The iPINIONS Journal


  • Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 5:47 AM

    Happy Cinco de Mayo

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [NOTE: I am publishing this commemoration today (on cuatro de Mayo) because professional commitments make it impossible for me to do so tomorrow. And, yes, part of me wanted to publish it, come what may, as a middle finger to Donald Trump.]

    __________________

    Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that purportedly celebrates the victory of a ragtag band of 4,000 Mexicans fighters over 8,000 French soldiers on May 5, 1862.

    But this historic feat seems lost on most people of Mexican heritage in the United States who mark the occasion by celebrating their culture — much in the drunken and carousing way people of Irish heritage celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

    Cinco de Mayo tops St. Patrick’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday with U.S. beer drinkers….

    (Washington Times, May 4, 2015)

    Alas, in recent years, the debate on illegal immigration  (complete with street protests) has overshadowed all that Mexican-Americans have to celebrate. Not least because, thanks to the demagoguing Donald Trump, it conjures up images of swarms of poor, menacing Mexicans crossing the border.

    Never mind that, according to a report in the Washington Post on April 23, 2012, more Mexicans are leaving the United States voluntarily than entering illegally for the first time since the Great Depression.

    So instead of continuing their indignant protests in support of their illegal brothers and sisters, perhaps my Mexican-American friends will now channel more of that energy towards celebrating their culture. And there’s no better way to do that than to use this holiday to remind Anglos of the things they all love about Mexico: tequila, Acapulco, tequila, Chichen Itza, tequila, los mariachis, tequila, Diego Rivera, tequila, Cancun, tequila, fajitas, and much more….

  • Monday, May 2, 2016 at 7:45 AM

    Humping Trump Exposes News Anchormen as Worse than Used Car Salesmen

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    These days, news anchormen serve as little more than hosts of reality TV shows masquerading as news programs.

    IMG_0680-0Their programming mantra – “if it bleeds, it leads” – used to reflect reporting on an increasingly violent society. Now it reflects reporting on anything that outrages, scares, or titillates – just to generate ratings. Which, of course, is the same mantra that explains outrageous movies like Borat, horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or erotic movies like Fifty Shades of Grey.

    I was in the vanguard of those decrying this sensationalizing of the news. Not because it exploits primal fears and desires; but because it betrays the news media’s role as a public trust. After all, the freedom of the press enshrined in the Constitution imposes a commensurate responsibility to serve as a source for news and information, not fun and entertainment.

    Here is how I decried this betrayal a few years ago:

    Don’t get me started on the way journalists now troll social media for news, and report on every tragedy as if it were the friggin’ Super Bowl. For journalism has become such a pathetic enterprise – so utterly bereft of principles like journalistic truth, professional independence, and duty to inform – that journalists think nothing of reporting what they think the public wants to consume as news, instead of informing the public about what is newsworthy.

    Some purported news organizations even generate sensational (‘viral’) headlines and then have creative writers produce stories to match those headlines. Sadly, journalists are becoming just like investment bankers who think nothing of packaging a junk bond as a triple-A stock and selling it for a quick buck.

    (“Nixonian Obama Right to Spy on Associated Press,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 13, 2013)

    Top-Polling GOP Candidates Participate In First Republican Presidential Debate

    Which brings me to the news media’s mercenary coverage of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Remarkably, they report every thing he says as “Breaking News”, especially the Tourrete-like insults he hurls at other candidates. In fact, you’d have to have been living on Mars over the past year to be unfamiliar with his boorish punch lines.

    AFP_A463KAs it happens, President Obama commented on this at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday. In a mocking tone, which did little to mask his abiding contempt, he chastised their obsessive coverage and summarized their abandonment of all journalistic principles with this dig at the host of CNN’s State of the Union:

    Jake Tapper left journalism to join CNN.

    (C-SPAN, April 30, 2016)

    Equally noteworthy, though, is the way Campbell Brown, former anchor for NBC and CNN, commented a day earlier. In “Why I Blame TV for Trump,” for the May/June edition of Politico, she lamented how “hunger for ratings” has induced journalists to abandon all hope of practicing real journalism.

    __________________

    campbell-brownMy friends in the TV news business are in a state of despair about Donald Trump, even as their bosses in the boardroom are giddy over what he’s doing for their once sagging ratings…

    It is driven by a hunger for ratings — and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain [i.e., giving Trump editorial control over their news programs in exchange for access to him]. Which is why you’ll see endless variations of this banner, once I saw all three cable networks put up in a single day: ‘Breaking News: Trump speaks for first time since Wisconsin loss.’

    __________________

    Brown’s prevailing lament is that her profession has become so focused on chasing profits that chasing news has become a distraction. Only this explains the networks and cable news channels deserting coverage of Obama’s historic trip to Cuba to cover Trump’s umpteenth campaign rally. This, even though they knew full well that his rally would amount to little more than Trump blurting out the same political slogans and personal insults he has on every other occasion.

    Brown’s most poignant lament, however, is that media bosses will honor this Faustian bargain. This, even though they know full well that a Trump presidency “could destroy the country.” CBS President and CEO Les Moonves summed up this mercenary coverage in Barnumesque fashion as follows:

    It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS…

    Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now?… The money’s rolling in and this is fun.

    (The Hollywood Reporter, February 29, 2016)

    This stands in dismaying contrast to GM CEO Charles Wilson declaring in 1953 that what was good for America was good for General Motors and vice versa. It also indicates how much the fourth estate has lost its way. Even putatively serious journalists now seem mandated to inflame passions than to inform minds. Indeed, I had just cause to preempt Brown’s lament years ago with commentaries like “Journalism Is Having a Very, Very, Pathetic Moment,” November 13, 2013.

    megyn_trump-800x430Of course, the mandate to hump trump has not plunged all news anchormen into a state of despair. For, ironically, none other than Megyn Kelly of FOX News seems perfectly happy to ape Trump by playing a reality TV host – in what Trump himself has turned into a presidential version of The Apprentice.

    Perhaps you recall the way she questioned him during the first GOP presidential debate last August; particularly how she put him on the defensive for using vile and misogynistic epithets when talking about women. In all too predictable fashion, Trump reacted by hurling vile and misogynistic epithets at Kelly, notably insinuating that she questioned him so aggressively because she was having her period.

    But the unassailable way she challenged Trump’s misogyny made her both a feminist and journalist heroine; not least because she had the good sense to resist his taunts to respond in kind. This is why it’s all the more lamentable that she has now made a mockery of all that:

    Donald Trump and the FOX News host Megyn Kelly met at Trump Tower on Wednesday morning…

    Trump’s intense dislike of Kelly – whom he has called unfair, overrated and even ‘crazy’ – has been one of the subplots of his run for president…

    ‘Mr. Trump and I discussed the possibility of an interview, and I hope we will have news to announce on that soon.’

    (CNN, April 23, 2016)

    FOX is promoting her Barbara Walters-style special as an “exclusive.” It’s scheduled to air on May 17. Never mind that a network promoting an exclusive interview with Trump is like a “John” hyping an exclusive rendezvous with a prostitute.

    But there’s no denying that Trump is a TV cash cow. And, like nearly everyone in the news “business,” Kelly wants to milk him for all he’s worth … her journalistic integrity and reputation be damned.

    make-america-white-againThat said, and with all due respect to Campbell Brown, I blame voters, not TV, for Trump.

    He makes quite a show of attributing his popularity among Republican voters to his willingness to act like a boastful, bumptious, bullying buffoon. Never mind that he appears congenitally unable to “act presidential.”

    But ratings indicate that even Americans who hate Trump can’t resist watching his reality TV show masquerading as a presidential campaign; hence the TV phenomenon.

    To be fair, though, the Republicans were already a party of far too many suckers long before Trump declared his presidential campaign. These, after all, are the same suckers who bought every thing from claims about Obama being a Muslim to pledges to repeal Obamacare – hook, line, and sinker.

    Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Trump, the undisputed P.T. Barnum of our times, is having no trouble getting them to buy his snake oil to “Make America Great Again.” This, notwithstanding a litany of caveat emptors, including his absurd fulminations about getting Mexico to pay for a wall to keep Mexicans out and banning all Muslims to keep terrorists out.

    They are like people who gorge themselves for years on nothing but fast food, and then wonder — with anger, frustration, and self-righteous indignation — why they ended up morbidly obese. To continue poking them, however, would be tantamount to harpooning beached whales; especially given such commentaries as “Trump for President? Don’t Be a Sucker!” April 8, 2011, “On Syrian (and Every Other Issue) the American People Are Insolent, Ignorant Idiots,” September 10, 2013, and “Evangelicals Supporting Donald Trump like Israelites Worshipping Golden Calf,” January 20, 2016.

    But I must confess that, despite my well-documented and well-founded cynicism, even I did not think there were enough suckers in the Republican Party to elect Trump its presidential nominee. I was wrong.

    Screen-Shot-2016-01-23-at-2.07.52-PM-300x209Hell, Trump was probably right when he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, in broad daylight, and still get enough votes to win this nomination. Which actually vindicates my point about his popularity saying far more about the gullibility of his supporters than the credibility of his candidacy.

    Still, thusly chastened, I can only hope there are not enough suckers in the general electorate to elect Trump the next president of the United States. I remain convinced that, for a silent majority, his schtick jumped the shark years ago with his “birther” nonsense.

    Accordingly, I am banking on Democrats and Independents — who elected and re-elected Barack Hussein Obama — to prove me right. More importantly, I am challenging prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, and members of the #NeverTrump movement—who have publicly damned Trump as dangerous and utterly unfit to be president — to make a public show of endorsing Hillary, the presumptive Democratic nominee. For, if ever there were a time to put love of country above loyalty to party, this is it!

    Related commentaries:
    Trump…don’t be a sucker
    American people are … idiots
    Evangelicals supporting Trump

  • Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 7:42 AM

    Alas, Bernie Never Had a Prayer…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Things are looking grim for Bernie Sanders. The Democratic presidential candidate told The New York Times on Wednesday that his campaign plans to lay off ‘hundreds of staff members’ as the campaign shifts resources to California, which holds its primary contest in June.

    The news arrives less than 24 hours after Sanders suffered a series of defeats against Hillary Clinton in Northeastern primary contests. Any path to the nomination now looks highly implausible.

    (The Atlantic, April 27, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 7.51.07 PM

    Selfie-obsessed idiots!

  • Friday, April 29, 2016 at 6:05 AM

    Elvis, Michael, David, Now Prince: How Death Became Them

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    -0c9ab56bfb4c3ce9Elvis Presley pioneered the funereal phenomenon of music stars becoming far more marketable in death than they ever were in life. Michael Jackson took this to new heights (or depths depending on your sense and sensibility):

    Since the singer died of drug intoxication in 2009 – when he was said to be $500 million in debt – his estate has ballooned to an estimated $1.5 billion, a portion of that from the 50 million albums that have sold posthumously.

    (Daily Mail, June 8, 2014)

    I duly expressed my cynicism in “More Proof Michael Was Not ‘Gone Too Soon,’” June 20, 2014.

    This is not the forum to elaborate on the psychology of people who wait for music stars to die to become their biggest and most devoted fans. But I could not resist commenting on it – in “David Bowie, Gender-Bending Performing Artist, Is Dead,” January 12, 2016 – as follows:

    Don’t get me started on his self-professed fans taking to social media to share how much his music meant to them. After all, if just a fraction of them had actually purchased his music, Bowie’s last hit single would not have been “Let’s Dance” … over 30 years ago…

    Ironically, apropos of hits, that is bound to change with the timely release, just two days before he died, of Blackstar, his requiem/farewell album. It’s trending; therefore, millions of social-media twits must have it.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 8.46.14 PMSure enough, Billboard reported on January 14 that sales of the dead Bowie’s Blackstar eclipsed record-setting sales of the living Adele’s 25, rocketing him to the top of its album chart for the first time … ever.

    Is it any wonder, then, that Prince never enjoyed in life the kind of commercial success he’s now enjoying in death:

    Initial sales figures prove that Prince’s influence still reigns — sales spiked a reported 42,000%, according to Nielsen Music…

    The tributes, memorials and thoughtful remembrances of Prince will continue for weeks. But now a whole lot more people have Prince songs in their libraries, and that’s one small silver lining in all the sadness.

    (Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2016)

    The cynicism inherent in such spike in sales is bad enough. That this cynicism seems completely lost on so many is profoundly dismaying. After all, if Prince ever had the influence the Los Angeles Times implies, the “silver lining” in his death would not be “a whole lot of people [suddenly adding] Prince songs to their libraries.”

    Mind you, I suspect madding mourners buy memorabilia on these occasions primarily to draw attention to themselves. And there’s never any shortage of hucksters willing to exploit this perverse form of narcissism.

    This, from today’s edition of the New York Daily News, betrays the cupidity of the hucksters, as well as the vacuity of the mourners, in this context:

    Crafty sellers are looking to the heavens to make purple gains after Prince’s death. Just one week after Prince died, Minnesotans have launched a free-for-all selling spree to profit from the Purple One’s passing.

    While most merchandisers stuck to shirts, key chains and posters, endeavoring entrepreneurs were inspired by the ‘Purple Rain’ artist – by literally selling the rain from the day Prince died.

    Let me hasten to clarify here that I am an even bigger fan of Prince’s music than Michael’s. Any real fan of both will understand why. But I find it curious that, just as he did in life, Prince is getting a pass in death for manifesting the same symptoms of racial self-hatred that dogged Michael in life and death.

    Nothing demonstrates the latter quite like reports a few weeks ago about Twitter trolls taunting his daughter Paris to explain the patent absurdity of claiming a black man as her biological father. I wrote about the inevitability of his children facing taunts and identity crises in such commentaries as “Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, Is Dead,” June 27, 2009, and “MJ: The Kid Is Not My Son (and Neither Is the Girl, or the Other One,” October 23, 2015. But I digress.

    1304861_630x354The point is that Prince conveyed (and left behind) mixed messages about his racial pride that are every bit as troubling. He clearly emulated Michael’s efforts to look more white than black. And his song “Controversy” betrays consciousness of guilt in this respect just as surely as Michael’s “Black Or White” does. For the record, the only person who ever created a controversy over whether Prince is black or white was Prince; and, with all due respect to Michael, it actually does matter if you’re black or white.

    But perhaps nothing is more telling than the gallery of Prince’s wives, fiancées and girlfriends. For the blackest of them all was his half-Mexican protégé, Sheila E.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.49.14 PMMeanwhile, bringing my lament full circle, reports are that the intestate beneficiaries of Prince’s estate are already salivating over the prospect of turning his Paisley Park into a tourist trap; you know, like Elvis’s Graceland….

    As indicated above, one could write a dissertation on this posthumous idol worship, which makes no more sense to me than viral clips about swimming pigs. What irks me most is that it makes a mockery of the respect and support real fans showed singers like Prince while they were still alive. But I shall suffice to end with this question:

    Why don’t a whole lot of people suddenly add the films of dead movie stars to their libraries the way they add the songs of dead music stars?

    Things that make you go hmmm, no?

    Related commentaries:
    More proof Michael
    Bowie … dead

  • Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 6:12 AM

    NFL Sacks Brady as Court Reinstates Deflategate Suspension

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    481277_1280x720Last July, the NFL handed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a four-game suspension for his role in the infamous Deflategate caper.

    The facts were so universally debated back then, I see no point in rehashing them now. Instead, here is how I commented on his suspension in “NFL on Brady’s Appeal: He Cheated, then Lied, and then Obstructed Justice,” July 29, 2015.

    ________________

    In “NFL Investigation: Brady’s a Liar and a Cheat,” May 7, 2015, I not only declared my belief that Tom Brady is as guilty as sin, but urged [NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] to make an example of him to protect the integrity of the game.

    571e394d1900002d0056c1e7But I had no idea Brady’s consciousness of guilt was such that he obstructed the Deflategate investigation the way Richard Nixon obstructed the Watergate investigation. In fact, given reports that he destroyed critical cellphone evidence “on or shortly before” the day he met with the special investigator, he really left Goodell no choice…

    This guy just strikes me as an arrogant cheater and a pathological liar. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of legal hacks and PR flacks willing to enable and defend his pathologies for a handsome fee.

    Which brings me to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). It should leave Brady to his own devices … to protect its own integrity. That Patriots owner Robert Kraft accepted the team’s punishment without appeal is instructive in this regard. Many pundits accused him of throwing Brady under the bus. But Kraft did what was clearly in the best interest of his team and the league, honoring the unqualified maxim that no player is bigger than the game.

    goodellBy the same token, it behooves the NFLPA to act in the interest of the association and the league. The evidence of Brady’s guilt is beyond any reasonable doubt. And Goodell’s power to discipline him is beyond reproach.

    Therefore, standing by Brady – in his self-indulgent and futile efforts to salvage his reputation – will create an untenable and unsustainable expectation among other players; namely that the NFLPA will stand by them too, no matter how egregiously they cheat or what crimes they commit.

    Trust me folks, in a legal fight between Brady and Goodell … on this issue, Brady is bound to suffer a humiliating and costly defeat. Unfortunately, he’s too full of himself to realize it, and his hacks and flacks are raking in too much of his money to deflate his ego. But he would be well advised to cut his losses, accept the suspension, and let his supermodel wife help him lick his wounds behind closed doors….

    That said, I think it’s fair to assert that Tom Brady’s reputation in Football is (or should be) every bit as tarnished as Barry Bonds’ reputation in Baseball is (and should be).

    ___________________

    This is why I was more gratified than surprised when the court affirmed the NFL’s decision earlier this week:

    A U.S. appeals court on Monday restored the four-game “Deflategate” suspension of New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady over allegations footballs were under inflated before an NFL playoff game last year.

    The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed a federal judge’s ruling from September. The appeals court ruled that in imposing the suspension, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell properly exercised his discretion under a collective bargaining agreement.

    (Reuters, April 25, 2016)

    Unfortunately, the drawn-out legal process enabled Brady to play last season with the presumption of vindication, which that federal judge’s erroneous ruling conferred upon him. And his lawyers could prevail upon him to draw it out even more by appealing this latest sack all the way to the Supreme Court.

    Tom BradyAfter all, they have already played him for a rich fool – whose willingness to part ways with his money, in vain attempts to preserve his “All-American” reputation, knows no bounds.

    Thankfully, there’s plenty of time for Brady, his legal hacks, and PR flacks to play out all kinds of futile maneuvers. Whatever the case, I expect him to be sidelined for the first four games when the NFL kicks off its next season on September 8.

    In the meantime, the players should fire the head of their NFLPA. I’m just sayin’.

    Related commentaries:
    NFL on Brady

  • Monday, April 25, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    Tubman, Truth, and MLK on Currency is Fine. But What about Douglas? And Remember Geronimo?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that women will feature prominently in new designs for the $20, $10, and $5 bills. Here, according to the April 20 edition of the New York Times, are the proposed changes:

    Front of the $20 bill: Harriet Tubman

    21currency-web2-popup

    Back of the $10 bill: Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    21CURRENCY-web3-articleLarge

    Back of the $5 bill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Marian Anderson

    21CURRENCY-web4-articleLarge

    The Treasury set 2030 for the new bills to be in circulation. But interest groups are already lobbying to have them in circulation before the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.

    There is no denying the symbolism of these new designs. And none is more symbolic than replacing Andrew Jackson, a former slaveholding president, with Harriet Tubman, a former slave turned abolitionist. That the $20 bill is second only to the $1 bill in circulation only enhances this symbolism.

    But any American not familiar with each and every one of these famous people should be ashamed of himself. They were, of course, key figures in the fight to end slavery, the campaign for women’s suffrage, and the struggle for black civil rights, respectively. This is why one would be hard-pressed to criticize these new designs.

    Hence, I share the following advisedly.

    Treasury-Secretary-Jack-LewI applaud Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for endorsing this “most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of American currency in a century.” After all, the original plan called for replacing Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first Treasury secretary no less, with Susan B. Anthony on the $10 bill; notwithstanding that Anthony, arguably the most famous suffragette, already graces the $1 coin.

    Incidentally, in “U.S. Putting Woman on Wrong Dollar Bill,” June 22, 2015, I delineated why the Treasury should leave Hamilton on the $10 and replace Jackson on the $20 – as it now plans to do.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.09.10 AMBut I chastise Secretary Lew for citing the providential popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, Hamilton, as inspiration for endorsing these changes. Especially given the more credible inspiration Women on 20s provided with their non-profit, grassroots campaign “to put a woman’s face on our paper currency.”

    After all, this is rather like congressional leaders citing a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, as inspiration for approving the MLK Memorial. Especially given the more credible inspiration Alpha Phi Alphas provided with their lobbying and fundraising to put this memorial to their most famous “Brother” on the National Mall.

    Not to mention that women could be forgiven for greeting this belated honor with bittersweet appreciation. Not least because it does nothing to redress the fact that they are still only making on 78 cents for every dollar men make….

    On the other hand, I appreciate why American leaders (black and white) are continually honoring Martin Luther King Jr. – who led the march for black civil rights. In doing so, however, they are continually overlooking Frederick Douglas – who led the fight to free blacks from slavery.

    In “Mall at Last, Mall at Last, Thank God Almighty a Black Is on the Mall at Last,” November 14, 2006, I delineated why Douglas’s heroic biography and leadership make him eminently more worthy than MLK in this context. Here is an excerpt.

    __________________

    • mlkmemc-715105Douglass was born in slavery; MLK was born in freedom.
    • Douglass spent his formative years on a plantation scrapping with his master’s dogs for food to eat; MLK spent his in relative luxury dining with America’s black elite.
    • Douglass taught himself to read and write; MLK attended America’s best schools, including Morehouse College and Boston University.
    • Douglass escaped from slavery, settled in the North, and began his political activism by leading challenges to segregation laws, which were as strictly enforced in the Antebellum North as they were in the Deep South; MLK graduated from university, settled in the South, and began his political activism by accepting calls to lead blacks – who had already begun the now-seminal Montgomery Bus Boycott.
    • Douglass had no peer among blacks in the fight to end slavery; MLK had Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X – whose message of self-defense and black nationalism resonated more with young blacks (for whom ‘by any means necessary’ was far more liberating and empowering than ‘I have a dream’).
    • king_bannerDouglass lived long enough (to age 77) not only to see his dream of abolition fulfilled, but also to become a professional man (as a U.S. Marshall and recorder of deeds), an international statesman (as U.S. Ambassador to Santo Domingo and Haiti), and a political champion for yet another cause (women’s suffrage); MLK died too soon (at age 39) not only to see his dream of racial equality fulfilled, but also to pursue any ambition outside of the black liberation struggle.
    • Douglass’s published works on the fight for freedom from slavery are voluminous; MLK’s on the struggle for black civil rights are modest by comparison. (I refer you to articles from one of Douglass’s many newspapers, The North Star, as well as his autobiographies Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass—an American Slave, My Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. It might also interest you to know that eyewitness accounts, by the likes of famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, suggest that Douglass was every bit the orator MLK was. Having read the text, I suspect his “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” speech, which he delivered on July 5, 1852, was even more provocative and inspiring than MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, which he delivered on August 28, 1963.)

    __________________

    Notwithstanding the above, my most damning criticism of this historic makeover of the paper currency is the blithe and conspicuous absence of any Native Americans. This is especially egregious given the genocidal injustices Andrew Jackson perpetrated against these original inhabitants of this great continent.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.04.05 PM

    Nonetheless, I trust you understand why elaborating would only compound this oversight.

    Finally, there’s this sobering and prescient note. I sounded it when the Treasury was planning only to replace Hamilton with Anthony on the $10 bill:

    Truth be told, paper currency is falling into such desuetude the media hype surrounding this belated and patently misguided honor seems contrived. It’s rather like hailing the appointment of a Native American as Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service; that is, now that e-mails and instant messaging are all the rage.

    (“U.S. Putting Woman on Wrong Dollar Bill,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 22, 2015)

    Related commentaries:
    The Mall at last
    Woman on dollar bill

  • Friday, April 22, 2016 at 12:17 PM

    Prince, His Purple Majesty, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Prince Rogers Nelson

    Thank you!

    1958-2016

    RIP

    s-l225

    _________________

    UPDATE

    (from Thursday, April 21 at 5:47 p.m.)

    Reports are that Prince died from complications related to an addiction to Percocet. Rather like Michael with his Propofol, no? Remember that … him?

    In any event, I appreciate so many of you asking if I intend to comment any further on Prince’s death. I do not.

    I presaged the reasons for this decision in my January 12 commentary on David Bowie’s death. In essence, it has become distressingly clear that the only reason one comments on the death of famous people these days is to draw attention to oneself. This macabre form of self-flattery makes the narcissism of plastering Instagram pages with selfies seem modest.

    Therefore, to comment any further risks participating too much in the madding self-aggrandizement that now characterizes public mourning on these occasions.

    Peace.

    Related commentaries:
    David Bowie

  • Friday, April 22, 2016 at 5:18 AM

    Earth Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    download (20)Former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) conceived this day of awareness in the late 1960s as an enlightened response to carefree pollution all over America.

    The country celebrated its first Earth Day in 1970. The environmental practices it inaugurated have become routine and universal; so much so that the symbolic replenishing of Earth’s natural resources — by planting trees — now seems trite, if not contrived.

    Granted, to hear all of the alarmist talk about climate change, you’d think it was Al Gore who transformed public consciousness in this regard only years ago with sermons from his environmental bible, Earth in the Balance.

    But this celebration of, and deference to, Earth’s natural wonders should be distinguished from Gore’s convenient truths about climate change. Truths, incidentally, that included using fake images of melting glaciers in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth just to scare people.

    Earth Day ushered in conservation and greening trends that have led to cleaner air, more potable (lead-free) water, and a much less polluted environment; whereas, for all his prophesying, Gore has had no impact.

    Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore said in an interview published Monday that there had been no improvement in the fight against climate change since his Oscar-winning film on the issue was released.

    (Agence France-Presse, April 20, 2008)

    face-of-climate-change-300x129In any event, representatives from at least 171 countries are marking the occasion this year by gathering at the United Nations in New York to sign the landmark Paris Agreement.

    As CNN reports today, scientists are hailing this agreement as the “world’s biggest leap forward in climate change policy in history.” It commits the world to ending our dependence on fossil fuels by the end of this century. This, in effect, would limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”

    Hope springs eternal. But, with past as prologue, getting each country to ratify this agreement, to say nothing of getting each to abide by the terms, might devolve into a terminal winter of discontent.

    I delineated my abiding doubts in “Paris Talks on Climate Change to Avert an Apocalypse? Hardly…,” December 2, 2015.

    Related commentaries:
    Paris talks
    Save the planet

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    Obama Continues Vietnam-Style Mission Creep in Iraq (Afghanistan and Syria)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Monday the United States will send 217 additional troops to Iraq to serve as advisers and trainers…

    The new forces, which will raise the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to more than 4,000, will be allowed to advise at the battalion and brigade level, rather than be restricted to the division level, Carter said, which means they are closer to the front lines and at greater risk…

    Both the troops and the Apaches are expected to play a role in the upcoming offensive by Iraqi security forces to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIS.

    (CNN, April 19, 2016)

    defense-large

    Both Secretary Carter and President Obama supplemented this announcement with TV interviews. Except that they spent most of their time trying to reassure the American people that these U.S. troops will have no combat role. Which, in the circumstances, is rather like a pregnant teenager trying to reassure her parents that she’s only a little pregnant.

    After all, it is well established that, when any Iraqi battalion or brigade enters combat, not only will embedded U.S. troops take the lead, but Iraqi troops will expect them to. Remember, the reason ISIS won the battle for Mosul in the first place is that Iraqi soldiers demonstrated an open and notorious lack of will to fight; this, despite 13 years of U.S. troops advising and training them to fight such battles.

    Republicans have spent the past seven years trying to convince the American people that Obama is delusional. But they never made any sense because they invariably cited perfectly sensible policies – like immigration reform, healthcare reform, and the nuclear deal with Iran – as symptoms of his delusion.

    As it happens, Obama has spent the past seven years manifesting clinical symptoms with his policies on Iraq and Afghanistan: On the one hand, he has made of show of withdrawing troops in droves and declaring an end to both wars; while on the other hand, he has made a mockery of his declarations (of mission accomplished?) by redeploying troops in trickles to both countries.

    u1_missionaccomplishedUnfortunately, Republicans have distinguished themselves by their uncompromising, partisan, incomprehensible and often hypocritical opposition to Obama. Only this explains why, instead of citing Obama’s policies on Iraq and Afghanistan as symptoms of his delusion, they’ve been railing against him for not redeploying even more troops to die in Bush’s unwinnable wars.

    Recall that, under former President George W. Bush, U.S. troops were supposed to help Iraqis build a country that could govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. Instead, U.S. troops have done little more than unleash the death, destruction, and disillusionment that have characterized life in Iraq over the past decade.

    Under Obama, U.S. troops were supposed to train Iraqis to defeat ISIS insurgents. Instead, when left to fend for themselves, Iraqis have done little more than hightail it and run, abandoning hundreds of millions in U.S.-provided military equipment in the process.

    Of course, Bush and Obama have presided over similar missions in Afghanistan … with equally feckless results.

    obamasalute-300x213I have been decrying these missions for years now – as evidenced by such commentaries as “The Shotgun Convention of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to Frame an Iraqi Constitution,” August 22, 2005, “Obama Saluting War Dead Will Be Defining Image of His Presidency,” October 30, 2009, “’Without [or even with] More Troops, Failure in Afghanistan Is Likely,’” September 23, 2009, “Demystifying ISIS: Case against Obama’s Bush-Lite War on Terrorism,” September 10, 2014, “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015, and many, many more.

    Accordingly, instead of decrying this latest mission creep, I shall reprise an instructive excerpt from “Why Have 300 Troops in Iraq When 3000 Will Do,” June 20, 2014.

    __________________

    Republican Senator John McCain has been front and center in the peanut gallery of those screaming that Iraq is falling apart today because Obama withdrew all U.S. troops in 2011.

    You’ve probably heard their chicken-and-egg complaint about Obama torpedoing negotiations for a stabilization force to remain in Iraq, indefinitely, by offering a low-ball number of only 300 troops. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (and U.S. generals, aping their Vietnam counterparts) requested 15,000 to 18,000…

    ISIS-soldiersExcept that, with rampaging jihadists calling themselves ISIS/ISIL now marching on Baghdad, al-Maliki is so desperate he would’ve thanked Allah if Obama had announced yesterday that he’s offering just 30 instead of 300 U.S. troops.

    All the same, Obama should be compelled to explain why he thinks 300 troops will have a stabilizing effect on Iraq today, with a full-scale sectarian war raging, when he clearly thought 3000 were needed in 2011, when Iraq was already relatively stable.

    You’d think Obama would know better than to dump U.S. troops into the midst of a foreign civil war/sectarian insurgency, and then propagate the obvious fiction that they will not be engaged in combat. It’s as if he has never heard of the military truism, ‘mission creep.’ Remember, JFK dispatched a few troops as advisers and propagated the same fiction in the early days of the Vietnam War.

    (“Sunnis, Shias, Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America!” The iPINIONS Journal, June 19, 2014)

    Like I said, just another “march of folly”!

    Not to mention the galling sense of entitlement inherent in al-Maliki not only defying Obama’s calls to form a more inclusive government, but also dictating to Obama what he needs from the United States to prevent insurgents from blowing Iraq asunder. And all of this is playing out in the backdrop of the Iraqi soldiers the United States spent so many years and billions training just laying down their weapons and surrendering to the insurgents like lambs to the slaughter.

    But one could hardly blame the Iraqis; after all, their training over the past 10 years consisted primarily of the United States dressing and equipping them to look like soldiers but having U.S. forces do most of the fighting for them. This is why, far from building a nation, the United States has created an unruly, yet terminally dependent, monster.

    Accordingly, I reiterate that the United States has long since paid its debt (in blood and treasure) for its ill-fated invasion of Iraq. And that, notwithstanding General Powell’s Pottery Barn (you-break-it-you-own-it) doctrine, the best thing the United States can do for Iraq at this point is to leave it to its own devices.

    __________________

    Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.00.28 PMFurther to his delusion, Obama stated during an interview on the CBS Morning Show yesterday, without any hint of irony, that these additional troops should stabilize Iraq by the end of his term (i.e., this year). But this might be even more delusional than Bush declaring, during a December 20, 2004, interview with Yedioth Aharonoth, that he would manage to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians before the end of his term.

    In fact, nothing betrays Obama’s delusion quite like the following headline – from a Huffington Post report on the Naval Special Warfare Command, which trains the “advisers” being redeployed to Iraq:

    These Elite Troops Spent 15 years At War. This Program Tries To Prepare Their Minds And Bodies For The Next 15.

    I can’t make this stuff up, folks.

    As the title to this commentary indicates, we need only to look to the way the Vietnam War unfolded to appreciate the continuing march of folly this latest mission creep in Iraq represents.

    1031588009If that history is not lesson enough, however, then surely the war zone that is Afghanistan even to this day should suffice:

    A Taliban suicide bomb and gun assault on a government security building during Tuesday morning rush hour in central Kabul killed at least [64] people and wounded more than [300], in the most deadly single attack in the Afghan capital since 2011.

    President Ashraf Ghani condemned the assault “in the strongest possible terms” in a statement from the presidential palace, located only a few hundred meters away from the scene of the blast.

    The insurgency led by the Afghan Taliban has gained strength since the withdrawal of most international combat troops at the end of 2014, and the Islamist group is believed to be stronger than at any point since it was driven from power by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

    (Reuters, April 19, 2016)

    As for Syria, remember this humiliating, costly, and all too predictable farce?

    American-trained Syrian fighters gave at least a quarter of their U.S.-provided equipment to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria early this week, the U.S. Central Command said late Friday. In a statement correcting earlier assertions that reports of the turnover were a ‘lie’ and a militant propaganda ploy, the command said it was subsequently notified that the Syrian unit had “surrendered” some of its equipment — including six pickup trucks and a portion of its ammunition — to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria.

    The acknowledgment is the latest discouraging report regarding the $500 million train-and-equip program, which Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of Central Command, said last week had only ‘four or five’ trained Syrian fighters active in Syria.

    (Washington Post, September 25, 2015)

    The title to my latest commentary on the Vietnamization of this conflict is: “Obama Amassing Coalition to Do in Syria What Bush Did in Afghanistan/Iraq,” September 30, 2015. It sounds my familiar lament about Obama deploying U.S. advisers, in patented mission-creep fashion, to train local fighters — who often seem more interested in killing them than ISIS terrorists. Again, that Obama continues sending troops on these untenable, non-combat missions makes him seem delusional. Which is why I ridiculed him on point in “Why Isn’t Combat against ISIS Combat? Er, Because Obama Says So…?” November 6, 2015.

    Then, of course, there’s the imperial hypocrisy inherent in the United States intervening in Syria, in defiance of the sovereign authority of the Syrian government, while condemning Russia for doing the same in Ukraine. At least Russia can point to the express invitation of President Bashir Assad to justify its intervention in the international conflagration the conflict in Syria has become.

    In any event, these are just some of the myriad reasons I wrote “Perhaps Only Authoritarian Regimes Can Govern Arab Countries,” June 11, 2014, which presaged Carter and Obama’s Groundhog-Day announcement about redeploying U.S. troops to Iraq.

    __________________

    Just yesterday, Iraq’s democratically elected prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was making hollow pledges to combat Islamic militants who had just seized control of Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Hollow because al-Maliki made similar pledges in January after these same militants – comprised of al-Qaeda acolytes calling themselves, variously, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – seized control of Fallujah, a key city in western Iraq, which remains firmly under their control…

    Recall that U.S. forces fought two battles to wrest control of Fallujah from insurgents in 2004. The second one was “the bloodiest battle in the entire war,” during which 95 U.S. troops were killed and 560 wounded…

    The point is that there was clearly far greater security in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s 24-year authoritarian regime … than there has been under the democratically elected governments that succeeded [him]. Indeed, one can hardly blame Iraqis for … pining for the return of an authoritarian regime to restore peace and security.

    __________________

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    Obama saluting war dead
    Shotgun convention
    Demystifying ISIS
    Sunnis, Shias, Kurds fighting for control
    Only authoritarian regimes
    Why isn’t combat … combat

  • Monday, April 18, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    #BringBackOurGirls Lost In Dustbin of Public Consciousness

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Thursday marked the second anniversary of the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram.

    0,,17624040_303,00This kidnapping incited universal outrage. Never mind that this outrage manifested in little more than people – most notably celebrities like Rihanna, Madonna, and Michelle Obama – posting #BringBackOurGirls on their social media pages.

    Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of these girls on those pages since then. Which is why it’s hardly surprising that this tragic anniversary passed for so many as if “the Chibok girls” never entered public consciousness.

    Mind you, Boko Haram kidnapped many more schoolchildren (i.e. girls and boys) with nary a mention in mainstream or social media.

    damasak-nigeria-boko-haramIn fact, having killed 20,000 and displaced 2.8 million across five regional countries, its unrelenting reign of terror is now preventing over 1 million Nigerian children from going to school:

    On the one hand, parents are too afraid Boko Haram might kidnap them; on the other hand, the Nigerian military has commandeered their schools to repurpose for the fight against these Islamic terrorists. Hence illiterate, traumatized kids now lying in wait to continue Nigeria’s never-ending conflicts for another generation….

    Meanwhile, that this anniversary garnered so little media coverage reflects not only the fecklessness of this fight, but also the disinterest in the schoolgirls’ plight.

    2016-04-14-1460666226-7075765-Rebecca_Samuels_3_large-thumbIndeed, it speaks volumes that the media marked it primarily by sharing the forlorn pleas of Chibok mothers – who are still wailing and wondering about the fate of their daughters. Sadly, we now know they were doomed from the night they were kidnapped:

    Boko Haram is forcing and duping young women into suicide missions for refusing to ‘marry’ members of the West African Islamist militant group, according to reports…

    ‘It is unbelievable that two years after the worldwide solidarity movement for the Chibok girls, Unicef is still struggling to collect less that 12 per cent of the funding we need to provide emergency assistance to 1.3 million children displaced by Boko Haram,’ [said Laurent Duvillier, Unicef spokesperson for West and Central Africa].

    (London Independent, April 14, 2016)

    As it happens, I waited to mark this second anniversary to see if those in the vanguard of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign would belie my cynicism about the fleeting nature of their viral outrage. They did not.

    In fact, there is nothing new about the “unbelievable” lack of interest that Unicef spokesman is complaining about today. For it was already such that I marked the first anniversary – in “Remembering the Chibok Girls (and Boys),” April 17, 2015 – as follows.

    ___________________

    Here is how I pooh-poohed the self-flattering, self-serving and self-delusional hashtag posts it generated:

    Remember when the “#StopKony2012” viral campaign made expressing concern for the ‘invisible children’ the LRA kidnapped an article of our shared humanity?…

    Yet Kony and his child soldiers remain as menacing today as they were back then.

    Therefore, I hope folks bear this in mind; that is, if they aren’t too busy tweeting about the outrage du jour to wonder about the real-world impact of the ‘#BringBackOurGirls2014’ viral campaign.

    (“Alas, Kidnapping Schoolgirls Is the Least of African Crimes against Humanity,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 7, 2014)

    I shan’t bore you with the sectarian and geopolitical reasons Nigerian authorities have failed to rescue them. To say nothing of the dispiriting fact that Boko Haram terrorists have kidnapped hundreds more since then; or that they have kidnapped almost as many boys.

    00271165-f2bff91b7aac3d0d742ef091dc4065ef-arc614x376-w1200The point now is that these rampaging Islamic terrorists are brazenly defying all boots-on-the-ground efforts to stop them, making a mockery of patently feckless protests on social-media.

    I am often accused of being too cynical. But my accusers can never cite a single case where my cynicism proved unwarranted.

    Moreover, as I found with my friends, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person, who tweeted #BringBackOurGirls, who can show that her concern for them extended beyond that tweet.

    ___________________

    There’s clearly no vindication in being so right about hashtag protests in this case. It’s just that I was informed enough to know they would do nothing to help.

    Indeed, I am all too mindful that other terrorist groups (like Al Shabaab and Lords Resistance Army) are terrorizing just as many innocent children across Africa. Not to mention the millions of others who seem fated to lives of chronic strife in war-plagued countries like Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

    drcongoI bemoaned the latter most recently in “Millions in South Sudan Eating Leaves and Grass … Like Cows,” October 29, 2015; and the former years ago in “Genocide in DR Congo: Rwanda with a Vengeance,” April 6, 2006, which includes this ominous observation – complete with the plea to no avail that has informed my cynicism ever since:

    In the fertile killing fields of the DR Congo even children must kill or be killed…

    I appreciate our despairing powerlessness to help these Congolese victims directly. Yet, we can flood our governments with cries of concern and demand action from them in the name of our shared humanity. Therefore, I urge you to contact your government officials and beg them to give this festering human catastrophe the attention it warrants!

    According to the NGO War Child, 5.4 million people died, including 2.7 million children. This explains why, in its edition on December 12, 2012, the New York Times described the conflict in the DR Congo as “The World’s Worst War.” The government and rebel forces signed a truce in mid-2013, but vast areas are still veritable war zones.

    The point is that media reports or mentions about the killing of so many children in the DR Congo were few and far between. Alas, civil conflicts, including “rape as a weapon of war,” have become so commonplace in Africa they don’t even incite viral outrage.

    mq1That said, decades of futility and fecklessness have demonstrated that Western intervention would prove no more helpful than hashtag protests. In fact, the record of America’s intervention in the Middle East over the past decade is such that intervening in Africa would be tantamount to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

    Therefore, no matter how heartrending this latest scourge, former Western patrons would do well, for all concerned, to leave Nigeria and the other countries affected to their own devices.

    “African Solutions to African Problems” is gaining currency as the new motto for African self-reliance. Cynics argue that this is just a Madison Avenue ploy to solicit more Western aid for the money pit Africa has become.

    But, if ever there were a cause to prove the cynics wrong, bringing back the Chibok girls is it. And, given the growing number of “lost” girls and boys Boko Haram is leaving in its wake, it behooves Africans to do so … ASAP.

    God help them.

    Related commentaries:
    Remembering Chibok
    South Sudan
    DR Congo

  • Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    Bernie and Pope Call for Moral Economy Only Revolution Can Build

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It might seem a contradiction, if not an apostasy, that this pope considers the Jewish candidate a better messenger of Christian values than any of the Christian candidates running for president. But this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the basic tenets of Christianity; to say nothing of the historical symmetry Bernie represents: Jesus was a Jew, after all.

    (“Pope Says Jewish Bernie Better than Any Christian Republican,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 20, 2016)

    Meanwhile:

    160414132230-bernie-pope-moral-economy-780x439

    Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has carried his populist message of economic inequality to the Vatican…

    He said the world must direct ‘our efforts and vision to the common good’ and praised the Catholic Church’s teachings on the economy.

    The visit comes just four days before a crucial state primary contest in his native New York.

    (BBC, April 15, 2016)

    New York might have missed the Bern for a day, but Rome was Berning yesterday. And that was a good thing.

    gv041116_color

    Bernie and the pope are calling for countries to build moral economies. But they might as well call for countries to end racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia too. Because it’s going to take revolutions for countries to redress the casus belli of income inequality, which of course is highlighted by the immoral pay gap between corporate CEOs and their worker bees. This, with all due respect to serial strikes for increases in the minimum wage.

    [McDonald’s] chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, brought home a whopping $7.91 million last year — a 368% raise over his 2014 salary of $1.69 million — while low-wage McDonald’s workers are striking around the country for a livable income…

    He also enjoyed the use of the company’s corporate aircraft, an allowance for a company car, free financial planning services and other unspecified personal items totaling $224,235…

    News of Easterbrook’s generous compensation comes as McDonald’s workers have joined other low-wage workers nationwide in their demands to raise the minimum wage [to $15 an hour].

    (New York Daily News, April 16, 2016)

    So here’s to revolutions, which I fear might make those that occasioned the Arab Spring look like Sunday picnics….

    Related commentaries:
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  • Friday, April 15, 2016 at 5:24 AM

    My New Book

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Book review: The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2015

    by Anthony L. Hall

    Reprinted from Caribbean News Now!

    Published on April 15, 2016

     

    Anthony Hall embarks on his eleventh annual retrospective compendium of insights and observations on the major events of our times with the publication of his latest edition – The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events 2015 – which covers his usual wide range of subjects, conveniently ordered by region and topic.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.36.49 PMHis topics are as eclectic as ever, including the tower-of-Babel efforts to defeat ISIS; the downfall of FIFA, soccer’s governing body; the outing of Bill Cosby as America’s most prolific rapist; the historic deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; the Republican presidential nomination featuring ringmaster Donald J. Trump; the race for sports story of the year between American Pharoah and Serena Williams; the Syrian refugees swarming Europe; the Black Lives Matter protesters leading a new civil rights movement; the growing fallout from Snowden’s NSA leaks; the peddling of discarded manuscripts by Harper Lee and others as newly discovered masterpieces; the NFL’s Deflategate; and the death of notable people, to name a few.

    As Hall says in his introduction, “I quote extensively from previous commentaries. I do so not just to show how current events vindicate them, but also to distinguish myself from commentators whose opinions seem no more rooted than the trending topic of the day.”

    The latest volume also includes such geo-political topics as:

    Africa and the Middle East: Mocking al-Qaeda, fighting ISIS; and Israel: trolling Iran, goading US.

    Asia: The search for MH370: one year on; and Buddhists religiously cleansing Myanmar of Muslims.

    Europe: Catholic Ireland becomes trailblazer for gay rights; and Jeremy Corbyn – the Bernie Sanders of British politics.

    United States: Republicans and sex; and race still matters.

    Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com

    Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant – headquartered in Washington DC – who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com

    Of particular interest to the Caribbean are topics such as UN peacekeepers preying on helpless Haitians; Cuba reopens embassy in Washington; rebuttal to demands for reparations; and Venezuela finally awakens from Chavismo nightmare.

    Other major topics are the Globalsphere, Sports, Entertainment, Potpourri, and In Memoriam.

    As always, Hall tackles all of these topics and many more in his latest volume with his trademark confidence, flair and humour as a regional iconoclast.

    “I hope that, for posterity, this volume proves a reliable source for reflection on the most important and noteworthy events of 2015. And I hope these commentaries serve as a provocative, informative, and even entertaining antidote to the 140-character tweets that pass for public debate these days.” Hall says, noting that Twitter is now considering 10,000-character tweets.

    “Perhaps its CEO has become conscience-stricken over the way his network is facilitating the dumbing down of public discourse, worldwide. Whatever the case, I consider this change a vindication of my long-form commentaries,” he says.

    __________________

    The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of Our Times: Volume XI, 614pp, is now available at Amazon (including an e-book version for just $3.99) and all other major booksellers.

  • Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 7:48 AM

    Jordan Spieth, Post-Tiger It Boy, Has Epic Meltdown at the Masters

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There were nine holes left in the Masters on Sunday afternoon and it was over. Spieth had a five-stroke lead in a tournament he had owned for two years…

    This wasn’t a competition, it was a coronation.

    (Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2016)

    In fact, Spieth entered the homestretch (aka the back nine) on a hot streak, having birdied four consecutive holes (6,7,8, and 9). And even though he bogeyed the 10th and 11th, he began the 12th with a two-stroke lead.

    In other words, Spieth still appeared headed for a coronation; so much so that the CBS commentators were already comparing him with the greatest players of all time.

    Spieth was going to become the youngest player in the Masters era to have claimed three majors. He was going to become the game’s first back-to-back, wire-to-wire major winner. He was going to win a second Masters in his third appearance after it took Tiger Woods seven appearances to win his second, and after it took Jack Nicklaus and Palmer six appearances to win their second.

    (ESPN, April 11, 2016)

    la-masters-golf-wre0037755477-20160410Except that a funny thing happened on the way to Butler Cabin and his second green jacket. Spieth quadruple bogeyed the 12th and left it with a three-stroke deficit. Even worse, he was clearly reeling from the psychological trauma of knowing that he had just become the biggest choke artist in PGA history.

    I am on record pledging never to watch a Tiger-less Golf tournament again. Therefore, I feel obliged to clarify that I was watching on Sunday only as payment on a silly wager.

    In any event, as I watched this unfold, I texted an old friend that Spieth was having a “Normanesque” meltdown. (If you don’t know what that means, google it!) My friend thought he could still come back. But, try as Spieth did, he had to have known there was no coming back from that. He ended up tied for second … still three strokes back.

    As badly as I felt for this 22 year old, his meltdown only reinforced the Tiger-centric interest most fans developed for Golf over the past two decades. After all, this would never have happened to the 22-year-old Tiger. And key to the triumphalism that made us cheer for him back then was that:

    1. No lead was safe from his charge in the final round.
    2. If he was atop the leaderboard going into the final round (as Spieth was on Sunday), every other player knew he was only playing for second place.

    Yet, somehow, Tiger-less tournaments are still all about Tiger. In this case, the scuttlebutt was about him announcing, just days before the Masters got underway, that he’s still not physically fit to compete. But I suspect he was unwittingly admitting that he’s not mentally fit.

    Whatever the case, here is how I presaged his debilitating rehab in “Tiger, Tiger, Losing Fight,” August 15, 2011.

    ___________________

    It’s plainly disingenuous for Tiger to suggest that chronic injuries have prevented him from winning. For this is belied by the fact that he not only seemed just fine throughout his winless 2010, but actually won his ‘last’ major, the 2008 U.S. Open, while in obvious pain caused by a knee injury…

    golf-300x200Frankly, one does not have to be a trained psychologist to diagnose that Tiger’s problems are more mental than physical. Because it’s self-evident that the public humiliation he endured following that domestic incident, which exposed his Charlie Sheen-like penchant for prostitutes, sapped him of the self-esteem and confidence that not only fueled his game, but instilled self-defeating fear in other players.

    Unsurprisingly, the media have focused on the fact that he lost his wife and a half billion dollars in divorce payments and commercial endorsements. It’s arguable, though, that an even greater loss was the mental strength that gave him that invincible swagger, but which depended so much on reverence from fans and fellow players alike…

    Furthermore, that a physically fit Tiger announced, after missing the cut, that he won’t play another tournament until November is testament to how mentally vulnerable he has become. Indeed, one can be forgiven for thinking that he’d rather nurse his wounded pride than risk another ignominious cut.

    Except that this avoidance strategy will only make his performance anxiety more acute. And, given his now-notorious sexcapades, how’s that for irony of ironies…?

    Tiger is 35. So he can probably compete for majors, physically, for another five years. But if he still hasn’t won his 15th by this time next year, I fear he will never be able to compete well enough, mentally, to dethrone Jack Nicklaus as the king of the majors with 18 wins…

    To appreciate how difficult it is for one player to dominate the majors the way Tiger did, bear in mind that 13 different players have won the last 13 majors.

    ___________________

    The majors, of course, are the four most prestigious annual tournaments in professional golf. They include the Masters in April, U.S. Open in June, British Open in July, and PGA Championship in August. And this trend – of no player dominating the majors the way Tiger did – continued when a relatively unknown player, Danny Willet of the UK, rose up from Spieth’s meltdown to win his first Major.

    331310C700000578-3535049-image-a-14_1460420937471Unfortunately, CBS had spent so much of its coverage following Spieth that Willet appeared like a skunk at the garden party when the network had to begin following him.

    Apropos of this, coverage of Spieth included allowing viewers to eavesdrop on his purportedly private chats with his caddie. It should have betrayed a harbinger of things to come that, long before that fateful 12th hole, we could hear Spieth agonizing over every shot as if it would make or break his entire tournament. But am I the only one who found this inside-the-huddle coverage annoying?

    Anyway, perhaps an even more telling measure of Tiger’s 14 majors is that 45-year-old Phil Mickelson has the most among all active players with just 5.

    That said, it might be helpful to recall that Tiger made a similar announcement last year about his debilitating rehab, which ESPN reported on as follows:

    For the third time in his past nine tournaments, Tiger Woods has withdrawn with a back injury…

    Woods, who started his round on the back nine, bogeyed two of his first three holes, again showing signs of the short-game woes that plagued him last week when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

    (February 6, 2015)

    I duly pooh-poohed that announcement in “Tiger’s Back, but His Back Won’t Let Him Play?! Puhleeeze,” February 6, 2015, which includes this pithy diagnosis:

    Theories abound about why Tiger can’t find his game. But he needs to find himself before he can find his game.

    Of course, the irony is that, at 40, the physical excuses Tiger has been making for his mental shortcomings are becoming self-fulfilling….

    But I cannot overstate that Tiger was already a 33-year-old winner of 14 majors in November 2009. That’s when suffered the public humiliation that sapped him of his mental edge, which is so indispensable to winning in Golf.

    Spieth is a 22-year-old winner of 2 majors. Therefore, one can only hope that he does not have the same kind of difficulty recovering from this public humiliation that Tiger is having with his….

    Related commentaries:
    Tiger escapes
    Tiger, Tiger
    Tiger’s back

  • Monday, April 11, 2016 at 8:48 AM

    Neocolonial International Criminal Court Is Imperious and Incompetent. Abolish It!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It never ceases to amaze me when putatively educated people betray their ignorance about the mission of and proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

    150324-icc_building-sophie_van_leeuwen-the_hague_trials_kenyaThis ignorance stems from the fact that the ICC gets so little coverage in Western media, especially here in the United States. This coverage stems from the fact that, since it was established in 1998, the ICC has targeted African leaders for war crimes prosecutions. And this targeting stems from the fact that the world’s most powerful leaders enjoy a presumption of immunity – as the war crimes former U.S. President George W. Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair allegedly committed in Iraq attest.

    Incidentally, for the record, the ICC’s mission is to prosecute (select) persons charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

    That said, the collapse of its latest prosecution came as no surprise.

    Judges at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday threw out post-election violence charges against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto…

    A similar case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta collapsed last year…

    Judges halted the trial before Ruto’s defense lawyers opened their case, ruling that prosecutors had failed to marshal enough incriminating evidence.

    (Reuters, April 6, 2016)

    Frankly, the incompetence of ICC prosecutors is such that they probably couldn’t even convict ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of war crimes.

    665003303001_4825232248001_vs-56fd760fe4b07531229ed54b-782203292001I should note here that the ICC is not part of the United Nations’ mishmash of international courts and tribunals. Not that the UN’s imprimatur ensures credibility or competence, mind you. Indeed, just weeks ago, its International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) handed down a verdict against Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj that threw this into shocking relief:

    The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has acquitted Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj on all nine counts that UN prosecutors filed against him in his marathon trial…

    [H]e had spent more than a decade in custody at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia…

    Seselj reportedly said he would seek 14 million euros in damages from the court in The Hague for his time spent there.

    (Aljazeera, March 31, 2016)

    Unsurprisingly, Seselj’s victims across the Balkans, who could and did bear witness to his many war crimes, reacted in utter disbelief, disgust, and disillusionment.

    The problem, of course, is that the Nuremberg trials set an unsustainable precedent. After all, the circumstances following World War II were such that victorious Allied leaders could have summarily executed defeated Axis leaders and nobody would have complained. Absent similar circumstances, however, setting up international courts and tribunals to prosecute anyone is fraught with imperial presumptions and biases.

    My abiding belief is that any person accused of war crimes should be tried in the country where he allegedly committed his crimes – complete with local prosecutors and judges. This is not the commentary to elaborate. But just consider the obvious reasons France is seeking extradition of the Belgian who masterminded the November bombings in Paris….

    As it happens, I have written a series of commentaries over the years not only decrying the ICC’s neocolonial approach to prosecutions, but also lamenting its prosecutorial incompetence.

    Therefore, I shall suffice at this point to share excerpts from a few of them. They should explain why I think the ICC should be abolished.

    __________________

    • From “Alas, the ICC Charging Bashir of Sudan with Genocide Means Nothing!” July 15, 2008:

    It is critical to note that neither the United States nor Sudan has ratified this treaty.  Which means that the only country that would even dare to arrest Bashir on these charges does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

    • From “ICC Double Standards…” June 29, 2011:

    It is hardly surprising that, far from being cowered by ICC arrest warrants, Bashir and Gaddafi have reacted to them with unbridled contempt. But there’s no gainsaying their complaint that the ICC amounts to little more than a tool Europeans use to prosecute leaders of African countries, as well as those of small and relatively powerless countries like the former Yugoslavia.

    Exhibit A in support of their complaint is the fact that no arrest warrants have been issued for Chinese leaders for their genocidal crackdown on Tibet’s Buddhist intifada in 2008, to say nothing of their notorious Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

    • kenya-300x203From “Uhuru Kenyatta, Son of Kenya’s Founding Father, Indicted on War Crimes,” January 24, 2012:

    I wonder what evidence the ICC possesses that ties Uhuru and the three other prominent Kenyans it indicted to the rapes and murders that were committed. And am I the only one who finds it a little too convenient that, of the four indicted, two of them supported President Kibaki (namely Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura) and two supported opposition leader Odinga (namely former Education Minister William Ruto and radio presenter Joshua arap Sang)?

    Frankly, this seems a contrived attempt by the ICC to forestall more score-settling and communal violence by saying, in effect, a pox on both your houses.

    What’s more, I doubt any of these men had any hands-on involvement in any of the violence at issue. And if the charges stem just from inciting and organizing what the BBC described as ‘a bloody round of score-settling and communal violence,’ then surely no two people are more responsible than Kibaki and Odinga themselves. Which makes this rather like blaming Hitler’s generals but not Hitler himself, no?

    • From “Liberian President Charles Taylor Convicted in The Hague,” April 27, 2012:

    If Taylor of Liberia can be hauled to The Hague and tried for aiding and abetting atrocities that were committed in Sierra Leone, why shouldn’t Putin of Russia face the same fate for aiding and abetting similar atrocities now being committed in Syria?

    • From “No Equitable Justice in ICC Prosecuting Kenya’s Kenyatta,” March 25, 2013:

    It now seems my suspicions about the ICC’s evidence were wholly warranted. Because on March 11, 2013, the ICC dropped all charges against Uhuru’s co-defendant, Francis Mathaura, citing the lack of credibility of its star witness.

    More important, though, given that the ICC based its indictment against Uhuru primarily on this same witness’s testimony, it can only be a matter of time before prosecutors swallow their pride and drop all charges against him too…

    Prosecutors insist they have other witnesses who can testify to hearing Uhuru order Kibaki supporters to attack Odinga supporters. But this still begs the question: If the witness intimidation that forced the ICC to dismiss charges against Muthaura ‘is ongoing [and] will get more serious,’ isn’t it more likely than not that such intimidation will succeed in compromising the testimony of any witness against Uhuru? After all, he is not only the richest man in Kenya but now the most powerful one too, having been elected as its new president earlier this month.

    I am willing to bet my life savings that President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta will never … serve a day in jail.

    • icc-600x400From “International Criminal Court Lost All Credibility,” June 5, 2013:

    My commentaries are replete with condemnation of the kleptomaniacal and genocidal thugs who have lorded, for far too long, over far too many countries in post-colonial Africa. But there’s no denying that thugs of a different sort have lorded, for far too long, over far too many countries on every other continent as well…

    I am heartened that Africa now has a new crop of reputable and respected leaders who are echoing my condemnation of both African despots and ICC prosecutors…

    I urge you to bear in mind that nobody called for the racist fiends who ruled the United States from slavery to Jim Crow to be hauled before any international criminal court for the systematic crimes against humanity they committed (or orchestrated).

    Therefore, I submit that, just as America has done since its founding, African countries should be left alone to figure out how to prosecute and imprison (if called for) any leader who commits an impeachable offense. And remember, it took a bloody civil war the likes of which the world had never seen for American leaders to just begin abiding by their constitutional principles of democracy and freedom.

    • From “African Leaders Defy ICC to Defend Kenya’s Kenyatta,” October 15, 2013:

    It’s one thing for the ICC to prosecute a diamonds/drugs warlord turned president like Charles Taylor of Liberia; it’s quite another to prosecute Kenyatta. After all, he’s not only the son of a man who is arguably even more revered throughout Africa than Nelson Mandela, he’s now the sitting, legitimately elected president of Kenya.

    This is why it came as no surprise when the African Union convened an extraordinary session last weekend to decide whether member states should withdraw en masse from the ICC’s jurisdiction…

    The AU … resolved that …no African head of state shall appear before any international court.

    • And from “ICC Decides Not to Prosecute Kenya’s Kenyatta. Duh,” December 8, 2014:

    I fully expect the ICC to decide not to prosecute Kenyatta’s other co-defendant, Deputy President William Ruto, for the same reasons it decided not to prosecute Mathaura and Kenyatta. Not least because it would say far more about the ICC’s lack of credibility than Ruto’s guilt if it proceeds in the circumstances.

    _________________

    I rest my case … against the ICC.

    Related commentaries:
    ICC Kenyatta
    ICC Gaddafi
    ICC Bashir
    African leaders defy ICC to defend Kenyatta
    ICC Decides

  • Saturday, April 9, 2016 at 7:56 AM

    Caught transgendering…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.26.56 PM

  • Friday, April 8, 2016 at 5:38 AM

    Political Chaos in Brazil Makes Zika Virus least of Pre-Olympic Woes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Media alarms about Zika make it easy to overlook persistent concerns about Brazil’s sewage-infested bays and lagoons, which expose locals, and will expose Olympic athletes, to MRSA and all kinds of other waterborne viruses.

    (“Zika Virus: God Help the Children; Save the Olympics,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 3, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 9.42.05 PM

    The stress of training for the Olympics is unnerving enough; therefore, exogenous worries about viruses must make that training a nightmare.

    Add to this an unfolding saga of political corruption, which threatens to render the Olympics a frivolous sideshow. Then factor in the media covering this saga with such biased fervor, their reports seem intended more to incite than inform.

    This is the untenable state of play as athletes train for the Rio 2016 Olympics, which are scheduled to get underway in a few months.

    A defiant [President] Dilma Rousseff has insisted that there is no legal justification for her impeachment and warned that any attempt to remove her from power illegally would leave lasting scars on Brazilian democracy…

    Huge anti-government protests that have shaken the country in recent weeks as revelations over the country’s worst-ever corruption scandal add momentum to an impeachment process that began in December.

    The president’s attempt to appoint her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to cabinet last week – in what critics argue is a move to shield him from prosecution – added to widespread public outrage at politicians’ impunity and prompted calls for Rousseff’s resignation.

    (London Guardian, March 24, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 8.53.57 PMMind you, Brazil is the banana republic whose leader, the allegedly corrupt Rousseff, cited reports about NSA spying when she rejected President Obama’s invitation for a state visit – complete with White House pomp and ceremony. Here, in part, is how I ridiculed her patently disingenuous snub:

    Canceling a state visit to Washington smacks of a triumph of political posturing for her next election over political performance for the annals of history.

    Not to mention that, if an Edward Snowden from any of the countries now hurling ethical indignation at the United States were to commit a similar betrayal, the world would find that they were/are doing the same thing; hence my July 2, 2013 commentary ‘I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy.’

    (“I Said Putin Would Hand Snowden Over. I Was Wrong,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 23, 2013)

    Sure enough, just months later, the New York Times treated the world to this bit of schadenfreude:

    Brazil’s government acknowledged on Monday that its top intelligence agency had spied on diplomatic targets from countries including the United States, Iran and Russia, putting the Brazilian authorities in the uncomfortable position of defending their own surveillance practices after repeatedly criticizing American spying operations.

    (November 4, 2013)

    I piled on with “Germans Exposed as Spying Hypocrites, Others Will Too,” August 20, 2014. But I digress.

    AP252523447697With respect to the allegations of corruption, I suspect Rousseff and Lula are as guilty as sin. Notably, though, their names have not been flagged in the “Panama Papers.” This suggests that, unlike President Mauricio Macri of Argentina and his predecessor, Cristina de Kirchner, they chose a more Anglo tax haven to launder their ill-gotten gains.

    But the chaos in Brazil is not as black and white (or poor vs. rich) as it might seem; not least because unseen hands have been stirring it up for years. Those hands belong to corporate titans, media barons, and white elites who want to discredit anti-poverty programs, which Lula and Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT) has been implementing to help the poor, who are mostly black/mixed.

    In fact, this chaos is not unlike that which unfolded in Haiti during the 1990s. The unseen hands back then belonged to (American) saboteurs and white/mulatto elites (aka Group of 184) who wanted to discredit similar programs, which President Aristide’s Lavalas Party was implementing to help the poor, who are mostly black. Alas, with respect to allegations of corruption, I suspect Aristide was as guilty as sin too. (I commented on the Haitian chaos in such commentaries as “What to Make of Last Week Elections in Haiti,” February 13, 2006, and “Aristide Returns to Haiti,” March 22, 2011.)

    With respect to preparations to host this Summer Olympics, the IOC will work with local officials to ensure that Rio is ready in every respect, despite the political chaos and environmental hazards. I recall all too well the stress and worry that attended preparations for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Yet FIFA worked with local officials to ensure that Brazil was ready in every respect, despite the political chaos back then.

    rio-2016

    More to the point, I am convinced that neither the Zika virus nor political chaos will scare any contender away from the Rio 2016 Olympics.

    So, let the Games begin!

    Related commentaries:
    Zika
    Snowden
    Panama papers
    Haiti

  • Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 5:37 AM

    Leaked ‘Panama Papers’ Affirm more than Reveal Offshore Banking Secrets

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.17.21 AM

    No doubt you’ve seen or read trending reports on the “historic leak” of data, dating back 40 years, from the Panamanian law firm, Mossak Fonseca.

    The data provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous: from politicians, Fifa officials, fraudsters and drug smugglers, to celebrities and professional athletes.

    (Süddeutsche Zeitung, April 3, 2016)

    But this is hardly news, let alone ‘Breaking News:” Leaking the Pentagon Papers was a bombshell because they revealed that the U.S. government was lying about the nature of its involvement in Vietnam. Leaking the Panama Papers is not because they merely affirm what is generally known about offshore tax-evasion and money-laundering schemes.

    Not to mention the truly rare insights the “Swiss Papers” provided in this regard just a year ago:

    The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn’t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than 100,000 names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world…

    60 Minutes, working with a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), obtained the leaked files. They show the bank did business with a collection of international outlaws: tax dodgers, arms dealers and drug smugglers — offering a rare glimpse into the highly secretive world of Swiss banking.

    (CBS News, February 8, 2015)

    I’m on record commenting – in “Unlike NSA Leaks, HSBC Leaks Actually Serve Public Interest,” February 10, 2015 – on the rogue’s gallery of tax dodgers and money launderers this investigation outed. More to the point, many of the names that popped up in the Swiss Papers are popping up in the Panama Papers too.

    Alas, in this age of Twitter and Snapchat, even news of the discovery of life on Mars would probably trend for only a day, before the next trending topic knocks it out of public consciousness.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.12.42 AMThat said, much is being made about documents implicating “the dirty dozen.” These are heads of state who feature as silent ringleaders in schemes that have fleeced their people of billions. But it’s hardly surprising that leaders of totalitarian regimes and dictatorships – from Europe to Asia through the Middle East and Africa – figure so prominently.

    Still, for the record, among the “power players” outed are the heads of state of Argentina, Ukraine, and the UAE; close relatives and associates of the heads of state of Great Britain, Russia, China, Syria, Malaysia, Mexico, and South Africa; and celebrities, including Argentinian Soccer star Lionel Messi, British entertainment guru Simon Cowell, and Chinese movie star Jackie Chan, just to name a few.

    Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin can be forgiven for thinking he’s “the main target of Panama Papers leak” – as the New York Daily News headlined its sensational report on Monday.

    The problem of course is that targeting Putin as a kleptomaniac is about as consequential as targeting Trump as a demagogue. Nothing indicates this quite like the litany of reports over the years that have outed Putin as the biggest political crook in history … all to no avail.

    I have decried his immunity/impunity in this respect in many commentaries – from the “Putinization of Russia…,” November 2, 2006 to “Ukraine’s Orange Revolution Turns ‘Red,’” February 25, 2014, which includes the following excerpt on point.

    __________________

    [Putin] makes quite a show of standing in solidarity with despots like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Yanukovych of Ukraine, and Assad of Syria. But he does so only because he lives in mortal fear that the popular uprisings that toppled them might topple him too. Period.

    1420660749_1_9_mEtY16BL-2This is why he must’ve been a little unnerved yesterday when even pro-Russian Ukrainians began calling for Yanukovych’s head. This, after they got a glimpse at the obscenely opulent, Louis-XVI lifestyle he was living at their expense. So just imagine what Putin’s peasant supporters in Russia would want to do to him. After all, he lives a lifestyle that’s a thousand times more extravagant than Yanukovych’s, having amassed billions in ill-gotten gains over the years as a KGB officer turn politician.

    After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated a fortune of more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man.

    (“Putin, the Kremlin Power Struggle and the $40bn Fortune”, London Guardian, December 21, 2007)

    Trust me, Putin lords over a kleptocracy that has fleeced public funds on such an unprecedented scale, it makes the kleptocracies African despots lord over seem petty. Which of course is why he is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s dubious accumulation of wealth and his.

    Far better, for example, to get Russians drunk with pan-Russian pride than to have them pose sober questions about the billions he and his cronies embezzled from the $50-billion price tag for the Sochi Olympics.

    __________________

    Significantly, reports are that the Panama Papers do not implicate any Americans of note. But this too is hardly surprising; not least because, even before the Swiss Papers, Wikileaks was disrupting the confidentiality of offshore banking secrets. It was clearly only a matter of time before law firms in offshore jurisdictions – that help clients dodge sanctions, evade taxes, and launder money – were hacked.

    15Therefore, any American who held undisclosed foreign accounts would have been well advised to accept the quasi-amnesty the IRS offered with its 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

    There are also the mandatory disclosures that came when the United States prevailed upon most countries to sign on to its 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The declared aim of FACTA is to “uncover offshore tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers.” Notable signatories include Caribbean tax havens once favored by Americans, namely, the Cayman Islands and The Bahamas. As a native of the latter, I could not be more supportive of laws (or leaks) that make the rich and crooked apprehensive about using my country to hide and/or launder their money.

    Finally, the U.S. Tax Code has become riddled with so many tax-avoidance loopholes, they render most tax-haven schemes redundant. To say nothing of the fact that states like Delaware and Nevada now compete with (offshore) tax havens when it comes to incorporating shell companies to hide cash. Shamefully, as “fallout” from the banking crisis demonstrated, the scandal is that it’s perfectly legal for the rich in America to avail themselves of all kinds of schemes to avoid taxes, hide assets, and get richer.

    Mind you, law firms are still doing for non-American clients in these tax havens what Mossack Fonseca is accused of doing for its clients in Panama. Indeed, if Putin’s moneymen only laundered two of his forty billion in ill-gotten gains through Panama, chances are that they laundered similar amounts through other tax havens like Hong Kong; you know, spreading the wealth (and risk) around. Moreover, the BBC reports that tax havens hold up to $30 trillion in undisclosed accounts.

    Hence, it’s only a matter of time before leaks from the Luxembourg Papers, the Singapore Papers, the Turks and Caicos Papers, et al. become global headlines.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 2.21.59 PMFor now, though, none of those outed in the Panama Papers could have been sweating more bullets than Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson of Iceland:

    Iceland’s prime minister faces a vote of no confidence after the files disclosed offshore holdings linked to him and his wife. He has said there is ‘nothing new’ in the reports, but walked out of a TV interview when quizzed on it.

    (London Guardian, April 4, 2016)

    Too bad for him, he’s not a de facto dictator – like China’s Xi Jinping and most of the other political leaders implicated. For their control over the press in their respective countries is such that they are effectively insulated from the fallout, no matter how deeply implicated.

    By contrast, news reports in Iceland on this story incited such outrage that thousands took to the streets to demand Gunnlaugsson’s resignation. It was only a matter of time before he was toast. He resigned yesterday.

    Meanwhile, Russia Today (RT), Putin’s version of CNN, is the only network reporting on the Panama Papers as if they exposed the way Britain has transformed its former colonies in the Caribbean into tax havens for wealthy Britons.

    2154As it happens, the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron is implicated. He founded and helped manage an offshore fund out of The Bahamas, which evaded taxes on profits for over 30 years, until his death in 2010. But the sins of this father were all RT needed to frame Cameron for Putin’s offshore crimes … as alleged.

    Never mind that Cameron has been in the vanguard of world leaders calling for an end to bank secrecy laws that enable the kinds of tax-evasion and money-laundering schemes the Panama Papers exposed. Indeed, his advocacy forced the surviving managers of his father’s offshore fund to relocate to Ireland in 2012.

    RT targeting Britain in this fashion also serves as payback for Britain indicting Putin for the London hit on former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. I commented on this sensational indictment in “British Inquiry Finds Putin Ordered Hit. No Sh*t,” January 27, 2016.

    Not to mention that targeting Britain deflects from the fact that the Panama Papers expose Putin as a venal hypocrite. After all, they show him privately allowing members of his inner circle to hoard billions offshore. This, while he was publicly ordering Russian oligarchs to repatriate their billions in overseas investments to help resuscitate Mother Russia’s flatlining economy. I commented on his order, which no oligarch could refuse, in “Prokhorov, Russian Owner of NBA Nets, Exposed,” March 26, 2014.

    But it’s worth noting that RT’s reporting is entirely consistent with the propaganda Putin has propagated to fuel his presidency – almost from day one. And the “big lie” he continually prevails upon Russian media to report (without any hint of irony) is that his mistakes, misdeeds, and misappropriations are nothing more than Western propaganda intended to undermine Russia’s greatness.

    In any event, here’s to the next leak of offshore papers….

    Until then, bear this in mind: During Leona Helmsley’s notorious trial for tax evasion in 1989, one of her employees testified to her abiding belief that, “Rich people don’t pay taxes. Only poor people pay taxes.” Trust me, folks, this revealed the perversely entitled motto that far too many rich people still live by.

    Related commentaries:
    HSBC tax cheats
    Putinization of Russia
    Ukraine’s Orange Revolution
    British inquiry
    Prokhorov

  • Monday, April 4, 2016 at 7:49 AM

    UN Peacekeepers like Fox Guarding Henhouse

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The United Nations on Wednesday said it has widened an investigation of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by foreign peacekeepers in Central African Republic and notified authorities in France, Gabon and Burundi about the charges.

    U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday the world body had received new sexual abuse allegations against U.N. peacekeepers from Morocco and Burundi in Central African Republic (CAR), including one that involved a 14-year-old girl…

    In December, an independent review panel accused the U.N. and its agencies of grossly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse and rape by international peacekeepers in CAR in 2013 and 2014.

    (Reuters, March 31, 2016)

    0,,18488012_303,00Reading the above should leave us all shocked and appalled. But, after revelations about child sexual abuse and rape by Catholic priests, I find it hard to summon the outrage such betrayals of trust demand. I suspect the same is the case with you too.

    Not to mention that UN peacekeepers have been sexually exploiting and abusing children for decades. In fact, I duly vented outrage in such commentaries as “UN Peacekeepers Preying on Helpless Haitians?! Yes,” June 23, 2015, “UN Corrupt from Head to Toe?” June 17, 2005, and “Kofi Annan’s UN Malaise: Corruption, Sex,” February 20, 2005, which includes the following excerpt.

    __________________

    A few weeks ago, disgusted officials leaked an internal UN report, which found that peacekeepers had sexually exploited and abused African refugees in the DR Congo. These leaks forced Annan to admit that he had known for some time about his staff’s criminal conduct. Conduct, incidentally, that included pedophilia, rape, and prostitution (some of which was caught on tape).

    He offered words of contrition to the African victims and pledged to convene a commission to investigate these crimes. Except that, in doing so, he was treating these victims like poor, ignorant fools. After all, just years ago, another internal UN report found evidence of similar ‘widespread’ sexual exploitation and abuse of African refugees by UN staff.

    __________________

    ban_ki_mon_0That was over 10 years ago, folks. This is why the UN announcing an investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers rings so hollow; rather like the Vatican announcing the same with respect to priests.

    Indeed, it is self-evident that the UN is no more interested in punishing predatory peacekeepers than the Vatican is in punishing pedophiles priests. Recall that it took prosecutors in Boston, not Bishops in Rome, to hold pedophile priests to account – as the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight dramatized to sobering effect.

    un_carAccordingly, the United States should lead the five permanent members in calling on the UN to strip peacekeepers of immunity for any crime committed outside the scope of their mission.

    U.N. peacekeepers, including troops, civilians and U.N. staff who [rape and abuse women and children] can do so behind a cloak of immunity, knowing that they will not be held to account for their heinous actions…

    Over the last two decades, peacekeepers have been accused of abuses in Liberia, Congo, Bosnia and Haiti. Personnel have forced women and children to have sex in exchange for food, have trafficked women into U.N. missions and systematically raped them, and have committed other egregious acts of sexual violence

    (CNN, May 25, 2015)

    In other words, instead of producing more internal reports, the UN should adhere to the categorical imperative of allowing local prosecutors to prosecute predatory peacekeepers, just as they now prosecute predatory priests.

    Related commentaries:
    UN preying
    UN corrupt
    UN malaise

  • Saturday, April 2, 2016 at 7:07 AM

    Brave New World: Kids rule!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    177519_600

  • Friday, April 1, 2016 at 7:36 AM

    NCAA March Madness … among the Women Too

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Organizers hype the annual NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament as “March Madness.” They do so to exploit “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” inherent in low-seeded (aka Cinderella) teams upsetting top-seeded ones – often with buzzer-beating, three-point hail marys.

    This year’s tournament has lived up to that hype. Millions who picked top-seeded teams (to at least win their respective divisions) will attest to this. After all, of the four top-seeded teams in the men’s bracket, only one (North Carolina) has made it to the Final Four; of those in the women’s, only UConn did.

    Hence, the matchups for this weekend’s semifinal games to make it to next week’s final are as follows:

    Men’s Bracket

    Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 5.58.06 PM

    2 Villanova Wildcats vs. 2 Oklahoma

    1 North Carolina vs. 10 Syracuse

    Women’s Bracket

    Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 5.39.08 PM

    1 UConn vs. 2 Oregon State

    4 Syracuse vs. 7 Washington

    As it happens, I decided years ago to forego the cheap thrill of filling out brackets and feigning agony as my picks get knocked off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery.

    Mind you, if I were still an indentured servant at a big law firm, I would’ve welcomed the respite from drudgery, which bracketology for office pools provide. The aim was clearly not to guess the result of each game; it was to see whose bracket sustained the least number of casualties throughout the tournament.

    But I no longer buy into the hype because it’s just so brazenly sexist. I’m on record duly decrying this in “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009.

    ___________________

    One can be forgiven for thinking that North Carolina winning the NCAA (men’s) championship on Monday is the biggest story in Basketball this year…

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

    Now just imagine the hoopla if North Carolina had won the NCAA (men’s) championship in such convincing fashion…

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

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

    ___________________

    53ba3dbd3b9be2aae23c4490d629e761This sexism explains why you’d never know the biggest story in Basketball this year is the UConn women’s quest for yet another perfect season. If they succeed, they will have accomplished the astounding feat of winning back-to-back-to-back-to-back national titles.

    To put this prospect into perspective, here is how ESPN’s Sports Center hailed the championship they won last year:

    Back-to-back is hard, but back-to-back-to-back is harder – no matter how good a team is.

    UConn has been SO dominant this year, [the Huskies] could lose by 192 tonight & still set D-I record for largest single-season scoring margin…

    [UConn women’s coach] Geno Auriemma joins John Wooden & Phil Jackson as only coaches in major college or pro sports to win 10 titles.

    (April 7, 2015)

    This brings me to another example of the brazenly sexist regard so many have for women’s Basketball. It pertains to the way sports columnists (invariably men) are decrying UConn’s dominance.

    Boston Globe columnist [Dan Shaughnessy] said the Huskies ‘are killing the women’s game’ by being too dominant…

    [He] was referring to the 98-38 win over Mississippi State and ended with ‘Watch? No thanks.’

    (FOX Sports, March 28, 2016)

    Never mind that you’d be hard-pressed to find a single columnist who decried UCLA’s dominance, when it was racking up 10 titles under legendary coach John Wooden.

    Untitled.0.0But here is how Coach Auriemma pooh-poohed this criticism in his own inimitable way:

    So don’t watch, and don’t write about it…

    When Tiger was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf… And now there’s a lot more great golfers because of Tiger.

    (Los Angeles Time, March 28, 2016)

    Of course, I appreciate that most people (men and women) think there’s no way women’s Basketball can match the excitement of men’s. But I used to think there’s no way women’s Tennis can match the excitement of men’s. I still watch a lot of Tennis, but I haven’t watched men play in years.

    Incidentally, I feel the same way about the juxtaposition of men’s and women’s Soccer. Which is why I was so heartened yesterday when the top players on the women’s national team sued U.S. Soccer.

    The men’s team has historically been mediocre. The women’s team has been a quadrennial phenomenon, winning world and Olympic championships and bringing much of the country to a standstill in the process…

    Citing this disparity, as well as rising revenue numbers, five players on the women’s team filed a federal complaint Wednesday, accusing U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination because, they said, they earned as little as 40 percent of what players on the United States men’s national team earned even as they marched to the team’s third World Cup championship last year.

    (New York Times, March 31, 2016)

    Soccer: Women's World Cup-Final-Japan at United StatesIn fact, the women’s team earned $2 million for winning the World Cup final last year. The men’s team earned $9 million for losing in the quarterfinals.

    I have championed the cause for fair pay in Soccer in such commentaries as “Belated, Fickle Interest in Women’s World Cup,” July 15, 2011, and “Sexism Explains Media Disinterest in Women’s World Cup,” June 12, 2015.

    In any event, I hope my testimony disabuses you of your sexist thinking in this regard. I urge you to give women’s Basketball a try.

    For the record, I’m pulling for UConn to complete their fourpeat feat!

    As for the men’s bracket, I’m pulling for Oklahoma. You probably know that its star player, Buddy Hield, is thrilling NCAA fans the way Steph Curry is thrilling NBA fans.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.44.38 PMIn fact:

    Hield is the Steph Curry of this NCAA tournament, and with two more wins, he’ll surpass Curry’s breakout 2008 tournament run…

    In case you weren’t into college basketball back in 2008, a little-known, babyfaced guard for No. 10 seed Davidson grabbed the NCAA tournament spotlight. Curry’s 2008 run was everything we love about March Madness. With scoring games of 40, 30, 33 and 25, he led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.

    (USA Today Sports, March 27, 2016)

    But, truth be told, the only reason I’m pulling for Oklahoma is that Hield hails from the same backwater in The Bahamas where I grew up (i.e., Pine Dale, Grand Bahama). Nothing brings out national pride quite like seeing a poor local kid make it big like this.

    He’s already bound to be among the top-five players drafted into the NBA this year, which means that he’ll be guaranteed a multi-million dollar contract.

    Hail, Buddy!

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