Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dick Cheney meets Darth Vader

My sister, who works at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), recently told me about an excellent blog, constitutionally speaking. The guy behind it is a professor of law at UWC, Pierre de Vos. I've read a few of his posts and have found them most informative, well thought through and intellectually stimulating. His law expertise makes for intriguing angles on contemporary socio-political issues, especially from a constitutional viewpoint - from there the name of his blog, I suppose... His legal expertise, 'progressive' outlook (dangerous label...) and willingness to call a spade a spade makes his blog a must read in my opinion. I've added him to my list of 'other South African blogs' and subscribed to his news feed. Give his blog a look, I'm sure you may want to do the same...

In a rather trivial posting, relative to his average thought provoking entries, he yesterday featured a YouTube video that I found most entertaining (see below). One remark Pierre made in his latest posting does pack a lot of punch though. It deals with the fact that the political satire of the kind featured in the video below would be highly unusual in the current South African context. You may very well walk into a political minefield in South Africa if you did a similar piece of satire featuring a government minister, never mind the president or his deputy.

I have to admit that I felt uneasy at times watching the often hilarious clip. Some remnant of my Christian-nationalist upbringing protested at the fact that a vice-president could be ridiculed in this manner. My emotional gut reaction aside, I believe in the modern world of media spin by ruling parties the world over, this kind of satire may in fact be very necessary. The Apartheid Government got away with murder partly because of a blind respect for authority from Christian-nationalist supporters. Sadly the present government are often treated with kid gloves for the fear of being labeled unpatriotic, ant-revolutionary or -if you happen to be white- racist. We urgently need a mind shift in South Africa to realise that being outspoken in one's criticism of government is potentially more patriotic than keeping your mouth shut. In time the substance of your convictions will determine the value or otherwise of your utterances, not politically correct knee jerk reactions thereto.

Back to the video. To appreciate the video you need to be relatively up to date with American politics and more so regarding President Bush's neo-conservative ex-Halliburton-CEO Vice-President, Dick Cheney. If you're a bit ignorant on these matters have a look at the background below the video before watching it, without it you'll miss most of the humor.

UPDATE - OOPS - Comedy central pulled this clip from YouTube after my initial post. The content owners to Comedy Central's programming has forced YouTube through court action to remove all its content from the latter's servers. Thus, for the time being, this clip is inaccessible. I've tried unsuccessfully to locate the clip on Comedy Central's own website. Their site is terrible to navigate. I believe they actually got more exposure for their product on YouTube, granted minus the irritating ads... I'll try to sort this out soon!

Brief background on Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney, together with other hawkish neocons such as Donald Rumsfeld, was the main proponents of the 'case' to declare a pre-emptive war on Iraq. That is to attack Iraq, in the absence of an act of aggression from the later, based on their believe that it represented a 'clear and present danger' to American interests and lives - at least that is how they pitched it. Many of their non-American critics summed up their motives in one word: 'oil'. Others state that their model for spreading democracy through the barrel of a gun is naive and short sighted. Off-course conservative commentators hold a different view. As the war becomes ever more unpopular with the American public President George Bush relies heavily on his conservative deputy to talk up the 'progress' being made in the war. Cheney is the perfect candidate for this as he has no qualms in earnestly stating that the 'insurgency' is about to be defeated, while the majority of commentators believe that a de facto civil war is in fact raging out of control.

Cheney was involved in a hunting accident some time ago when he and some friends went duck hunting on one of the party's property. In what could only have been an 'honest to God' freak accident he managed to shoot his beloved friend in the face... Luckily the wound was not fatal or too damaging. However the American press had a field day after the White House Press Core did a very amateurish job of trying to keep the incident out of the national headlines. Accusations was made left and right - did the hunting party have the necessary hunting permits, did Cheney follow general hunting safety precautions, etc.

Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. Mary Cheney actively partakes in the organisation of her father's campaign work for the Republican Party leading up to elections. The Republican Party's take on homosexuality could probably be described as something between homophobia and intolerance. In the last two national election campaigns (presidential and mid-term) the status of especially homosexual unions ('same-sex marriages') was a big issue. One state in America, Massachusetts, recently started recognizing same-sex marriages. For a limited time gay couples streamed there to get legally married. The Party took a very strong view on the matter and President Bush even threatened to seek a constitutional amendment to bar the practice. I'm under the impression that for the time being same-sex marriages has been suspended in the state although I'm stand to be corrected on this. It is in this context that Cheney has been challenged on his daughter's sexual preference. The idea of challenging him on it makes my hair stand on end, as it smacks of homophobia. However in the above context, and in the absence of Cheney distancing himself from the Party line, I grudgingly concede that it probably a necessary action. John Stewart follows a very unapologetic approach to the matter and does so very effectively.

Cheney has a heart condition. Exactly what his heart ailment is I don't know. Suffice to say that it is a definite health issue. I honestly can't find a justification for satire on that specific topic. I suppose Jon Stewart has decided that anything goes...

President Bush introduced the phrase "axis of evil" in talking up war against Iraq, with Cheney's unconditional approval. Within the context of the current Administration's love affair with Christian-conservatives describing your target for occupation as 'evil' goes a long way to motivating your base for war. I suspect this is where Darth Vader enters the picture, a messenger from 'the dark side' (evil). If you're StarWars knowledge is slightly rusted, or non-existent, you can have a look at DV's bio here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Financial Mail - (ANC's) SOUL FOR SALE

The 19 January edition of the Financial Mail had an excellent feature dealing with the corruptive influence of relations between the African National Congress (ANC) and ANC-aligned business people (see link below). I'm afraid it's just another case of 'power corrupts', in this case it deals with the power to award state / municipal contracts.

I've previously referred to the encouraging rise of a black middle class in South Africa, helped along by Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). A corner stone of the latter is affirmative action. It is a necessary evil, which if managed poorly -as it often is- allows for the appointment of unqualified and inexperienced candidates. The pressure on companies to transform in a hurry, as well as dramatic staff changes (i.t.o. racial composition) in the civil service, have led to many such poor appointments. At its worst the incredible economic upward mobility of many affirmative action candidates has led to a culture of entitlement and crass materialism.

This culture of entitlement and materialism features strongly in the article below, although not necessarily described in those terms. Too many officials at national, provincial and municipal level seem to have adopted an ideology of the maximum-accumulation-of-wealth-at-any-cost. In its eagerness to advance BEE the top brass of both the government (cabinet and parliament) and the ANC seem to be reluctant to implement aggressive counter-corruption measures. In fact, most individuals on the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC), cabinet ministers and their deputies have substantial business interests (personally or through their spouses), often in companies that deal with the state.

The article mentions instances where business people aligned to certain ANC officials have repeatedly won government contracts, with competing tender bids apparently locked out. Where municipalities have instituted 'independent' tender boards it has proven all too easy for politicians and officials to simply manipulate decisions by using proxies within those bodies.

In order to tackle our very serious crime problem in South Africa we need bold intervention on various levels. To my mind corruption in the civil service must be a top priority. Where financial benefit from political connections is not strictly illegal it should become so or be blocked by policy. However, many decision makers in government and the ANC probably has too much to lose.

One can only hope that the ANC's support base will in time become fed up with corruption and nepotism. In the long term I suspect that election shifts will be the most effective measure against corruption. That is, something similar to the recent US midterm election where voters punished the Republican Party not only for its conduct of the Iraq War, but also for corruption.

I'm not necessarily hoping that the ANC should be voted out of government, just sufficiently challenged for it to realise that it does not have carte blanche. As a government you ultimately have to answer to the citizens of your country - not your business buddies.

(Also see a recent posting by Mhambi: BAE and South African government corruption cuts deep)

Financial Mail - SOUL FOR SALE:

By Carol Paton

The African National Congress has traded ideals for influence as the party is corrupted by its members' lust for financial gain. The FM tracks the rot at the heart of SA's most powerful organisation.

It was a cool spring evening when an ambulance screeched to a halt outside the ANC's provincial office in Dutoitspan Road, Kimberley. Paramedics were rushing to the aid of the city's first citizen, mayor Patrick Lenyibi, who had been hit by flying teacups thrown during a brawl in the ANC offices. The first cup hit him on the head. The handle of a second lodged itself deep behind the ear after being smashed onto his head with greater force by a senior ANC member.

From several accounts, the fight, which took place in late 2005, was over a tender to supply coupons for pre paid electricity meters. The mayor is said to have implied that it would go to a group of ANC women, the member's mother included, who had already arranged to be trained to run the enterprise. But instead the tender was advertised, as it should have been, with conditions that cut his mother out of the running.

The blows were exchanged in the office of provincial secretary Neville Mompati, who strenuously denies that the argument was over a tender. Decisions over tenders should be made by neither the mayor nor the ANC but, according to the Municipal Finance Management Act, by officials in the city's tender committee. However, theory and practice are far apart.

Fights over who should get what contract are happening with growing frequency countrywide. It is a matter of embarrassment to the ANC, a party many members proudly think of in terms of its struggle legacy. That legacy is now being severely undermined, and the party seems paralysed.

The ANC, as the party in government, is centrally involved in dishing out tenders and contracts. The introduction of commercial interests is one factor that is undermining its proud political footing. Another is the "deployment" of ANC comrades to business.

This commercialisation has driven a profound change in the nature of the ANC. Once local ANC meetings were all about policies and strategies - the transformation of SA society according to the ideals the party championed for decades. Now these gatherings are frequently preoccupied with business opportunities and who should have access to them.

It's a transformation that wasn't expected. Rather than "transforming the state", as the party describes its goals in official rhetoric, the economy has transformed the ANC.

How did it begin? Trouble started for the ANC almost as soon as it took power, with squabbles over control of provincial structures. But it was only when politicians moved into the world of business that the competition for commercial opportunities began to dominate ANC dynamics. (For the complete article follow link above...)