother country, the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), to withhold premium contributions to the National Health Insurance Board (NHIB) as a means of registering grave concerns not only about the construction and provisions of our new National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP) but also about the qualifications of Interhealth Canada, the company contracted to manage it.

    As stated, the aim of this boycott was to compel our interim government and Interhealth Canada to appreciate the manifest necessity of addressing all of these concerns in a frank, comprehensive and transparent manner.

    Pursuant to this aim, I reached out to Governor Gordon Wetherell – who was very gracious with his time.  But I see no point in rehashing our discussions here; especially since the concerns at issue have been fodder for vigorous public debate over the past few months. 

    Instead, I shall suffice to note that I conveyed the growing consternation over his administration’s failure to explain glaring defects in the NHIP contract – as documented by The TCI Journal columnist Richard Berke; its failure to account for the astronomical increases in the cost of the two hospitals still under construction – as documented by PDM leader Doug Parnell (increases, by the way, that were made utterly incomprehensible by concomitant 50-percent decreases in the number of beds each of these hospitals will now provide); and its failure to fully honour its pledge of transparency – as documented by many of its own press releases (the most recent of which – on public viewing of the contracting documents for this NHIP – provoked me to dismiss the cloak and dagger arrangements it delineated as akin to arrangements one would expect for public viewing of the Shroud of Turin).

    It is also instructive to note that I got the distinct and exasperating impression that Governor Wetherell was just dutifully toeing the party (FCO) line; notwithstanding what he must have known were the logical fallacies inherent in many of his responses to my queries. 

    Incidentally, this is the same impression I got last week listening to the former UK ambassador to the UN rationalize British participation in the invasion of Iraq by proffering the bon mot that, even though illegitimate, it was not illegal.

    An example of this kind of Orwellian FCO spin in the Governor’s case was his response to my query about the critical mass of TCI residents, including leaders of both political parties, who now oppose the implementation of this NHIP. For he cited the compulsory registration of around 17,000 residents as an indication of general support for it – seemingly oblivious to its logical consonance with Fidel Castro citing compulsory party-line voting by millions as an indication of democratic support for his regime.

    Apropos this, John Smith, chairman of the NHIB, displayed quizzical ignorance in dismissing opposition to this plan as comprised of only a noisy minority – seemingly oblivious to its logical consonance with former Premier Michael Misick maintaining that opposition to his corrupt government was comprised of only a noisy minority even as he was being unceremoniously ousted from office.

    To be fair, though, I was mindful that financial experts probably advised the Governor that (advanced) contributions to the NHIP are indispensable to getting our fiscal house in order (and perhaps even to helping make government payroll).  But I felt compelled to advise him that it might prove a pyrrhic victory if he persists in ramming this plan through; that, in doing so, he risks alienating the hearts and minds even of die-hard supporters of his interim administration, which could make implementing all of the pending constitutional reforms to ensure good and sustainable governance virtually impossible.

    This is why I proposed the following as a way to harmonise implementing a duly modified NHIP with the simmering or, as the BBC observed, mutinous opposition the existing plan has incited:

    1. That the Governor should convene a special session of the Consultative Forum, summoning all major stakeholders to appear, including managers of Interhealth Canada (Mr Hogan – having disclosed his resume if he expects anyone to take anything he says seriously), members of his executive board (CEO Mr Capes) and Advisory Council, business leaders (Chamberof Commerce), political leaders (most notably Messrs Parnell and Williams), religious and community leaders, and members of the press (most notably editors and key contributors fromThe TCI Journal);

    2. That he should not settle instead on issuing another press statement, no matter how thorough, as this will only cause further alienation and fuel greater distrust amongst many stakeholders who already feel marginalized by his interim government.

    3. That he, Hogan and Capes should then answer every single question stakeholders and members of the Consultative Forum have about this NHIP;

    4. That to the extent they cannot answer any material question to the satisfaction of the majority of those assembled that that would constitute just cause to modify the provision in the NHIP contract to which that question pertained; and

    5. That after this special session (which should be covered live and in its entirety by television and radio), he should assign a select committee – comprise of two members of the Advisory Council and three members of the Consultative Forum – to work with Interhealth Canada on reconciling the existing contract with sustained concerns raised in this session.

    I then explained to the Governor why modifying (or even rescinding) the NHIP contract might not be as prohibitive (legally or financially) as he contends.  I cited, amongst other things, the fact that the British government has since declared that the local politicians with whom Interhealth Canada negotiated this contract were not only too amoral but, more to the point, too immature and too incompetent to rule

    For it is arguable that the very act of ousting the Misick government on this basis is prima facie evidence that it did not have the capacity to negotiate this contract in the public interest, thus making it voidable as against public policy. Not to mention that this extraordinary change in our government alone should make Interhealth Canada solicitous of making whatever modifications are necessary to save it from legal challenge.

    (Perhaps the lawyers defending our country against the basket case of lawsuits the Misick government left in its wake will consider proffering this intervening capacity determination to force settlement of those claims on more favourable terms. After all, if the new Iraqi government was able to prevail upon creditors to agree to sizable reductions in debts arising out of contracts entered into by the Saddam Hussein regime, why shouldn’t our interim government be able to do the same with debts arising out of contracts entered into by the Michael Misick regime? Admittedly, a newly elected local government might have better standing to make this plea than our British caretaker government.)

    I also urged the Governor to appreciate the importance of convening this special session as soon as practicable, not only to avoid any unnecessary delay in implementing a more viable NHIP but also to refocus our attention on other critical matters – like improving our public service and reforming our electoral system.

    My fellow TCIslanders, I do not presume that my way is the only way to resolve this crisis. But I have yet to hear or read of another way that is even plausible. For example, our new PDM leader is still championing a national referendum on this NHIP.  But the Governor has already dismissed this idea as not even worthy of debate for the very reasons I cited in my commentary calling for a boycott.

    In any event, I regret to report that the Governor has decided to proceed – full steam ahead – with this NHIP. To his credit, though, he conceded that the Forum can summon anyone it chooses. But he maintained that none of the concerns expressed warranted any delay in its implementation or any modification of the contracting documents on which it is based. 

    At this point, I feel constrained to note the uncanny parallels that are developing between our efforts to get this Governor to do the right thing and our efforts to get his discredited predecessor, Richard Tauwhare, to do the same. 

    But let me hasten to assert that both men strike me as eminently decent and honourable.  Their only professional flaw seems to be a dogged adherence to instructions from their FCO bosses in the UK no matter how inconsistent those instructions are with the furtherance of good and sustainable governance in the TCI. And, as our dealings with Tauwhare ultimately proved, only an oversight committee of the British government can deal appropriately with this flaw.

    Accordingly, I appeal now to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) to do all it can to help us resolve this NHIP crisis. Indeed, I beg the FAC to appreciate that its hands-on supervision might be necessary to preserve the integrity and good will, as well as to ensure the success, of this interim government.

    NOTE: Despite my disagreements, I respect the Governor’s authority to proceed with the implementation of this NHIP as he and his advisers see fit. Moreover, I urge all TCIslanders who share my concerns about this one matter to appreciate that there are many others on which we must nurture common cause with Governor Wetherell to ensure that our concerns are properly addressed before they too are implemented. 

    Related commentaries:
    Why pleading for referendum is pointless
    Boycott to reform healthcare in TCI

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