Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The White man who lost The Presidency... to a nigger!

Now I figured it out! McCain knows he’s on the line because he could go down in American history books as the white guy that lost the white house to America’s first black president! His name could actually become synonymous for the condition of a white man losing to a black man just like Benedict Arnold’s name became synonymous with being a traitor. Imagine, “Dude, you just got McCained on that basketball court!“ If I was John McCain the war hero, I’m pretty sure that would make my intestines clinch up so tight that new and improved concentrated, industrial strength Metamucil wouldn’t clear up my bowels...

The fall of a Super Power - Part 2

A fortnight ago, the world awoke to a financial crisis that started in the United States and has been unseen in more than 70 years. The question is: What is the cause of this crisis? The United States is, after all, the world’s largest economy as well as one of the wealthiest in terms of per capita income, well above $43,000.

How, then, is it that a nation that already enjoys prosperity unrivalled in human history can live in constant and ever increasing debt? The answers are not hard to find. “The real disease is the American addiction to borrowing,” reported the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper on Sunday, September 21, “For the past decade, the nation has been floating in a deepening sea of borrowed money. The U.S. financial sector had $16 trillion worth of debt on its books at the end of June; households had debts of $14 trillion; and non-financial businesses owed $11 trillion… Debt has become the American way…”

This reckless spending is rooted in a deep spiritual emptiness that runs through western society. Much of the western world, since the 1960s, has descended into an abyss in which there are no absolutes, no religion, ethics only as the individual determines them for himself and a materialistic self-centredness that leaves the individual lonely and often neurotic. Unfortunately, a “middle class” is emerging in Africa, especially in Kenya, Black South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, and Ghana, that seeks to rather pathetically imitate the absurd lifestyle of America and Britain, as seen and advertised on TV. A trail of personal debt has inevitably followed in their wake.

A 2005 book, Affluenza: When too much is never enough, by Australian authors Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss, examined this crisis in which affluence has brought with it a form of illness, an influenza (hence “affluenza”). “The Western world is in the grip of a consumerism that is unique in human history. We overwork, we spend huge amounts on things we never use… We’ve got more money to spend, yet we’re further in debt than ever before… We aspire to the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the cost of family, friends and personal fulfillment. Rates of stress, depression and obesity are up as we wrestle with the emptiness and endless disappointments of the consumer life,” observed Hamilton and Denniss.

It is that self-indulgence and insatiable quest for more and more material goods by Americans that explains the national credit card and household debt totalling 14 trillion dollars. The financial news website delivered this revelation on September 22, 2008: “If you think it [the US national debt] is high now, then you haven’t seen anything yet. National debt will be a problem for years, if not generations, to come. One of the reasons the Treasury had to make moves now [to bail out the beleaguered Wall Street firms with $700 billion on September 22] was pressure from foreign banks in China, Korea and Japan who own a significant amount of MBS [mortgage-backed securities]. When foreign governments and banks can start putting pressure on the U.S. because of the growing amount we owe them, we are slowly but surely losing control of our own economic future.”

Indeed. In fact, the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail carried a headline on September 24 that read “The tables have turned on Wall Street as China takes the lead.” America is now at the mercy of the determined and disciplined people of East Asia: China, South Korea and Japan.

London’s Observer newspaper stated on Sunday, September 21 that, “Communist China, the new superpower of the East, is coming to the rescue of capitalist America…China has accumulated billions in foreign reserves while America has effectively bankrupted itself.”

Americans’ rate of personal savings stands at only 3.8 per cent of their income. By contrast, wrote Ted C. Fishman in his 2005 book; China Inc: The relentless rise of the next great superpower, “The Chinese…have the highest rate of savings in the world, stocking away, on average, 40 per cent of their income.” (Page 77).

Soon, the American green card citizenship papers valued by immigrants from all over the world shall become worthless as Uncle Sam steps down from world power and Aunt Xiang replaces him.

Monday, September 29, 2008

McCain's debate attacks "Didn't make much sense": Obama

"John McCain has promoted the same policies of George Bush, and people know they're not working," Obama says in his first post-debate interview.

Less than 15 hours after he made his closing remarks in the first presidential debate, Democrat Barack Obama gave his first post-debate interview when he and running mate Joe Biden sat down with MTV News following a campaign stop in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The discussion ran the gamut from Biden to Kanye West, but Obama seemed most eager to dissect Friday night's often-testy debate with Republican nominee John McCain, specifically McCain's repeated assertions that his experience makes him the stronger candidate and that Obama "just doesn't understand" the complexities of issues like foreign policy and the economy.

"I don't get taken aback by that kind of stuff. The problem was, every time he said it, when he tried to follow it up with an actual statement about policy or his positions about what it was he presumably understood or did 'get,' it didn't make much sense," Obama told MTV News' Sway Calloway. "If you look at Iraq, for example, the question was asked, 'What lessons have you learned?' and his lesson was 'Well, we should just stay.' Well, that's not a policy. ... The question was 'Should we have gone?'

"He says that because he doesn't have a record to defend himself. We've become accustomed in our politics to folks just being able to make stuff up — it's one of the few areas of public life where the standards somehow are lowered in terms of what you say about other people," he continued. "For example, he suggested that I'm talking about raising everybody's taxes, when every analyst has shown I'm actually calling for a tax cut for 95 percent of [American] families."

He also took issue with a just-released McCain campaign commercial, which made pointed reference to the number of times Obama agreed with the Arizona senator's comments during the debate: "I don't assume the American public are passive consumers, watching these things going, 'Oh, John McCain runs an ad, so I guess it must be true.' If that were the case, we'd already be losing." Obama also addressed a recent New York Times story that pointed out "dubious claims" in some of his own campaign ads.

"The truth is, we put out tons of ads, and there have been two or three times where we've slipped beneath my standards, where it was kind of a stretch. And when that happens, I tell my team, 'Pull it down,' " he said. "In this kind of thing — where it's a fierce competition — it's not going to be perfect. [But] I think generally people will take a look at how we've run this campaign, and people will say, 'This is someone who has been positive, who's been factual and who's been trying to promote the core ideal that we need to change our economic policies so that we have prosperity not just at the top, but in the middle of America.' "

And to that point, Obama said he wasn't outwardly concerned with who actually won last night's debate (though, when pressed, he admitted that he has data that says he did), but rather that the issues wouldn't get lost in the post-debate cloud, saying that, oftentimes, the media get too focused on who won instead of what's really important to the American people: "What did each candidate say?"

"I think the pundits and the press, you guys are looking at tactics. What the American people are looking at is they might lose their job ... they might lose their house," he said. "And I could cite all the polls that showed the overwhelming number of people who watched [the debate] thought I won ... but even that's not actually relevant. What's relevant is the substance of this thing, which is people out there are hurting, and John McCain has promoted the same policies of George Bush, and people know they're not working. They understand we can't continue four more years of doing the same thing."

The fall of a Super Power - Part 1

All of last week--more accurately, all of this year--has brought a steady stream of news of a financial catastrophe looming over the world’s most powerful nation, the United States. The crisis spread to Britain, then onto the rest of the world.

Northern Rock of Britain; IndyMac Bancorp; the Federal National Mortgage Association (more commonly known by its nickname Fannie Mae), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (better known as Freddie Mac); the investment banks Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers; Washington Mutual; and the world’s largest insurance firm and one of the world’s 20 largest companies, American Insurance Group (or AIG), have either gone bankrupt or gone to the US government in desperate need of a bailout.
Every single one of the world’s leading stock market indices last week registered steep falls and the volatility continued right to the end of the week.

In all this, one particular stock market index to watch is the Hang Seng of Hong Kong. The economy of the Chinese territory of Hong Kong is built largely around financial institutions and transactions and as such gives us a clearer picture of the degree of turmoil on world financial markets. In trading last Wednesday, the Hang Seng closed down over a staggering seven percent. Meanwhile in Moscow, all trading in shares on the Moscow Stock Exchange was suspended indefinitely on Thursday after the Russian Trading System (RTS) stock index fell by over 11 points for two successive days. Nouriel Rubini, Professor of Economics at New York University, told BBC World Service radio on Thursday, September 18 that “There is no light at the end of the tunnel... Reality is much worse than anyone had ever imagined.”

“More major bank failures are a certainty, including some very large ones,” commented the Wall Street Journal, one of the world’s two leading financial newspapers, in its editorial on Tuesday September 16.

In July, the Royal Bank of Canada had warned that from its estimates, more than 300 American banks will collapse within the next handful of years.

On Tuesday, Razia Khan, the regional research director for Africa with Standard Chartered Bank headquarters in London, told Radio France that the financial collapse on Wall Street will hit Africa hard as major North American and European investors find themselves unable to bring money to the African mines, telecom companies, banks and other investments that have been keeping the continent afloat in recent years. It will be interesting to see how much inflows of foreign currency are starting to dry up at the Western Union and MoneyGram offices in Nairobi as Kenyan residents in America and Britain start finding it too difficult to keep afloat and still be able to send money to family members back home.

In total, about 2.8 trillion US dollars in market value was wiped off the world’s stock value last week. Welcome to Black September, 2008. It is the most fascinating spectacle in recent decades. It is, in fact, history in the making. At the risk of sounding like a prophet of doom, this is, ladies and gentlemen, the beginning of the end of the USA as a super power - nothing that Senators John McCain and Barack Obama promise or actually do if elected will stop the reverse of America’s fall. This is a terminal decline.

The western world is not what it once was. From the seriousness and sense of purpose America had at the start of the 20th century, the country has rapidly degenerated into a wasteland of broken marriages, dysfunctional children, drug abuse, money as the all-in-all of life, spiritual emptiness, and a playful, indulgent attitude that renders them uncompetitive in the world economy. It is this materialism, combined with social breakdown and inner spiritual emptiness, that has created the conditions for the reckless borrowing, credit card debt, rash decisions by banks and now worldwide financial crisis that has made news all year round.

In the meantime, out toward the Pacific in the Far East of Asia, the West has met its match. A determined, driven, disciplined people in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan are competing with and usurping the previous dominant position of America and the English-speaking West. An America, whose economic fighting battalions include Lehman brothers and AIG--which are collapsing or under siege--cannot hope for much longer to respond to the threat posed by China in particular.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain-Palin continues to fail the transparency test

For days, weeks even, Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been given a free-pass by getting complete and intensely favourable coverage of her coronation into the upper echelons of national politics without much of the scrutiny that would accompany such ascension. John McCain’s public announcement of his running mate was scheduled to minimize the impact of the favourable ratings bounce in the opinion polls immediately following the Democratic National Convention held in Denver that climaxed just the night before.

While the Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been derided by his opponents as grossly inexperienced for the job as chief executive officer of the country, McCain, who himself has never operated as an executive in any government capacity, picked a woman who, at the time of her selection, had less than twenty months of governorship experience of the least populated state in the nation. The only other executive experience Ms. Palin had was her two term stint as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska with a population considerably less than seven thousand.

In order to minimize the fallout from the Hail Mary selection of Ms. Palin, the Republican presidential campaign organizers have been limiting Ms. Palin’s exposure to scrutiny. While reporters are allowed to ask her questions, she’s never placed in a situation where she has to answer. In the past four weeks, I have only seen two reporters who have been blessed with access to Ms. Palin. There was the much ballyhooed interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News who was careful to handle Ms. Palin with the softest of kid gloves, even though he still managed to expose her as having limited-to-no understanding of international issues with a question about the Bush Doctrine and its interpretation (America has the right to preemptively attack other nations perceived as threatening). The other interview was the romper room rebound with Sean Hanity of FOX News with his infuriatingly sympathetic questions and mannerisms in a one on one interview with Ms. Palin that would make tell us where the bad man touched you look like an Abu Ghraib-style interrogation.

Then came Tuesday 23 September, and everything. In New York to develop some understanding of foreign affairs and to gain some credible international exposure, Ms. Palin was to do a photo shoot with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. At the last minute, campaign aides tried to ban reporters from the meetings. The McCain-Palin team only wanted photographers at the meetings. But the news organizations finally said no. If reporters weren’t allowed, then there would be no cameras. Suddenly realizing that their gravy train might jump the track, there was some negotiation and a single producer was allowed thirty seconds to accompany photographers. The McCain-Palin campaign downplayed the altercation, calling it nothing more than a misunderstanding.

I’ll admit that one producer for thirty seconds is rather trivial. But the simple fact that the news organizations didn’t simply roll over like they have been accustomed to is a huge step in the right direction. Manipulation of the press as tools of propaganda has become the norm over the past seven plus years of the Bush administration. And without press coverage, it would be difficult for anyone to get the exposure necessary to win the white house. If any presidential candidate wants only favorable exposure from a network then they can buy it.

The idea that such political candidates seeking the white house can completely dictate terms of news coverage is alarming. The methodology a political campaign uses to win an office is the same methodology they will use to run it. A political campaign that wants to hide its candidates from public scrutiny can hardly be considered transparent and open for examination. We have been sold the idea that Ms. Palin is ready on day one and that she has a world of executive experience and that she will be a game changing reformer in Washington’s political circles. But if the past nearly four weeks are any indication we should be able to see that Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin are nothing but warmed over manipulators looking to take every advantage while offering little in return unless it is on their terms.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Privatized profits and socialized losses

From our American correspondent...

The recent financial names that have ceased to exist reads like a Who’s Who of Wall Street. There is no longer a Bear Stearns, a Countrywide Financial, an American Home Mortgage, a New Century Financial Corporation, a Lehman Brothers, nor a Merrill Lynch & Company. The government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been taken over by the federal government. American International Group, Incorporated, had to borrow eighty five billion dollars from the government to remain solvent. There is talk that the consumer bank Washington Mutual as well as other financial institutions are in trouble. And through the vast majority of all this financial turmoil, the federal government has been willing to put United States tax payer dollars, the latest move is projected to cost something like an additional seven hundred billion dollars in order to keep the economy going, or at least limping, along.

But one thing you don’t hear promoted very much are the complaints from some financial pundits about the negative implications of socialized federal bailouts. So far the Federal Reserve has already put up hundreds of billions of dollars to keep this economy afloat. A lot of people talk about these entities being so large that if they go under it would drag down not just the American economy but the global economy. It seems to me that if we were so concerned about the national or global economy, it would have been smart to put a stop to this economic nightmare that has Freddie Krueger roaming Wall street back when it was small and manageable over on Elm street.

When stories were developing about an increasing number of people not being able to afford their homes, people were told to show some personal responsibility and quit looking for a handout. Obviously handouts are only for companies with lots of zeroes behind the other numbers in their bank accounts. Accusations of predatory lending were dismissed as nothing worth federal-level scrutiny. People should have known better whether or not they could have afforded their homes. It would appear fair to me that if this rather short-sighted financial logic is good for the little goose, then it ought to be just as good for the giant gander. If we propped the little players up and cared about their financial stability, made sure that the average consumer had everything we needed to keep our heads over water, then the big players would have been supported through a strong, publicly funded economic foundation.

Now, by going directly to the Federal Reserve, companies are getting their public funds without the hassle of dealing with the average joe middleman. Who needs to support the little individual family economies when big players can go directly to the public teat? And while these banks get their infusions of billions of tax payer dollars, individuals will get an infusion of about six hundred dollars to help them afford another hundred fifty gallons of gasoline at roughly four bucks a gallon. Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy of this only-save-the-big-guy thinking?

In the movie Titanic, when it became obvious that the massive ship was fatally damaged on her maiden voyage and tragically sinking in the icy, dark waters of the Northern Atlantic, there was a scene where the poor souls traveling in baggage class were actually padlocked down on the lower decks in order to reserve escape on the limited number of life boats to the wealthy first-class passengers. It must be some basic flaw of human thinking that only rich people deserve saving.

The RMS Titanic serves as an apt analogy for America’s economy. Men and women trusted with steering her safely through dangerous waters were too focused on making the most money possible, as quickly as possible, without the slightest thought as to what might or might not be prudent. When there were signs that slowing down was a sensible course of action the thought of smashing records and becoming wildly successful was just too attractive to the ego to not even try for. Like the captain of the Titanic, the idea of having enough equipment for everyone’s safety never even occurred to these captains of industry. And we will do everything we can to save big corporations while we will let individuals get trampled.

Relatively few people are concerned about the dangers of socialized financial bailouts. When these financial institutions were doing extremely well, they never called the government and begged for someone to save them from too much profit. Collectively speaking, we will think nothing about using our socialized wealth to help big players through hard times. But let it be somebody who could use a little help that would come from just a sliver of a fraction of a single percentage of a tiny portion of what it takes to save one of these giants and it’s too bad... so sad. It is pretty obvious that we penalize people for being financially small if not outright poor, while we move mountains to rescue people who wouldn’t give any a second thought to keeping the vast majority of the public financially small if not outright poor so they can become the fat cat that we all care so much about.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is McCain scared of presidential debates?

Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain said he has decided to suspend his campaign for the good of the country. If he really wanted to do the country a favour, he would quit...

Skin colour is not a licence to misbehave

By Opiyo Oloya

Now, I do not think skin colour when interacting with my staff, over 900 students and twice as many parents. I see my three secretaries, two vice-principals, 80 or so staff simply as colleagues not as whites. We treat each other with the utmost respect, care and love.

I never think of them as whites and I am sure they do not see my skin-colour. To them, I am Opiyo Oloya, or simply the school principal. Some refer to me as the boss, but I don’t encourage it. I am never “that black guy” to them. But, every time I visit Africa, I notice certain whites who act in ways that scream: “I am white and I am better than you.” This summer in Kampala, just such behaviour provoked a strong reaction from me.

It was a case of a muzungu behaving badly. The incident happened at the Sheraton, Kampala in July where I was on my way to meet some friends for dinner. The security guard at the main entrance was doing a fine job stopping everyone entering the lobby, asking them to put bags and other items where he could see them, before proceeding through the metal detector.

In post-9/11 when terrorists have found many ways to wreak havoc with the lives of innocent civilians, security is everyone’s business. The suicide bombing this past weekend of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan was a vivid reminder of the clear and present danger that exists in the world today. On this occasion, everyone ahead of me complied with the security requirements set by the Sheraton. Then it was the turn of two middle-aged white women to go through the metal detector. One of them sneered at the security guard and said: “Do you think I have a gun to shoot you?” The two simply ignored the metal detector, walking outside of it, still making some rude comments as they strolled into the lobby. The security guard said nothing, shifting uncomfortably from one leg to the other. I was livid.

Barely able to contain myself, I called out after the two ladies with the sternest headmaster’s voice: “Would you make the same comment in a hotel in Toronto or New York or London or Paris?” I fumed. “If the answer is no, then you get back here and walk through the metal detector.”

My voice did not leave any room for further quibbling, argument or second guessing. The women stopped dead in their tracks, backtracked, and walked through the metal detector. “I hope this makes you happy,” the woman who made the comment about guns said as she walked through the detector. Of course, it did not make me happy because I have seen many instances of foreigners behaving rudely toward Africans, often acting with condescending attitude toward the latter. To be sure there is a higher level of awareness among whites today than say in the 1960s when the dominant master-servant colonial culture ensured that the African always held the short end of the stick. Things have changed to the point that colour is not an issue for many whites living, working or travelling through Africa. To them, the African person is no different from the European person.

These liberated souls see only humanity and not the colour of the skin and, thankfully, they are becoming mainstream. Unfortunately, there is that enduring group of whites who, upon touching the African soil, are transformed into arrogant petty tyrants, strutting around with their noses in the air, disdaining the locals and pretty much behaving as if they are above the law. Indeed, their actions seem to persuade the locals that there are two sets of laws, one for them and one for white foreigners. They would sooner defer to the whites than challenge them for exhibiting bad behaviour. I have seen whites screaming at Africans for some inane mistake, or because the food was delayed, behaviour that would surely land the screamer onto the street in Toronto or even in the back of a police cruiser. Yet, the poor African calmly swallows the abuse as if whatever the white foreigner says is right—the thinking for the victim is that a muzungu is always right.

Indeed, a very high ranking police official in Kampala told me how the security detail for the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who was attending the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting in Kampala last November began screaming and yelling at their Uganda counterparts, demanding to be given preferential treatment beyond the agreed protocol.

“It was a very barbaric display of tantrum from officials coming from such a highly regarded country,” said the police officer in recounting the embarrassing incident. “At the end, we decided not to provoke a diplomatic incident,” he added. Ignoring bad behaviour that would not be tolerated in North America or Europe or anywhere else for that matter, is what makes some foreigners so bold when in Africa.

Unchallenged, they feel giddily free to take abusive licence toward the locals without worrying about backlash whatsoever. Indeed, I hate to think that such appalling behaviour arises from the discovery that a white skin purchases unimaginable power in Africa, power it could not muster in the streets of America, Europe, Australia or elsewhere in the developed world.

Exploited as a rare currency to claim racial superiority, it becomes the basis for mindless bad behaviour. The operating principle behind such thinking is that I am white and I am better than you and you better shut up. The best way to deal with these bullies who hide behind skin-colour is to remind them that their behaviour would not only be unacceptable anywhere in the world, but that many whites would find it offensive, degrading and appalling.
Being abusive is offensive regardless of skin-colour.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How did she do it?

Republican vice presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska finally met a foreign head of state (please refer to last week's disastrous interview with Charlie Gibson where she claimed that the ability to see Russia from some parts of Alaska is tantamount to meeting a foreign head of state) in the name of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Is it just me, or does Mr. Uribe appear to be looking for a reason to get away?

How credible is the Kriegler Report?

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta over the weekend led a group of Central Kenya MPs in praising the Kriegler Report.

Their take was that the Commission of Inquiry chaired by South African judge Johann Kriegler had established that there was no rigging at the 2007 elections, and therefore those who resorted to violent protests should apologise. Across the divide, however, another group of leaders is very unhappy with Kriegler. They feel that the Independent Review Commission went out of its way to reach a pre-determined conclusion.

To them, that the elections were rigged is obvious, and therefore the Kriegler team must have had some ulterior motive in ignoring all the evidence provided to establish that the election was stolen. Both sets of reactions display a very predictable pattern of Kenyan politics — seeing only what we want to see. For Mr Kenyatta and company, the Kriegler Report is supposed to stand as proof that President Kibaki was indeed the legitimately elected president. For those crying foul, the Kriegler Report amounts to Prime Minister Raila Odinga being robbed twice.

What both groups deliberately fail to recognise is that the Report is not what they say it is.

They interpret it only from the tunnel vision mode where they see only what they want to see and ignore anything that might be inconvenient to their analysis. The stark truth is that Judge Kriegler did not say there was no rigging. What he said is that it was impossible to verify exactly where and how the rigging occurred. This is because the election was so badly mismanaged that neither a recount nor a re-tallying could establish the actual result. In saying that the claims of rigging could not be verified, Judge Kriegler was not saying that President Kibaki was the winner. Neither was he saying that Mr Odinga was the loser. He was simply stating that we will never know.

Those taking comfort in the findings of the report are totally misplaced because nowhere does it put the seal of legitimacy on President Kibaki. Just as misplaced are those unhappy that Kriegler did not declare Mr Odinga the rightful winner of the presidential election. Again, it falls on the burden of proof. Suspicion that an election is rigged is one thing. Providing incontrovertible evidence that would stand the test of proof is quite another.

It obviously would not do at the equivalent of a judicial hearing to present as evidence suspicion, rumour, and figures cooked up by political activists to conform to a set position. One of the things I find interesting is that the Kriegler team gave little weight to those from both PNU and ODM who appeared before the it purporting to provide expert statistical analysis of how their candidate either won or was rigged out.

Also appearing before the Commission were all sorts of supposedly independent experts, including a clutch of foreign scholars, who deluged the inquiry with data and engaged in their own academic disputes until Judge Kriegler advised them to take their quarrels to other fora. All the mountain of data presented seems to have been largely ignored. This is probably because the inquiry decided that all the numbers were cooked to support specific political positions, rather than the conclusions being drawn from the data.

Anyway, the position now is that we do not know who won the presidential elections.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, sharing power after the electoral deadlock, have both publicly accepted Kriegler’s verdict. What they are accepting is not the issue of whether there was rigging or not, but that neither of them can claim legitimacy. So, in all fairness, the fairest declaration from Electoral Commission boss Samuel Kivuitu and his band of merry bunglers would have been a no result; and a fresh presidential election.

And if President Kibaki’s re-election was fraudulent and Mr Odinga’s claim was also fraudulent, then the two lacked the legitimacy to negotiate a sweetheart power-sharing deal. This makes this whole Grand Coalition arrangement both fraudulent and illegitimate. But then woolly-headed idealism must often give way to some practical realities. Only a fool would have argued for a repeat poll at a time when the country faced disintegration. The fight for leadership between two obdurate claimants spilled out into the streets and farms and a great deal of blood was shed before sanity prevailed again. That was the best that could be done in those circumstances, but let us never forget that sharing power was not an end in itself. It was at best a temporary solution designed to cool tempers.

We have been warned by Justice Kriegler and chief mediator Kofi Annan that unless we move to cure all the defects in our social, economic and political systems that gave rise to the carnage witnessed, then we are merely enjoying the lull before the storm. If we go into the 2012 elections not having resolved the long-term issues identified under the so-called Agenda 4, we will face an explosion even worse than what we just came out of.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

South Africa in political crisis

Eleven South African government ministers have resigned following President Thabo Mbeki's decision to step down under pressure, the presidency said Tuesday.

It is the biggest political crisis since apartheid ended in 1994.

The resignations come two days before parliament is widely expected to choose ruling Africa National Congress deputy head Kgalema Motlanthe as president until next year's general election. Those who have submitted their resignations include Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, the statement that listed the ministers said. Manuel has been widely respected by investors. "The resignations will be effective from the day that the president's resignation takes effect," the statement said. "All the ministers have expressed their availability to assist the incoming administration in the hand-over process and any other assistance that might be sought from them."

South African markets fell after news of the resignations. The rand extended its losses to over 2.5 percent, bonds fell sharply and the blue-chip JSE Securities Exchange Top-40 index plunged over four percent. The resignations are likely to raise investor fears of political instability in Africa's biggest economy. ANC leader Jacob Zuma has made clear his backing for Motlanthe and pledged on Monday that the party would ensure a smooth transition and economic policy continuity.

Manuel's spokeswoman Thoraya Pandy said he was out of the country and she could not confirm his resignation. It was not immediately clear whether Motlanthe, would reappoint Manuel and other ministers.

Focus on God, forget about religion and the clergy

Why is atheism more prevalent, and symbols of godliness so pervasive in popular culture?

The sole reason for the existence of organised religion and the often misplaced reverence for clergy is privileged and restricted access to God. This is reinforced by the fact that the two most distinguishing characteristics of human species is language and fealty to superior intelligence. Recalling atheism and travesties visited by man upon fellow man in the name of God, we should contemplate the issue of religion and God much more closely and rationally.

Does God exist? And if so, does the clergy (or theologians) have unique, unlimited and privileged access to His will? Should a fellow infallible mortal, intercede, on your behalf, with your loving creator or maker? Did God create man in His image, or, has religion (clergy) fashioned God in the image of man?

Human experience has provided complete and conclusive answers. I believe that God exists.

But there is good reason, too, for atheism, agnosticism (God too mysterious to know), polytheism (many gods), deistism (intelligent creator but impersonal god) and the widespread appeal of secularism as opposed to state theocracy. The main reason God remains remote and mysterious is religion. God does exist.

Einstein, Stephen Hawking and others however tentatively, suggest the same; even if theirs is a deist god, creator of the universe but impersonal. More scientists and philosophers state that God’s existence and non-existence are equiprobable. Scientist Pascal Wager recommended a solution: His consequences of non-belief are bleak and unchangeable; better to err on the side of belief. Now, how does religion explain God’s existence?

From Thomas Acquinas “Five proofs”, St Augustine’s theology and intelligent design theory to Islam’s direct dictation, religious contemplation and explanation of God is eventually lost in mysticism and embedded in “belief in belief”. Whenever religion fails to explain God, it resorts to coercion, blackmail and manipulation. A sophisticated tool theologian’s use is NOMA – Non-overlapping magisterium: there are separate questions which religion and science can each, separately, answer, and one is unsuitable or incapable in each other’s realm. In summary, incapacity of religion to explain phenomena cannot be filled by science; which is another way of claiming infallibility.

Religion is careering out of control. Osama proselytises damnation on all infidels. The Christian fundamentalist church in the US has evolved a new line of proselytising, which shifts unquestioning support of Israel to the centre of Christian duty to God, while Israel itself condemns Palestinians to a bantustan existence on some scriptural notion of Eretz Israel. And then there is the prosperity gospel and its contradictions in poverty ravaged Africa. God is not religious, because the essence of religion is ritualism. And ritualism is meaningless without mysticism and sophistry. Just think of the most revered religious symbolisms of the major religions...

The most cantankerous religions in the last 2,000 years are Christianity and Islam. Two to three thousand years of organised religion is infinitesimal in the long human experience. Besides, a leading biologist researcher established years ago that species get extinct after 100,000 years of existence. Our time as human species is soon up. Why should organised religion detract us?

Is it not time we dispensed with religion and focused on God? God’s key attributes are well known. Let believers directly access God and celebrate His grace and mercy. Let every day be a day of devotion and supplication. Man's cultural DNA demands not religion, but submission to a supreme being - God. And religion is largely irrelevant and unnecessary in this intercourse.

True, religion serves some purpose: social communion, comfort and fellowship organisation. But never does being religious equal godliness. The next tinderbox pitting God’s people could be religious; not due to irreconcilable clash in civilisation, but rather, inadmissible failure on the clergy to interpret God’s will. Clergy of all religions have created God in man’s image, and thus, intercessors with God on behalf of, and for, God.

The greater lesson is that whoever has elected to believe in God must seek direct access through prayer and submission. The clergy seek territorial expansion foremost to win greater prestige and influence, and only secondarily serve God better.

The lesson we must learn as believers, therefore, is to focus in God. Period.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Racism may cost Obama election, poll shows

Washington - Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbour negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent,” responsible for their own troubles.

The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about two and one-half percentage points. Certainly, Republican John McCain has his own obstacles: He’s an ally of an unpopular president and would be the nation’s oldest first-term president. But Mr Obama faces this: 40 per cent of all white Americans hold at least a partly negative view toward blacks, and that includes many Democrats and independents.

More than a third of all white Democrats and independents — voters Mr Obama can’t win the White House without — agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Mr Obama than those who don’t have such views. Such numbers are a harsh dose of reality in a campaign for the history books.

Obama, the first black candidate with a serious shot at the presidency, accepted the Democratic nomination on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a seminal moment for a nation that enshrined slavery in its Constitution. “There are a lot fewer bigots than there were 50 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s only a few bigots,” said Stanford political scientist Paul Sniderman who helped analyze the exhaustive survey. The pollsters set out to determine why Mr Obama is locked in a close race with Mr McCain even as the political landscape seems to favour Democrats.

President Bush’s unpopularity, the Iraq war and a national sense of economic hard times cut against GOP candidates, as does that fact that Democratic voters outnumber Republicans. The findings suggest that Mr Obama’s problem is close to home — among his fellow Democrats, particularly non-Hispanic white voters. Just seven in 10 people who call themselves Democrats support Mr Obama, compared to the 85 per cent of self-identified Republicans who back McCain.

Meanwhilwe, Mr Obama has accused Mr McCain of wanting to gamble with the retirement savings and health care of Americans by subjecting them to the uncertainty of open markets. As the government prepared another costly bailout of the reeling US financial system, Obama said McCain’s support for privatizing Social Security and opening up the health care system to market forces would put Americans at financial risk. He attacked McCain for supporting some degree of privatization of Social Security retirement funds, a proposal President George W. Bush made a centerpiece of his 2004 White House campaign but was unable to push through Congress.

Mbeki's departure may cause chaos

JOHANNESBURG - The leadership of the ruling African National Congress party in South Africa's call for President Thabo Mbeki to resign means the end of an era in South African politics. And it signals that Mbeki had lost his long-running battle against ANC leader Jacob Zuma. Since December last year, when Zuma and his allies won control at the party's annual conference in Polokwane, the writing had been on the wall for Mbeki.

But speculation over Mbeki's fate had risen to fever pitch on September 12 when Judge Chris Nicholson threw out the fraud, corruption and racketeering case against Zuma on an issue of due process. The judgment paved the way for Zuma to become the next president of South Africa.

More significantly, Judge Nicholson implied that there was widespread political interference in the judiciary reaching all the way to the office of the presidency. For supporters of Zuma this was the last straw. There were immediate calls for Mbeki's head from the powerful ANC Youth League, the Communist Party and the trade union COSATU. Mbeki and his cabinet deny accusations of political interference and are seeking legal options against the ruling. But those actions now seem too late.

Mbeki's ousting is a deeply humiliating move for the man who succeeded Nelson Mandela as the leader of South Africa's young democracy.

Mbeki joined the ANC when he was 14. But he was born into the struggle. His father, Govan Mbeki, is heralded a stalwart of the ANC and was jailed with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island for 24 years. The urbane Mbeki was a leader of the ANC's exile wing and helped create the movement's bases in countries neighboring South Africa in the darkest days of Apartheid. Mbeki was seen as a key to the successes of the negotiations with the Apartheid regime after Nelson Mandela was released and in the years before the first free election in 1994. In 1999, he became the second democratically elected president of the country -- hand-picked to build on the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

As president, Mbeki is widely credited with helping the South African economy to mature and for helping broker difficult political deals across the continent (most recently in Zimbabwe). But he has been heavily criticized for siding with HIV/AIDS skeptics and blamed for delays in the country's fight against the disease. And he often struggled to connect with the rank and file of the party and with average South Africans.

But it has been his struggle with Zuma that has proved his true Achilles heel, leading him to be abandoned by the party that has been his life. The ANC leadership's strategy suggests that they want to avoid immediate wholesale changes in government. By asking Mbeki to resign, the ANC is trying to avoid a collapse of the cabinet. If the president refuses to resign the ANC could call a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly.

The constitution states that a vote of no confidence would require the president and the entire cabinet to quit -- a move that could plunge South Africa's government into chaos and require early elections. If Mbeki resigns -- and his office has stated that Thabo Mbeki "has obliged" to the ANC decision -- then he could take some powerful cabinet members with him. A spokesman of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said Saturday that she would resign with the president. And there are other cabinet members that are seen as owing their political success to their loyalty to the president. They too could go.

How the cabinet and the ruling party handle the next few days will be a crucial test to this young democracy and its stability. But the last week in South Africa suggests that there could be some surprises still to come in this extraordinary political power struggle.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Know your weirdos: Jocelyn “Cat Woman” Wildenstein

She’s been called the “Cat Woman”, "Lion Queen" and the “Bride of Wildenstein,” but her real name is Jocelyn Wildenstein, the woman who has spent millions of dollars in plastic surgery transforming her face to resemble a cat’s. Originally from Switzerland, Wildenstein, now 59, moved to Manhattan in the late ’70s with her then-husband, art-collector and billionaire Alec Wildenstein. They have two grown children together.

But she was granted a divorce in 1999 after she allegedly found Alec in a compromising position with a 19-year-old model. She cried “sexual abandonment” and won a hefty settlement. But the tabloids were cruel, and branded her with a variety of catty monikers.

It’s not certain how many plastic surgeries Wildenstein, who has a 66,000-acre ranch in Kenya and favors cheetahs and lynxes, has endured to create her jutting cheekbones, teardrop-shaped eyes and oversized lips. Recently named the world’s scariest celebrity she is still improving her looks, claiming that plastic surgery gives her confidence.

Power-sharing deal a humiliation, says Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has told his party's leaders that Monday's power-sharing deal is a "humiliation".

But he said the party had no alternative after losing the March parliamentary elections. Mr Mugabe was expected to meet prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday to discuss allocating ministerial posts under the deal. Correspondents say there is intense lobbying for positions among all the parties involved in the agreement. Under the deal, Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF has 15 posts in cabinet, Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) 13 and a smaller MDC faction three. But the allocation of portfolios among the parties and the naming of the ministers has still to be decided.

Meanwhile, the international Red Cross is to start distributing food aid shortly. Trucks carrying some 383 metric tonnes of aid travelled through the night after loading supplies in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare. The food will be handed out to about 24,000 people. Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said that some 2 million people need food aid, and this could rise to five million - half the population - by the end of the year. "The situation is critical," he said.

Who's in charge?
A meeting between Mr Mugabe, Mr Tsvangirai and faction leader Arthur Mutumbara to discuss the distribution of cabinet posts has been postponed since Tuesday. But Mr Mugabe's former Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, told state TV that the meeting would take place on Thursday and a new cabinet could be decided on by the end of the day. Mr Mugabe told a meeting of Zanu-PF's leadership ahead of the meeting: "If only we had not blundered in the March elections, we wouldn't be facing this humiliation. This is what we have to deal with."

But he nevertheless said Zanu-PF remained "in the driving seat". "We are still in a dominant position which will enable us to gather more strength as we move into the future," he said, according to the state-run Herald newspaper. The deal is intended to share power equally but correspondents say it is unclear if either party has the upper hand. Under the deal, Mr Mugabe will chair the cabinet, while Mr Tsvangirai will chair a "council of ministers" attended by all cabinet ministers.

The cabinet under Mr Mugabe will decide on government policy, while the council of ministers will implement it. Mr Chinamasa said the cabinet would meet each week, while the council of ministers would meet quarterly. Analysts fear the arrangements could lead to rival centres of power being formed. But Mr Tsvangirai insisted that this would not be the case. "We have to make sure that doesn't happen," he said. "I am confident we will be able to deliver."

The new government's first priority is to try to revive the ruined economy. Annual inflation is running at an official rate of 11,000,000% and just one adult in five has a regular job. Up to half the population will need food aid by the end of the year, donors say.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Uganda seeking miniskirt ban

Uganda's ethics and integrity minister says miniskirts should be banned - because women wearing them distract drivers and cause traffic accidents.

The Hon. Dr. James Nsaba Buturo told journalists in Kampala that wearing a miniskirt was like walking naked in the streets. "What's wrong with a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are weak mentally," he said. Journalists found the minister's comments extremely funny. "Wearing a miniskirt should be regarded as "indecent", which would be punishable under Ugandan law, Buturo said.

And he railed against the dangers facing those inadvertently distracted by short skirts. "If you find a naked person you begin to concentrate on the make-up of that person and yet you are driving," he said. "These days you hardly know who is a mother from a daughter, they are all naked."

According to the minister, indecent dressing is just one of many vices facing Ugandan society. "Theft and embezzlement of public funds, sub-standard service delivery, greed, infidelity, prostitution, homosexuality [and] sectarianism..." he said. Earlier this year, Kampala's Makerere University decided to impose a dress code for women at the institution, our reporter says. The miniskirt and tight trousers ban has yet to be implemented, but our correspondent sought the opinions of women on campus about the minister's opinions. "If one wants to wear a miniskirt, it's ok. If another wants to put on a long skirt, then that's ok," one woman said. But others had more sympathy with Buturo. "I think skimpy things are not good. We are keeping the dignity of Africa as ladies and we have to cover ourselves up," one woman, called Sharon, told our correspondent.

Sarah Palin linked electoral success to prayer of Kenyan witch-hunter

The pastor whose prayer Sarah Palin says helped her to become governor of Alaska founded his ministry with a witchhunt against a Kenyan woman who he accused of causing car accidents through demonic spells.

At a speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God on June 8 this year, Mrs Palin described how Thomas Muthee had laid his hands on her when he visited the church as a guest preacher in late 2005, prior to her successful gubernatorial bid. In video footage of the speech, she is seen saying: “As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he’s so bold. And he was praying “Lord make a way, Lord make a way.”

“And I’m thinking, this guy’s really bold, he doesn’t even know what I’m going to do, he doesn’t know what my plans are. And he’s praying not “oh Lord if it be your will may she become governor,” no, he just prayed for it. He said “Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened.” She then adds: “So, again, very very powerful, coming from this church,” before the presiding pastor comments on the “prophetic power” of the event.

A Kenyan evangelist, Pastor Muthee has given guest sermons at the Wasilla Assembly of God on at least 10 occasions in his role as the founder of the Word of Faith Church, also known as the Prayer Cave. Pastor Muthee founded the Prayer Cave in 1989 in Kiambu, Kenya after “God spoke” to him and his late wife Margaret and called him to the country, according to the church’s website. The pastor speaks of his offensive against a demonic presence in the town in a trailer for the evangelical video “Transformations”, made by Sentinel Group, a Christian research and information agency. “We prayed, we fasted, the Lord showed us a spirit of witchcraft resting over the place,” Pastor Muthee says.

After the spirit was broken, the crime rate dropped to almost zero and there was “explosive church growth” while almost every bar in the town closed down, the video says. The full Transformations video featuring Pastor Muthee’s story has recently been removed from YouTube but the rest of the story is detailed in a 1999 article in the Christian Science Monitor, as well as on numerous evangelical websites.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, six months of fervent prayer and research identified the source of the witchcraft as a local woman called Mama Jane, who ran a “divination” centre called the Emmanuel Clinic. Her alleged involvement in fortune-telling and the fact that she lived near the site of a number of fatal car accidents led Pastor Muthee to publicly declare her a witch responsible for the town’s ills, and order her to offer her up her soul for salvation or leave Kiambu. Says the Monitor, “Muthee held a crusade that “brought about 200 people to Christ”.” They set up round-the-clock prayer intercession in the basement of a grocery store and eventually, says the pastor “the demonic influence – the ‘principality’ over Kiambu –was broken”, and Mama Jane fled the town.

According to accounts of the witchhunt circulated on evangelical websites such as Prayer Links Ministries, after Pastor Muthee declared Mama Jane a witch, the townspeople became suspicious and began to turn on her, demanding that she be stoned. Public outrage eventually led the police to raid her home, where they fired gunshots, killing a pet python which they believed to be a demon. After Mama Jane was questioned by police – and released – she decided it was time to leave town, the account says.

Pastor Muthee has frequently referred to this witchhunt in his sermons as an example of the power of “spiritual warfare”. In October 2005, he delivered ten sermons at the Wasilla Assembly of God, the audio of which was available on the church’s website until it was removed around the time Mrs Palin’s candidacy was announced. The blog Irregular Times has listings and screen grabs of the sermons. It was during that these sermons that Mrs Palin, who was then preparing for her gubernatorial run, was anointed by Pastor Muthee. His intercession, she says, was “awesome”.

Her June 8 speech was to mark the graduation of students from the Wasilla Assembly of God’s Masters’ Commission, which, as Pastor Ed Kalins explains, believes Alaska will be the refuge for American evangelicals upon the coming “End of Days”. After her speech, Mrs Palin was presented with an honorary Masters’ Commission diploma.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Al Qaeda blamed for US Embassy bombing

Suspected Al Qaeda disguised as security forces on Wednesday launched an explosive assault on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, killing 10 Yemeni police and civilians, officials said. The attack involved two car bombs, a spokesman for Yemen's embassy in Washington said. Six attackers, including a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest, were also killed in the attack, Mohammed al-Basha said.

The attack involved at least four explosions -- including at least one car bomb -- and sniper fire, a senior State Department official said, adding that no U.S. Embassy employees were killed. The heavily fortified compound in the capital of Yemen -- the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- has previously been targeted in attacks.

The U.S. official said the attackers initially opened fire outside the embassy's security gate, then there was the main explosion followed by a secondary explosion. At some point, snipers positioned across the street from the embassy opened fire on Yemeni first responders as they arrived on the scene, the official said. Those killed include six Yemeni policemen and four civilians, he said, noting that the number of wounded is unclear.

Yemen believes al Qaeda is responsible for the attack, al-Basha said. Media reports said Islamic Jihad in Yemen -- which is affiliated with al Qaeda -- has claimed responsibility for the attack. Trev Mason, a British national who lives near the embassy, said he saw "a massive fireball" near compound. "We heard the sounds of a heavy gun battle going on," he said. "I looked out my window, and we saw the first explosion going off -- a massive fireball very close to the U.S. Embassy. The gun battle went on for a further 10 to 15 minutes, followed by two further loud explosions."

The first explosion happened about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT) and was followed by several secondary blasts, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha. Gliha was at the embassy at the time of the attack and said he felt the compound shake. "We were all ordered to assume what we call a duck-and-cover position which is a position where we guard ourselves and bodies from potential debris," Gliha said. "From that vantage point, I can't tell you much after that except we did feel several explosions after the main explosion that shook the ground." Al-Basha called it a "despicable and heinous act" particularly because it took place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The White House has condemned the bombing and vowed to "to increase our counterterrorism activities to prevent more attacks from taking place." The U.S. official said that Yemen's cooperation in fighting terrorism "needs to be better." Witnesses recounted how they heard gunfire, and said they saw ambulances rushing from the scene. Yemeni officials said the first car contained people in police uniforms who exchanged fire with Yemeni security forces, the officials said. The second car exploded after it passed an outermost gate to the Embassy but before it reached a second protective barrier, the officials said.

But al-Basha said there were two cars packed with explosives involved in the attack.

The U.S. State Department has warned of violence that it attributes to Islamic extremists in Yemen. It has cited concern "about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests." The State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency American staff from the Embassy, along with their family members, in April, after attacks against the Embassy and a residential compound. That order was lifted last month.

In March, three mortar rounds landed near the Embassy, injuring Yemeni students at a nearby school and Yemeni government security personnel, the State Department said. The next month, an expatriate residential compound in the Hadda neighborhood was attacked by mortar fire. Suspected extremists fired two mortar rounds toward the Yemen Customs Authority and Italian Embassy in April, as well, but no one was hurt.

Authorities in Yemen have been struggling to curb the activities of al Qaeda-linked groups, with militants seen as having free rein outside major cities.

Zimbabwe update: The deal so far

Monday, September 15, 2008

Top 8 racist things I found on the Web

Nightmare on Wall Street

To lose one major investment bank in the course of a weekend, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, might be considered a misfortune. To lose two looks dangerously like a catastrophe.

By Sunday night, after a tumultuous weekend of round-the-clock negotiations orchestrated by the US Federal Reserve and the Treasury, it looked likely that Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, two of America’s most famous financial names, would cease to operate as independent institutions at the opening of business this morning.

That would mean Wall Street may have just had its most extraordinary weekend in at least the last 50 years, with the worry that even worse may still be to come.

How did we get here? There are two answers to this basic question:

The immediate explanation is that the US government decided that it simply could not afford - in the interests of prudential supervision - to rescue yet another bank. Someone had to be shown to be not too big to fail, and it looks like it was Lehman.

In March, the Federal Reserve helped JP Morgan acquire Bear Stearns, a controversial decision that could cost the authorities almost $30bn. The Fed defended the move as essential to saving the whole US financial system from going down.

But having dipped its hands in the blood of the financial markets the Fed decided it simply could not do so again without in effect committing itself to a completely open-ended guarantee of every financial institution that found itself in trouble.

The second, deeper explanation, is that this is merely the most dramatic symptom yet of the disease that continues to ravage the US financial system.

The balance sheets of too many US banks are awash in toxic assets. Most of them can be traced back to wildly negligent investment decisions made during the boom in house prices and other assets in the last five years. In the last eighteen months US house prices have fallen by more than at any time in the last 70 years and a whole host of assets that were backed by that market have become worthless.

This may be more than just another catastrophic end to another financial cycle, however. It could be the end of a whole financial model - investment banking itself.

“It’s probably no exaggeration to say we are witnessing the end of an era’ said one seasoned financial executive watching events unfold at the weekend.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why It doesn’t matter that Sarah Palin’s an idiot

Hey, have you seen the video of Charlie Gibson interviewing VP candidate Sarah Palin?


You can watch it here.

And, like, yes, it is painfully obvious that this woman is laughably unqualified to run the United States. Charlie Gibson asks her about the Bush Doctrine, codified in 2002, and she clearly has no idea what he’s talking about, and he rubs that in. He uses big words like “existential” and “hubris” and she clearly has no idea what those words mean, although she does a decent job of interpreting them in context. Charlie pronounces “nuclear” correctly repeatedly, highlighting the fact that she pronounces it incorrectly, repeatedly, and, bllody hell, wasn’t the whole point of this election to get someone — anyone — in office who could correctly pronounce the word “nuclear”? She’s never met a foreign head of state, but mentions that you can actually see Russia from some parts of Alaska, so that’s kind of the same thing, right? It just goes on and on. She has absolutely no grasp on the history of U.S. foreign policy. It’s worse than I expected, honestly. It’s horrible. I mean, it’s horrible.

And it occurs to me that it doesn’t matter.

It’s not news to me that Sarah Palin knows nothing about foreign affairs. And it’s not news to John McCain.

Here’s the thing: Every now and then, I run into somebody very stupid and painfully uneducated who disagrees with me about something. And, most of the time, I let it slide and move on because I just have better things to do than argue with uneducated, irrational people. But sometimes I’m just in a bad mood for whatever reason, and looking to make someone else feel like a total idiot, and so that’s what I do. I argue that perfectly nice person into a corner and make them look like an absolute fool, and when they’re on the floor and bruised and beating and coughing up blood, I kick them some more. And then some more. Because I’m very grumpy and I’m gonna take it out on them. And when I do that, a funny thing happens. My friends — who I know agree with my side of the argument in theory — start to side with the other person. Because it’s painful to watch an innocent, simple, poorly educated nice person get ripped to shreds intellectually, and you feel obliged to defend that person.

Charles Gibson went to Princeton University, and currently serves on their Board of Trustees.

Sarah Palin attended a series of small colleges in Idaho, eventually managing to graduate from the University of Idaho.

If the remainder of this election is going to consist of Ivy-educated old men making Sarah Palin look like a fool, you can just go ahead and hand John McCain the keys to the White House. Because it doesn’t matter that she’s an idiot. It doesn’t matter in the Gibson interviews and it won’t matter in the VP debate. She’s an idiot with five kids and a sweet, young face and she’s trying really hard and she loves America and don’t you dare act all high and mighty on her just because you went to some fancy school and got some fancy education and know all these facts and statistics and things because there is more to a person than just how many silly facts they can pull out of their ass.

It does not matter that Sarah Palin is a moron. As long as these fancy-pants old men keep making her look like a moron, she’s going to win over voters. They may not quite know why, but they’ll find themselves rooting for her. Could this approach ever work with Hillary? No, it could not. Because Hillary Clinton is competent. Would it work on a male VP candidate who was equally ill-informed? No. We expect men to be competent.

The selection of Sarah Palin as VP candidate has absolutely nothing to do with feminism. It’s just the opposite. It’s about playing on our natural inclination to expect less from women. It’s gross, it grows increasingly infuriating to me as time passes, and, also, it’s working.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

McCain's choice won't fool women

Sarah Palin is a woman. Hillary Clinton is a woman. Women just love voting for other women. Women candidates are interchangeable. Therefore, women who would have voted for Clinton are obviously going to vote for Palin.

If this syllogism strikes you as stupid, that's because it is. Not to mention cynical and not a little bit sexist. Yet it also appears to be one of the reasons behind John McCain's choice of a running mate.

Oh, lots of alternative explanations for his decision are floating around: McCain chose Palin because her staunch anti-abortion stance bolsters his case among Christian conservatives; he chose her because she personifies youthful energy while he, well, doesn't. Possibly the Palin decision was a big Bronx cheer meant for strategist Karl Rove, who pushed hard for Mitt Romney (over Joe Lieberman, McCain's rumored first choice). Then again, maybe the Republican candidate for president of the United States plucked his running mate from relative obscurity because he's desperate for the moose-hunting vote. (But really, who isn't?)

Setting aside for a moment the political clout of America's moose-hunting bloc, let's take a closer look at one of the more plausible reasons behind McCain's peculiar pick: He's tipping his cap and winking at disconsolate Clinton supporters, hoping he'll pick up a few all-important Lady Votes from the pool of Still Undecideds who monitored last week's events in Denver but remain unconverted—and unconvinced.

Let's be honest: If McCain really wanted to wow Evangelical voters, he could have gone with any one of the roughly 87 Republicans currently in national office whose politics are virtually indistinguishable from Palin's. If his goal was to lower the average age of the GOP ticket, the only real requirement is that the candidate be alive. So why on earth would he overlook dozens of far more qualified candidates ( Tim Pawlenty and Lieberman, for example) only to choose Palin, whose national experience could be described (kindly) as negligible?

Because Palin's a woman. And because Rove, currently serving as an "informal adviser" to McCain's campaign, once read a book about women that convinced him the only thing women love more than a good white sale is casting a vote for another woman. (OK, I just made that up. I have no idea whether Karl Rove has ever read a book).

Here's something McCain might have considered during the 45 minutes his aides apparently spent vetting Palin, whose slowly expanding biography keeps yielding unpleasant surprises: Women aren't interested in voting for just any woman. They want to vote for an experienced, competent woman whose accomplishments can stand up to any man's, not someone they have to make excuses for. ("Oh, you'll have to excuse her lack of understanding of NATO's operational plan in Afghanistan. She's a woman.") Hence the allure of Hillary Clinton, whose positions—whether you agreed with them or not—have been articulated clearly (and often at stupefying length) over the years.

Palin, who has been governor of Alaska for about a year and a half, has clear positions on policy issues related to her adopted state (Drill in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Yes, please! Put polar bears on the endangered species list? No, thanks! Rack up $27 million in federal earmarks for her hometown of Wasilla? Oooh, yes!).

She's rock solid on conservative hot-button social issues (pro-life, pro-gun, pro-abstinence-only sex education). But when it comes to issues with national or international implications, Palin can rest easy. She won't be called on to defend a single position, mainly because she doesn't appear to have any.

Publicly, the GOP faithful is rallying around Palin, but scratch the surface, and you'll find rumblings of discontent—and even disbelief—over McCain's choice. Perhaps the most delightfully candid assessment of Palin's dismal lack of experience came from Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. During an off-camera moment on MSNBC, Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, was asked whether the Alaska governor is the most qualified woman McCain could have chosen. Her blunt response: "The most qualified? No. I think they went for this—excuse me—political bull . . . about narratives."

Back in the public (on-camera) realm, Republicans have spent the last 10 days hurling charges of sexism at the so-called "liberal" media. Given that this is the same party that has dedicated the last two years to attacking Hillary Clinton based on little more than her gender, the GOP's newfound respect for women feels hugely disingenuous.

And the Republican case is not helped by Palin's nomination, which fairly reeks of sexism.

Women, the Republican Party seems to be saying, are interchangeable. Worried about a weak ticket? Concerned about voters losing interest? Just stick a woman in there. Pretty much any woman will do. And by choosing Sarah Palin above the dozens of far more qualified women in their party (Sens. Olympia Snowe and Kay Bailey Hutchison, to name just two), John McCain and the Republicans have exposed every future female candidate to the same creeping, dangerous suspicion feminists have been fighting since the first female politician stepped forward: She's at that podium for all the wrong reasons: novelty, or shock value, or because her X chromosomes make her a politically expedient choice. Not because she's the best person for the job.

Who's leaving the BBA house this Sunday?


Ricco sprung a leak when he decided not to exercise his right of veto.

Two hours after her nomination was announced, it suddenly all becomes too much for Tawana. Crumpled on a bed in the girls’ room, with Morris and Hazel offering support, she cried her eyes out. And this is the woman who nominated Lucille for “crying every second day”!

"It's only six days," Morris tried to comfort her. "Morris, I don’t know how you did it," said Tawana between hysterical sobs and wails. "I know you for a strong person," replied Morris. "Did you read the rules? It’s not about us any more. It’s about the world out there. My point is, stay the same."

Morris has been a rock for Tawana in the house, providing brotherly company in bed at night and bolstering her faith. Now he offered an ocean of calm, cradling her to his chest and repeating "stay the same, stay the same."

Meanwhile, TK saunters in and out, looking mighty bizarre in dark glasses and his favourite jersey. Later Uti joined in the little knot of emotional people, wearing his customary night-time monk slash Jedi outfit. He didn't have much to contribute, but he leaned against Tawana in silent companionship. Once in a while, you would see him looking into the camera with a cheeky grin. Was his commiseration for "The Bald One" genuine?

But it's Ricco, joining the party last, and wearing nothing but underwear, who offered the sagest words and lightened the mood simultaneously. "You are the strongest person in this house," he assured Tawana. "You've already been Head of House. Now I'm going through what you went through, and you're going through what Morris went through." Besides, he added, grinning self-deprecatingly, at least she broke down in the relative quiet of the bedroom, whereas he broke down in the Diary Room, "in front of the whole of Africa."

TK, who you would think might have a special place in Tawana's attentions after Saturday night, enters the room again, only to be chased out savagely by Ricco! "Ricco is brave. You guys all have to take your hat off to him," says Tawana, when the new Head of House has said a jolly goodnight to the group. "Going into that room and making a decision and then keeping it until Sunday is scarier than being nominated. For him to be walking around and encouraging and motivating, you have to take your hat off. He is braver than I was last week."

As usual, BB thinks he's God, and is once again playing havoc with the housemates' emotions. This Sunday is another "fake" eviction of sorts. Apparently, 2 "evictees" will be herded away to BB's special garbage dump slash home for one week, after which they will be again evicted, one to head home permanently and the other back in the BBA House. So, if you're on the edge of your seat, I'll forgive you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SIASA DUNI EXCLUSIVE: Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a homewrecker!

He almost wrecked Barack Obama’s presidential dreams, and now firebrand pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright has helped destroy a Dallas church worker’s marriage - and her job.

Elizabeth Payne, 37, said she had a steamy sexual affair with the controversial, racially divisive man of the cloth while she was an executive assistant at a church headed by a popular Wright protégé. “I was involved with Rev. Wright, and that’s why I lost my job and why my husband divorced me,” Payne said.

In April, Payne organized a series of Texas public appearances by Wright, 67. Weeks before, Obama had disavowed his preacher of 20 years after Wright’s anti-government rants came to light. “Liz was by Rev. Wright’s side day and night during those days,” a church source said. Payne’s husband, Fred Payne, 64, said he learned of the affair in late February, when he discovered e-mails between his wife and Wright. “There must have been about 80 of them, back and forth,” he said. “Wright said things like he was going to leave his wife for Elizabeth.”

“I was downright mad about this bullshit,” said Fred, who said he is “in the oil and gas business,” belongs to a hunting club and makes his own bullets in his garage. “People wouldn’t be happy to know that my wife was sleeping with a black man.” Elizabeth Payne said she has been banished by Haynes and the flock at Friendship-West. “I’m not a member of the congregation anymore; I’m not even allowed on the premises,” she said. Wright became an embarrassment for Obama after videos of the preacher’s old sermons emerged

Poor woman, coming to the “Reverend” to get saved, and all he was giving her is some pipe. Hypocrites, I tell ya. We are glad he went and sat down in the corner and didn’t damage the Obama brand too much.