• Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 8:32 AM

    Marking the first 100 days of the Obama presidency

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There’s no denying that President Barack Obama is off to a flying start.  And, nothing demonstrates this quite like the way he has engendered goodwill and transformed the image of America abroad.

    At home, where his presidency seems beset by the perils of Pauline, Obama has inspired such confidence and hope that even those who spew visceral criticism at the substance of his policies heap enviable praise on the style of his leadership.

    Alas, tradition requires me to mark this occasion by grading his performance.  Accordingly, I give President Obama a B on substance and an A on style.

    Instead of elaborating, however, I shall suffice to refer you to the BBC’s report card – since it’s most objective and actually comports with my comprehensive assessment of his performance:

    Barack Obama’s 100-day report card

    Keep up the good work Barack!

  • Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    Tribute to Sojourner Truth

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There’s no denying that the only reason the media are doing all they can to turn a few cases of the flu into a pandemic is that scaring people generates super ratings.  Unfortunately, the 24/7 coverage being dedicated to this open conspiracy means that truly important stories are being virtually ignored. 

    Such was the case yesterday when First Lady Michelle Obama presided over the unveiling of a statue of Sojourner Truth at the new Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington, DC.

    Even though not nearly as famous, Truth is as revered for being both an abolitionist and a crusader for women’s rights in the 19th Century, which was highlighted by her  “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech in 1851, as Martin Luther King is for being a leader of the black civil rights movement in the 20th Century, which was highlighted by his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963.

    I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America.

    (Michelle Obama)

    But, given the number of statues in the nation’s capital honoring white folks, it says more about America’s failure to give blacks their due that Truth and MLK are the first  ones to be memorialized — coincidentally and belatedly, at this same time in US history.   The most egregious oversight in this respect being the failure to honor Frederick Douglas:

    Friends who have seen the place of honor MLK occupies in my home will be surprised to learn that I am actually conflicted about this dedication. Because as much as I admire MLK, I believe the life, political activism and legacy of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) make him more worthy of being the first black to be memorialised in this American Pantheon – alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

    [The Mall at last! Mall at last! Thank God Almighty, a black is on the Mall at last! TIJ, November 14, 2006]

    But this is Sojourner’s day. Let us rejoice and be glad….

    Related commentaries:
    Mall at last…Thank God Almighty, a black is on the Mall at last

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 6:05 AM

    Swine flu causing more panic than pandemic

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    If we are indeed facing a pandemic, we need to demonstrate global solidarity. In our interconnected world, no nation can deal with threats of such dimension on its own.

    This was the appropriately cautious admonition UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued yesterday after the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised its alert level for a global flu pandemic to 4, which signals:

    …significant increase in the risk of a pandemic.

    Unfortunately, the reaction of governments around the world, to say nothing of the way the media are hyping this outbreak, is making a mockery of any effort to express warranted concern without causing alarm.

    Indeed, government officials and news reporters are doing more to cause a panic than I suspect this virus will do to cause a pandemic.

    For example, even though there hasn’t been a single Swine-flu death reported in the US, the EU has issued an advisory against traveling here; and other countries, including Russia, have issued a ban on importing US pork (on the plainly misguided assumption that because it’s called the swine flu, pigs must be carriers).

    Frankly, even the US is contributing to this growing state of panic by issuing an advisory against traveling to Mexico. Although, to be fair, the US had little choice after the Mexican government effectively quarantined its own country in a quixotic attempt to contain this virus that has killed over 150 people there.

    But is it really news that a few people in Asia or New Zealand have caught the flu…?

    Meanwhile, far too few government officials and reporters are bothering to assure the public that this outbreak is no more deadly than the garden variety flu that kills over 36,000 Americans every year.  And, even though it’s a new strain, the fact that over 99% of the people infected worldwide have recovered indicates that this Swine flu is no more likely to grow into a pandemic than SARS or the Avian flu.

    Of course it was only a matter of time before the reactionary managers of the global economy compounded the growing panic over this swine-flu outbreak by creating panic in the financial markets….

    In any case, it seems the only prudent prescription to follow is the grandmotherly advice of washing your hands regularly and, if a fever develops, staying at home and eating lots of chicken soup.

    But whatever you do, don’t bother wearing one of those silly surgical masks that have people in Mexico looking like a bunch of Michael-Jackson groupies.  Because, despite Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN wearing one to play the role of a daring reporter on TV, epidemiologists insist they do nothing to protect you from this virus.

    NOTE: As soon as another natural disaster (like a major flood or forest fire), or another celebrity scandal (in Hollywood, Washington or New York), or another human tragedy (like a school shooting or death of a famous person) comes along, Swine flu will cease being a looming pandemic.

    But God help us if we’re ever hit by a real, epidemiological pandemic instead of these reactionary, rhetorical outbreaks. 

    Related commentaries:
    Looming pandemic of Avian bird flu
    Killing chickens to combat bird flu
    All you need to know about Swine flu

  • Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:44 AM

    ANC win landslide reelection in South Africa. Hail Zuma … Big Dada!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Congratulations to all South Africans on what was by all accounts “a well-run and highly successful election.”  Especially since this stands in stark contrast to national elections on the continent – in places like Kenya, Congo and Zimbabwe – where post-election violence nullified results and forced untenable and unsustainable power-sharing governments on the electorate.

    Of course, there was never any doubt that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) would win, ushering in its beleaguered leader, Jacob Zuma, as the next president of South Africa.

    Never mind that the party fell short of the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to ensure Zuma’s de facto dictatorial rule: the ANC won 65.9; the Democratic Alliance – 16.66;  the Congress of the People (COPE) – 7.42 ; the Inkatha Freedom Party – 4.55; others – negligible.

    Still, this outcome was foretold … and forewarned:

    What, pray tell, is going on in South Africa! How have political disputes within its ruling African National Congress (ANC) become such an internecine saga that President Thabo Mbeki felt compelled last week to publish an open letter assuring South Africans that his sacking of Deputy President Jacob Zuma was not part of a “deliberate hostile political persecution”?

    [Support for principled Mbeki wanes as it surges for compromised Zuma, TIJ, August 30, 2005]

    Until last summer, Jacob Zuma (right) was the unchallenged heir apparent to South African President Thabo Mbeki (left). After all, as deputy president, Zuma’s rock-star appeal amongst the (predominantly poor and uneducated) South African electorate made Mbeki seem like an interloper and even rivaled the appeal Bill Clinton enjoyed as U.S. president…

    The comparisons with Clinton did not end there. Because, just as Clinton’s financial dealings (Whitewater) and sexual indiscretions (never mind Monica, Juanita Broderick accused him of rape) beset his presidency, so too did Zuma’s financial dealings and sexual indiscretions compromise his political viability. Likewise, however, just as Clinton survived an impeachment trial and has thrived ever since, Zuma seems destined to emulate him by surviving prosecution not only for rape but also for his shady financial affairs (relating to a multi-billion dollar arms deal)…

    Despite prosecutors vowing to reinstate the charges, chances are very good that – no matter what legal impediments he faces between now and presidential elections in 2009 – Zuma will be elected the next president of South Africa.

    [The crucifixion and resurrection of Jacob Zuma, TIJ, September 25, 2006]

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

    Thus prayed Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his country….

    [Mbeki vs. Zuma for ANC leadership, TIJ, December 17, 2007]

    “[T]he party’s top-level National Executive Committee [NEC] has decided to recall the president of the republic before his term of office expires.”

    One wonders what could have prompted the ANC to emasculate Mbeki in this ignominious fashion… if Mbeki heeds the ANC’s recall, parliament will likely appoint a Zuma ally as caretaker president for the remainder of his term, after which everyone expects Zuma to become the next duly elected president. Then, I fear, he will do for South Africa what Mugabe has done for Zimbabwe….

    [South African President Mbeki forced to resign … Hail Zuma, TIJ, September 22, 2008]

    Rabble-rousing trade unionists and unreformed communists have turned the ANC from a governing coalition into a band of rebels. Therefore, Zuma enlisting them to intimidate a political cartoonist (Zapiro) should serve as a dire warning of what South Africa will become under his leadership.

    [Zuma issues fatwa against cartoonist Zapiro, TIJ December 22, 2008]

    I discerned early on that, given credible allegations that he’s not only a corrupt politician but also a rapist, Zuma knew full well that he would always be persona non grata in the West.  Therefore, I was not at all surprised when he began emulating fellow African pariahs like President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President al-Bashir of Sudan by forging political and economic ties with China and Russia.

    [South Africa bans Dalai Lama to appease China, TIJ, March 24, 2009]

    I am proud of the fact that I participated in the US-led international protests during the 1980s that precipitated the end of white rule (Apartheid) in South Africa… I remember thinking back then that a South Africa ruled by liberated blacks could be the beacon of hope and the land of opportunity for Africans that America is for people all over the world.

    [Xenophobic blacks prove almost as deadly (for other blacks) as Apartheid whites, TIJ, May 23, 2008]

    Hope springs eternal.  Good luck South Africa….

    Related commentaries:
    Support for principled Mbeki wanes as it surges for compromised Zuma
    The crucifixion and resurrection of Jacob Zuma
    Mbeki vs. Zuma for ANC leadership
    South African President Mbeki forced to resign … Hail Zuma
    Zuma issues fatwa against cartoonist Zapiro
    South Africa bans Dalai Lama to appease China
    Xenophobic blacks prove almost as deadly as Apartheid whites

  • Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    Obama acting like Bush by boycotting UN summit on racism

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    chastized the president of Columbia University for inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on campus to speak only to hurl political insults at him. 

    I did so because, even though I agreed with everything the president said, I thought his ambush of Ahmadinejad was impolitic and impolite.  Having invited him, the president should have been a gracious host and left it to the audience to express their disgust with the things Ahmadinejad said by hurling intermittent, though not disruptive, boos at him, or by walking out.

    By the same token, I commend UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for inviting Ahmadinejad to speak at this week’s UN summit on racism in Geneva, Switzerland. I do so because, unlike the president of Columbia, Ban Ki-Moon showed him the respect he deserves not only as an invited guest but also as a duly elected head of state.

    No doubt, just like the president of Columbia, Ban Ki-Moon deplores Ahmadinejad’s now-trademark rantings against Israel.  But where better to air and challenge his anti-Semitism than at a UN summit on racism. Moreover, isn’t it always better to engage leaders like him than to shun them…?

    This is why I find President Obama’s decision to boycott this summit so puzzling.  It’s not as if he had to attend in person.  But it smacks of Bush’s “my-way-or-the-highway” style of diplomacy that he did not allow any representative from the US to participate. 

    In fact it betrays the organizing principle of his foreign-policy strategy – of engaging America’s enemies – that he ordered this boycott because he feared the summit would be “dominated by unfair criticism against Israel.” 

    After all, nothing said at this summit or even memorialized in its communique would be binding on any member state.  And just as the representatives from many European countries did, those from the US could have walked out in protest when Ahmadinejad launched into his diatribe about Israel being a “cruel and racist regime.” 

    Sticks and stones can break my bones by words can never hurt me….

    Frankly, if Arab states want to vent aggression against Israel by hurling insults at UN summits, I say let them.    It certainly beats the alternative….

    Related commentaries:
    Ahmadinejad unbowed…at Columbia University

  • Friday, April 24, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    Commission extension gives TCI government a reprieve…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Like most TCIslanders, I am profoundly disappointed by the latest extension in the deadline (from 30 April to 31 May 2009) for the submission of Sir Robin’s final report on the Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the TCI.

    I believe I can assert without fear of contradiction, however, that our disappointment stems entirely from the concomitant delay in the relief we expect to feel when this report is finally submitted.  After all, that will trigger the end of this latest PNP governing spree that has been the source and cause of so much of our national woes.

    Of course, I’m reminded of the widespread frustrations that greeted similar extensions in the schedule for the Commission’s hearings. Yet I’m sure I can assert without fear of contradiction that those frustrations were immediately allayed once those hearings were convened. 

    Nevertheless, I appreciate how unbearable it must be to have to watch this PNP government in its last throes; especially as manifestations of its incompetent and allegedly corrupt rule continue to blight our island paradise.

    But I’m convinced that there’s enlightened purpose to Sir Robin’s process.

    Therefore, I commend Governor Wetherell for addressing all concerns in this respect in the comprehensive interview he gave here yesterday.  And I fully support his decision to grant Sir Robin all the time he needs to complete the Commission’s final report.

    Related commentaries:
    Creating mischief to undermine British authority

  • Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    CIA Memogate: protecting the American people or betraying American values?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Obama made an extraordinary appearance at CIA headquarters on Monday to explain why he ordered the release of secret CIA memos, which  outline the Bush administration’s legal justification for “torturing” terror suspects:

    I acted primarily because of the exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was public.

    He added that the exceptional circumstances included the fact that an ongoing court case would have eventually required him to release the memos and that much of the CIA interrogation methods and techniques they contain (e.g. on the much debated waterboarding) had already been compromised (e.g. now accessible by a simple Google search).

    But frankly, these reasons hardly seem compelling enough for Obama to have ordered their release.  After all, his own CIA Director, Leon Panetta (L), joined former CIA chiefs in warning that:

    [notwithstanding the exceptional circumstances] revealing the limits of interrogation techniques will hamper the effectiveness of CIA interrogators.

    Not to mention that Obama could have challenged any court order in this respect by asserting executive privilege, which, even if not successful, would have at least shown (allies and terrorists alike) that he has due regard for the covert nature of intelligence gathering. 

    Instead, it seems that, just as political pressure forced former President Bill Clinton to defy his military advisers to allow gays to serve in the military (under his “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy), similar pressure has now forced Obama to defy his intelligence advisers to release these memos.   

    Because conspicuously absent from his explanation was any reference to a growing number of influential supporters (led by MoveOn.org) who were demanding not only their release (citing government transparency) but also the prosecution of Bush administration officials who ordered these memos (citing respect for the rule of law). And it seems clear that none of those making these demands will ever believe national security has been compromised … unless (or until) we are hit by another terrorist attack.

    That said, I agree with critics who assert that Obama’s presidency is now doomed if terrorists pull off another 9/11-style attack. Especially since this would stand in damning contrast to one of the only redeeming features of Bush’s purportedly failed presidency, namely, that he protected the American people from such an attack. 

    However, this does not excuse the perverse pining by people like former VP Dick Cheney for another al-Qaeda attack to vindicate all of the Bush administration’s war on terror policies and (mis)deeds.

    Moreover, I think Obama should have heeded the advice of his CIA chief.  Not least because it is inherently oxymoronic to demand transparency from the CIA in these circumstances as if it is no different from demanding transparency from the Treasury Department about the methods being used to bailout big corporations.

    Besides, nothing demonstrates how much he’s caving under political pressure quite like his dithering over whether or not to prosecute Bush Administration officials, including Condoleezza Rice, VP Cheney and even the former president himself, for giving the CIA a green light on interrogations that, he insists, betrayed American values.  In fact, it was a profile in cowardice for Obama to delegate this decision to his attorney general.

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

    [Conviction of Stevens a bad omen for Republicans, The iPINIONS Journal, October 28, 2008]

    In any case, despite all of the gnashing of teeth over criminal investigations, congressional hearings and independent truth commissions, I am certain that no Bush administration official will ever be prosecuted.  After all, betraying American values (as partisan Democrats define them) does not constitute breaking American laws. Not to mention the hornet’s nest this will disrupt, which would end up stinging as many Democrats as Republicans.

    Meanwhile, until Obama leads the country through seven years without another terrorist attack, I am going to accept President Bush’s word that the “enhanced” interrogation methods and techniques he approved were absolutely indispensable in foiling numerous attacks and saving thousands of American lives.  The proof is in the pudding….

    And frankly, I don’t give a damn if, by  some subjective application of international law, those methods and techniques amount to torture. It certainly beats the alternative!

    Related commentaries:
    What’s wrong with waterboarding
    Obama taps Panetta to head CIA … that’s inspired!

  • Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    Happy 39th Earth Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This observance was conceived in the late 1960s by Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, as an enlightened response to carefree pollution all over America. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

    The environmental practices this day inaugurated have become so routine and universal that the symbolic replenishing of Earth’s natural resources — by planting trees — now seems trite, if not contrived. Granted, to hear all of the alarmist talk about climate change, you’d think it was Al Gore who transformed public consciousness in this regard only years ago with sermons from his environmental bible  Earth in the Balance.

    But this celebration of, and deference to, Earth’s natural wonders should be distinguished from Gore’s convenient truths about climate change; so-called truths which include using fake images of melting glaciers in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” just to scare people.

    After all, the original Earth Day ushered in conservation and greening trends that have led to cleaner air, more potable (lead-free) water and a much less polluted environment. Whereas, by Gore’s own admission, there has been “no improvement in the fight against climate change” since he began prophesying his Cassandra warnings about global warming.

    Of course, if there’s any truth to Gore’s doomsday scenario (especially with China and India joining the United States as superpower polluters), I suppose there would be no point in wishing us earthlings another 39 years….

    Related Articles:
    Global warming…a flaming hoax

  • Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 12:17 PM

    Miss USA 2009: more about politics than beauty?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have always found it ironic, if not hypocritical, that feminists champion prostitutes but condemn beauty queens.  Because I think a liberated woman should feel free to be either one.

    Frankly, that feminists identify more with prostitutes suggests that they may have more psycho-social and sexual issues (of repression) to deal with than women who participate in beauty pageants.

    At any rate, I see a connection between this feminist attitude and the prevailing reaction to the political spectacle that unfolded during the Miss USA 2009 contest on Sunday night. 

    Specifically, all indications were that Miss California, Carrie Prejean (21), had it won until the last moment when openly gay judge Perez Hilton asked this question:

    Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?

    Prejean answered as follows:

    Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you.

    Now, here’s what is most interesting about her answer:

    Prejean seemed ignorant of the flaming fact that people in her own state of California do not have the right to choose same-sex marriages.  And if I were judging, this mistake, not her opposition to same-sex marriages, would have caused her to lose my vote. Of course she probably could have done without injecting her narrow-minded, Christian family values into her answer.  

    But there’s no denying that her view on this controversial issue is shared not only by the majority of people in this country but also by the purportedly liberal president of the United States, Barack Obama.

    Therefore, the vitriolic and visceral backlash against her can only be explained by the same irony that explains the attitude of feminists towards beauty pageants:  politically correct double standards.

    As a principled supporter of same-sex marriages, I regret that the spokesperson for this cause is now the aforementioned Perez Hilton– who seems to think it’s politically correct to refer to Prejean as a “dumb bitch” just because he did not like the answer she gave to his provocative question. But I regret even more that none of the feminists and liberals commenting on this spectacle has bothered to condemn him for dismissing her with such misogynistic and chauvinistic contempt.

    Meanwhile, even though Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton (22), appears to have won by default, it should be noted that she too was confronted with a politically sensitive question about using taxpayer money to bailout corporations deemed too big to fail. 

    No doubt she benefited, however, from the stentorian voices of bipartisan outrage against these bailouts, which could be heard all over the country last week at latter-day Boston tea parties.  Because it was a no brainer to echo their voices – as she did – to give a  politically correct, even if economically flawed, answer

    All the same, I think it bodes well for beauty pageants that it now takes beauty and a little brain to be crowned the winner; especially since Prejean and Dalton actually look like cosmetically enhanced clones of each other….

  • Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 8:26 AM

    Despite his attention-grabbing tantrums, which included launching missiles and expelling inspectors, Kim will return to six-party talks … on his terms

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    North Korea’s missile diplomacy

  • Monday, April 20, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    Remembering Columbine…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Massacres at Virginia Tech and other institutions in recent years make deadly violence  at school seem almost routine today.  Therefore, it’s hard to imagine the impact the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, which killed 13 and injured many others, had on the nation 10 years ago today.

    But instead of trying to conjure up grief to mark the occasion, I think a more appropriate commemoration would be to watch MIchael Moore’s indictment of America’s pornographic obsession with guns in his movie Bowling for Columbine.

    Related commentaries:
    Massacre at Virginia Tech

  • Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 10:47 AM

    Fifth Summit of the Americas: UPDATE

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Told you so!

    In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find another regional leader who has gone out of his way to orchestrate such self-serving photo ops with President Obama….

    Related commentaries:
    Fifth Summit of the Americas: managing expectations

  • Friday, April 17, 2009 at 12:15 PM

    Fifth Summit of the Americas: managing expectations

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Just days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, I previewed what this portended for the Caribbean as follows:

    I feel constrained to note that, racial pride aside, those in the Caribbean who are heralding Obama’s election as the dawn of a new day in our relations with the United States are in for a rude awakening.  After all, given the two wars, an unprecedented economic meltdown and other priorities he has to contend with, chances are that the Caribbean will not even figure in President Obama’s consciousness during his first term; except perhaps when he’s fantasizing about a vacation from the daily grind of his presidency.

    But even if he manages to turn his attention to us, it would probably only be to cripple our banking industry by closing “loopholes” in the US tax code that allow American corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid taxation. They do this of course by using the offshore accounts that define our tax-haven status and generate critical revenues for our regional economy.

    On the other hand, we can retain hope that Obama will honor his promise to “normalize” relations with Cuba.

    [Obama elected US president and world celebrates “change” Caribbean Net News, November 7, 2008]

    Alas, the communiqué from the recent G-20 summit in London has already codified the determination not only of Obama but of all the world’s most powerful leaders to abolish our tax haven status as previewed.

    In fact it is noteworthy that, even though G-20 leaders met primarily to deal with the ongoing global financial crisis, dealing a blow to offshore banking in the Caribbean (and other tax havens) was their only notable accomplishment.

    More to the point, as much as President Obama seems prepared to listen to all grievances at this weekend’s Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, only a fool would entertain hope that he will offer any change to soften this G-20 blow.

    Meanwhile, it is telling that, on Monday, Obama preempted any possibility of this summit amounting to anything more than a meet-and-greet gabfest when the White House announced the most significant shift in US policy toward Cuba in decades.

    Granted, the changes – in particular, allowing unlimited travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban Americans – fall far short of heeding the call of CARICOM leaders to lift the embargo.  But again, only a fool would entertain hope that Obama will offer any further change in this respect at this summit.

    Therefore, I urge CARICOM leaders to refrain from badgering him about lifting the 50-year embargo against Cuba. Instead, they would make a far more constructive contribution to this summit by announcing a date certain by which they will complete our 50-year effort to integrate our economies.  Especially since this would give us a far more respected and influential voice in future discussions on hemispheric issues – from free trade to drug trafficking.

    Incidentally, I have argued in related commentaries that it is foolhardy for CARICOM to make this embargo a more pressing issue in our relations with the US than many of the other issues that affect us more directly, including the unrelenting menace of Haitian refugees.  And I’ve advised that it would be far more effective for our collective voice to be heard in Washington while policies are being formulated than at these summits when those policies have already been implemented.

    At any rate, I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba.  But where I have advocated for this cause as a categorical imperative, I am not sure that CARICOM leaders fully appreciate what lifting the embargo augurs for our zero-sum regional economy.  Be careful what you wish for…?

    So, what’s the point of this Obama-centric summit?

    Well, there is something to be said for welcoming the first black president of the United States to our shores with open arms. But frankly, we shouldn’t expect much more than style and symbolism from Obama’s presidency.

    Ironically, I suspect that history will judge George W. Bush a far more helpful president to CARICOM countries – in terms of foreign aid and economic policies – than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama….

    NOTE:  It will be interesting to see how the wily Lula of Brazil and that bully Chávez of Venezuela manipulate discussions and images at this summit to appear more influential than the newbie Obama.  To this end, watch for Lula to deploy his de Gaulle-like cunning; and for Chávez to display his Khrushchev-like bombast – perhaps even with a man-handling, Russian bear hug of Obama for the cameras.

    ENDNOTE:  The US is the only country that has steadfastly enforced this trade embargo.  Therefore, it speaks volumes about its economic power that trade with the rest of the world has been insufficient to lift Cuba out of its 1950s stagnation.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama elected US president and world celebrates “change”
    G-20 fails to stimulate or regulate global economy
    …Fourth Summit of the America (2005)
    CARICOM’s ironic, if not misguided, call to lift Cuban embargo
    Mexico-US relationship is all about supply and demand … of cheap labor and drugs

  • Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    Phil Spector, pioneering music impresario, Convicted of Murder

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Surreal celebrity Phil Spector was dealt a pretty devastating dose of reality this week.  But it’s a tossup whether he found it more devastating that he was convicted of murder or that nobody seemed to care.

    After all, his (first) murder trial began in 2003 with fanfare that rivaled that of O.J. Simpson.  But it did not take long before the media began showing more interest in Spector’s wig fetish than in his fate. And nothing demonstrated how much his star had fallen quite like the media dedicating more time to rehashing the three-day-old story about the rescue of Captain Phillips than to covering the reading of his fateful verdict on Tuesday.

    Spector of course is credited with defining the music of the 1960s with his Wall of Sound technique, which produced hit songs for everyone from The Beatles to Ike and Tina Turner.  But if you have no clue who Spector is, or why his reversal of fortune is even worthy of comment, just imagine Timbaland hibernating for 30 years only to reappear as a suspect in the brutal murder of a cocktail waitress.  (And if you have no clue who Timbaland is, congratulations, you’ve become your parents….)

    At any rate, one night in 2003, Spector did what Hollywood moguls routinely do: he went out to a bar in Los Angeles and picked up a beautiful, struggling actress, Lana Clarkson, who, like so many others, was waiting tables while waiting for her big break. 

    No doubt when she finally realized who Spector was, Clarkson – who also fancied herself a singer – felt she’d hit the casual-dating /  networking jackpot.  In fact, so eager was she to seize this opportunity that she reportedly ignored initial qualms (and what woman wouldn’t have them in his case) when he invited her back to his Alhambra mansion.

    Unfortunately, she was blissfully unaware of Spector’s proclivity for playing Russian roulette with groupies once he gets them inside his gilded cage. Although, to be fair, a few who survived the encounter testified that threatening to kill them was just his form of sado-masochistic foreplay

    At any rate, it seems a cruel irony that the booze Clarkson served him that night exacerbated his patented recklessness, which resulted in her death. 

    Spector claimed that a depressed Clarkson (40) committed suicide by putting his gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger.  And, as ridiculous a defense as this was, it actually won him a reprieve when his first trial ended in deadlock in September 2007.   

    All the same, given the O.J. precedent, Clarkson’s family was probably grateful that Spector was not acquitted outright; because this enabled prosecutors to retry him again this year.

    Not surprisingly, the judge revoked his bail after the jury rendered its verdict and Spector (69) was promptly hauled off to jail.  He faces 15 years to life when he’s sentenced on May 29, which makes it highly unlikely that he will ever see the inside of his mansion (or another day of freedom) again….

  • Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 2:20 PM

    Obama Declares War on Piracy. Yeah, Right!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In previous commentaries, I have criticized President Obama for adopting many of the war-on-terror tactics, like renditioning and wiretapping, that he condemned President Bush for deploying. However, my criticism stemmed not from his (sensible and pragmatic) adoption of these tactics, but from his cynical attempts to pretend otherwise.

    Now he’s further undermining his credibility by making this patently disingenuous declaration of war on piracy. After all, not only is it every bit as foolhardy as Bush’s war on terror; but Obama knows full well that America is neither willing nor able to combat piracy on the High Seas. Not to mention that the international community is even less willing or able to do so.

    But, for a little perspective, never mind Bush:  just consider that Obama’s declaration of war on piracy is about as serious, and will have about as much success, as Reagan’s declaration of war on drugs, which has never seemed more hopeless than it does today.

    Mind you, I can appreciate Obama praising the Navy Seals who took out those three pirates on Sunday.  But hitting sitting ducks in a lifeboat tethered to a US war ship – even in the most challenging conditions – does not a war strategy make: a point the Somali pirates demonstrated in spades by hijacking four more ships within hours after this incident.

    Meanwhile, does it matter to anyone that these pirates were probably just teenagers sent out to do the dirty work of Somali warlords; i.e., the way drug dealers often send out inner-city kids to sell drugs?  And, how credible is it that, after five days of holding the American captain of the Maersk hostage (and repeatedly threatening to kill him), they suddenly showed deadly intent? Or it is more likely that these snipers were stalking their prey and took the first clear shot they had of all three pirates at once…?

    At any rate, as I proffered almost six months ago in a commentary on this menace to the High Seas, the only way to combat piracy is to do in Somalia what Bush attempted to do in Iraq; i.e., build a bona fide democracy.  And even if this is the quixotic notion Obama has in mind, the precedent President Clinton set with his woeful attempt, which was dramatized in the movie Black Hawk Down, will make such an undertaking politically, perhaps even militarily, prohibitive.

    In the meantime, it behooves us to appreciate what it portends that the only means of gainful employment for millions of Somali men is piracy….

    Therefore, I submit that – until he can build a coalition of the willing to rebuild Somalia -Obama would do well to stop making threats he cannot possibly back up.  Instead, he should order ships flying the US flag to fortify and arm themselves to fend off these pirates in their dinghies, and let other countries deal with them in whatever way they deem appropriate.

    After all, most ship owners were perfectly happy to pay ransom demands as a rite of passage off the coast of Somalia.  And, in fairness to the pirates, none of their hostages were ever harmed until the French used force in a bungled attempt to retake a seized yacht a few weeks ago. 

    Not to mention that there seems little qualitative differences between paying millions in tolls to pirates on the High Seas and giving billions in aid to leaders of African kleptocracies, which has been the way rich countries have dealt with far too many countries in Africa for the past 50 years.

    Related commentaries:
    Somali Pirates terrorizing High seas

  • Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 8:23 AM

    Finally, the first pooch arrives at the White House

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As reported by the Washington Post, the little fella is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the first family as a gift by “that Portuguese water dog-lovin’ senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

    The Obamas have named him Bo; reportedly because first lady Michelle Obama’s father was nicknamed Diddley and it is a tribute to him and singer “Bo” Diddley.

  • Friday, April 10, 2009 at 7:08 AM

    Mr President, did you bend or did you bow?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Whispers of disillusionment with Barack Obama among left-wing pundits are growing louder each day. Their disillusionment stems primarily from the fact that he is proving to be far more pragmatic than ideological as president.

    For example, these pundits – who take credit for getting him elected – lament that Obama has failed to appoint a fresh and diverse a Cabinet as promised (too many Clinton administration has beens and too many white businessmen); has failed to make his government initiatives transparent as promised (not a single bill has been published in advance for public scrutiny); and has failed to discontinue many of the war-on-terror tactics Bush championed as promised (the US is still renditioning and torturing suspects despite his protestations to the contrary) – just to name a few.

    But I find their whining in this respect naive and partisan. In fact, on matters of substance, I give Obama’s presidency to date a strong B+.

    Nobody remains a more ardent supporter of Obama than I.  Yet I’ve uttered a few whispers of disillusionment of my own. But they have been entirely about matters of style. For example, I lamented his invitation to Scarlet O’Hara wannabes to march in his Inaugural parade; his tendency to lull about official gatherings, shaking hands as if he’s still on the campaign trail; and his gratuitous dissing of British PM Gordon Brown during his recent visit to the White House.

    And it is in this context that I feel constrained to comment on the kerfuffle now brewing about the way Obama greeted Saudi King Abdullah at last week’s the G-20 summit in London.

    His critics charge that Obama displayed a “shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate” by bowing to Abdullah. But his press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, insisted yesterday that:

    It wasn’t a bow … [the president] bent over and grasped his hands with both hands [as a gesture of respect], and he’s taller than King Abdullah.

    As disappointed as I am with his critics for making their patently absurd charge, I am even more disillusioned with Obama’s handlers for putting this Clintonian spin on such an egregious gaffe: He clearly bowed!

    Besides, if this was nothing more than a gesture of respect, how do they explain Obama’s failure to do the same when he greeted the (even shorter) Queen? And do they not see how this inconsistency is such that it will only feed idle speculation about Obama’s affinity for, if not devotion to, Islam – as opposed to his professed Christian faith?

    Meanwhile, I’m convinced that it would have endeared Obama at home and abroad even more if his handlers had simply chalked up giving Her Majesty only a slight tilt of the head while giving the king a full bend at the waist to an innocent commoner’s mistake.

    And nothing reinforces his enviable common touch quite like the way he shook hands with the guard outside No.10 Downing Street – much to the discreet delight of the guard and obvious consternation of PM Gordon Brown.

    Incidentally, it was a mistake because, no matter the royal protocol of the monarch, the founding principles of the United States make it anathema for any president to bow down before him or her.  This is why, for example, no US president has done anything more than give a respectful tilt of the head to the Japanese Emperor, for whom it would have been obviously “politically correct” to bow even lower than Obama did before the Saudi king.

    Therefore, it is troubling that, instead of figuring this out, the geniuses in the White House decided to deal with the gaffe by making Obama seem as congenitally averse to admitting a mistake as George W. Bush. Never mind what it portends for his presidency that his advisers are so inclined not only to buy into this lie but also to disseminate it unabashedly.

    Ultimately though, one has to wonder why Obama is allowing them to undermine the credibility of his presidency in this way…? After all, he has to know that it’ only a matter of time before a member of the press corps poses the question: Mr President, did you bow or did you bend?

    Of course the Catch-22 now is: if he concedes the obvious, he makes his handlers look like dissembling hacks; if he perpetuates this lie, he makes Bill Clinton look like a Boy Scout.

    What a silly, amateurish mess….

    NOTE: If you’d like to see a comparison video of these now infamous bows, click here.

  • Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 5:05 AM

    Forget bin Laden, real-life Jack Sparrows are terrorizing the high seas

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Author’s Note: I published the following commentary originally on November 20, 2008.  I trust it will be self-evident why I’ve decided to republish it in light of the drama unfolding today between the crew of the US-flagged Maersk and Somali pirates.

    For the record, despite American reporters covering it as if the Marines were invading Somalia to avenge Black Hawk Down, this hijacking is no more dynamic an event than a Sunday afternoon game of miniature golf. Admittedly the stakes are higher.  But after a long and uneventful standoff, it will end as routinely as hundreds of other Somali hijackings on the high seas have ended in recent months: with the payment of a hefty ransom for the release of the US hostage(s). There will be denials all around about this payment of course.

    Ironically, just days ago President Obama telegraphed America’s inability to deter these hijackings when, in answer to a question about how he intends to change its foreign policy, he conceded that America is like a big tanker that cannot change course on a dime. Because the reason many of these tankers are so vulnerable is that they do not have the speed or maneuverabilty to escape.  And that they are invariably “required” to travel in this region unarmed makes them sitting ducks.

    Therefore, one wonders what the US hopes to accomplish by deploying a huge war ship to take on the Somalis in their dinghies.  Talk about taking a sledge hammer to a fly…. And no one is more cognizant of the fecklessness of US Naval forces in this respect than the owners of the Maersk – who have reportedly asked them to back off so that they can pay the ransom and get on with their business.

    Meanwhile, the US Navy must be incensed that this rag-tag band of pirates is not only causing it to mobilize for such utter futility but also inciting so much hysteria back home.]


    Given the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, people all over the world can be forgiven for thinking that the pirates of Africa are emulating Disney’s fictional character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

    In reality, CNN and other American news organizations are enjoying a ratings bonanza this week reporting on the daring exploits of pirates who are terrorizing the shipping lanes off the east coast of Africa.

    But conspicuously absent from their reporting is the fact that the United States is primarily responsible for spawning this modern-day piracy. After all, virtually all of these real-life Jack Sparrows hail from Somalia – the country on the horn of Africa that the US military left as a failed state after its infamous Black Hawk Down fiasco.

    Recall that over 28,000 US soldiers intervened in Somalia in December 1992. They did so ostensibly to drive out the fractious warlords who were keeping this chronically poor and drought-stricken country mired in civil strife and thwarting a UN humanitarian mission there.

    Soon, however, even starving Somalis – who were caught in the crosshairs of warlord warfare – turned on the Americans. Specifically, US soldiers were so brutal and indiscriminate in their attempts to impose law and order that Somalis eventually regarded them not as liberators but as neo-colonialists.

    (Not surprisingly, a similar war strategy incited ordinary citizens to join a militant insurgency against US forces in Iraq a decade later….)

    But it had to have been an innately belligerent nationalism that compelled ordinary Somalis to engage American Special Forces in a fateful battle in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. And even though hundreds of them were killed, it was only after the Somalis shot down an American Black Hawk helicopter and dragged the captured soldiers through the streets that the US withdrew in utter humiliation reminiscent of Vietnam.

    This of course explains why the Somali pirates have been able to roam the high seas all these years with relative impunity. Indeed, nothing demonstrates the sense of invincibility they developed from this notorious battle quite like their jingoistic reaction to the movie, Black Hawk Down, which depicted their David vs. Goliath feat:

    As you can see, Somalis are brave fighters… If the Americans come back to fight us, we shall defeat them again. Let them try again. They’ll be making more films about us when we defeat them like we did that day.

    In fact, Somali pirates have been hijacking everything from luxury liners to cargo ships off the eastern coast of Africa for over a decade. Moreover, they’ve been demanding, and getting, a king’s ransom in almost every case.

    But it wasn’t until they hijacked a Saudi supertanker this week, which was hauling over $100 million worth of crude oil bound for the US, that their piracy became headline news in this country. Yet nothing demonstrates the sense of vulnerability the Americans developed after the battle of Mogadishu quite like the way they have reacted to this hijacking.

    Because instead of vowing to take on the pirates, Pentagon officials have advised vessels passing through these treacherous waters to hire mercenaries (like those of the trigger-happy Blackwater group who provide security for most officials in Iraq) to defend them. No doubt the Saudis will simply pay the $25 million ransom and hope for better luck next time.

    Frankly, I fear that this war on piracy will prove even less effective than the war on drugs. Not least because Somalia has become such a rogue state, where a pirate’s booty seems the only measure of success, that piracy provides the only means of gainful employment for millions of young men. And, unfortunately, after the US’s spectacular failure, no country (not even NATO, the UN or the AU) is foolish enough to intervene to try to impose law and order in this God forsaken country.

    On the other hand, it does smack of a Disney farce to see the British and Russians deploying their war ships to confront these seafaring pirates in their dinghies on the high seas.

    At any rate, it behooves President-elect Barack Obama to appreciate that leaving Iraq as a failed state (by withdrawing too soon) will spawn thousands of wannabe Jack Sparrows who will perpetrate acts of piracy in the Persian Gulf that make those the Somalis are perpetrating in the Gulf of Aden seem like a day at the beach.

    NOTE: Reports are that Somali pirates are currently demanding ransom for the release of 17 ships and over 300 hostages.

  • Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 8:17 AM

    UConn routs Louisville to win NCAA (women’s) Championship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    One can be forgiven for thinking that North Carolina winning the NCAA (men’s) championship on Monday is the biggest story in basketball this year. After all, even President Obama took time out of his busy schedule to have ESPN broadcast him filling out his NCAA tournament brackets, which he completed by picking North Carolina to win. Not to mention that most sports fans fill out these brackets each year with as much duty and care as some of us fill out our tax forms.

    Objectively speaking, however, the biggest story in basketball this year is the way Connecticut (UConn) crowned a perfect season by winning the NCAA (women’s) championship last night in a rout over Louisville 76-54. Because UConn not only ended its season 39-0, its players were so dominant, they won each game by double digits with unprecedented ease .

    Now just imagine the hoopla if North Carolina had won its championship in such convincing fashion….

    But I am disappointed that, after filling out the men’s brackets, the sports-fanatic and politically savvy Obama did not take a couple minutes to have ESPN broadcast him filling out the brackets for the women’s tournament as well. Of course this assumes that women’s college basketball would have even figured in his consciousness or in that of the ESPN producers on this occasion.

    Indeed, I’m willing to bet that if you were to find ten sports fans who dutifully filled out the men’s brackets, at least nine of them would concede that they did not do the same for the women’s.

    Not to mention that instead of commanding network coverage in prime time, like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated last night to cable, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. TV executives wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league – the WNBA. Well, it might have something to do with the way they keep dissing women’s college Basketball in this fashion.

    More important, though, what does this disparate coverage say to female college athletes, or to young girls, who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys…? It says that male chauvinism, sexism and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated….

    Sorry girls….

    Nevertheless, here’s to the UConn Huskies on winning their 6th NCAA title!

  • Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 7:45 AM

    North Carolina routs Michigan to win NCAA Championship!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Team sports have a way of instilling pride (and hope) in people like no other human endeavor.  This is why the Chinese invested so much in hosting the Olympics last year.  And it is why I wanted Michigan State to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship last night. 

    After all, with its “Hip Hop Mayor” (Kwame Kilpatrick) sentenced to jail for misappropriating public funds, its Big-Three auto makers teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and its unemployment rate the highest in the nation, the beleaguered and blighted state of Michigan really could have used this win. 

    Alas, it was not meant to be.  In fact it was never even close – with North Carolina jumping off to a quick lead and going on to rout Michigan 89 to 72 to win the championship. 

    And even though it is clearly laudable that Michigan made it to this championship game, I suspect this will provide little consolation to their disappointed fans.  Not to mention the insult to injured pride Michigan’s players must be suffering – given that this rout played out on their home court.

    Sorry guys….

    But congratulations to the North Carolina Tar Heels on winning their 5th NCAA title!

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